Thursday, March 31, 2011

Teach Sound Doctrine

Paul begins his first letter to Timothy (I Timothy 1:1-11) with a reminder of why he left Timothy at Ephesus. Paul had gone off to do other things, but he wanted someone to stay behind to teach the Christians at Ephesus sound doctrine. Paul is asking Timothy to continue to do what Paul had asked him to do. In much of the rest of the letter, we learn what Paul believes is sound doctrine.

Paul encourages Timothy to avoid fables and endless genealogies that promote questions. So often, people come up with some of the strangest things. They’ll tell stories about something they saw or something they heard and then try to make some kind of doctrinal sense out of it. Someone will think they’ve seen an angel or they’ll have heard someone talking about the end of the world on television or who knows what and then they have to bring it up and ask questions about. It is easy to get drawn into trying understand whatever it is and then trying to answer the questions, but in the end it does little to teach people sound doctrine.

Beginning with verse five, Paul encourages Timothy to handle the law in the right way. He points out that some have turned away from the “aim of the commandment.” The law is good (verse 8), but it can be used in the wrong way. If people would love each other like they should, we wouldn’t need the law, but people don’t. We have all manner of evildoers who need to see what God says is right and wrong. It is good to teach the law and to point out what is right and wrong, but it should be done so with an understanding of the purpose of the law, not just the letter of the law.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heavenly Rewards

The Bible talks about working for rewards. This has nothing to do with salvation, other than only those who have been saved will be rewarded for their good works. We sometimes think that God shouldn’t be paying us for our good works, since Jesus has already done more for us than we can even imagine. Perhaps we think it is more spiritual of us if we serve God without thought of reward. But the Bible tells us to lay up treasure in heaven. Whatever we think of the concept of working for rewards, God thinks it is a good idea.

Perhaps it would be helpful if we would look at it a different way. Forget about the reward God will give you, for a moment, and think about some of those great godly servants you have encountered. Perhaps some of them have already gone on to be with the Lord. You saw how they served the Lord greatly. Now think about some of these people who have been saved, but they hardly ever come to church. They might do something for the Lord occasionally, but not very often. Suppose that at the judgment one of these people was standing next to the godly servant you were think of before. Jesus looks at the record of the godly servant’s life and hands him his reward. Jesus looks at the unfaithful servant’s record and hand him his reward. These two people compare what they received and they discover that they both received the same thing. Is that fair to the godly servant? More importantly, is it just? If it isn’t just, it isn’t going to happen.

If rewards weren’t important, God wouldn’t talk about them so much. I don’t think that we should make rewards our only motivation for serving God. For that matter, we aren’t even sure what our reward will be. But it is good for us to give thought to the reward we will receive at the end of our days here on earth.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Will We Do In Heaven?

On the way home the other day I heard a preacher on the radio talking about what heaven would be like. He said something along the lines of “in heaven it will be like one big worship service.” Then he said, “You may think that sounds boring, but it won’t be. Some people think worship services are boring, but I’ve never seen a worship service that was boring when Jesus was in the center of it.” He then went on to talk about heaven being a continual state of worship.

Is that what heaven will be like? I realize that we’ll see things differently than we do now, so some of the things we think will be boring may be things we will enjoy there, much like many of the things adults enjoy children find boring. Even if that is true, I find it hard to believe that heaven if going to be one continual worship service. If we carry the child example a little farther, don’t we adults still enjoy some of the same things that children do? I enjoy a good worship service as much as anybody, but an eternal worship service doesn’t sound very appealing at all. And don’t you think it odd that a God who would make people with such diverse interests would turn us into worship robots?

Maybe we can look at what the Bible has to say about heaven and figure out a little more about what we’ll be doing. Granted, in much of what we see in the Bible, heaven does look like a great big worship service. We read Revelation and we see so much that takes place before the throne of God and it looks like a worship service. When Isaiah saw the Lord, he saw him “high and lifted up” and the seraphims cried, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Again, it looks much like a worship service.

While I’m sure the throne room of God will always look like a great worship service, the Bible does tell us more about heaven than just what happens in the throne room of God. Consider the holy city. The length, width and height of it is 1,500 miles. To put that in perspective, that is approximately half the width of the United States. That’s an awfully big space for pews.

We know we’ll be eating in heaven. There’s tree there that has twelve kinds of fruit for us to eat.

But there’s more than just the holy city, as big as it is. The gates of that city will always be open and the Bible says that the nations of those who are saved will walk in the light of it and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. While we don’t fully understand how things will operate, the holy city will be on earth and earth will have nations and kings. At least, that’s the way it looks. But these kings won’t make war against each other, because Jesus will be the king of kings. I’m sure we’ll spend part of our time in front of God’s throne and we’ll be glad to do it, but I think we’ll leave there and inhabit a world that looks much like our current world, only better. There will be work for us to do and people for us to see. It won’t be the same kind of work we must do now, but I think heaven will be a busy place with something new for us to learn with each passing minute.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Angels fascinate people. People have written hundreds of stories about angels. Most of these stories have very little basis in reality. If the stories are to be believed, angels have big white wings made of feathers, they only wear white, and they spend a lot of their time sitting on clouds playing the harp. Occasionally, they come to earth to help someone out, fall in love, and decide to give up being an angel and be mortal instead. Some of these stories are entertaining, but the characters they portray have no more basis in reality than Santa Claus. What is real?

The Bible has a lot to say about angels and yet it leaves much left unsaid. In appearance, we know that at least some of them look like men, at least part of the time. Some appear to have wings—that is if we classify cherubim as angels. David sung of the Lord mounting the cherubim and flying. That brings to mind a different picture than we normally have. The seraphim have six wings—two to cover their face, two to cover their feet and two with which to fly.

I think a more realistic understanding is that there are a number of different kinds of heavenly beings. Some appear very much like men. Some are so strange that the Bible just calls them beasts. Some are spirits. It is possible that angels don’t look like the other heavenly beings. Whatever they are and whatever they look like, we know that angels are more powerful than humans and they have freewill by which they can choose to sin, but they desire to look into the gospel. Jesus died for humans, not angels.

Angels are busy creatures and they appear to move through time in the same way we do. Daniel had to wait three weeks for an angel to come to him because the angel had been delayed. That is a very significant event in terms of our understanding of angels. Stories often indicate that angels just pop from one place to another. Whatever means they use to get around, it may be some time between when you become aware of your need for help and when an angel comes to help you.

But why use angels anyway? God spoke the world into existence, it isn’t like he really needs angels in order to help us. The Bible doesn’t really give us much of an answer for that, but the thing that seems the most logical is that God provides angels with the opportunity to serve him just like he gives us opportunities. Service to God is an act of worship and it also gives us something to do with our lives. Don’t you think angels would get bored if all they did was to sit on a cloud all day? Just as God gave Adam stuff to do when he created him, it makes sense that he gave the angels stuff to do when he created them.

