Archive for October, 2011


“Radical” Chapter One – A book Review

October 30, 2011

So here is how this series of book reviews is going to go. I’m going to put them in four parts

1. Synopsis of the Chapter

2. Good Points

3. Weaker Points

4. How This Chapter Got Me Thinking

Synopsis of Chapter One: David Platt tells us about his experiences teaching in underground churches in Asia. He briefly shows the commitment level by these Christians who must face possible death and problems  just to practice their faith. Then, he returns to America and is asked to pastor one of the fastest growing Mega-churches in America; the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. During the flow of this chapter, he makes frequent references to how the church in America (and perhaps other parts of the world) has settled for a Christianity that is weak, unbiblical and without obedience to Christ. He then goes through some of the more radical demands that Jesus made on his followers, focusing on demands to give up all, surrender all and selling everything to follow Jesus.

Good Points: I love how he takes all the radical demands that Jesus indeed does make and refuses to accept the standard misinterpretations of these passages. Too many bible teachers see Jesus’ bold demands on his followers as necessary only because of the nature of the Messiah’s appearance. That is, Jesus had to make it difficult to follow him because he was calling for a complete break from Judaistic culture and tradition. Many bible teachers like to say we need to make commitments to Christ, but that it is not necessary to carry those commitments to the extreme that Jesus’ disciples did. Platt hits that head on. There is no reason we should think Jesus’ radical demands have changed over time. He compares how Christians are acting in situations outside of our country and contrasts their life commitment with the prevalent “mouth commitment” that Christians make in Western countries.

Weaker Points: This is going to be a weakness in some of the chapters: he does make good observations on some Bible passages, but does not give much context to what he will be teaching. Some of his interpretations are not accurate and this causes many of his applications to sound really radical; but they are actually somewhat legalistic. For instance, he speaks about the rich, young ruler being asked to sell all he had to follow after him. From that example, he says that all of us need to sell what we have and give to the poor, the destitute and the work of the Kingdom of God. Really? He knows that is what God is saying to every Christian? Here is a fundamental principle of bible interpretation. First, find out what Jesus’ teaching meant to the people he was speaking to. From that, determine the key thing he is teaching in that situation. Then, establish a universal truth that can apply to all people. Then, apply that truth as broadly as possible. Platt is very strong on living radically; so strong in fact, that he seems to pass over some of these necessary rules of bible interpretation. In the case of the rich, young ruler, he could have been just as radical if he said it this way: “Jesus was calling a man to examine all he had and compare it with the value of being obedient to God”. For one person, that will cost all their possessions. But for another person, they may be asked to give up the idea of marriage. God must be the one who helps each individual apply truth. Platt seems to want to do that for us.

Thinking: As I read this, I do look at my life and wonder if I have compromised my relationship with Christ at times for something easier. Have you?


Latest in the 2 Timothy Series

October 30, 2011

We are currently featuring a series on Sunday mornings in the Book of 2 Timothy.

These are all selected passages from the book which show us how we can live well in a culture that seeks to submerge us in a wave of self-centeredness. The series is called “Riding the Wave”

This message is about the beauty of the Right Love and the dangers of the Wrong Love.

Listen at




Up Next-Chapter by Chapter Review of the book “Radical”

October 29, 2011

Starting Sunday night, I will be going through David Platt’s book “Radical” chapter by chapter. I am doing this because there are parts of the book I really appreciate and parts of the book that are just plain wrong. Just so you don’t waste your time reading my reviews, here are the groups that usually find my reviews hard to take:

1. Kneejerk, Reactionary Christians: If you are one of those who thought Kirk Cameron was a dorky actor UNTIL he started to do poorly produced Christian movies, and now you think he should be nominated for Best Actor any time he does anything, you won’t like my reviews. I don’t accept the concept of “if it’s got a Christian message it must be worth seeing, hearing or reading”.

2. If You Despise Detailed Analysis: If you like to enjoy a book as a whole and not worry about the parts, you won’t like my review. I am going to look at everything: content, approach, style and skill. If you liked the book and hate to have someone criticize anything you like, then don’t read my reviews.

3. If You Believe the Church Must Change Immediately: For 2000 years, the church has struggled with moral purity, church government, heresies, godless culture, lukewarm followers of Christ and ignorance of the Bible’s key messages. If you believe that it all has to change today, that’s fine. If you think that any one book is going to accomplish that (and think “Radical” is that book) you won’t like my review.

