Friday, July 2, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY TWELVE

Here are my thoughts on Chapter 7 of "Velvet Elvis":

This quote is probably one of my favorites by Bell in this chapter:

"Jesus is God's way of refusing to give up on His dream for the world."

Think about that statement this way. After God created the world and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they ate the forbidden fruit and were forced to leave. Then Cain killed Abel...then a big flood came and destroyed everyone and everything that wasn't on Noah's get the idea...SIN entered the picture.

Eventually, God sends His son Jesus to the world to spread the news of salvation to the people. He is crucified and raised from the dead 3 days later. He was the ultimate sacrifice. Through this, we are offered the gift of salvation. This gift is open to EVERYBODY, but you have to accept it.

One thing I liked in this chapter is how Bell uses the stories of the Garden of Eden and Jesus' resurrection to show how Jesus is reclaiming God's creation:

"Back to the empty tomb and Mary's inability to recognize Jesus. She mistakes him for a gardener. Where is the first mention of a garden in the Bible? Genesis 2, the story of God placing the first people in And what happens to this garden and these people? They choose to live outside of how God made them to live, and they lose their place in the garden. Death enters the picture and paradise is lost.

John tells us that Jesus is buried in a garden tomb. And Jesus is mistaken for a gardener. Something else is going on here. John wants us to see a connection between the garden of Eden and Jesus rising from the dead in a garden. There is a new Adam on the scene, and he is reversing the curse of death by conquering it."

One thing Bell talks about that I never really thought of before is why God created things and called them "good" instead of "perfect":

"The garden of Eden is not perfect. Nowhere in Genesis does it say it is perfect. The word the Bible uses is 'good'. There is a difference. When we say 'perfect', what we generally mean is 'static' or 'fixed' or 'unchanging'. It has reached a state in which there is going to be no more change. But this is not what Genesis says about the garden of Eden. Good means changing and growing and advancing and producing new things. And so these people are placed in the midst of this dynamic, changing, alive vibrant environment and charged with the divine responsibility of doing something with it."

Adam and Eve were given a choice when they were in the garden. They could care for the land according to God's instructions, care for the land against His instructions, or they could just do nothing at all. When they ate the fruit, they decided to do things their own way...and there was a consequence.

"The choices of the first people were so toxic because they were placed in the middle of a complex web of interaction and relationships with the world God had made. When they sinned, their actions threw off the balance of everything. Weather. Trees. Oceans. It is all one, and when one part starts to splinter and fracture, the whole thing starts to crumble. These people cannot be separated from their environment. One part falls out of harmony, and everything is affected."

Another topic Bell addresses in this chapter is how the church is at its best when it is serving others. He says that God chooses people to be used to bless other people. Nobody is used by God so they can feel good about themselves. They are used to serve OTHER people.

Another thing Bell talks about that I never really thought of is the idea that God blesses ALL people...even the ones who don't believe in Him. Now, I can understand how Christians would have a REALLY hard time with that. But think about it this way:

-The Bible says that the rain falls on the just and the unjust...meaning ALL people (whether believers or not) are going to go through hard times and suffering in their lives.

-So, keeping this in mind, wouldn't it make sense that blessings would come to the just and the unjust? For example, what do you do with a businessman who is highly successful and got where he is through hard work and was rewarded for it, but didn't call himself a Christian?

-What it all boils down to is ALL people are blessed. HOWEVER, those blessings won't mean a thing if you don't chose to follow Jesus. Eternity with Him is the best blessing of all, but not all people will receive it.

Finally, Christians need to start spreading the good news of Jesus out of love for people...not because of some agenda to convert people or make them one of us.

"Oftentimes the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith. So there is an agenda. And when there is an agenda, it isn't really love, is it? It's something else. We have to rediscover love, period. Love that loves because it is what Jesus teaches us to do. We have to surrender our agendas. Because some people aren't going to become Christians like us no matter how hard we push. They just aren't. And at some point we have to commit them to God, trusting that God loves them more than we ever could."

And with that..."Velvet Elvis" is done!! My quick review...I think it's a very good book that needs to be carefully studied. I think the reason some Christians waste their time criticizing this book and taking quotes out of context is because the time they should have used to CAREFULLY think about what's being said was wasted with criticism. Read this book for yourself.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY ELEVEN

Here is my interpretation of Chapter Six of "Velvet Elvis":

There are Christians out there that struggle with certain sins and temptations. The problem is that even though they realize they're sinners saved by grace, they let the fact that they're sinners make them feel like they'll never be able to overcome it. Since they feel weighed down and hopeless, they'll keep falling prey to the same sins.