Friday, March 25, 2011

How to Show People You Care - Proximity

One of the most powerful ways you can show someone that you care is actually one of the most simple. Sit beside them.

I sing in the choir at church, so I have a good view of the whole auditorium as people make their way to their seats before the worship service. There’s always a few people who come in a little late—usually visitors or people who don’t attend very often. They walk in the door and look around. There’s usually at least a couple of seats available close to the aisle, but they don’t sit there. They bypass that and chose another pew—a pew with several people sitting there. The whole family climbs over the legs of two or three other people and they pack the pew as full as it can be. This might seem strange until you realize that the family matriarch was already seated on that pew.

I’ve seen some of the teachers in our church work in, see some class member who is sitting off by herself and purposefully choose to sit next to that person. Even if they don’t say a word, I’m sure you realize the power in that. It is a mark of friendship.

Of course, it can also backfire. Image the person who is sitting alone and a large family comes in and says, “would you mind scooting down so we can all sit together?” Now the person doesn’t feel wanted but in the way instead. I suppose that even that points to the importance of proximity. We all have what we consider to be our personal space, but we want to let people into that personal space. What we don’t want to do is for people who care nothing for us to just take that personal space.

So, if you want to show someone you care, choose to sit next to them, but respect their personal space as you do so. Enter their personal space because you want to show you care, not because it overlaps the space you want as your own. If you must enter the space of someone you don’t know, find a way to be friendly. Introduce yourself. Shake their hand. Do something to show you care about them as a person.

Though it may seem so simple, choosing to sit next to someone can be a very powerful thing. It assures the person that someone cares for them.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Holding an Audience

I’ve been something of a student of speeches and presentations lately. One of the things that really stands out it that if you want to hold an audience, you have to make it clear to the audience that what you have to say is going to help them in some way and you have to do it quickly. At the very least, the audience how to understand that you are giving talking about something that they will be called to use. The same thing can be said of blog posts or pretty much any other form of communication.

Take a presentation by Nancy Duarte at TEDx East for example. She walks out on stage and says, “You have the power to change the world.” Now, contrast that with a TED presentation by Deb Roy. He walks out on stage and says, “Imagine if you could record your life.” He then shows a family picture of him and his wife bringing their son home from the hospital and how they recorded their lives and then used those recordings to trace the origins of language, words like water, etc. He even plays his son talking, attempting to say the word “water” over a period of one year.

It’s the same problem you run into when you try showing people the pictures from your vacation or of your grandkids. These are precious memories to you, but the people you are showing them to are attempting to flip through the pictures as quickly as they can without actually looking like they are flipping through them as fast as they can. If you want to communicate effectively and hold an audience, you have to provide them with something they can use.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Give People Hope

Life beats down on us like a hailstorm. I can’t count the times I’ve sat through a lecture, read an article, or watched a program in which someone enumerated all the things that are wrong with something. Christianity is declining in America. Terrorists are taking control of some foreign government. Drug lords are killing people in Mexico. The price of fuel is going up. Like one hailstone after another, it beats us down until we have no hope left. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And I don’t mean we just have to reverse the video as has been popular and have Mexico people killing drug lords and foreign governments controlling terrorists. I also don’t mean we simply pretend this stuff isn’t happening. For as long as we walk this green earth, we have the power to change the world. We don’t have to beat people down to do it.

I believe that one of the biggest mistakes communicators can make is to believe that people will take action if they see the problem. People won’t take the action you want unless you tell them what action they should take. I’m reminded of a scene from Independence Day. It’s pretty obvious throughout much of the movie that the aliens are bad dudes that outgun our finest military equipment. Even a big bomb wouldn’t take them down. Everyone in the world was motivated to destroy the aliens, but motivation wasn’t enough. Then we have that scene where the drunk crop-duster rams his fighter into the enemy’s weapon and takes down the ship. So, the President tells them to broadcast the enemy’s weakness to the whole world. It isn’t until that moment that we finally feel hope. Yeah, the enemy is a bunch of big bad dudes, but we can beat them.

If you want to destroy people’s hope, delineate the problem well enough to convince them something should be done, but don’t give them their marching orders to go fix the problem. The problem so many of us face is that we know what we see is a problem and we know we want to do something about it, but we don’t have any idea what needs to be done. And maybe that is the problem so many communicators face. They see the problem and know something needs to be done, but they aren’t sure what.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard concerning a situation like this is to motivate people to take the next step along the journey. If you don’t have a solution and it isn’t clear that someone else does, then maybe the next step is to get people to sit down and discuss what can be done about the problem. Any movement, no matter how slight, toward a better solution can give people hope in a bad situation.

Whatever the case, give people something they can do about the situation. Don't just tell them how bad the situation is. The situation may be very bad, but give them an action they can take and you will give them hope.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Teaching Kids the Impossible

I heard my father’s voice the other day, which is an amazing thing since he lives 600 miles away and I wasn’t on the phone. It happened in handbook time during Awana. One of the boys in my group had a lengthy section to pass. It was a review section in which he was so supposed to give four answers to the question “Why did God give us the Bible?” and recite a backup verse for each one. In the Awana book, the answers are listed and the first three words of each backup verse is given. Because it is review, it is conceivable that a clubber could spend a little bit of time looking at the order the answers and back up verses come in and simply recite what they’ve already learned in order. But it is rare that these kids will do that. It is more frequent that they do what caused me to hear my father’s voice the other night.

This particular clubber looked at the section he had to pass and the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t do this.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“It’s too long,” he said. “Do I have to do the whole thing? Can I just do part of it and come back and do the rest?”

I don’t know why they keep asking. The answer is always the same. “No.” Awana allows for clubbers to pass a section with up to two helps. I don’t remind clubbers of this fact. If they ask to use one of their helps, I’ll do that. But even after they’ve said the verse well enough to meet Awana’s standards, I’ll asked them to say it again and again until they’ve said it word perfect. In my group, it is the rare occasion when the clubber doesn’t pass a section word perfect.

I could tell that this would be one of those occasions, but the clubber kept insisting that there was no way he could pass that section because it was too long. I was trying to help the other boys with their sections and yet I kept hearing this clubber in the background, trying to convince me he couldn’t do it. That’s when I heard my father’s voice coming out of my own mouth. “If you would quit wasting time arguing and just work on the section, you could pass it.”

That’s about as riled as I ever get. Of course I was right. If he had used the energy he was expending in an effort to persuade me that he couldn’t do the work to study the section, he would’ve had no problem at all passing the section. But hearing my father’s voice reminded me of how many times I had been in a similar situation. “I can’t do that.” “It’s too hard.” “Do I have to?” And there was my father saying, “If you would just do the work and get it over with, it wouldn’t be hard.” But in my mind, he didn’t understand.

