Chosen & Adopted – A Display of God’s Grace

He beat her in a violent rage.  In his anger, he decided to take fate in his own hands. This was not the first time that he beat her, but it would be his last.  At eighteen years of age, she was to become a mother for the first time.  She had met him in utter desperation while she was a runaway.  Far from home, she had nowhere to turn, and he was like a sinking ship to her. He was to become a father and that responsibility was not a load he was willing to bear.  He would rather let the baby die by miscarriage, than face the responsibility that was due to him.  Thankfully, this last act of violence was with her parents nearby.  She had just returned home with the news of her pregnancy. Upon seeing this abuse, her father kicked him out, and he was never seen or heard from again. Every moment of our lives is left with an undeniable imprint of the grace of God.  I know this, for, I survived my biological father’s murderous rage.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 3.33.20 PMThis was not a story I knew about until I was fourteen years old.  The revelation came when I found my birth certificate providentially.  On the back, my parents were listed, and something stood out like a sore thumb.  My biological father’s name was blacked out with a permanent marker.  In place of his name was handwritten the name of the man I had always known to be my dad. My gut instantly felt like it was the home of a million butterflies. I took the certificate and brought it quickly to my mother’s attention.  I startled her by my discovery. My dad was at work at the time,  so my mother asked me to be patient until he returned.   I don’t remember how long I waited, but it seemed like an eternity.

When my dad came home my mother reported to him what I had discovered.  He began to tell me the real story.  It was the story that I had feared was true when I first saw the birth certificate.  He was not my biological father.  I cried as I heard this news.  I was saddened to hear that I did not have his blood flowing through me.   For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I looked much different than him. My dad has a darker complexion, dark curly hair and was born in Havana, Cuba.  I was born with blonde hair and blue eyes and totally look like a gringo. My Spanish was horrible and it still is to this day.  I was saddened for my mom, because I did not know of the abuse she had endured at the hands of the man who made her pregnant. I loved my parents more after hearing the truth and grew a bitterness for my biological father.  A man I had never met. I had many emotions flowing through me and it was not possible to process them all. Through the truth of the gospel, I was able to release my bitterness and forgive my biological father.  He is an individual I still know nothing about, and I’m fine with that, because he is not my true father.

By God’s grace my mom and I were fine.  God had decided that I would live in spite of what someone else had planned. The news quickly reached my dad that my mom was back.  My dad and mom knew each other quite well.  In fact, they were old sweethearts.  They had met when my dad and his family came from Cuba when he was 15 years old.  It was my mom’s father that arranged for my dad’s father to have his first  job in the United States. Through that family connection…the two love birds met.  They spent a lot of time together and grew fond of one another. However, my dad’s family moved out of town and she lost contact with him.  My dad came to her rescue, and they reconnected their love for each other and soon decided to get married. Scan

My dad knew, going in, that my mother was pregnant with me and that it was not his baby.  He told my mother that they would raise the baby together and that he would consider the baby like it was his very own.  They were very young. He was just turning twenty and she would turn nineteen six days after my birth.  My mother needed a knight in shining armor, and my dad fulfilled that role quite well.  I was born, and they were soon married.   There has never been a day where he ever made me feel like I didn’t belong. He kept his word.

The state of New Jersey knew me by my birth name, Daniel Brown.  My dad and mom knew me by another, even before it was official.  I have a very vague memory of the legal adoption.  Of course, I was oblivious at the time, but I do remember being before a judge, in order to make it official.  My dad didn’t just want me to be his son, but he wanted me to have his own name.   That day the judge made it official.  My name was changed from Daniel Brown to Daniel Agustin Sardinas.  The name change not only signaled what people called me, but it also symbolized who I belonged to.  I now belonged to Agustin Sardinas.