4. The Friend Factor: If ten friends recommended this book to you and told you how this changed their life and you equate criticism of this book with criticizing those ten friends, then you won’t like my review. And finally…

5. The “David Platt is one of Our Prophets” Crowd: If you believe that any author is a modern-day prophet in the Old Testament sense – meaning that we cannot “touch the Lord’s Anointed” – then paste the pages of his book into the back of your Bible and stop reading book reviews.

All others stay tuned as we review this book. It’s a book I like, but it’s also a book that goes too far in some ways and not far enough in others.


Mars Hill Lives Up to Its Name – Good News

October 24, 2011

As we have said previously, Mars Hill (Areopagus) was a place of heated discussion and a platform where the greatest issues of Greek society were discussed and, potentially, resolved.

I am delighted to report that Mars Hill Church in Seattle and the Mars Hill churches here in Sacramento have come to  a great resolution of their Name dilemma.

You can read Pastor Scott Hagan’s response to the phone calls he received from Mars Hill Seattle on his blog: Here are some highlights of that letter:

The issue of the Cease and Desist Letter seemed to strike a raw nerve in the broader body of Christ.  I will say more about that in a moment.  But first, I want to confirm that three staff members from Mars Hill Seattle called and asked forgiveness for any stress and confusion that was caused by the letter we received from theStokes & Lawrence law firm.  That meant a great deal to me and the other pastors involved (Jason Yarbrough of Mars Hill Church in Fairfield and James Seiler of Mars Hill Church in Galt).  Both Chris Pledger and Dave Bruskas were clear and sincere that the proper step should have been to call us first.  We accepted their apology and would like the Mars Hill Seattle congregation to know that your leaders took this step (We are assuming on behalf of Pastor Mark Driscoll).  They assured us they would not seek any type of legal action, even though they did apply for and were awarded a federal trademark in August of this year for both the name and the logo design.  Mars Hill Seattle also posted on their blog late saturday night a message of clarity and grace.  It was greatly appreciated.

Our concerned stemmed from a letter we received from Stokes & Lawrence asking that we cease all use of our name, domain names and all artwork. The letter stated we had a two-week window for compliance.  It was very unsettling knowing that, if enforced by a court (which it appears it could), it would cost our ministry and our two satellite plants thousands of dollars to rebrand, redesign, reprint and re-educate our regions of the changes……

Plans for our church here in Sacramento began in 2005. At the time we planted this work, I had never heard of Mars Hill Seattle or Pastor Mark Driscoll.  I was aware of the Michigan Mars Hill Church (I pastored in Grand Rapids from 2001 to 2005)  and also the college located in Mars Hill, North Carolina.  By choosing that name, I was not out to emulate anyone, I simply thought it to be a great name for a church……

My first knowledge of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle happened sometime in 2007, nearly two years after the planning and launch of our church.  Our logo was designed in 2005 by Scott Taylor, the husband of our worship pastor, Darnisha Taylor.  He reassured me a few days ago that, when he designed the logo, he also had never heard of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  Scott Taylor’s design is completely coincidental.  As a matter of fact, our original design was a square with the shaded circle and ‘M’ inside the square……

The letter from Stokes & Lawrence instructed us to contact their law office (not the church) with a response. I sent an email, of behalf of all three of us as pastors very early on Wednesday morning, October 19th to Leslie Ruiter of Stokes & Lawrence.  I asked if she would pass our cell phone numbers on to Pastor Mark Driscoll, as we felt this should be a pastor to pastor conversation and not something involving a secular lawyer.  By noon the same day (October 19th) we received an email from Leslie Ruiter:

Sent from my iPhone

On Oct 19, 2011, at 1:06 PM, Leslie Ruiter <> wrote:

Dear Pastor Hagan and team: Thank you for your response. I am completely on board with an organization-to-organization conversation, without me (the trademark lawyer) in the middle. Mars Hill’s goals, and I assume yours as well, would be to gain an understanding of the situation and reach an amicable resolution that causes no harm to either. I will pass on your information below to Chris Pledger at Mars Hill, and he or one or more of the other pastors will be in contact.