With several years of experience behind me now, I can see that my father did understand. But the thing is, we can’t just give children that experience. Like us, they have to learn it for themselves. No kid will simply back down and do the work because you told him that if he would quit arguing and do the work he would get it done. He is a kid; it is a completely foreign concept to him. It isn’t his fault he doesn’t understand yet. As the adults in the room, it is our responsibility to find a way for him and kids like him to overcome the mental block he is facing. He believes it is impossible. He really believes there is no way, so he won’t look for a way to achieve the goal. But from experience, we know he can do it, so we must show him the way.

In my case, with this particular clubber, what I did was to write the whole section on the whiteboard. Where the Awana book gave only parts of the verses, I filled it. Then I told him to read it aloud. Again and again I had him read it aloud until he had it down enough to pass the section. It wasn’t word perfect, though I’m sure it could have been if we had had more time. I’ve found that it helps to have clubbers read their sections out loud when they are working on them because they are easily distracted. A kid can sit quietly in a chair looking like he is studying for a long time before you realize he is thinking about something else. But let him roam free while reading aloud and you know when he is learning and when he is not.

Kids can be taught and it is our responsibility to teach them. It is our responsibility to understand the difficulties they are facing in learning and to show them ways to overcome those difficulties. It is our responsibility to show them that what they think is impossible is possible. Think back to when you were their age. Think about the difficulties you faced and how you were able to overcome them. Show kids how they can do the same and you can teach kids far more than you imagined you could.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why Churches Don't Need Technology

Churches are notorious for being behind the times when it comes to technology. My own church only recently purchased a large projection screen on which we display the announcements and the pastor’s sermon outline as his preaches. As for our classrooms, most of them don’t have a computer and a projector. After reading Nancy Duarte’s books resonate and slide:ology, I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t a good thing.

I’ve spent enough time working in corporate America to have seen many presentations. For some reason, the moment you install Power Point on a worker’s machine, his ability to communicate flies out the window. I’ve sat through meetings in which a presenter sat at a computer at the back of the room and read from an acronym laden slide at the front of the room that looked more like an eye chart than a slide. I have sat through meetings and amused myself by trying to guess which co-worker would nod off first.

As eager as people are for churches to embrace technology, my fear is that technology in the wrong hands will ruin the teaching ministry of the church. Can you imagine walking into a darkened Sunday school classroom on Sunday morning and trying to follow along as the teacher sat at computer over in the corner and read his outline to you off a slide?

The thing is, there are a lot of Sunday school teachers who don’t have the latest technology available to them, but they have an advantage over the technology gurus in corporate America who put their outline on a few slides and read it to their audience. The lack of technology forces these teachers to look for other ways to get their point across. Instead of sitting behind their audience, they sit or stand at the front of the room. When they have something to display visually, they might draw on the board, or bring some object to class. Instead of rushing to get through all the slides, these teachers ask questions and invite their students to participate. In short, they do all the things a good presenter is supposed to do.

That’s not to say that Power Point or some other presentation software can’t be used effectively in a church setting. If people would use it the way they should, they could keep doing the things that the teachers without technology are doing, but let’s not forget the many people who have mastered Power Point just well enough to put people to sleep. If that is what technology is going to do for churches, maybe it isn’t worth the expense.

Do you use presentation technology in your church? Is it used effectively?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jesus Friend to Sinners

Jesus was a friend to sinners. That was actually one of the biggest criticisms the religious leaders of his day had about him. Today, some take the fact that Jesus was a friend to sinners to mean that we should participate in the activities of sinners. After all, if we want to be friends with a man who drinks, shouldn’t we go out drinking with him? I would like to suggest that we need to look at this differently. The reason Jesus was a friend to sinners is because Jesus was a friend to people that the religious leaders recognized as sinners. For that matter, the people Jesus hung out with recognized themselves as sinners.

I write books. That means that I want to sell books. That isn’t as easy as it seems like it should be. I have found, however, that it's possible to sell some books just by hanging out in various places on the internet, participating in the conversation and occasionally mentioning a book. But here’s the thing. When I hang out on sites that authors frequent my book sales take a nose drive. On the other hand, when I hang out on sites that normal readers frequent, my sales climb. Readers know they are readers. They are looking for that next book to read. Writers don’t think of themselves as readers. They read, but that isn’t why they are visiting the site. They are looking for information on how they can improve their writing, not information on what book they should read next.

Just like a person who sees himself as a potential reader for a book is more likely to purchase the book, the sinner who sees himself as a sinner is more likely to accept Jesus Christ. Just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t see themselves as sinners and rejected him, many of the people we encounter today don’t see themselves as sinners and they too will reject Jesus. While we want to give everyone an opportunity to accept Jesus, the most effective use of our time is to spend time with those people who know they are sinners.

It is easy to waste time discussing religion with people like atheists and people of other faiths, but many will remain unmoved by our arguments. They argue because they wish to convert us to their faith or simply because they wish to argue. There are many people who don’t really think of what they do as sin. They know we think what they do is sin, but they don’t see it that way. They know that we teach that adultery, fornication, and homosexuality is wrong, but they don’t see themselves as bad people. They will not be persuaded. They are much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who thought they were keeping the law. No matter how much Jesus told them otherwise, most were not persuaded.

There are people who recognize that they are sinners. These people are like the publicans and sinners of Jesus’ day. When we tell them that they will go to hell because of their sin, they listen. They see their need of salvation, so when we tell them what they need to be saved, they listen. If we want to be like Jesus, these are the people we need to be hanging out with.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Have I Got the Girl For You!" - Handling Setups

Sometimes I get e-mail because of something I wrote. One e-mail came because of an article I posted online titled, “Are We Obligated to Marry?” The article was in reaction to another writer saying that the churches’ responsibility to singles is to get them married. The person who e-mailed me found my article helpful because she was in a situation in which people were trying to set her up but she didn’t feel that she was ready to be in a relationship. She asked me some direct questions that I won’t repeat, but in answering her questions I began to think about how we handle these well-meaning people who try to set singles up.

I’ve had so many people try to set me up with someone that I can’t remember how many times it has happened, but it always goes in pretty much the same way. Someone walks up to you and says, “Hey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.” At this point, you don’t know that they are trying to set you up. Many times, it is someone we know, but we don’t really know them that well, so we assume that they want our opinion on something or they need our help with something. Then they drop the bomb. “I know this young lady. She’s a really nice person…” It’s an immediate letdown. We thought they were coming to us because they respected us for our ability to do something or because they wanted to take the time to get to know us better. Instead, they just want to fix us.