My dad gave me a plaque shortly after the legal adoption.  I had no idea really what it meant at the time, or why he gave it.  Now, however, every time I read it, it really gets to me. every time.  It reads:

IMG_2356Sardinas – You got it from your father, it was all he had to give. So it’s yours to use and cherish, for as long as you may live. If you lose the watch he gave you, it can always be replaced.  But a black mark on your name, Son, can never be erased. It was clean the day you took it, and a worthy name to bear. When he got it from his father, there was no dishonor there.  So make sure you guard it wisely, after all is said and done. You’ll be glad the name is spotless, when you give it to your son.

Knowing this truth made me love my dad even more.  Knowing what he did for my mother and I still confounds me today.  It will be a truth that will forever grip me.  It grips me because I see a picture of God’s grace through my dad.  God worked in the life of a runaway girl, who met a man who made her pregnant.  God protected me while my biological father wanted my mother to miscarry.  God used Agustin Sardinas to be my dad. It was this man that prepared me to be the person I am today.  My dad is my hero.

What happened to me happens to all those who have been sovereignly saved by the grace of God.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 the following.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV)

Before time began, God sovereignly and graciously chose us, Paul says.  Before we were born and before we could even choose right from wrong.  Before we could even return any kind of love to the Father; He decided that we would be His children.   The language that Paul uses here is that “He predestined us for adoption as sons”.  Every born again believer in Christ is adopted.  We are born apart from him because of our sin.  I am born with a nature in opposition to Him.  So God did something about it.   He took the initiative.  This is what the gospel is all about.  The gospel is the good news of God’s sovereign grace in my life completed in the finished work of Jesus.  God chose, predestined, loved and adopted me.  He doesn’t consider us as “adopted sons”  but as sons.   As a  believer I have been graciously given all spiritual blessings because I’m in the family.  God calls us by His name and we inherit all Scan 223that He possesses. I am not considered a step child.  I’m not considered an outsider.  I have been given the full rights and privileges of sonship because of Jesus.    All of this was “according to the purpose of his will”  to the “praise of his glorious grace”.  This is all God’s doing.  I am a part of a giant family of many brothers and sisters, who He has been calling from every tribe, tongue, nation and age, according to His will and for His Glory.  It is a wonderful thing to be adopted.  It is a beautiful, glorious and gracious event that radically changes one’s life.  I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for God’s grace orchestrating every detail of my life.  You are no different.

It is through this gospel example that I see what happened in my adoption to become a Sardinas. My dad chose to be my  dad before I was born.  He is 100% Spanish and I’m 50% Spanish and 50% white boy.  I don’t look like him or even share his genes. In spite of all that, He loved me before I was born and took the responsibility to nurture and provide for my mother and me.  He legally adopted me and gave me his own name.  Because of my adoption I have been given a brother and a sister.  My brother Alex and Cindy mean the world to me.  I am forever their big brother and life would not be the same without them in my life. The similarities between my physical adoption and my spiritual adoption are not 1236708_10202141228674935_1936336351_ncoincidental.  It is all a beautiful picture of grace on display through the gospel.

God knew what He was doing when He put Agustin Sardinas in my life to adopt me as his son.  It was because of him I found love, truth, acceptance, provision and a future.  He taught me how to be a man and trust in God.  He taught me that the difficult things in life are worth working for.  He showed how a man is to handle responsibility.  He showed me how to lead. He showed me how to treat a woman.  He taught me how to love my children.  He showed me what it means to chase my dreams.  He showed me how to stick it out when the going gets tough.  He displayed what God’s love looks like through the care and provision of an earthly father.  Even though I speak highly of my father and what He’s done for me, it’s really because of the Father’s plan. It’s not just my dad that I celebrate in this article.  It’s also my mother.  It was because of her influence that I became a Christian.  It was through her that God drew my heart towards Himself that I might call out in faith and repentance in Christ.  It was her  constant encouragement that kept me pointing me towards Christ.  My parents are a blessing and a gift from God.