Best regards,

Leslie C. Ruiter

By Thursday afternoon we had not heard from the church. With our two week window closing there was growing concern because of the potential financial ramifications.  The same day I received a call from a close pastor friend here in Sacramento, Mike Phillips.  He and I, along with a group of about 8 others, meet weekly as pastors for relationship and prayer.  He is a seasoned leader who pastors Gateway Church here in Sacramento. I had shared with them on Monday what was happening and asked for their guidance, prayer and counsel.  These are Baptist, Charismatic, Non-Denominational and Reformed guys with various backgrounds.  It’s a great cross section of friends who are church planters in the area. Mike told me he knew of some people that currently attend Mars Hill Seattle and asked for my permission to contact them to see if they had heard anything about this publicly. He also asked to blog about it to see if any other churches had received the same communication.  I gave him my blessing, but I did not read or proof Mike’s blog before it was posted.  Mike’s blog on the same day was a plea on behalf of a friend (me) whom he felt was facing a potentially unjust situation.

I was speaking Friday (October 21st) in Boston when I finally received a very congenial voicemail from Chris Pledger.  By now the social media networks were buzzing with some knowledge about this cease and desist letter.  There was zero antagonism in Chris’ voice or the message he left.  That afternoon we had a conference call between myself, Chris Pledger and Justin Holcomb.  Both of them were great and shared they were very sorry for sending a legal letter first. They communicated that their intent now was simply to remove confusion and to ask if we could alter the logo that they had been using since 1996.  I shared our story, including how our design by Scott Taylor in 2005 was totally innocent, and that when our church was planted in 2005 we had no knowledge that a Mars Hill Church in Seattle existed.

I agreed to start the process of a logo redesign since they now owned the trademark.  They assured me that even though the letter from Stokes & Lawrencecalled for a name change, that was off the table.  On Saturday, I received a voicemail from Dave Bruskas reiterating the same information and again reaffirming that the letter should not have been sent as a means of first contact.

I want to thank the Mars Hill Seattle staff for demonstrating a genuine brotherhood and passion for the Kingdom of God.  It feels like I’ve made some new leadership friends over the weekend in Dave, Justin and Chris.  I also want to say from the bottom of my heart that I am honestly sorry for any part I may have played in fueling the fires of disunity.  My emotions ran high, and in hindsight I should have tried to call the church office directly instead of communicating only with the lawyer as I was instructed to in the original letter.  I could have demonstrated more patience as a leader and for that I am sorry. Would the leadership of Mars Hill have ever called me ( Remember, I had given them our numbers via the lawyer) had there not been such an intense social media backlash last thursday?  All I can say is that the three men who did call me sounded more than legit, so I will choose to believe they would have and enjoy living reconciled instead of suspicious.  I look froward to meeting with Chris, Dave and Justin someday.  Justin even mentioned that he is from an Assemblies of God church.

We all know that social media is a powerful thing, and last Thursday’s plethora of posts, reposts and comments proved that once again.

Scott has some more great things to say and I advise you to go there and read it.

My final word is this: This is how the Body of Christ is supposed to work. I applaud both Mars Hill churches for living up to their historical, biblical context. May God’s blessings rest on all of you. Now I go back to my 100 readers a day instead of 45,000.

Mike P.


Finally…Winter Passion

October 21, 2011

Kathy and I stopped to stare at the snow drift across the highway. It was 5:30 p.m. and the snow was drifting 8 feet off the ground in places. More snow was predicted for the rest of the night and into the next day as well. This was Highway 93, the major artery through northwest Montana and we were cross-country skiing down the middle of it. We feared no cars coming up on us; not even the snowplows were going out in this horrendous storm. So what were we doing out here?

My wife worked as a nurse on a heart Telemetry unit at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. They worked 12 hour shifts and hers started in a half hour. The phone lines were not working, so Kathy couldn’t call the hospital to find out if they were expecting her. But after looking at the closed highway, we were fairly certain they did. The nurses working these 12 hour shifts could not go home until they were replaced. No one was driving in or out of town at all, so we figured these nurses who had been looking after patients all day would have to continue in that vein for another 24 hours. That’s when I got a bright idea.

We only lived about 6 blocks from the hospital, straight down Highway 93. We had done cross-country skiing for years and now we could put good vocational use to the sport. Since we had both grown up in Canada, we were well stocked with all the accouterment clothing for frigid weather, including long, thermal underwear. We layered on the garments, pulled on our ski boots and headed out the door. It took us almost a half hour to navigate the drifts and bare spots on the road in near zero visibility, but we did arrive at the hospital doors right as her shift was supposed to start. As we sloshed down the hallway, the nurses on duty just stared at us as if we were living snowmen. Kathy was able to relieve a couple of them, allowing them a few hours sleep. Over the next 24 hours, they were able to keep spelling each other off in 3 hour increments, thereby giving some of the most medically fragile patients the best care.