After the initial disappointment subsides, you can sort of nod your head and assure the person that it’s okay for them to suggest you get to know this nice person. And if you aren’t like the person who e-mailed me, you might even feel a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe there is someone out there for you after all. But then they drop the second bomb. “She’s a Christian, but she doesn’t go to church.” Or “she’s divorced, but it was all his fault.” Or my personal favorite, “she has low self-esteem.”

There’s almost no way you can get out of these conversations without feeling worse than you did before. The worst thing about it is what it reveals about what the people trying to set you up think they know about you. The statement, “She’s a Christian, but she doesn’t go to church,” for example. Just what do you think someone like that has in common with me? I attend church twice on Sunday and on Wednesday nights. I sing in the choir. I work in Awana. I teach Sunday school. I maintain the church website. I attend church associational meetings. I think there just might be a problem.

Or take the “she has low self-esteem,” statement. If you know anything about me, you should know that isn’t going to work. What do you expect me to do about it? Fix her? If she can’t figure out how to fix herself, she’ll be worse off after spending time with me.

Of course, we can’t tell the people that. We can’t tell them that if they had spent more time getting to know us (and probably the other person as well) they wouldn’t see it as such a good idea. Then there’s the fact that some of these setup situations have worked for some people. It’s that fact that keeps us from dismissing them outright. Commonsense tells us that the friend of a friend is more likely to be our type than a stranger and it seems like our friends ought to have some idea of what kind of person we would like.

The thing is, there’s never any harm in making a new friend, no matter how unlikely it is that that person is our future spouse. But at the same time, we should not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by these setups. Some people have this idea that all singles are capable of doing is looking for a spouse. There is a big difference between desiring a spouse and being consumed with the search. God has called us all to his service. Whether we are married or single, the most important thing is for us to be doing those things that he has called us to do. If he sees fit to put a suitable person in our life, whether through the recommendation of a friend or some other means, that is great, but let’s not lose sight of the service he has called us to.

What bad setups have you experienced?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading Books in All the Formats

Do I want the hardback version of this book or the electronic version of this book? That’s the question I asked myself the other day as I was considering the purchase of a book that hadn’t been released yet. I think what surprised me the most was how tempting it was for me to purchase both versions. The electronic version has its advantages in that it will be delivered on the day of release and not two days later. It is also a couple of dollars cheaper, but that was hardly a concern, considering that I thought about buying both. The hardback version also has its advantages. With the hardback version, someone can walk into the house, see it lying on a table and ask if it is any good. Another advantage over the electronic version is that it will last a lot longer. Think about all of the software companies that have gone out of business or sold off a product that isn’t supported by the company that bought it. The eBook industry looks great right now, but one of these days there will be a bunch of eBooks that aren’t available to because they are no longer supported by the companies that are selling them.

I know that Thomas Nelson has been flirting with “bundling” so that readers who buy a book in one format don’t have to pay for it in the other formats. We can hope that other publishers do the same, but even if they don’t, I think we will see readers obtaining copies of books in multiple formats. That won’t be the case with every book, but if people really want to keep a book they may purchase it in hardback just to have a permanent copy, even if they choose to read the book in the electronic format. Some readers will prefer the paper version of books, but they may purchase the electronic version so they can begin reading the book and then finish reading the book after the physical book arrives in the mail.

It all seems a waste, which is why I hope more publishers will follow Thomas Nelson’s lead of offering the electronic and audio versions of books to people who purchase the physical copy. I don’t know that we should expect them to offer them for free, since there are additional costs associated with each of these formats, but when we consider that there if much shared effort between the formats, it makes sense that readers won’t have pay as if they are completely separate books.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review of A Cowboy's Touch by Denise Hunter

Abigail Jones takes a summer job as a nanny only to discover that she is working for a man that the news media has been looking for. It’s the story that will save her job as a magazine journalist, if she can get the story without revealing who she is. A Cowboy’s Touch by Denise Hunter is a romance set on a ranch in Montana. It isn’t the kind of story I would typically buy, but Denise sent me a copy after I participated in a picture caption contest. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. It was a very enjoyable read.

I noticed several similarities in this story to the story in Searching For Mom and Mother Not Wanted, so you can imagine that it would be easy for me to slip into the environment of this story. In particular, this story involves a single parent with an eleven-year-old child. That is about the same age as the girls in those two stories.

It is a Christian romance, so the book as all of the romance elements you would expect with hints of a growing relationship with God, but the rest of the story is well developed. So, while I’m not qualified to speak on their behalf, I think this book will be a real treat for Christian romance readers.

Is Rob Bell Teaching Hell is Empty? (Reprise)

A few days ago I asked the question, Is Rob Bell Teaching that Hell is Empty? The question was triggered by comments from John Piper, Albert Mohler, and some of their Calvinist brethren. After having read Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, I have say they jumped the gun—boy did they ever jump the gun. I don’t agree completely with Rob Bell’s book, but concerning hell it appears that he is saying that not only is there a hell, it is a literal place of torment, and if we go there it is our own fault and no fault of God’s.

It isn’t always easy to follow Rob Bell’s thought pattern because he asks so many questions and it isn’t always clear whether he is asking to make a statement or simply asking because some people will ask those questions. He seems to flirt with the idea that people may be able to repent after they have reached hell, so hell may not be eternal and yet he also has much to say about the possibility that those who go to hell will continually reject Christ throughout eternity anyway. He also flirts with the idea that the world religions might be another way to come to Christ. I think that is dangerous theology, considering how much the Bible has to say against idol worship, but I think I can agree with his assessment that God provides the opportunity for all men everywhere to be saved. We just don’t agree on how God does that.

Bell repeatedly says that God gives us what we want. If we would rather turn our back on God and go to hell, that is our choice. But Bell doesn’t like the idea of using hell to compel people to believe in God. Even so, Bell doesn’t make hell any less hot. Even though Rob Bell isn’t as far removed from the truth as what his Calvinist critics thought, I don’t expect they will like his book. He walks that fine line that allows for both freewill and the sovereignty of God without swaying very far to one side or the other.

How to Get Stabbed to Death

Happy ides of March. As you recall, Julius Caesar was slain on this date in 44 B.C. Because of that, it seems like a fitting day to talk about online forums.

The conspirators who killed him stabbed Julius Caesar twenty-three times. If you’ve ever participated in some of these forums, you may have found yourself in a similar situation. If you’re a glutten for punishment, go over to the Christianity forum on and post something that sounds even remotely Christian. Before the day is out, all the atheists over there will swarm your post and tell you all the reasons why you are an idiot for believing what you do. If you want your punishment to be a little less severe, post something in support of a Christian book over on the Kindle forum instead. They won’t slam Christianity quite as hard, but plenty of them will make it clear that they don’t like Christian books and you won’t have many who will come to your aid.