My parents and I don’t really speak of this story too often.  In fact, I can probably count on one hand the times we Scan 235have spoken about it together since that day I found out. It’s not because it’s a white elephant or an inconvenient truth.  I think because mostly we forget. I actually have to remind myself, at times, of the facts. I can attribute this confidence to my father.  It was his acceptance and unconditional love that has given me peace.

He is my father and I am his son. He said that I would be his from before birth and there never has been a day when I have ever felt differently. As I reflect on the incredible man I have for a dad, and his sacrificial love for me, may it always point me to Christ!

Thank you, Mom & Dad.  I love you

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Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner : Boycotts, Petitions, Soap Boxes & the Gospel #chickfila

This post is a follow up to my posting here

Chick-fil-aToday is Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.  Former Governor Mike Huckabee has asked for Christians around the country to show support for the fast food restaurant.  It appears that it has been been a huge success, as Chick-Fil-A’s across the country have had lines out the door, all day long.  Yesterday morning I blogged about the pending event, and I caused quite the stir by my opinion.  Some understood what I was trying to say, and others did not.  I thought I would clarify why I wrote what I wrote.  Let me begin by saying that my post entitled “Eat more Chickin…just don’t call it justice” set a record from my blog.  At the time of this writing, roughly 1,000 visits have been recorded, in just a little over a day.  That is not earth shattering…but it was a lot for me. Thank you to those who shared and commented.  I am loving the conversation.

What I should have said…..

I should have made it clearer that I am not opposing Chick-Fil-A.  

As I mentioned in the article…”I love Chick-Fil-A.”  I am a regular caloric partaker of their heavenly goodness.  I have no opposition to Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy’s statements about marriage, or their right to express their opinion.  On FaceBook, I’ve seen many comments about Chick-Fil-A’s philanthropic endeavors and I applaud them.

I should have made it clearer that I am not opposing ANYBODY who goes to Chick-Fil-A to show their support.  

Many were offended that I had cast judgment on them for their desire to go show support.  That was not my intention at all.  If you believe in freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion…fantastic!  I did not mean to imply that those who were supporting Chick-Fil-A did not care about the social issues I mentioned.   That would be very hypocritical, as I myself, have not shown a passion for all of those issues.  My article was not a blanket statement for all people who support Chick-Fil-A. That would have been extremely foolish.  My wording was poor and should have been more specific.

What I really was saying….

My “rant” was aimed at those who were strictly going to buy a chicken sandwich, to make a statement, in order to oppose homosexuals.  This truly was my intent.  I know that not everybody who went, was or is making this statement.  If you are backing a business and their freedom to express themselves…then my issue is not with you. My issue is with those who live in hypocrisy in singling out a single sin.

The answer to sin is not a national protest, boycott or petition.  This is not loving, it is not gospel, it is not Godly.  To make a such a public statement against a particular sin (homosexuality) while living in sin everyday (yes I mean everybody) is wrong.  The point of my article was about making another kind of statement. A statement that reaches out to those who some oppose.  I stated the following in the post.

“If you really want to support Chick-Fil-A, and make a difference, go give away a chicken sandwich and fries to a homosexual couple. Where is the same passion and love to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth?”

Again…this is directed to those who would rather oppose sin with a public statement, than actually doing the hard work of loving their neighbor.  I have, and always have been opposed to boycotts.  I don’t believe they help, encourage or justify the purpose of such events.  Some, who would throw their 100% support behind Chick-Fil-A because of their pro marriage stance, have no problem with supporting other companies who are for gay marriage.  Apple is pro gay…yet many do not care and still buy their products.  Starbucks is pro gay…but some still buy their coffee.  There are many companies that we can list here.  So yes it bothers me when some pick and choose what they oppose and what they support.  If you are going to take such a stand then do so with all of your heart and energy.  Be consistent.

The gospel is the answer.  The gospel is the only thing that will change America.  Not national boycotts or appreciation days.  The only thing that will melt hearts, change minds, convert sinners is the gospel.  My frustration is when we spend all sorts of energy trying to change others with morality.  We can not expect those who are not christians; to act or be like christians, until they are in fact christians!