The next day the road was still closed, so we retraced our route through the snow and arrived home from our winter’s adventure. Never have I enjoyed a night by the fireplace with hot tea more than that one. We sat there glancing at the blizzard outside, secure that we had conquered the elements. We could now take a worthy rest, knowing the job was done well. I want to use that as the picture for our final study in passion: Winter Passion.

As winter approaches each year, I look forlornly at my 32 rose bushes in the yard. I hate this part, but it is so necessary if I want an abundance of roses next year. I usually set aside three days to begin the process of hacking, cutting, shaping and almost annihilating each bush until all that is left is a shadow of their summer selves. This pruning process demands a ruthless mindset; I cannot afford to be namby-pamby with them. If I leave suckers, weak shoots, dead branches or crossthatched pieces in the way of the final product, all I will have is leaves and branches the next summer and no roses to enjoy. To get through this stage of the rose bush cycle, I attack each bush with gusto. If the dead wood has to go, I’m not going to shirk and complain.

In Ecclesiastes 3, the Preacher Koheleth tells it this way:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3 a time to kill and a time to heal,a time to tear down and a time to build,

4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,a time to embrace and a time to refrain,

6 a time to search and a time to give up,a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7 a time to tear and a time to mend,a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8 a time to love and a time to hate,a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Look at some of the entries together: “A time to die…a time to uproot…a time to kill…a time to tear down…a time to mourn…a time to give up…a time to throw away….a time to hate…a time for war”. These are not everyone’s favorite parts of the list. But they describe events and things people feel acutely emotional about. No one can escape passion at the death of a loved one. No one gets out of the intensity of tearing something apart. We don’t think of these times as good or agreeable, but they are decidedly passionate. In v. 11 Koheleth even claims that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”. The word “beautiful” in Hebrew means “appropriate or timely”. It is wonderful to feel passion for the beginning of things and the growth of those same things and even the full completion of the course. But perhaps the complete passion comes when we decide to tear something down, kill it, let it go, uproot it and declare war upon it.

Jesus turned over the money-changers and cursed a fig tree. He cried out with a loud voice “It is Finished”. He and the martyr Stephen both gave up their spirits to God and then died. The death of the martyrs is the foundation of the Church. Only when you allow and encourage things to end and come to their logical completion can you then begin to see the beginnings of new growth. In turn, the time of winter is when we rest from our labors. Winter is Sabbath; Winter is Rest; Winter is letting go; Winter is being still and knowing that He is God. If you cannot enjoy that passion, the passion of bringing things to an end when they need to be brought to an end, then you have not experienced every aspect of passion.

In 1992, I spoke at a Ladies retreat. It took me five hours to drive there and my car broke down on the way. I spoke four times that weekend, including one meeting for husbands and wives. At that meeting, I gave an altar invitation and several men surrendered their lives to Christ. As I drove home from the weekend, I realized they hadn’t paid me for speaking –  not even my travel expense. I waited several weeks for a check to arrive, but I never received one. During one time alone with God, he encouraged me to let it go and not carry it on my shoulders. I was able to relinquish that wounded feeling and it felt wonderful to let it go.

Six years later, my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We went and stayed at a beautiful but expensive Bed and Breakfast. It was way out of our price range, but we wanted to splurge. The B and B had free breakfast, but they also had a full dining room for all meals. The meals were also expensive, but as I said, we were going all out. On Sunday afternoon, the owners of the place asked Kat and I if we could eat the evening meal just with them. That was a curious request, but we were delighted to do that. They really put on the ritz for us and we wondered how much that was going to cost us. During the meal, the wife asked if I remembered her or her husband. I told her they did not ring a bell with me. Then they told me his testimony. They had lived in another part of the state years earlier. She had been invited to go to a women’s retreat. On the Saturday night, her husband joined her at the banquet. That night I gave an invitation and he came forward and received Christ. That weekend saved their marriage and gave them a ministry together in this beautiful bed and breakfast.

