Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thankful for Rob Bell

I'm thankful for teachers like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Greg Boyd, and others like them who openly teach heresy. Their teachings allow us the opportunity to examine the Word of God and confirm that what the Bible says it true, whether it's about Hell, the Sovereignty of God, homosexuality, the Omniscience of God, or even the salvation of people by God. Anytime a new teaching, or even an old teaching disguised as a new teaching, crops up, we need to look to the Bible to see what it says about that topic. We should not let our emotions overrule what the Bible says. Take for example, the many books on visiting Heaven out there. A recent one details a 4-year-old boy describing his experienced when he almost died. Everyone had wings, he sat on Jesus' lap, his great-grandfather and unknown sister talked to him, and possibly other things. Really? Can that be validated by Scripture? Revelation speaks of worshippers gathered before the throne of God singing, "Holy, Holy is the Lamb." As far as I can tell, certain types of angels are the only ones who have wings (read Isaiah 6 for a good description). I say all that to say this, we need to be thankful for heretics, because they send us to the Word of God to validate what God says and not what they say.

Monday, March 28, 2011

[Book Review] "The Dragon and the Turtle Go On Safari" by Donita K. Paul and Evangeline Denmark

Note: This book was received free as part of LibraryThing's early reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.
This book features a dragon and a turtle camping out, telling stories to each other. In the midst of it all, the dragon gets scared when he hears a noise in the woods and the turtle encourages the dragon to be brave and venture out. All irony about a scared dragon aside, this book is an enjoyable little read for children. It's suggested for younger children, ages 3-7, I believe, but I think it might be better geared toward older children, maybe 5-9. My 7 year old and 3 year old really enjoyed it and it offers a scripture lesson on being strong and courageous because God is with us.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

[Book Review] "The Canary List" by Sigmund Brouwer

Note: this book was provided by Blogging for Books for free in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on 6/21/11 and is available for pre-order from Amazon.
What do Satanism, demons, Dan Brown, an atheist school teacher, foster children, Vatican City, conspiracy theories, and the Catholic Church have in common? Author Sigmund Brouwer use all of the above to draw you into this quick read of a fiction book. While you may think of Frank Peretti when you think of demons being used in a fiction book, that's not Brouwer's intention here, with one exception. What Brouwer does do is weave a tale about a 12 year old foster child's unique ability to sense evil and the Catholic Church wanting to either use that power or get rid of it. Conspiracy theories abound as you find the school teacher that Jaimie Piper runs to , accused of pedophilia, losing all he loves in the process, going all over California attempting to clear his name.
A high-profile lawyer gets hired by the very people who framed him and he hires a computer hacker in the process. Meanwhile, plans are being made for Piper to go to Vatican City for who knows what. The chapters are short and jump back and forth to keep you reading. Many surprise twists happen along the way, keeping you guessing even if you think you've figured it out, which you may never due to an even more surprising twist at the end.
I enjoyed this quick read. It reminded me quickly of Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code", especially once the story shifted to Italy where even more of the Catholic Church conspiracy theory started cropping up. Brouwer is not one to try to turn Christianity on it's head, however, with some theory about Jesus being married. It's more of a subtle theory, though, there is a direct reference to Dan Brown in the book. Even though Brouwer is a Christian, this book should not be thought of as a Christian book. You will be sorely disappointed if you think of it that way. The premise of the book however does it make it's point well in that if demons exist, then God must exist.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book over about 3 to 4 days. I haven't read a short, captivating book in a while and this one held my interest. It releases on 6/21/11 and should be a good summer read while sitting on the beach.

[Book Review] "Pujols: More Than the Game" by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth

Disclaimer: I received the book free from Booksneeze in exchange for an honest review.
Nolan Ryan, Mark McGwire, and Ricky Henderson were some of my baseball heroes growing up. I would contend with anyone that Ryan is the best pitcher the game has ever seen. In recent years, we've seen many baseball stars brought down by allegations of steroid abuse, McGwire included. Albert Pujols is not one of them. To be honest, I've mostly been in the dark about baseball over the past 10 years or so and had no idea who Pujols was when I selected this book for review. If I paid much attention to sports, I surely would have heard about this possibly best baseball player ever. In this book, "Pujols: More Than the Game," Lamb and Ellsworth offer up a portrait of a man who puts baseball second to his faith in Jesus Christ, yet still manages to play baseball better than anyone else.
Albert Pujols was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up around his dad's playing softball and his dad's drunkedness. His family moved to the U.S. when he was 16 where he played baseball for a high school near Kansas City, MO. Out of that, he developed a work ethic around baseball that continues to this day and shows in the statistics that Pujols continues to put up. Pujols became a Christian while playing junior college ball through going to church with his future wife, DeeDee, who had a downs syndrome child, Isabella. Taking care of this child would shape what the future of the Pujols' ministry off the field would look like. 
Pujols played minor league ball for approximately a year in the St. Louis farm system, bouncing around teams as they needed him. In every case, he became heavily involved in whatever chapel was offered. Throughout his career, he has stayed strong in his faith. There were times when he seemed to say things or do things that might make you question, but he is only human after all and as human beings, we all make mistakes. He would often ask forgiveness for his mistakes and acknowledge that he did something wrong. How many superstars do that?
Lamb and Ellsworth spare little detail in this book as they write a chapter on each of Pujols' seasons of baseball, interspersing them with chapters on his life off the field. It's this off the field life that is most interesting. Pujols and DeeDee set up the Pujols Family Foundation to help care for those with downs syndrome and help care for the orphans and widows of the Dominican Republic. Much can be said about baseball contract negotiations and the money involved between the teams and the players. Pujols has used his money to care for those less fortunate. Based on what I read in this book, Pujols is a bigger hero off the field and knows what it's like to live Jesus' words in Matthew 5 regarding the beatitudes. 
With regards to the steroids scandal, the media was quick to add Pujols name to the list of steroid users implicated in the Mitchell Report, even though his name was not on that list. The authors give 20 reasons why Pujols is innocent of steroid use, and based on what I was able to read about his integrity and Christianity, one has only to trust that Pujols is innocent of these charges. His stats speak for themselves as there is no sudden spike, nor suddent drop in his stats. He is wholly consistent in how he plays the game. His integrity is consistent. He will not allow himself to be caught in a compromising situation in any way. 
Whatever the future holds of Pujols, now that he may be eligible for free agency at the end of this upcoming season, time will tell. Over the past decade, he has put up Hall of Fame stats, helped the orphans, widows, and downs syndrome, and shown no signs of letting up. Maybe he has the money to put forth to help those less fortunate, but has money ever been an issue with God? It's convicting to see such a big superstar doing so much for the kingdom of God when I feel like I do so little sometimes. Whether or not you like baseball, have been disenchanted by the steroid scandals, or don't like biographies, you should still read this book. It will challenge you and encourage you that despite anyone's status, one can impact the kingdom.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Gospel for Muslims - Introduction

This is a series of posts I am going to do on sharing the Gospel with Muslims. Hopefully, when I'm done, I'll be able to compile the posts into an e-book.
In today's society, Islam is the new Communism. I remember growing up in the 1980's during the Cold War and hearing about threats of nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union. I was in eighth grade when the Berlin Wall fell down. It was just after my ninth grade year when I was able to travel to Russia as a young missionary and share the Gospel openly on the streets. While that may not happen in Islamic countries due to the laws governing conversion out of Islam, there are still things we can to share the Gospel with Muslims. In this series, I aim to present some of the common beliefs of Muslims, some of their objections to Christianity, and how we can share the Gospel with them.
We don't need rhetoric. We need to show them God's love by being Christ's followers. There are those that would have us believe that any Muslim is a potential terrorist, and while that may be so, any Christian may also be a potential terrorist, if you want to go that route. Look at the abortion debate. There are those that have killed in the name of Christ, claiming to be protecting the life of the unborn. And yet, little is said to denounce such acts and then we turn around and suggest that we not allow certain religions to practice in America. This is hypocritical, to say the least, and smacks of Phariseeism.  
Let's get past the eyes of religion and get to the eyes of Jesus and how we can best show the love of Christ to Muslims in our midst. Chances are, you have a mosque or Islamic center in your city. There are a few where I live, one of which serves the needs of international students from places such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait.  Do you still have your American blinders on? You better take them off, because this is going to be a bumpy ride and they might fall off along the way. There is no denying that they have built Islamic centers/mosques in your very town. What can you do about it? I suggest, pray about how you can best reach these people with the Gosple of Christ.
In this series, I will offer up several posts on what Muslims believe and what some of their core doctrines are, such as information about the Qur'an, the 5 pillars, different sects of Islam, and how modern Islamic extremism has come from. In response, I will offer up a way to use the Gospel to counter some of these doctrines and use these doctrines to share the Gospel with them. I don't believe that one cannot use elements of other religions to share the Gospel. There is always a bridge in there somewhere. In Islam, because they are monotheistic, and because there are references to Christianity from within, there are significant elements that we can use to share the Gospel.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series. You can subscribe to my blog by entering your email in the box in the top right or click the RSS icon to subscribe in your RSS reader.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Revolution in the Middle East