If tomorrow, gay marriage was banned everywhere, how would that change anything?  Would that save anybody?  Can we really legislate morality and expect the world to change?  Is this really where our energy should be exasperated? Jesus has not called us to bash people.  He has called us to be people of grace, truth and love.  Speak the truth!  But, speak the truth in love.  Take a stand! But, take a stand with grace.  Be bold! But be truthful in all you do. After all, how will people know we are His?  Will they know us because we pack out Chick-Fil-A and take a stand for what we believe?  Or will they know us by the love we have been changed by?  It’s time for the people of God to be known for what we are for and not just what we are against!  Put love in action.  Put truth in action.

So if you went to Chick-Fil-A to show support or not; I pray that you will take this verse to heart, for whatever motive brought you there.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

Here are some great articles written today that I believe present an incredible approach to this topic.

Perry Noble – Ben & Jerry’s, Chick-fil-A & Political Correctness

Jason Dukes – As followers of Jesus, should we show up at Chick-fil-A today or Friday?

Did Jesus really hate religion?

Did Jesus really hate religion?  I guess it all depends on what you mean by your definition of “religion”.  In the last week, a youtube video uploaded by Jefferson Bethke has gone viral.  Viral….as in 13 million views… in one week!  Ah…the power of social media.  In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen this yet…watch this first.

 

 

Jefferson’s video immediately grew huge praise….and criticism.  It drew praise from many who understood “religion” one way….and curses from those who understood it a different way.  His words were definitely misinterpreted by many.   However, he could have chosen better verbiage throughout this poem to truly communicate how he feels about true faith.

The first time I watched it..I understood what he was talking about.  Jefferson is bashing the religion that promotes self righteousness, works salvation and takes the place of knowing God intimately.  We’ve all been there and done that.  I understood it from the angle of Jesus’ trashing the Pharisees religiosity of His day.  Need a reminder of that?  Read this –

Matthew 23:1-34

There is no doubt in my mind that the “religion” of the pharisees is what Jesus wants done away with!  The problem is that most people associate the word “religion” with  prayer, bible study and going to church.  So when somebody hears “Jesus came to abolish religion!”…they freak out.   Jesus doesn’t want me to read my bible? Jesus doesn’t want me to go to church?  Jesus doesn’t want me to pray?  No..no…no!   It’s impossible to celebrate our faith without observing the “religious” practices that Jesus himself instituted.  Jesus prayed.  Jesus knew the scripture.  Jesus taught and worshipped in the synagouge.  Jesus was religous.  However…you never see Jesus insert what he does “for” God the Father with his relationship “with” God the Father.

That’s the problem I have with religion. It’s when people think they are ok…based upon what they do for God.  Our religious practices (prayer, bible reading, church attendance, feeding the poor, taking care of orphans & widows etc.) propel us forward in our relationship with God.  However…they are never a substitute.   Salavation is based upon the Grace of God alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross!

Does Jesus hate religion?  It all depends on how you define it.

Gospel Transformation: Don’t Tell Me Show Me

What are you willing to sacrifice so that the Gospel will transform your city?   To really reach our cities with the Gospel it’s going to take sacrifice.  It’s going to be at times uncomfortable and awkward.  The Gospel cost Jesus and it will cost you & I to share it as well.  That’s just the plain truth.

Very few Chistians share their faith with the world.  The ones that do share their faith, know what to say…but don’t know how to express it in their life.  Most know how to tell the ABC’s of salavation….but don’t know how to translate this “good news” into actions. As the old saying goes….actions speak louder than words.  When is the last time you showed the world Good News?

My kids are still very young (11, 9 & 6).  They are good kids but they are kids.  When they do get in trouble they always tell me that they will never do it again. They say that they are very sorry…and they plead for forgiveness.  I always forgive them.  But, I always tell them the same thing. “Don’t tell me….show me”.  I want them to know now that talk is cheap.  You can tell me you are sorry everyday…but if you never show me than I don’t believe it.