Then they told us the real reason we were at dinner that night. God wanted them to give us that entire week at the Bed and Breakfast for free as a token of their appreciation. As they shared this with me, I heard the Lord say in my heart “Paid in Full”. As they prayed for us after dinner, the husband had a sense from God that this was going to be a week of letting go. Kat and I both resonated with that prayer. As we talked later, we both revealed we had been feeling a sense of needing to let something go. The more we talked day after day, the closer we came to a hard reality: Our 11 year ministry at the church we currently served was now coming to a close. We had come there when they were 50 people and now there were almost 700. Yet, God was telling both of us we were to leave there and go somewhere new. Eventually, months later we realized God was calling us to plant a new church. But the Winter passion consisted of Kathy and I surrendering the church at that Bed and Breakfast. We felt both rested and sad. We were going to have to say goodbye to a lot of dear people. We were going to be pruned. But it had to be.

What things have to come to an end in your life during this season? What things do you need to kill, tear up, relinquish, escape? How are you supposed to scatter your stones, give up or throw away? If you do it, do it with fervor and gusto. Embrace the Winter passion and ski down the center of that deserted highway with flare.


Another Argument on Mars Hill

October 20, 2011

UPDATE: The matter has been resolved…go to our link here for details

In ancient Athens, there was a place called the Areopagus where philosophers and theologians of all kinds met to discuss various ideas and movements. We know from history there was a certain decorum expected there, no matter how strange the ideas. Within the Areopagus, all people were allowed to present their ideas and could leave unscathed (except perhaps in reputation). The Areopagus was found at the top of Mars Hill and the debates there are sometimes referred to as Mars Hill discussions. I am calling all the parties I will refer to in this blog back to that founding principle of Mars Hill.

I don’t know how many churches in America are called Mars Hill. I do know three of them; I have been assured there are many more. As far as I know, most of these churches have no connection with each other. Some of them belong to denominations, and some do not. The only ones who seem to be organically connected are those which have been “daughtered” off one of the other churches. But this short article is about the three Mars Hill churches I do know about.

The first of these to be started was Mars Hill Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll. He founded the church in 1996 and to this day it is one of the fastest growing churches in America and certainly one of the largest in Seattle. I am not exaggerating when I observe that Pastor Mark Driscoll has become one of the most controversial pastors in America. He regularly makes statements concerning the books, sermons and beliefs of other Christians. Many people consider his views on family, family life and procreation to be ultraconservative.

The second Mars Hill was founded in 1999 in the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan by Rob Bell. Pastor Rob Bell is known for his books and videos and is perhaps just as controversial as Mark Driscoll, though often for much different reasons. His latest book, “Love Wins” presents a much different view on hell than most other Evangelicals. I do not know if Driscoll and Bell know each other personally (I suspect they do), but I doubt there is much appreciation of one man for the other. Let’s agree to say they do not line up with each other doctrinally.

The third Mars Hill I know seems caught in the middle. It is pastored in Sacramento, California by a friend of mine, Scott Hagan. Scott planted another church years ago in the Sacramento area, then moved to pastor a mega-church in Michigan and is now back leading at Mars Hill in Sactown. I have Pastor Scott’s permission to share what I am going to write next. Several weeks ago, Scott and his Sacramento congregation received a “Cease and Desist” letter which came from attorneys representing the Seattle Mars Hill Church.  They were told that the Seattle Mars Hill had copyrighted the name “Mars Hill” and they demanded that the California Mars Hill churches stop using the name and any logos with similar lettering.

I was flabbergasted. First, I could not believe that a church would try and copyright the name of their church. I suppose if you wanted to make some money on the side, you could lease the name out to others. (My friend Ken thought it would be smart to copyright the name “First Baptist” and stick franchise stickers on the name and concept…I applaud his entrepreneurial spirit). But to outright disallow others from using a name that is found in the Bible because you want a monicker and label that only recognizes YOU seems the very epitome of pride and arrogance.

Second, that a church would take legal action to require other churches to comply violates both the letter and the spirit of the Word of God. The Bible is explicit when we are told not to take other believers to court when the issues regard spiritual matters. The naming of a church is certainly a spiritual matter and it is hard to see how someone could theologically skirt around this.

This issue should have been placed before the Body of Christ. Since it wasn’t, I decided to do that here. I am hoping word of this spreads quickly across the country. Why should we allow Mars Hill Seattle to do this without the rest of us voicing our opinion? If you are as outraged by this as I am, then I ask you to let friends on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus know about it. Reprint this openly on your blogs. Call Mars Hill Seattle and let them know how you feel about this. Perhaps if we try this case in the court of public opinion we can prevent this from making evangelicals a further laughing stock in the media.