I'm just as guilty of this as anybody else! It's a struggle all of us face. As Christians, we need to realize that when we gave our lives to Jesus, we put off the old sinful nature and try our best to become more like him. He is making us into a new creation, and we have to be able to let him do his job. We're not going to get things right 100 percent of the time, but we have to rely on the grace and mercy we receive from Jesus, start again, and try not to get wrapped up in the sin that entangles us.

Each human being is given a choice of which kind of life they want to lead. They can choose to follow God or reject's that simple. All human beings are offered the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. It's all a matter of whether we accept it or not. Listen to how Rob Bell describes this choice.

"Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God's."

Basically, what Bell is saying here is the difference between people in Heaven and people in Hell all comes down to whether or not they accepted the forgiveness and salvation that was offered to them. The ones in Hell (as Bell puts it) chose a reality of their own making instead of God's.

Rick Warren has said that life on Earth is a dress rehearsal for eternity. That kept popping into my head as Bell talked about Heaven and Hell being present realities.

"For Jesus, heaven and hell were present realities. Ways of living we can enter into here and now. He talked very little of the life beyond this one because he understood that the life beyond this one is a continuation of the kinds of choices we make here and now. For Jesus, the question wasn't, how do I get into Heaven? but how do I bring heaven here? The question wasn't, how do I get in there? But how do I get there, here?"

Think about the times you've turned on the TV and seen footage of the damage left behind by various disasters (the flooding in Nashville, the earthquake in Haiti, the rubble left behind after a suicide bombing in Iraq). This is Hell on earth. Bell says there's also Hell on earth where poverty, injustice, and suffering exist. As Christians, we need to fight these things because that's what Jesus would want us to do.

When we do acts of kindness as a representative of Jesus, we are bringing Heaven to earth. Think about the times you may have mowed a yard for someone who couldn't do it themselves. How about a time when you helped in an extensive home repair project? If you've done it to the least of these, you've done it for Jesus, and you have brought Heaven to earth.

Life on earth is a dress rehearsal for eternity. If you bring Heaven to earth by believing in Jesus and being the best witness that you can possibly be, you will be with Him for eternity in a new Heaven and a new Earth (Revelation 20-21).

(One more chapter to go!! Thanks for reading!)

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY TEN

Today, I'm covering Chapter 5 of "Velvet Elvis".

This was probably one of the easiest chapters to read because Bell uses this chapter to describe how Jewish children were raised and related it to how Jesus ran his ministry.

The Jewish education system went like this:

-The first level was called "Bet Sefer" ("House of the Book"). Starting at the age of 6, all children were required to learn "The Torah" (the name given to the first 5 books of the Bible; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). They were expected to have "The Torah" memorized by the age of 10.

-The second level was called "Bet Talmud" ("House of Learning"). This would last from age 10 to 14. Students would memorize the rest of the Hebrew scriptures. The top students would have the ENTIRE Old Testament memorized. Anyone who didn't go to this level of education would learn the family trade.

-The third level was called "Bet Midrash" ("House of Study"). A student would choose a rabbi they wanted to follow and be one of his disciples (or "talmidim"). The rabbi would question the student on how much knowledge he had of the scriptures to see if the student had what it took to be a rabbi. He would either accept the student as his disciple or tell him to go home and learn the family trade. He only wanted the best of the best.

Think for a moment about what happens during that third level of education, especially the point about the rabbi only wanting the best of the best as his disciples.

Who did Jesus chose to be his disciples?? FISHERMEN!!! These were people probably not considered to be "the best of the best", but Jesus chose them as his disciples. Jesus saw their potential. He knew what they could be when everyone else couldn't see it.

Check out this quote from Rob Bell: "A rabbi would only pick a disciple who he thought could actually do what he was doing. Notice how many places in the accounts of Jesus' life he gets frustrated with his disciples. Because they are incapable? No, because of how capable they are. He sees what they could be and could do, and when they fall short, it provokes him to no end. It isn't their failure that's the problem; it's their greatness. They don't realize what they are capable of."