You can tell the world that Jesus saves.  You can tell the world everyday that there is Good News in the world…but if you don’t show it…does it matter?  The world has heard enough sermons.  They need to start seeing some.  What are some ways we can show “good news” through actions in our city?  After all…how can we talk of the life transforming message of the Gospel if it hasn’t changed us?  Do share…what are you doing in your city.  What are ways we can show love and demonstrate “good news”.

Big Ben and the value of your name

6a00d83451c7bb69e2010534bb719d970b-800wiBig Ben will go down as a Hall of Fame Quarterback in the NFL.  He is a very talented player and plays for one of the most storied franchises in all of sports.  I should know…I lived in Western Pennsylvania for about 5 years.  The Steelers breathe life into the Steel City and the entire region.  Big Ben came into the league and had instantaneous success.  It didn’t take Pittsburgh fans long to fall in love with Ben.

One of the things, that became apparent in Ben’s life and to the world, was his faith.  Big Ben is a Christian.  Ben even sought to have the following initials on his cleats, “PFJ”.  PFJ stands for “Play for Jesus”.  A likable guy?  Yes.  Talented? Oh yeah! Role model?…yep.  So what’s the problem?

Ben made poor choices.  One who gives God glory on the field and in the locker room is also expected to do the same in private. If you are going to talk the talk…you have to walk the walk.  About a year ago, Big Ben was accused of sexually assaulting not one…but two women.  I won’t go into the details.  It’s bad enough.  Big Ben was not charged with any crimes but his reputation was tarnished.

Now, you may be saying…Dan, isn’t this post just a tad late?  This is old news. Yes, yes it is. However, Ben is making headlines again today in Roethlisberger-harlan
announcing his upcoming marriage.  He also has announced that he won’t be living with his fiance until they are married this June.

This has raised many questions.  Why would Ben, live such a carefree lifestyle, having sex with multiple women…to now want to live to a higher standard?  Because he is human.  He screwed up.  He has asked for forgiveness and has been granted grace and fresh start.  A very smart move.  I understand it.  I get it.  The rest of the world doesn’t.  Every choice you make matters.  The bad ones and even the good ones.

We should not hold his sins against him since God has forgiven him.  However, the one thing that we can’t get off our mind is his name.  Ben’s nights of passion will be remembered as his biggest folly.  He’ll be remembered by many as the guy who said he wanted to live like Jesus but really lived like Hugh Hefner.

Your name is valuable.  Don’t believe me?  What images or thoughts come to your mind when you read these names.

Tiger Woods.

Albert Einstein.

Barry Bonds.

Charlie Sheen.

Billy Graham.

Mother Theresa.

Dan Sardinas.

Your name.

Just hearing a person’s name can paint a picture.  It paints a picture of what people remember the most.  Unfortunately that’s the way it is.  Some people will remember Ben the Super Bowl Champion.  Some will remember the Ben the guy who couldn’t keep his pants on.

What does the bible say about protecting your name?

“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” – Proverbs 22:1 (NIV)

“A good name is better than fine perfume…” Ecclesiastes 7:1

What if you are thinking right now…”Ok..Dan.  I’ve blown it.  I’ve really screwed up.  My name is tarnished.  What now?”

There is good news.  Even though the consequences of sin does not go away….there is still hope.  There is peace.  There is forgiveness.  There is grace.  There is renewal.  The gospel doesn’t let us go back in time…but it does give us freedom to not be weighed down from the guilt of our past.  There is grace available.  The gospel gives us all a brand new fresh start.  Thank God for good news.

What’s your legacy? What do people think of when they hear your name?  What are you doing to protect your name?  Do you need forgiveness?  A fresh start?

Ben got a fresh start.  His name will be ruined in the eyes of many people.  But he now stands forgiven and set free in the eyes of God.  How about you?