Please hear my heart Pastor Driscoll….Mars Hill was a place where anyone could freely come and present their ideas. You called your church Mars Hill with at least some of that in mind. I call you back to that principle now and publicly call you to renounce this silly and ill-advised cease and desist order.

UPDATE: Several people from Mars Hill church in Seattle have contacted me and let me know the intention of the Cease and Desist letter is to have Mars Hill Sacramento change their logo. Pastor Hagan has not given me permission to post the letter from the lawyer: However, though I am not a lawyer, the first two paragraphs make it pretty plain they are to change the Name of the church, the Name of the website and the Logo and artwork. The next two pages explain the rationale in legalese. If the original intent was only to have Mars Hill Sacramento change the artwork, that should be communicated clearly by legal counsel. At this point, it clearly says they must change their name also. That is all I can say about this issue without being able to post a copy of the document.

A FINAL WORD: Some things are taking place between the two Mars Hill pastoral teams at the moment for which I am grateful. More power and prayers to them all. If anything is resolved, I will have Pastor Scott himself post the results here so everyone can see what can happen outside of the court system. Thank you everyone for wonderful comments and discussion. I have ended the discussion for now on this topic since we have covered just about every angle. I am overwhelmed by the response.


When God’s Core Values Collide

October 19, 2011

In his book, “Love Wins”, Rob Bell asks this pertinent question: “Since God does not desire that anyone perishes, and that all come to repentance, how can God allow anyone to go to Hell?” At another juncture he asks “God demands that we forgive those who sin against us. How then can God not forgive those who sin against Him?” In case those two questions are not enough food for thought, let me add a third he poses in the same chapter: “How can a loving God allow anyone to suffer forever for sins they commit temporarily?”

What Bell is doing is pitting God’s revealed core values against themselves. Without knowing it, Bell has laid out four of the key things that God values (we discuss these values in more depth in our last article on the subject back in September. Access it here).

  • God’s demand that all sin be punished
  • God’s desire that all people have complete freedom of choice
  • God’s love for all He has created
  • God’s plan to redeem mankind from sin by dying on the Cross

With his question, “Since God does not desire that anyone perishes, and that all come to repentance, how can God allow anyone to go to Hell?” the values of “God’s Plan” conflict with “God’s demand”.

With his question, “God demands that we forgive those who sin against us. How then can God not forgive those who sin against Him?” the values of “God’s plan” are laid out against our “Freedom of Choice”.

With his question  “How can a loving God allow anyone to suffer forever for sins they commit temporarily?” the “Love of God” faces down “God’s demand”.

As we said last time, all of God’s values are weighted. Each value carries a different weight. For instance, mankind is free to choose to sin or not to sin. Our wills are not free certainly (our wills are affected by circumstances, hormones, genetics, family, friends and the Tempter), but we can still choose to do right at any given time. Since I have freedom of Choice, this freedom carries more weight with God than his love. He loves me and desires I spend all of eternity with him. But according to the Bible, the very mention of Hell presupposes that God’s desire for us to freely choose Him always weighs heavier than his love for us. As parents, we see the necessity of this. We love our children. But there are times we must let them do as they will, even though their actions hurt us to the core. If we could give them a drug that would make our children obey us, we might think about it for awhile. But eventually we would return to the reality that we want them to choose the best way on their own.

God’s desire to allow us free will trumps his love for us.

But why Hell? Why doesn’t God just destroy us when we die if we don’t have faith in Him? As any person who has ever thought or contemplated running away from it all (even to the extreme of suicide), annihilation is not punishment; it is escape. If Hell is anything, it is the choice to walk away from God and to be forever alone. It is a punishment that God has revealed he does not want for us. But for Freedom of Choice to mean anything, there must be a reasonable choice. Our choice is to choose God or not to choose God. The consequence of choosing God is that we are cleansed and freed from sin’s power. The choice to not be with God is conscious separation from God and the knowledge and weight of our sin still upon us forever.

God’s demand that all sin be punished trumps our desire to escape any consequences.