With all my sins and screw ups I commit on a daily basis, I'm glad Jesus chose me anyway. I didn't have to be "the best of the best". I just have to try and be as much like him as possible.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY NINE

"People who are starting churches, or want to someday, often ask me when I knew it was time to do it. And I actually have a coherent answer: I knew it was time when I no longer cared if it was successful."

The above statement made by Rob Bell had to be one of my favorite quotes of Chapter 4 of "Velvet Elvis". In this chapter, he opens up a lot about how Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan got its start, along with the successes and pitfalls that went with it. I really appreciated his openness in this chapter.

Bell says the idea for planting a church started when his family was living in Los Angeles. They visited a church they heard about called Christian Assembly. It turned out to be an extremely rewarding experience.

"It was like nothing I had experienced before. This community was exploding with creativity and life-it was like people woke up on Sunday morning and asked themselves, 'What would I like to do today more than anything else? How about going to a church service?' I could not get my mind around this at first. This concept was so new and fresh-people who gathered because they wanted to."

While attending Christian Assembly on a regular basis, Bell concluded that this was the church should be about...a group of people desperate to experience God...a group of people who wanted to connect and grow closer to God without all the fluff and hype. Using this idea, Bell planted a church with his wife Kristin.

Bell describes the shock at having over 1,000 people attend the first service at Mars Hill with NO promotion. Over the next couple of years, the congregation grew to over 10,000 people. They eventually had to purchase an abandoned mall to fit all the people in.

Unfortunately, the more the church grew, Bell started to feel overwhelmed. It felt like he had to be a "superpastor" and please as many people as possible. It got to the point where he hid in a storage closet between services one Sunday and didn't want to continue!

He decided he needed to get help and find out what the source of the problem was. He started seeing a therapist with his wife. The therapist told him, "Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be. And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it." It was at that point Bell realized that he was trying too hard to please other people instead of working on who God made him to be.

I repeat...I admire his honesty!!

Bell applies his story to our lives, because all of us deal with something like this. "I meet so many people who have superwhatever rattling around in their head. They have this person they are convinced they are supposed to be, and their superwhatever is killing them. They have this image they picked up over the years of how they are supposed to look and act and work and play and talk, and it's like a voice that never stops shouting in their ear. And the only way to not be killed by it is to shoot first. Yes, that is what I meant to write. You have to kill your superwhatever. And you have to do it right now. Because your superwhatever will rob you of today and tomorrow and the next day until you take it out back and end its life."

Bell refers to the story in Luke 8:43-48 about the woman who had an illness for 12 years and touched Jesus' cloak to be healed. Jesus told her to go in peace. Bell says that most of us think peace means an "absence of conflict", but there's much more to it than that.

"Shalom is the presence of the goodness of God. It's the presence of the wholeness, completeness. So when Jesus tells the woman to go in peace, he is placing the blessing of God on ALL of her. Not just her physical body. He is blessing her with God's presence on her entire being. And this is because for Jesus, salvation is holistic in nature. For Jesus, being saved or reconciled to God involves far more than just the saving of your physical body or soul-it involves all of you. God's desire is for us to live in harmony with him-body, soul, spirit, mind, emotions-every inch of our being."

The bottom line is Jesus wants to heal us of what is ailing us...not just physical healing, but spiritual as well. In order for us to be healed, we need to be willing to open up to Him about the junk in our lives and let Him restore us.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY EIGHT

Today, we finish Chapter 3.

While reading the section of Chapter 3 titled "Labels", I could identify with the things Bell was saying, because I've experienced what happens when people turn the word "christian" from a noun to an adjective. Bell's definition of "christian" as a noun says "A person who follows Jesus. A person living in tune with ultimate reality, God. A way of life centered around a person who lives."

It's very dangerous to turn the word "christian" into an adjective because of all the limitations that come with it. Let me give you a few examples I thought of while reading.

-When I attended Indiana Wesleyan University, I worked at the college radio station. I think it would be safe to say most of the student body like the more popular CCM music (Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, etc). However, there were people out there who liked the "louder" stuff (MXPX, Stavesacre, etc). So, when I was the program director and general manager of the station, I did my best to include all styles of music. Unfortunately, we would get calls from people who didn't like the louder stuff and questioned how "christian" it was based ONLY on the style of the music!!!