I am Jonah: What distracts you from the things that really matter?

Jonah-email I just finished preaching through the book of Jonah at The Way Church of Cape Coral.  I love the book of Jonah.  It’s a book that’s often overlooked as a “children’s story”.  However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.   Jonah is a story of God’s grace, mercy and restoration.  It’s a story of a preacher who was given a second chance.  Jonah tells an entire enemy city, of the God of second chances.  It’s a remarkable story.  If the story had ended in chapter 3, we would have thought it would have been a nice ending.  But it doesn’t end there.

Chapter 4 shows us the true heart of Jonah.  We see the real reason he ran from God and fled to Tarshish.  He hated Ninevah.  Jonah was….well… pretty prejudiced.  The thought of God saving these wicked people did not sit well with Jonah.  How dare God extend love, grace, and forgiveness to his enemies.   The very though made Jonah wish he were dead!  Jonah even perched himself a safe distance outside the city walls to watch the city burn!  A little dramatic?  Yep.

The part of Jonah chapter 4 that truly convicted me was the object lesson that God gave Jonah.  God wanted Jonah to see exactly how ridiculous he was.  Jonah was truly miserable under the oppressive heat.  So God made a plant/vine to grow to give Jonah shade.  This made Jonah very happy.

God does something brilliant.  Jonah 4:7-9 says:

“But before sunrise the next day, God sent a worm. It chewed the vine so much that it dried up. When the sun rose, God sent a burning east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head. It made him very weak. He wanted to die. So he said, “I’d rather die than live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you have any right to be angry about what happened to the vine? I do,” he said. “In fact, I’m angry enough to die.”

Jonah the “prophet” of God was so distracted by his comfort that he loses the importance of people.  He was given Grace and refused to allow others to receive the same Grace he had received.  Now he sank so low that he cares more about a plant/vine that he does for real people.  He is angry about a vine dying….when he wanted 120,000 people to die.  Wow.  What truly matters?

What did God say? Jonah 4:10-11

“But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine. But you did not
take care of it. You did not make it grow. It grew up in one night and died the next. Nineveh has more than 120,000 people. They can’t tell right from wrong. Nineveh also has a lot of cattle. So shouldn’t I show concern for that great city?”

The question for me, then becomes….what has me so distracted that I miss the lostness of the world?  Jonah was distracted by the comfort of the plant that brought him shade.  What do I care more about than showing people Jesus?  For me the answer is easy.   I am distracted by technology.  I live for the latest Apple product.  I read the rumors, blogs everyday to see what’s coming out next.  What truly matters?

If I had to choose tomorrow to give up my iPhone over reaching one person…what would my answer be?  In so many ways “I AM JONAH”.  How about you?

A review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell

Before I begin…I want to share how I became aware of Rob Bell.

Rob-Bell1 I first became aware of Rob Bell by attending the C3 2005 conference in Grapevine, Texas.  The conference was hosted by Pastor Ed Young at Fellowship Church.  Rob spoke once and what he spoke on captivated the entire room.  Rob said that true discipleship was “being covered in the dust of your Rabbi”.  A statement that rattled and still rattles my brain as I think through its implications.  It revolutionized my thinking on discipleship.  When I got home I instantly began searching for more teaching from Rob.   I then discovered that he was the guy behind all of those cool “Nooma” videos.  I had never watched one but had heard much about them.

From there I dove into Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants To Save Christians & Drops Like Stars.   Each one of these books was a great experience.  They challenged me and made me ask the questions that made my journey more rewarding. I then went out and purchased every single Nooma that came out.  I attended 2 of his speaking tours “The gods aren’t angry” & “Drops like Stars”.  I even went out to a pastor’s conference he hosted at Mars Hill named “Isn’t She Beautiful”.  I never fully agreed with 100% of the content, but then who do you fully agree with?  I took the great truths I learned and became more aware of what God was doing in and through me in the world.  To say that Rob had been a help and inspiration to me as believer & pastor would be an understatement.