Just one more thought at this juncture. God will certainly forgive all sins we have committed. He didn’t need to die on the Cross to forgive us. We don’t have to die on a cross to forgive others. But the sins we commit against each other still stand. In John 20, Jesus says, “If you do not forgive the sins of anyone, they are not forgiven”. God cannot forgive us for sins that we have committed against others. Someone has to be punished for those crimes. A judge can certainly drop charges for someone who has robbed from the judge. But he cannot let a criminal go free for robbing another person. Only Jesus’ death on the cross can pay for ALL sins, not just the sins we commit against God.

God’s death on the Cross satisfies God’s demand that all sin be punished. God’s death on the cross -and our putting faith in the Cross –  satisfies our free choice, God’s love, and all of the other core values of God. The Cross is where all the core values are displayed. And the Resurrection shows that Jesus’s sacrifice for sin was acceptable to the Judge of the Universe.

But if someone does not receive the effects of the Cross, then the other core values are played out. And the only way for those weighted values to be enacted is in Hell. So the logical choices are: Come to the Cross, or await eternity apart from God.


Autumn Passion

October 18, 2011

As you read the title for this article, I assume your mind sees an apparent oxymoron: We rarely associate the Fall season with passion or exuberance. But ask a farmer which of the seasons he most looks forward to, and he will always point you to the Fall. All the planning, planting, preparing and pruning points to those days of harvest when it all makes sense. The Fall is the time of life when we get to see what all the effort is about, where we get to experience meaning and purpose, and not just play with those ideas.

I have mentioned my writing mentor, Jim, in a few articles in the past. Let me feature him here. Jim is 97 years old and has accomplished more than most people with those decades of writing. He has written thousands of articles, interviewed hundreds of celebrities and been involved with the production of 26 books. Several of those books have been published in multiple languages and several more have exceeded 100,000 copies in print.

Jim has weathered several health problems in the past few years, and this temporarily left him in hospital this winter. I visited with him one Tuesday morning, and we talked well through lunch into the afternoon. I had come there expecting to find a man looking back over his life. Indeed, we did spend time reviewing many of his former writing projects. At one point, our conversation wandered to focus on a gentleman Jim had met while in the care facility. He noted this man was just biding his time, waiting to die. Jim assured me he had no intention of doing the same. Jim loves to talk about the books he has already written, but he also focuses on his current writing project. Yes, Jim is actively marketing another book, one that is essentially finished except for its publishing. Jim has lived all the seasons of passion. When pressed, he admits that the most enjoyable, and necessary, experience is being able to look back and focus on what has been done for God and for his family.

In the Jewish calendar, a layout initiated and confirmed by God himself, there are seven mandated feasts. If we broke up the year into its four seasons, we notice that there is a great imbalance in the feasts. They are not evenly spread out: four of the seven take place during the Harvest Season, or what we call Autumn. This reveals the framework for Autumn passion: It is to be a time of feasting, celebrating and Thanksgiving. It is no coincidence that most cultures which have a time of Thanksgiving do it during the harvest season. If you want to enjoy Autumn passion, thanksgiving is the key.

We cannot continue to plant, plant, plant and work our plan without stepping back at times to rejoice in what has been accomplished through our efforts. Some people mistakenly think it is wrong to look back at what you’ve done in life with any sense of satisfaction. They may call that pride. Pride is actually the mindset of independence, where one echoes the words of Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way!” The Psalmist says “Bless the Lord O My soul, and forget not all his benefits.” He then spends the rest of the psalm recounting all that God has done in his life and in the covenant people. We face so much opposition just living a life of integrity and moral excellence, that occasionally we feel beaten down. That’s when it is time to step back into thanksgiving.

This summer, I went through a period of feeling sorry for myself. Perhaps it is the universality of social media, but I realized so many of my friends spent a greater part of their weekends enjoying themselves and spending time with others. I work every Sunday and have done so every week for 31 years. Part of my commitment as a pastor is to serve others in the teaching ministry. This, by our cultural tradition, necessitates I work every Sunday. For some reason, I felt resentful as I watched my friends and loved ones enjoying something I can never have. As a result, I moped through July. At one point, I even voiced my frustrations on Facebook. The next day, I received a beautiful email from a young man I had not spoken to in 21 years. He told me the story of how he had lost his job and came to the town I was living in to work in a warehouse. He was a professional and felt like a failure doing manual labor. He remarked about a sermon I preached during that season in his life. It was about living deliberately and choosing how we will spend each day as God moves us on to his goal. He told me how that morning he committed himself to doing the next thing God showed him and would keep doing it the rest of his life. This man is now working at an incredible job and has leveraged it into a unique ministry. He thanked me profusely for the sacrifice I had given to surrender my Sunday to teach him.