Forums display the opinions of the small number of people who participate, but when you are on the opposite side of the argument from the most vocal people it can seem like the whole world is against you. I suspect that is why many people avoid forums. Online forums rarely discuss anything meaningful. Occasionally, someone will ask for product information. Some people are there to promote their products. The rest tends to be about what idiots the people who disagree with the poster are.

You can’t win. You may enter a discussion hoping to learn from other people’s point of view, but many of the other participants will assume that you are there with something to prove. Even if you ask a question, someone is sure to think you are stating what you believe about something. If you try to explain how they misunderstood, they will not listen. Stab after stab they will make at you until you wonder why you even bothered.

On one hand, online forums seem like an opportunity to tell people about Jesus. That would be nice, but forums are much too noisy for that. I’m not saying that God can’t use forums to reach people, but it doesn’t seem like the best way. There is far too much anger on forums and even the most eloquent Christians may have difficulty conveying that they are speaking with a voice of reason.

Do you participate in forums? Why or why not?

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm Not as Special as You Think I Am

Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? I think most people do at some point in their lives. If when you hear someone singing your praises for something you’ve done and you don’t feel worthy of their praise then you are suffering from imposter syndrome. It really isn’t as dangerous as it sounds and it can take many forms. One place I’ve seen it is when a person gets up to speak before a large group of people. Afterward, people tell them what a great speech it was and talk about how they wouldn’t have the nerve to get up in front of that many people. The speaker dismisses it as nothing. Another place we see it is among authors. A publishing company offers them a large contract and they feel like someone made a mistake. Or after the author self-publishes a work, people actually enjoy reading the book. The author tells himself that they are just being nice.

I believe that imposter syndrome is a result of us having an ideal of what success looks like that doesn’t match what success feels like when we achieve it. We think we’ll feel special when it happens, but in reality, when we achieve success it feels normal. No one is truly an instant success, so by the time they are asked to be the keynote speaker they have given so many lesser speeches that the keynote speech doesn’t feel different. It is no better than any other speech they have given, so they assume people are praising them because it is a keynote speech rather than because it was particularly good.

The successful traditionally published author with a big contract doesn’t see his book as a particularly fine piece of work because he has gradually improved over the years. If other people think it is worth millions then they must be mistaken.

The self-published author sees the junk produced by other self-published authors and believes there is a stigma attached to his own work. If people are praising his work, then they must be lying because all self-published work is bad.

Imposter syndrome isn’t likely to kill you, but it does make it hard to enjoy your successes. When people praise you work, say thank you and move on. Don’t look for success to validate you or make you feel special.

How have you suffered from imposter syndrome?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Easiest Way to Share the Gospel

Do you share the gospel with your friends and neighbors? I’ve often heard people talk about how we’re afraid to even go across the street and share the gospel with a neighbor. It gives the impression that someone who is afraid to do that is pretty worthless as a Christian and yet many Christians do have a fear of sharing the gospel with a friend across the street.

If you find yourself in that situation, don’t feel guilty. The fact is that God has gifted some of us to be great at bringing up the subject of salvation with people we don’t know very well. Praise God for that! But some of us have other gifts. But just because we’re otherwise gifted doesn’t mean we don’t want to share the gospel and perhaps see someone get saved. What it does mean is that our success at soul winning is more likely to come closer to our comfort zone. When people tell you to get out of your comfort zone, they often mean to get out of your comfort zone and get into theirs. Some distance out of a comfort zone is good, but large leaps just creates stress.

Instead of worrying because you can’t witness to the stranger across the street, look for someone else that God has put in your path. While you may not be comfortable talking about such things with your neighbor across the street, you may not have any trouble at all talking about Jesus with your children, your children’s friends, or the kids at church. Just because they are at church doesn’t mean they have already accepted Christ.

Another thing to consider is the method. People talk about sharing the gospel and they come up with great ideas with names like Evangelism Explosion or the Roman Road. You can’t even remember what you need to buy at the store without a grocery list, how are you going to remember all the steps you need to share the gospel with someone? These things are not without value, so you might want to look closer at plans for sharing the gospel once you are more comfortable with sharing the gospel, but one of the most effective and by far the easiest way to share the gospel is to simply give your testimony. There’s nothing to memorize because you are simply telling a very important part of your life’s story.

My own testimony goes something like this: I was saved on August 7, 1983. I was eight. Having grown up in a Christian home, I already knew quite a bit about the Bible, including what it says about the rapture and the return of Jesus Christ. My bedroom was as far away from where the rest of the family spent most of their time as it could be. At night, I couldn’t hear anyone in the other parts of the house, so every night for several weeks I would lie there in bed fearing that the Lord had come back and I had been left behind. I would yell for one of my parents to come. I would ask for a glass of water, but all I really wanted was to know that they were still on the face of this earth. I can’t even describe the fear I felt because of the quiet. One night, I called for my parents, like I had so many times before, but this time when my Dad came into the room I asked, “What do I have to do to get saved?” To that, he gave the same answer Paul gave the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” There in my bed, I prayed a very simple prayer, “I want to be saved.” It was then that I was able to trust Jesus for my salvation.

If you’ve been saved, you have a story of your own. It is hard for people to argue against the truth of your testimony. They can argue against the Bible. They can argue against religion. But they can’t argue against your testimony without calling you a liar to your face.

In the comments, please share your own experience of salvation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

God Doesn't Play Fair

Back in the days when most people didn’t actually own a personal computer, I had a TRS-80 Model IV. The programs for this—at the time—wonderful machine were written in BASIC. The nice thing about that is that you could hit the Break key and edit the program. These days, with our understanding of the need for computer security, we can see that there are all kinds of things wrong with that, but back then, it allowed me to edit the games I had for the machine. If I wanted it to be easier to win, I simply had to change a few lines of code and run the program. These days, many computer games have cheat codes that will effectively achieve the same thing. You don’t have to play fair.

In life, God doesn’t play fair. When something doesn’t go the way we would like, we are often tempted to cry, “That’s not fair.” The evil seem to prosper and the righteous are persecuted. “That’s not fair!” But when we look at the bigger picture, we really don’t want it to be fair because it is God who isn’t playing fair, not the wicked. Look at the world. Many are eager to fight against the Christians, but they are also eager to fight amongst themselves. If they could come to some form of agreement, they might be able to take us, but God doesn’t play fair. Before Jesus left, he instituted the church. Churches give us a natural support group. We go to church and there are people there who build us up. They encourage us to do the work that God has called us to do. They train us to do the work. We go out into the world and we find that many of those church members are right there with us, helping us to reach the lost for Christ. After he left, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer. Through his guidance, we are better able to reach the lost for Christ. The lost world has nothing that compares to the things God has given us to use for his work. To use a military analogy, it’s like we’ve gone to a knife fight driving a tank.