I heart Rob Bell.  I admit it.  However, after reading the book 9780062049643 that perception of Rob is changing.  I need some therapy after reading this. I can’t justify some of the things that he says that I believe are in complete contradiction to Gospel of Jesus.  I can’t say I’m really surprised.  I have read and heard many things by him over the years that made me wonder.  Well…..here we go.

Before you jump to any conclusions I invite you to read the book yourself.  Or…hear from Rob explain it.


Synopsis : What is the main message of the book?  

God is Love.  Because God is Love..nobody will spend an eternity apart from God in “Hell”.  A truly loving God can’t send anyone to a literal place of torment for eternity.  God gets what He wants….(that none should perish). God’s love will eventually melt the hearts of all people and everyone will come to know God’s Love.  Although Rob doesn’t say it (it is obviously implied)….there is no literal place called Hell.  The Hell that the Rob talks about is only a present reality.  We choose Hell when we reject God’s Love.  It is important to note that Rob is NOT a universalist.  He still believes that a person has choices to reject God’s Love.  Christian Universalism says that all will go to Heaven…no matter what they do or want.  In Rob’s theology…people still choose God.

HELL

Rob begins the book with a story about Gandhi.  Someone at a church event put up a note  about Gandhi, saying “Reality check: He’s in hell.”  I agree with Rob here when he knocks down this idea about who is in hell.   Who really knows that?  Only God.  Only God knows a person’s heart.  To say confidentially that someone is 100% in hell is pure speculation.

Rob questions “Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number “make it to a better place” and every single other person suffer in torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?  Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God?” (page 12 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)  

In the book Rob argues that Hell is determined by our choices.  Rob argues that Hell is all around us.  Rob speaks of Hell as the evil that is in the world.  A broken, suffering and groaning creation that is yearning for justice.  It is through all of this mess that people realize that they need “good news”.  The Gospel is the hope that God has not given up on the world.  Through this gospel we can be saved from our personal hell and end the hell around us.  Rob teaches that it’s through God’s love that these hell’s are defeated.  Rob says he does believe in hell because he sees the destruction people bring on themselves with their sin and poor choices.

Let me add this note here.  I agree halfway with Rob.  There is hell all around us.  There are Tsunami’s, Earthquakes, murders, pride, social injustice, abuse, violence, slavery, poverty, porn, starvation, diseases, financial nightmares, marital unfaithfulness, etc.  There are people hurting everyday, everywhere.  These “hell’s” can’t be ignored.  We are living in the consequences of a fallen world. However….that’s where Rob stops.  For me hell is not just a present reality……it’s also a very real future reality as well.  You can’t ignore or replace a future hell for the current hells we all face now in this lifetime.   At the same time you can’t ignore the current hells in light of eternity.  Since eternity is….well….eternal.

The biblical response to this is….that God is a God of Love, yes!  But He is also a God of Justice.  He is a Holy God.  People sin, disobey God and separate themselves apart from God.  We deserve hell because “The wages of sin is death……”  Obviously I disagree with Rob.  I just don’t see how  you can interpret certain passages on Hell any different.  He really tries to reinterpret Luke 16 (Rich man and Lazurus) but does not do it justice.  How about this one?

Rob says we shouldn’t look at this as who is “in” or “out”.

“A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the “in-ness” of one group at the expense of the “out-ness” of another group will not be true to the story that includes “all things and people in heaven and earth”.  (page 180 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)  

How do you interpret this any differently?

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” – Revelation 20:11-15

 Hell is to be without God and separated from his presence in a real place for eternity.