I wept. I realized after reading the email that my efforts had been worth it. I was able to thank God and my passion (which had left me during my moping) was renewed with greater vigor than before. Thanksgiving will do that. We absolutely need to look back and see what God has done through us at times. It will be a great moment of reflection and joy.

Embedded in the Autumntime passion is another necessary element. Autumn is a time of releasing. Just as we allow ourselves to rest, we give over the fruit of the harvest to the cooks, canners, juicers and other food preparation professionals to do their work. In the midst of our ministry, there must be a place given over to releasing those we have mentored and partnered with to allow them to branch out on their own.

It can be as simple as letting the kids cook the meal. It can be as simple as encouraging a co-worker to start their own branch office. It can be as simple as a pastor training up an assistant and then releasing them to start their own church. When we started our current church, my overseer had me draw up a five-year vision for where Gateway Fellowship was going. As part of the vision plan, I saw where I thought we would be after five years. In my mind’s eye, I saw us releasing people to go start a new church in another part of town. I do remember that Sunday we had the new church plant team come forward and laid our hands of identification upon them. It was incredibly satisfying to know we had a huge part to play in their existence. Last Sunday, they had almost as many people in church as we did. The joy of Autumn must include that letting go. It is the joy a parent has at the wedding of their children. It is the joy Jesus had when he told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came on them in power.

Don’t you want the Autumn passion? You can have it today if you commit yourself to Thanksgiving and Releasing. Then you’ll be ready for the Wonderful Wintertime Passion.


Progressive Revelation and Islam

October 13, 2011

One tenet of Christianity holds that God did not give the fullest revelation of himself at first. The revelation of who God is and how he feels toward mankind was given slowly, presumably in small doses so we could digest it. Therefore, the introduction of the New Testament supersedes any possible conflicting messages of the Old Testament. The God of Justice (sometimes seen as the Angry, Vengeful God) of the Old Testament is revealed as both a God of Love and a God of Justice in the New Testament. The God who chose the Jews in the Old Testament grafts in the Gentiles in the New Testament. Progressive revelation does not mean that the truths differ. It simply means that God chose to emphasize one element of his nature first and then bring in other elements later.

Islam also believes in Progressive Revelation. This article, written in 1997 amply illustrates the many variations of Islam’s principle of Revelation. The muslim recognizes God’s activity in Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus –  but then asserts the fullness of God’ revelation is given through Muhammed. But there is another element of Islam’s progressive revelation which today’s world needs to understand.

Muhammed did teach a doctrine of harmony and peace with practicers of other faiths. Today’s more peaceful muslims point to this and say their more radical islamic counterparts are wrong when they blow up buildings. But the teachings on inclusion and peace are early in Muhammed’s life. His later teachings (carrying more weight than the earlier ones) teach that all infidels need to be destroyed. It is critical for westerners to understand that there are two themes in Muhammed’s teaching on dealing with non-muslims: Peace and Warfare. Peace is the first teaching, but warfare is the final teaching.

Is it true that many Muslims want peace? Yes. But the doctrine of progressive revelation means that many muslims can rightly claim warfare as more in line with the final revelation of the Prophet. It’s always good to know where things stand.

UPDATE: My friend Charles has pointed out that the article quoted here is from a Bahai perspective and so may not reflect the most accurate understanding of Islamic thought. However, it still stands that Islam recognizes that all Revelation from God is progressive.


What do Falling Crime Rates Mean?

October 12, 2011

This study in the FBI’s latest stats on national crime is interesting:

Here is an excerpt:

  • Nationally, murder declined 4.4 percent, while forcible rape dropped 4.2 percent, robbery 9.5 percent, and aggravated assault 3.6 percent—all when compared with 2009 crime figures.
  • Geographically speaking, the South saw the largest decline in violent crime (7.5 percent), followed by the Midwest (5.9 percent), the West (5.8 percent), and the Northeast (0.4 percent).
I have a theory why this is. I don’t think we’ve become a kinder, gentler nation. I believe that our young people are now on television, video games, Internet and cell phones almost continually while awake. They couldn’t commit a violent crime if they needed to. Is this good news? It is if you were worried about crime. But there are problems way more insidious than crime.
What do you think?
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