We may not fully understand why God allows bad things to happen to us, but when we look at what he has done to help us through those situations and to share our faith with the world, it is very clear that we’re not in a fair fight. God has defined the parameters in his favor and since I’m on his side, I’m fine with that.

What blessings do you see in your life?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Be In The World

Be in the world, but not of it, the Bible teaches us. Some people have trouble balancing this concept. Some people seem to overemphasize the “be in the world” concept by taking part in the ungodly activities of the world, even bringing these things into their churches. Their claim is that they hope to reach the world for Christ by making friends with the world just like Jesus was a friend to sinners. Other people overemphasize the “not of the world” concept by completely avoiding anything they see as worldly. I believe we are to balance these two concepts.

Be In the World

If we are to be in the world, we are to actually be in the world. That means we’ve actually got to get out and talk to the world rather than hiding away in our homes. I don’t however think we must conclude that because Jesus was “a friend to sinners” that we are to participate in the bar scene, get involved with dancing with its immodest clothing and movements or anything else that we might do to assure the world that we are one of them. What we must understand about Jesus is that even though he was a friend to prostitutes and tax collectors and other sinners, he at no point participated in their sin or told them it was okay for them to keep sinning. He remained sinless, even while he was walking among sinners.

Not of the World

To be not of the world, means not participating in their sin. That doesn’t mean preventing children from having lost friends or avoiding people who are worldly. Children in public schools have many opportunities to share their testimonies with lost friends. In a typical day, a child in a public school has many more opportunities to witness than his or her parents will. An adult goes to work and may have an opportunity to share Jesus with someone, but his primary responsibility is to do his job. He may have opportunities during breaks, but other than that, he is to be dedicated to his work. A child, on the other hand, has opportunities to witness on the school bus, on the playground, during lunch, during study hall, and even during class. So, adults have to look for other ways to have contact with the people we are trying to reach for Christ.

What are you doing to be in the world?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Prayer Makes Things Harder

Prayer is a funny thing at times. Consider two equally matched football teams. Prior to the game, they both kneel in prayer to ask for victory over their opponent. One will leave the field later believing that God answered their prayer and the other will leave the field wondering why God didn’t answer their prayer. Let’s not put any limits on God and say that he can’t answer both requests, but the reality of the situation is that he doesn’t often do that. From our perspective, it appears that God didn’t answer one of the prayers, but which one? And how does this apply when we ask God for our success?

There is more than one possibility here. One is that God doesn’t actually answer prayer at all, so the only value of the two teams praying was the placebo effect. Because they felt like God was on their side, they played with more confidence. Another possibility is that when presented with two choices God picked a favorite and his favorite went on to victory while the other went on to defeat. Then there is the possibility that because he had no desire to play favorites, he let them battle it out. He himself had no preference concerning who would win. And there is the possibility that he knew that the best thing for one team would be to win while the best thing for the other team would be to lose so that they could learn from the experience.

Aside from the placebo effect, I think all of the above are valid answers, but it isn’t always easy to determine which is what happened in a given situation. Hardly a team sport is played without someone praying for victory, but God doesn’t always answer that prayer. But let me ask you this: if you were playing a game against your brother, would you want to think that the only reason you won was because a parent stepped in and changed the rules to favor you? In sports, I think we find the same is true. Yes, we want to win, but we want it to be because of our ability, not because God gave us an extra burst of strength. So the best thing God can do for us may be to let us play in a fair game.

That doesn’t mean, however that God never takes an active role in the outcome of games. I don’t mean you’ll see angels in the outfield, but sports plays too important of role in the way the world works for me to believe God doesn’t influence games. The Bible tells us that God is the one who promotes people or removes them from power. There is a lot of power surrounding sports organizations, so God must have a hand in it. I think that if we could understand what God is doing, we would find that he inserts his influence much earlier in the process. Instead of sending a gust of wind to make the ball float one way or the other during the game, God aids the players during the weeks and months they practiced before the game. On game day, the winning team wins because they are the better team, but they are the better team because of God’s aid in their preparation.

I sometimes catch myself comparing what I’ve been able to accomplish to what others have accomplished. I’ve prayed for success in one thing or another and at times it seems like it does no good. It doesn’t have the same obvious conflict of interest that a game between two teams does, but if everyone had the success they prayed for there would be no incentive for us to work to improve our abilities.

It is my belief that when we ask God for success that he does hear us and he will help us, but instead of him just snapping his fingers and making it happen (though he may do that at times too), more often than not, we will see the answer come in the form of us having the opportunity to put in some really hard work. Only after we’ve put in the hard work do we have the experience and knowledge we need to achieve the success we’ve asked him for.

When have you seen things get harder after prayer than before?

Monday, March 7, 2011

It Started With a Vision

Acts is largely a sequence of events. Because we don’t want to read long passages before teaching a lesson on it, we often break it up into manageable chunks. We might for example, talk about how Paul cast a spirit out of a damel. We might talk about Lydia. We might talk about the Philippian jailer. All of these stories stand on their own in our head, but we lose sight of the sequence. All of those stories I mentioned are connected with a cause and effect relationship and it all started with a vision.

Paul saw a vision in the night of a man of Macedonia saying, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” Why there’s a sermon on missions right there. But what we find is that because of the vision, Paul and his companions travel to Philippi, which was the chief city of Macedonia. On the Sabbath, they meet Lydia and some other women in a prayer group. After baptizing Lydia and her household, they stayed in her house. But while they were doing that, they encountered a damsel possessed by a spirit of divination, a soothsayer. She gave them no rest by going after them and crying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show unto us the way of salvation.” Paul got tired of it and commanded the spirit to come out of her. When it did, this angered her masters, so they took Paul and Silas before the magistrates. After being beaten and cast into prison, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises. An earthquake came and freed them. The jailer was so afraid they had fled that he would have killed himself rather than face punishment, but they were all there. It was then that he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” It is then that we see that great answer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou should be saved, and thy house.” He and his household were saved and baptized. Paul and Silas were freed the next day.

God’s plan to save the Philippian jailer and his household began with a dream. Actually, it probably began well before that, but God used some rather unusual circumstances to bring the man to Christ and it started with a vision. Imagine if Paul hadn’t listened. Imagine if they hadn’t stayed with Lydia. Imagine if they hadn’t met the damsel. Imagine if Paul hadn’t cast out the spirit. Imagine if the earthquake hadn’t freed them. One change in that sequence of events and the jailer and his family might not have been saved. It is important that we study the sequence as well as the smaller stories.