I've hesitated to write anything on the situation in the Middle East just so I could wait and see what was going to happen first. Basically, what we have is people uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Libya. Are these Islamic uprisings? That is the question I hope to answer for you, if you're exploring for answers. How will Israel be affected? Yet another question to be answered. So, let's look at what's going on here.
Egypt: You have a President who came to power on the heels of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, because of Sadat's friendliness to Israel. How long ago was that? It was 30 years ago. That smells of dictatorship, obviously, despite democratic elections every so many years. The problem with democratic elections in the Arab world and most of the rest of the world is that there is no one standout or even standout opposition candidate to the one already in power. There are also too many candidates to choose from on the ballot so that the incumbent basically rides in uncontested. Mubarack should've been ousted years ago, despite his "pro-Western" stance on some issues. He cared little for the West or his own people, other than to stay in power. The people finally saw through it, took what happened in Tunisia, as a sign that the people can change government, and took control. This has been said to be the first government to be brought down by Facebook and/or Twitter. Protests were organized via Twitter and/or Facebook groups. If you want to know why the government was so interested in shutting down the internet, this is why. Now the elephant in the room is whether or not this was an Islamic revolution. I don't think so. Look at the age of the population that organized the protests. They are mostly 20-somethings. They are very Westernized Arab culture. They may be Muslim in name, but many of the country's Christians joined in the protests as well. People suggest that the Copts have been marginialized in this conflict, but they were marginialized before, so, what's the difference?  Mubarack was a dictator and it took one Arab Muslim country overthrowing their government to spark a movement across the Middle East that shows no signs of letting up.
Jordan: Okay, I'll admit it. I'm as confused about this one as anyone. Jordan is perhaps one of the most Western-friendly nations in the Middle East. They have a very Western-minded King and Queen who have studied in the U.S. Queen Rania has put forth efforts (and been heavily criticized for it) to establish shelters for battered and abused women. And yet, protests have shown up in Amman. I have been hard-pressed to find any adequate news coverage on this. Basically, this appears to be quite minor, even though the King did abolish his government to make way for changes in order to appease protesters. Since then, I've rarely seen a peep. I doubt this one will go anywhere.
Yemen/Bahrain: Yemen has been dealing with Islamic terrorism for years. Several of the 9/11 hijackers came from and trained in Yemen. Yemen is also where Samuel Zwemer spent many years as a missionary, starting a hospital there that is still functioning. Not much has been made of the Yemen protests. More has been made about the Bahrain protests, particularly in light of the fact that the government has been attempting to crackdown.  Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, much like many current monarchys around the world. Once again, this appears to be copycat, but is no different than protests that happened in the 1990's in Bahrain. Islamic in either case? Probably not.
Libya: My prediction on Libya is that the people will win through the help of international forces. Gaddafi has been in power for 40 years. Who thinks he is willing to step down? He has already shown that he is willing to kill his people to remain in power. He has defied international calls to stop the fighting against his people. He has threatened military action should sanctions be placed on Libya. The U.S. and U.K. have launched missile strikes against military targets in Libya as a show of force. Now, is this an Islamic revolution? I don't think so either. It is another revolt to replace a dictator. In this case, however, it is people from all ages revolting, young and old, unlike the Egyptian revolution.  Gaddafi is more a hardline Islamic leader than either Saddam Hussein or Mubarrak were (they were hardly Islamic). Even so, you would hardly know it, despite his parties where he holds Islamic education seminars. Gaddafi is little more than a rich oil baron and I think his people finally see it. I don't necessarily agree that we need to take military action against Libya as this seems rather hypocritical of our President.  He's the one calling for drawdowns in Afghanistan, when the mission has never been completed and corruption is rampant there, and also praised the Iranian elections last year as fair and balanced despite obvious rampant corruption. I think that Libya would eventually play itself out as Tunisia and Egypt did.
In all, we have not seen the end of the shaping of the current Middle East. When all is said and done, new leaders will arise, new constitutions will be written, and we'll see a younger, more Western, less religious Middle East (at least one can hope on this last part). God is sovereign and has allowed such to take place for His divine purposes. He is the one who has set kings in authority and is the one who removes them from authority ( If we watch Fox News on these issues, one would think that the Muslims are setting up another Caliphate and are ready to begin another crusade to take over the world. I think that the younger generations have had enough of being suppressed and are showing it. They want freedom and are expressing it. What we can do is that the doors to the Gospel will be flung open so that Christ's name can be shared and glorified. I pray for God's Church to be added to daily through these revolutions.