-When I was in my first band, I was trying to get a show at my church. I had to get it approved, of course, so I went to the church business meeting and stated my case. We had already played there once before, so I thought it would just be a wrong I was!! One woman kept interrogating me on how "christian" and "spiritual" we were. I felt like I was in an episode of "Law and Order" and I was in one of those tiny interrogation rooms with one light hanging over my head. Think about that for a minute...just because my band didn't call themselves a "christian" band, some people were suspicious of us (despite the fact that I was the Preacher's kid and the youth leader at the time).

Read what Bell says:

"This happens in all sorts of areas. It is possible for music to be labeled Christian and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled cliches. That 'Christian' band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name because they aren't a great band. It is possible for a movie to be a 'Christian' movie and to be a terrible movie. It may actually desecrate the art form in its quality and storytelling and craft. Just because it is a Christian book by a Christian author and it was purchased in a Christian bookstore doesn't mean it is all true or good or beautiful. A Christian political group puts me in an awkward position: What if I disagree with them? Am I less of a Christian? What if I am convinced the 'christian' thing to do is to vote the exact opposite? Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective."

Bell says (and I believe it) that even if something is labeled "christian", we can't just blindly accept it. We have to do what Peter says in I Peter 5:8 (be alert) and what Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:21 (test everything and hold on to the good). Bell even asks people to do that to his book!!

"Do that to this book. Don't swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it. Just because I'm a Christian and I'm trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn't mean I've got it nailed. I'm contributing to the discussion. God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right?"

Just like there are things out there labeled "christian" that aren't true, there are things out there that are true but not "christian". Bell explains how this works by talking about how Paul would quote Cretan prophets and Greek poets. He would read them, study them, analyze them, separate the light from the dark, and use what was true to point people to Jesus.

Bell says, "It is as if Paul is a spiritual tour guide and is taking his readers through their world, pointing out the true and the good wherever he sees it."

As christians, we need to be spiritual tour guides...looking for ways to point out the existence of God in places where people say they can't find it.

Bell: "Have you ever heard missionaries say they were going to 'take Jesus' to a certain place? What they meant, I assume, was that they had Jesus and they were going to take him to a place like China or India or Chicago where people apparently didn't have him. I would ask them if people in China and India and Chicago are eating and laughing and enjoying things and generally being held together? Because if they are, then Jesus, in a way that is difficult to fully articulate, is already present there. So the issue isn't so much taking Jesus to people who don't have him, but going to a place and pointing out to the people there the creative, live-giving God who is already present in their midst."

It reminds me of something my dad says a lot in his prayers...we don't need to ask God to be with us...because He's ALREADY with us!!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY SEVEN

I am now reading Chapter Three of "Velvet Elvis" (Movement Three-True)

Chapter Three starts with author Rob Bell describing times when he's been in awe of God. They've ranged from the extraordinary times (the birth of his son), ordinary times (attending a U2 concert when he was 16), and in the low points of life (seeing the compassion of a person caring for a dying friend).

I could relate to everything Bell was saying. I remember those times in my life when I was in awe of God.

I remember standing on a beach in Charlevoix, Michigan watching a sunset over Lake Michigan.

I remember how I couldn't stop crying when my first son was born.

There was that time just a couple of days ago when my wife and I were cleaning the house. My son came up to us, put one of his arms around each one of our legs and said, "MOMMY!!! DADDY!!" It made my wife want to cry.

I must confess that I had a really hard time thinking about experiencing the awe of God in a low point, but something came to mind today. I remember when a woman everyone called "Mom Rogers" passed away unexpectedly. I sat there during the funeral crying my eyes out. This was a woman I loved and respected, and it was hard to think that she was gone. During the service, they gave people a chance to stand and share some memories. I got up there and told a story about her, and as I finished my story, I could smile because I knew that someday I was going to see her again. That gave me hope.

Check out what Bell says about God's presence:

"According to the ancient Jewish worldview, God is not somewhere else. God is right here. It is God's world and God made it and God owns it and God is present everywhere in it."

"I've heard people tell stories about something powerful that happened and then at the end of the story say, 'And then God showed up!' As if God were somewhere else and then decided to intervene. But God is always present. We're the ones who show up."

Bell goes on to say that if the world is God's and everything in it (Psalm 24:1), then truth (God's truth) can be found in anything. Believe it or not, someone who doesn't even believe in the one true God can say something that can be claimed as God's truth!!