What sequence do you see in your own life that brought you to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How to Make Your Own Kindle Cover

If you have a Kindle,you want to protect it. There are plenty of covers available, some of which cost as much as $60 each. I wanted one that looked like a book. Here is how I made mine for approximately $15 and a couple of hours of my time.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Review: Heaven Is For Real

It’s no surprise that Todd Burpo’s book, Heaven Is For Real is a bestseller. People love hearing about that place Shakespeare called “the undiscovered country.” We want to know that there is something after death. Parents who have lost children want to know that their children are all right. People are looking for hope behind that great curtain of death. I believe many people will read Heaven Is For Real looking for that hope and they will find what they are looking for. At the very least, they will walk away having had an enjoyable read.

But to be honest, I was a skeptic when I began reading Heaven Is For Real and I don’t think the book has done anything to relieve my skepticism. The book is told from the point of view of a father who hears about his son’s near death experience. Having read the Bible, I believe it is quite possible that God could take a child to heaven for a while. We have plenty of examples. But I see too much of myself in this child. Todd Burpo’s basic argument for saying that this happened in this way is that there is no way his son could have known about these things if he hadn’t seen them because no one had told him about them.

I have trouble accepting that argument because I was once a four year old preacher’s kid. I remember knowing a lot more about church doctrine than what the adults probably thought I did at that age. Much of what I knew back then came from flannel graph and pictures in Bibles and Sunday school books, but I knew a lot. As I read Heaven Is For Real, I tried looking for those things that couldn’t be explained away as something a child might have seen in a Sunday school book. I have no way of knowing what Colton had the opportunity to learn in church and at home, but I do know that I had been exposed to all of that stuff by about that age.

Kids at that age have grand imaginations and the lines between reality and imagination are often blurred. Also, they have a tendency to make up stories to impress adults. It was about that age at which my sister told one couple that she used to have a husband, but he got choked in the berry briars. And if you took some of the stories I told at about that age to be fact, you would probably think the world has been invaded by aliens. So, the simple fact is that we have no way of knowing whether what is presented as fact in Heaven Is For Real is actually fact or not.

I did find a few things that definitely made me question at least part of it. In chapter 19, we’re told that Colton described the gates of heaven as being “made of gold and there were pearls on them.” You will recall that the Bible says nothing of golden gates, though some artist draw them that way. The Bible actually says that the twelve gates are each made of a single pearl.

In chapter 23, Colton talks about seeing “power shot down to Daddy” when he is preaching. In Colton’s explanation, the Holy Spirit does this. This raises questions because the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit indwells believers. There would be no need for the Holy Spirit to beam power down from heaven. Chapter 25 states that Colton didn’t talk about Satan because he had seen something awful. Interestingly, the Bible describes Satan as a beautiful creature. Chapter 26 talks about the women and children in heaven staying back and watching while the men have to fight. Once again, this doesn’t seem to line up with the Bible. Chapter 27 endorses the Akiane Kramarik “Jesus” picture as the real thing. Even her own website states that this painting is based on a model who agreed to let her use his face for the painting. For all I know, it does look like what Jesus looked like, but there’s nothing that proves it does.

The bottom line is that though Heaven Is For Real is an entertaining read, it has its flaws. We don’t really know how much, if any, is truly stuff Colton saw when he went to heaven, how much is stuff he dreamed after seeing Christian literature, and how much he simply made up because his parents kept asking him about it. I think the best way to look at this book is to see it as a book that will help you appreciate how much children of that age can absorb and understand. If Heaven Is For Real will help us see that it is never too early to start teaching children about Jesus and it will get some people thinking about heaven, then it is a good thing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Not Our Own Success

Absalom, David’s son became upset with his father and tried to take the kingdom from him. One of the things he did to gain favor with the people was to sit where the people going in to see King David could see him and he would say, “Oh, that I were made judge in the land, that every man who hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!”

It is kind of an interesting statement because it is the same kind of statement we hear from people who are complaining about the government today. “Those politicians don’t know what they’re doing. If I were up in Washington, this is what I would do.”

But Absalom ultimately failed. In explanation of that, Woodrow Kroll of Back to the Bible says, “No one is ever successful in any kind of ministry if their goal is to make themselves successful. Our goal always ought to be to make the next person up in line successful. Because when they’re successful we’re successful.” [David: Deposed Ruler]

Many people see writing as a ministry and yet so much of the time writers are concerned with their own success. Our success will not come when we are concerned with our own success, only when we set as our goal the success of those above us. That sounds simple enough, but who is the next in line above us? It is both true and easy to say that God is above us, but is he the next in line? Probably not. Is our publisher the next in line? Maybe, but I think it is more realistic to see them as on equal footing in a partnership. Who then is above us but below God?

For the author, I believe the “next person up in line” is the reader. If you are writing a how-to book, it has no value if it doesn’t tell the reader how he can do something that he needs to do. With other books it may not be so clear cut, but our success is dependent upon the success of our reader. Jessica Bell alluded to this in her post There are Certain Ways of Marketing. She pointed out that people aren’t likely to want to purchase a book if we use social networking to talk only about our book, but if we talk about other things and at the end say something like “by the way, I’m selling this book” people will be more likely to be interested.

As true as that is, it doesn’t keep it from being frustrating when you work until your fingers bleed at producing books that you believe are helpful and/or entertaining, you provide more stuff online than is included in your books and people still feel little motivation to purchase books.

That probably means I'm a hypocrite. If I’m truly not seeking my own success but the success of the next person, should I care if they purchase my books or not? I want to say no and yet I think we are compelled to say yes. Case in point, consider the Holy Bible. It is the ultimate example of a book written for the success of the reader. God doesn’t need book sales to be successful, but there isn’t a person on this planet who can’t benefit from reading it. People should therefore purchase copies of the Holy Bible and read it.

My books have a smaller number of people who will benefit from them, but they still promote the success of the reader. Book Cover Design Wizardry helps those people who want to design a book cover succeed. If you don’t need to design a book cover, there’s no point in you buying it, but the rest of you really should. Church Website Design: A Step by Step Approach is obviously for the benefit of people who want to develop a church website or who want to know more about websites in general. For the rest of you, there’s hardly any reason for you to buy it.

Okay, but what about the novels? How do they promote the success of the reader? Let’s consider the easy one first. Aside from being an entertaining book to read, For the Love of a Devil makes a great companion to a study of the prophet Hosea. Image teaching a study on Hosea and sending the students home with a book that will allow them to walk a mile in Hosea’s shoes. Because For the Love of a Devil puts the story in modern surroundings and follows the events of Hosea’s life so closely, readers can imagine what it would be like if they faced a similar situation.