Discipline as Grace

he other day I was disciplining my oldest child (7 years old) and she was none too happy about it at the time. She proceeded to ask me to show grace to her, meaning, "let her off the hook" or "make the punishment shorter."  But as I thought about it while discussing this issue with her, I realized that I am showing her grace by disciplining her. Attempts to explain that to her sort of failed due to her limited understanding of grace. Her middle name is even Grace. But despite that, I learned something I believe I already knew, but was made manafest in my putting it into practice. Consider the following passage of scripture:

[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [4] In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. [5] And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?       
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
  [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
  [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 
[12] Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, [13] and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. [14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. [15] See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; [16] that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. [17] For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. 
(Hebrews 12:3-17 ESV)
So, you see, Godly discipline is God's grace to us as He molds us into Christ's image. If we do not endure discipline as God's children, then we are not God's children. Simply put. There is a goal to discipline. It is holiness, cleansining, purification. I desire to discipline my children in the same way that God desires to discipline us. It is for their good so that down the road, they can look back and see that they should be thankful for that discipline. I thank God for my parents who disciplined me so that I would learn from my sin. We live in a culture that sees it as wrong to discipline children. Children should raise themselves, according to the United Nations. If that were true of Christians, God's children, the Church would have even more problems than it already has. Examine yourselves to see if there is sin to be rooted out. Maybe God is disciplining you now. Take heart, God will not give you more than you can bear. As the writer of Hebrews says, Lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees. This is temporary and it is for your benefit and God's. If anything, trials and tribulations in the Christian life are a confirmation that you are God's son or daughter. Discipline is Grace.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tullian Tchividjian - Jesus+Nothing=Everything at CIU

Tullian's message at Columbia International University on March 8, 2011 has now been posted over at CIU's podcast page.
In my six and a half years here, this was clearly one of the best, if not the best chapel messages I have heard here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Don't Come to CIU

Unless you want to IMPACT the nations for Christ...the new video from Columbia International University, my employer and alma mater.
Note: Yes, this is a shameless plug, but our marketing department is so creative and awesome. And I work closely with those guys.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

[Book Review] "Dragons of the Valley" by Donita K. Paul

Note: This book was provided free for review by Blogging for Books.

As a lover of fantasy novels, mostly in the vein of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and Stephen R. Lawhead, I was interested in new Christian fantasy from someone I had not read before. What happened was that it took me a long time to get into the book. I finally figured out that this book is the second book in a series and that I had missed much of who the characters were by not reading the first. If you do pick up this book, you would do well to read "The Vanishing Sculptor" first to understand the world of Chiril and the characters as this book continues to allude to the events of the first book.
With all that, I did not really get into the book until about three quarters of the way through, when suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a battlefield without realizing how. The characters seem contrived and not all that thought out. The author seems to be trying to copy Lewis in the parallel aspects of creating a fantasy world with a supreme creator being, but it still seems superficial. I did not find the writing all that great, as it was hard to follow. I understand the author was a former schoolteacher, but I could not follow her writing style. The book sort of just ended in a flourish, supposedly indicating that only a miracle from Wulder (the supreme being) would help them win, but then there was not much credit given to Wulder, in the end.
In Summary, as Christian fantasy novels go, it was better than most, but that's not saying much, since there are very few to begin with. You typically only have Lewis, Tolkien, and Lawhead to really compare with. I would recommend it as a starter fantasy novel, but not one to really sink your teeth into. I hate to be negative on a Christian fantasy novel, but I really did not feel that it was all that enjoyable and I have read a lot of fantasy novels over the years. Teenagers would probably enjoy this over adults.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Roundup of Posts on the Alleged Universalism of Rob Bell

"Non-emergent" Emergent Church leader/pastor Rob Bell has released a new video about his forthcoming book on Hell and it stirred up some controversy in the Reformed world, starting with Justin Taylor of Crossway Books.;
1. The post that seems to have started the hoopla from Justin Tayler (updated version) - Rob Bell: Universalist?
4. Rachel Held Evans - Heaven, Hell, and Rob Bell
5. Tim Challies - At the Speed of the Web
8. Denny Burk (Questions Rob asks, with Denny's answers from the Bible) - Rob Bell Outs Himself
11. Out of Ur - Rob Bell: Universalist?
14. Josh Harris (his site appears to be down and so I'm linking to Zach Nielson's repost of Harris' comments): Josh Harris: Rob Bell, Hell and Why I Hope I'm Wrong
Now that the roundup is out of the are my thoughts. I've always been concerned about Rob Bell's theology ever since I first saw one of his Nooma videos at the Independent Baptist church we attended in Georgia back around 2002 or 2003. It was weird, new age, mumbo-jumbo that I don't remember what it was about, if that makes sense at all. Since then, I have seen occasional snippets from him and seem to glean that he leaned toward universalism. He seems to have no problems with homosexuality as a sin, allows an open bar in his church (not that there's anything wrong with drinking, but what about those prone to alcoholism), and has generally challenged orthodox Christianity (not that there's anything wrong with that). I am probably one of the few in my age group who has not read Velvet Elvis, and from what I hear of it, I'm glad. At any rate, I would not be surprised if the book does out Bell as a universalist, or even an annihialitionist. No one has brought up the latter yet, which could just as well be the case. At any rate, both Challies and Dyer bring up good points about the speed at which information spreads in this issue.  The detractors have accused the accusers of being judgmental and not loving while doing the same themselves. Let us examine this issue in love and pray that Rob Bell is looking at this issue Biblically, and not emotionally.