Bell talks about how Paul did this in the book of Acts:

"He (Paul) is...trying to explain to a group of people who believe in hundreds of thousands of gods that there is really only one God who made everything and everybody. At one point he's talking about how God made us all, and he says to them, 'As some of your own poets have said, we are his offspring.' He quotes their own poets. And their poets don't even believe in the God he's talking about. They were talking about some other god and how we are all the offspring of that god, and Paul takes their statement and makes it about his God. Amazing."

This actually reminded me of when I used to go to Granger Community Church. One Sunday, the message was actually about how one can find God's truth in the strangest places! One of the examples they used was the song "Dead Man's Rope" by Sting...who is a Buddhist.

Check out some of the lyrics:

If you're walking to escape, to escape from your affliction
You'd be walking in a great circle, a circle of addiction
Did you ever wonder what you'd been carrying since the world was black?
You see yourself in a looking glass with a tombstone on your back

Walk away in emptiness, walk away in sorrow,
Walk away from yesterday, walk away tomorrow,
Walk away in anger, walk away in pain
Walk away from life itself, walk into the rain

All this wandering has led me to this place
Inside the well of my memory, sweet rain of forgiveness
I'm just hanging here in space

Now I'm suspended between my darkest fears and dearest hope
Yes I've been walking, now I'm hanging from a dead man's rope
With Hell below me, and Heaven in the sky above
I've been walking, I've been walking away from Jesus' love

Chapter be continued. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Velvet Elvis"-DAY SIX

I'm finishing up Chapter 2 today.

When I continued reading this chapter, it became very clear to me that Rob Bell likes a "community" concept when it comes to reading and studying the Bible. He says the Bible was written in communities, and in the days before the printing press was invented, people read the Bible in groups (since it was rare for someone to be able to afford their own copy of The Bible).

The first thought that came to mind while reading this was one of the purposes found in Rick Warren's book "The Purpose Driven Life"...COMMUNITY. It's good for Christians to gather together in a community for fellowship and the studying of God's word. Small groups is a great way to do this. We stress the importance of small groups at my church, and there are many others out there that do the same.

In addition to the "community" concept that existed in the early days of "The Church", in today's society, people do a lot of reading and studying of the Bible on their own. It does work for some people, but that's not the only way to do it.

Bell seems to prefer community when it comes to studying the Bible. Read what he says:

"Perhaps this is why the Bible can be confusing for some the first time they read it. I don't think any of the writers of the Bible ever intended people to read their letters alone. I think they assumed that people who were hearing these words for the first time would be sitting next to someone who was further along on her spiritual journey, someone who was more in tune with what the writer was saying. If it didn't make sense, you could stop the person who was reading and say, 'Help me understand this."

Lord knows how many times I've done that. Whenever I've read something in the Bible I didn't understand, I would talk to my dad. He's been in the ministry for over 30 years now, and he has a terrific ability to explain something I didn't understand and have it make sense (thanks, dad...I'll probably be e-mailing you a lot more once you move ready...hehe).

And now it's time for..."Rob Bell Was Taken Out of Context!!"

Read this quote from page 67 of the book:

"This is part of the problem with continually insisting that one of the absolutes of the Christian faith must be a belief that 'scripture alone' is our guide. It sounds nice, but it's not true."

As you may have figured out, critics of Bell take that quote and misinterpret it to make it sound like Bell denies the authority of the Bible. However, once again, they've completely ignored the footnote that goes along with that statement:

"I understand the need to ground all that we do and say in the Bible, which is my life's work. It is the belief that creeps in sometimes that this book dropped out of the sky that is dangerous. The Bible has come to us out of actual communities of people, journeying in real time and space. Guided by a real Spirit."

Think about it this way...ANY person can read the Bible, but that's not enough. We also need to LIVE IT OUT. We also need to have faith in God (Hebrews 11:6), and we need to trust in God to guide our lives and not try to control things ourselves (Proverbs 3:5-6).

One final quote from Bell from Chapter 2: "When we take the Bible seriously, we are taking God seriously. We believe that the same God who was at work then is at work now. The same God in the same kinds of ways. The goal is not to be a 'New Testament church.' That makes the New Testament church the authority. The authority is God who is acting in and through those people at that time and now these people at this time."

Next week: Chapter Three (Movement 3-True).

Thanks for reading.