HEAVEN

This book is just not about Hell….it’s also a book about Heaven.  For Rob…the Christian life is not about evacuation.  It’s about bringing Heaven here.  It is not about escaping this earth but awaiting the new creation.  The new Heaven and the New earth that God will create.  Rob notes that the Bible ends with Heaven crashing into earth.  For Rob…Heaven like Hell…..is a present reality.  God is restoring and renewing creation until one day this one passes away and a new one is unveiled.  God created this world good and He wants to return the shalom (peace) that existed in the garden of eden.  Heaven is the completion of God’s plan for creation.  He created it good….and it ends good.  Heaven is a present reality that we bump into everyday here on earth.

I have very little beef with Rob’s view of Heaven.  I am very much in agreement that living, and breathing the ways of Jesus bring Heaven to earth now.

Rob says – “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of Heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in Heaven.”  (page 68 on iBook version of “Love Wins”) 

He says – “Jesus teaches us to pursue the life of Heaven now and also then, anticipating the day when earth and Heaven are one.”   Sounds a lot like Matthew 6:33.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…..”

I believe that Heaven is what God fully intended the universe to look like.  John explains this in Revelation 20 and it’s a beautiful picture! When the gospel is lived out…we bump into Heaven here on earth. It is my view that “being the salt of the earth” & “light of the world” are implications of bringing Heaven to earth now.   Heaven is also to be with God in a real place for all eternity.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21: 1-5

 THE GOSPEL & THE METAPHOR OF THE CROSS

One of the more troubling aspects of the book is Rob’s portrayal of the cross.  Rob doesn’t deny that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  He says,

“‘Jesus died on the cross for your sins’.  Yes, we know.  We’ve seen that homemade billboard by the side of the road countless times.  Anything else?”. (page 163 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)

It’s that lackluster attitude towards the cross that makes me disgusted with the book. Rob continues to argue that the sacrifice that Christ offered on the Cross to God was a metaphor that the first Christians used to explain what happened. He says that It was a metaphor that reminded the first believers of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  It was a way to tell the story so that the first Christians (Jews) could understand. Here is the shocking part….. it’s a metaphor that no longer applies today.  Why?  Because Rob says we no longer sacrifice animals.

Wow.  This is exactly what Rob says.

“This is especially crucial in light of how many continue to use the sacrificial metaphor in our modern world.  There’s nothing wrong with talking and singing about how the “Blood will never lose it’s power” and “Nothing but the blood will save us.”  Those are powerful metaphors.  But we don’t live any longer in a culture in which people offer animal sacrices to the gods. People did live that way for thousands of years, and there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.  But most of us don’t.  What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.” (page 171 -172 on iBook version of “Love Wins”)  

People…this is not just a metaphor.  This is foundational.  The atonement on the cross was necessary.  It was not just a way for the first Christians to understand it.  This is true all throughout scripture…(Abraham, Cain & Abel, The Temple) If we don’t understand that God the Father poured out his WRATH on Jesus because of our sin on the cross….we are in loads of trouble!!!!!!

IN CONCLUSION

I really hope I’m wrong. It would be much easier to believe that Rob is right. I want to believe that Rob is right.  I really do.  It would be so much easier.  But he’s not.

I believe the book does have it’s good parts.  It has it bad parts.  And then it has it’s downright ugly parts.  As I said in the beginning of this post.  I highly admire Rob.  I have been blessed by his teachings.  I just can not agree with his view of the Gospel,  which ultimately leads to warped views of Hell & God himself.

I agree that love does win.  Again and Again.   I agree that God is love.  God is not just loving.  He is the very essence of love. However, to solely focus on this attribute of God and ignore all the others; will allow one (like Rob Bell) to miss the grander story of what is happening in the biblical narrative.

The cross shows us why Hell is real.  Jesus took Hell for us so that we can escape getting what we deserve.  I deserve Hell.  Without Him….I am lost, hopeless and and doomed.  In Him, I am found, restored, and invited to live in relationship with the God who made me, forever.  The Gospel is not a fire escape.  It is how God brings me back into relationship with Himself.  The Gospel is also the good news that is lived through my life as a result of being saved by God.

Love wins. It really, really does.