What about the new book, Mother Not Wanted? That one is pure entertainment, but what’s wrong with that? Readers need books that provide a diversion without requiring much thought. It isn’t a retelling, so readers don’t have to give much thought about how it does or doesn’t follow the original story. It doesn’t have a point to prove, so you don’t have to debate the merits of the argument. Who should read this book? Well, you should.

Why do you think it is easy for authors to lose sight of the benefits they are providing readers?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Despicable Protests

Yesterday, we learned that the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Westboro Baptist Church and their protests at the funerals of service men and women. Westboro Baptist Church, which is Baptist in name only, has been in the news often during the past few years for their protests and use of hate speech. At one of their protests, you are likely to see signs that read, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags,” and “You’re Going to Hell.” These are not our kind of Baptists. These are the kind of people who give Baptists a bad name. These are the kind of people who are participating in things that do not show the love of God to a lost and dying world. I see no way to condone anything about the actions of these people. And yet, this ruling is good news.

As much as we would like to see the Westboro Baptist Church protests stop, this ruling is a victory for free speech. Let’s turn this around. Not that long ago, a street preacher in another country was out preaching the gospel. A gay police officer decided he didn’t like the guy, asked him what the Bible said about homosexuality and took the preacher to jail when the preacher gave an honest answer. The only justification for taking someone to jail for that is that it cause someone (the police officer) emotional distress. The good news for this country is that in an overwhelming decision of 8 to 1, the Supreme Court ruled that even something as emotionally distressing as telling grieving people that they are going to hell while they are attending the funeral of their child isn’t a valid reason to limit the freedom of speech.

Had this ruling gone the other way, it is conceivable that anyone who disagreed with something we had to say would claim emotional distress and take us to court. Christians would have lost the most because of this. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Bible is emotionally distressing for the lost. Even the Bible itself tells us this. “For the Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Yes, I wish Westboro Baptist Church would let families grieve in peace, but this court case is a great victory for the First Amendment protections we enjoy. It is this freedom that protects us not only when we are preaching and teaching within the walls of our church buildings but when we are out on the streets of our community.

Could You Be Paying For This?

Steve Laube talked about this book trailer on his blog the other day. Okay, I’m impressed with the production quality, but it doesn’t really give me any reason to buy the book. It doesn’t really tell me anything about what I can expect to find in the book if I read it. What is the benefit to me?

At first, I thought it was a pro-life book, since it showed the image of a baby on the preview, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. The title of the book seems to imply that it is a list of prices. I can’t think of why I would want that, though I doubt that is what it is. My conclusion is that this trailer is a huge waste of money.

What do you think of trailers for books? Do you think they are beneficial or are they all a waste of money? What do you think of publishers requiring their authors to pay for trailers for their books?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is Rob Bell Teaching That Hell Is Empty?

The award for the most anticipated book for the month of March as to go to Rob Bell’s Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived from HarperCollins. Even before the book officially releases, people are already speculating on what it says. In both the product description and the video featuring Rob Bell talking about the book, it appears that the book is going to declare that God won’t actually send people to hell for eternity because “Love Wins.”

One possibility is that this is just a marketing ploy. In the promotional stuff I’ve seen, Rob Bell asks a bunch of questions without giving the answers. Though he implies that the view that hell is hot and full of billions of people may be wrong, he doesn’t actually say that in the promotional material. He only asks how people know that. He also suggests that his view of things is more optimistic than the view most of us hold. But here again, he doesn’t actually tell us what his view is, only that “Love Wins.”

Well, of course, Love wins. God is Love and God wins. His 11,000 church members notwithstanding, whatever his says in his book, there are answers for every question he asks in his promotional material. How do we know that the leaders of non-Christian religions are in hell? The Bible says so. How do we know that hell exists at all? The Bible says so. How do we know that it is hot and it is a place of eternal punishment? The Bible says so.

If as some suppose, Rob Bell holds to a Universalist doctrine, he cannot do so without rejecting the Bible. In our understanding of God, it is important for us to recognize that God is Love, but let’s not redefine love to be something that it is not. A loving God can still send people to hell just like a loving parent can tan a child’s backside. But unlike the punishment that a parent gives a child in hopes of training him to be a better person, God sends people to hell because he is Holy and there is no room in his presence for the unrighteous. Because of his love, he wants all people to be saved. Because of his holiness, he sends many people to hell. Out of his love, he provided a way for us to become righteous, but not all will.

As I said, this may just be a marketing ploy. It may be that Rob Bell will answer all those questions he asked by stating what the Bible teaches. Or it could be that he turning his back on the truth in the interest of building his fan base. Either way, we’ll find out on March 29.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Hardest Job in the Sunday School Ministry

Do you teach Sunday school? I do. Part of the time anyway. I actually hold the position of Assistant Sunday School Teacher. I also serve on our church’s Christian Education and Nominating Committee, but that isn’t important right now. The job of Assistant Sunday School Teacher is one of the most difficult jobs I’ve ever been asked to do and I say this from the perspective of someone who has held several positions in the church, including Sunday School Teacher.

In some ways, the job of Assistant Sunday School Teacher seems less demanding than that of Sunday School Teacher. The Sunday School Teacher has more responsibilities and the Assistant Sunday School Teacher isn’t called upon to teach unless the Sunday School Teacher is out for some reason. It sounds easy until you realize that for the Assistant Sunday School Teacher to do his job properly he must be prepared to teach the class if the Sunday School Teacher calls him thirty minutes before class and says, “I’m sick, can you teach the class this morning?” And it may not be the same class. There was one Sunday that I showed up at church and five minutes before class time someone asked me if I could teach another class for which the teacher had not shown up.

I’ve studied the Bible enough throughout my life that I could teach a lesson with not preparation if the situation called for it, but that is not the best situation to be in. For an Assistant Sunday School Teacher to do his job properly, he should be putting in time each week preparing a lesson. When that last minute request to teach come, it is much easier if you have your three or four pages of notes typed up and ready to go. What makes it difficult is most of the time those notes will go unused. You’ll be sitting there with the other students listening to the lesson, but all the while you’ll be thinking about those notes in your breast pocket and how you would’ve liked to have taught the class.

Of course, you can’t say that you would’ve done it differently. That isn’t your place. Your place is to support the Sunday School Teacher and to be ready. You’re sure to have your own ideas of how things ought to be done. Maybe they would be better, maybe not. If you have suggestions, discuss it with the Sunday School Teacher in private, don’t cause dissention among the class. And if the Sunday School Teacher does something other than what you think he should and it proves to be a mistake, it is his mistake to make. Your job is to be there to support him.

It isn’t easy playing second fiddle, but a good Assistant Sunday School Teacher is there to support the Sunday School Teacher. That may be one of the hardest thing you can do.

What do you do to prepare to teach a class?