Monday, August 27, 2012


Most of us have been taught that there is a heaven and a hell and that both are populated.

Rob Bell, in his book, Love Wins, and others have recently challenged the notion that hell is eternally populated with those who in life did not recieve Christ as Savior. 

Those on the conservative end of the church spectrum are objecting to Bell and the others in the strongest terms.

I never cared about getting my theology settled on heaven and hell and almost never think about either. The same is true for me about the End Times and other issues that are not clear that the church has not agreed on and that I can do nothing about anyway.

What does interest me about the hell issue is what the early church Fathers taught on it. The teachers of the first four hundred years of the church believed in UNIVERSAL RESTORATION. They taught that God's love was so perfect and the resurrection of Christ so powerful and inclusive that in time or eternity, God's love and power would win out in every person's life.

The early church Fathers got a lot right that we have lost over time. Maybe UNIVERSAL SALVATION is one of them. That said, we don't have to believe as they did, but we can.

The following may make their view of the cosmic significance of Christ easier to consider. 

First of all, they didn't simply make up their optimistic view. They based it on their reading of Scripture. For instance:

In John 23:34, Jesus says he will draw all people to himself.
In John 12:47, Jesus says he did not come to judge the world but to save it.
In Romans 11, Paul says God will have mercy on all.
In Romans 14:11, Paul says in the end every knee will bow before God and every tongue confess God.
There are dozens of verses like these.

The Fathers and the Bible give us permission to hope for UNIVERSAL RESTORATION, so why not? 

Think about the vineyard workers who were all paid the same. Then think about those who were offended because this isn't fair (Matt. 2).

Or think about the prodigal's welcome hom (Luke 15). Who today is the elder brother who becomes upset because the big sinner gets a banquet instead of a beating?

If we are fortunate enough to know Jesus and therefore, know we are forgiven and included, why not desire the same for everyone else? Most of the people who ever lived have never heard his Name. What about them?

We can and may believe that since God brought good out of the worst evil ever (the execution of his Son), he might bring good out of lesser evils.

It may be that love wins. 
We can hope.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Most Friday evenings we have a family dinner. My children and grandchildren who are in the area gather for a meal and a blessing. There are as many as 10-15 of us, along with friends who sometimes drop in.

After Patti lights the candles and before we sing and eat, I bless my wife and kids and they bless me. It's a bonding event and a nice ritual. But I think it's even more. I believe something actually happens as we bless each other.

I believe this for two reasons.

The first is what the Bible teaches about the act of blessing. 

In the Old Testament especially, we see fathers blessing their children and according to what we read, that blessing has weight and substance. 

Something happens. Something is changed for the child that can't be reversed - see Genesis 27 and Genesis 48.

The second reason I believe something happens when we bless each other is what I have experienced with the poorest of the poor children in slums and squatter camps around the world. When I go to these sad places in Africa, Latin America, India, Southeast Asia, etc., I find that most of the children are not sad. 

They live in a dump but their eyes are not dumpy. They shine with expectation because the pastor, father, or daddy (as the African kids call me) has come to bless them. 

They don't ask me to bless them. They just grab my hands and put them on their heads.

They don't wait for me to give a blessing. They take it. They demand it.

It always makes me cry.

These are the little children Jesus spoke of who are first in the kingdom. They don't wonder about being worthy of blessing. They just take what they want, somehow knowing it's there for them and knowing it's real.

Here is my blessing for you:

May the God of all forgiveness and love bless you. 
May the light of His countenance shine upon you and give you peace.

Monday, July 9, 2012


In John 4 we find a story that shows us what happens when God interacts with someone who is a marginal outcast. The Samaritan woman at the well has been rejected by five husbands and is now "living in sin," as some say it.

She is a loser by all counts. She is a low class member of a despised minority.

What happens when God meets someone like that? 

He doesn't begin by judging or imposing his agenda. He starts off by patiently hearing her story on her terms, then he asks her for something practical that he needs. This is to say, there is social give and take.

Only then, when the woman is ready, does he dig into her life and reveal to her that he already knows all about her complicated and troubled life. Still no judgment. Only implied forgiveness and acceptance. 

Then comes his agenda.

And what is it? 

He gives her the work and honor of being the first non-Jewish, non-male Apostle to the non-Jewish world.

What he doesn't do is take her through a moralistic type repentance. He doesn't tick off the commandments she has broken. He moves from healing her story, knowing the rest of her story straight to honoring her and giving her honorable work to do.

If we think that God is in any way a moralizing accountant who is in the very least disappointed with us, we have it precisely and exactly wrong.

No matter how your history has gone so far, no matter how many bad choices you have made or sins committed, your life will be honored.

When you meet the true God, 
you receive forgiveness, love, and honor. 
When you meet forgiveness, love, and honor, 
anywhere, any time, 
you meet God.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


One of the greatest, if not THE greatest cause of suffering in the world is the pervasive tendency for one person to judge and condemn another or for a group to judge and condemn another group. One of the most ironic and instructive themes in the New Testament is how judgement and condemnation plays out.

Tax collectors, prostitutes, and various other "sinners" are judged and condemned by the religious elite in the New Testament. So Jesus makes friends with these losers and is judged and condemned as well. One such loser was the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus honors this woman of questionable character by making her the first missionary to the non-Jewish world. Remember that she was an outcast within a despised minority. She was the portrait of the absolute loser.

Surprise! The Samaritans whom Jesus so honors judge and reject him in Luke 9:52-53. The disciples accepted Jesus as their Messiah and they are offended by the Samaritan's rejection of their Messiah. So they ask to call fire down from heaven to destroy them in John 9:54.

Despite all Jesus has said about forever, unconditional forgiveness and watching him befriend the worst people in the society, the disciple's tendency to judge was so powerful that they jump at the chance to do it. They are right and righteous in their own eyes because they believe in the true Messiah, therefore, they are in a position to judge and condemn those who don't.

Imagine their shock when Jesus pulls the rug out from under them by becoming the most rejected, despised, low class loser of all time by dying a criminal's death. He was rejected by all, judged by all, and executed in the way reserved for the worst of the worst criminals.

The irony is that after Jesus is vindicated by the Father when he rises from the dead, the disciples follow Jesus into the world where they are rejected as he was. The judgment they wanted for the Samaritans falls on them. They are judged by others, condemned, and destroyed. They suffer the same fate that they at one time wished on others.

When Jesus, the only person worthy to judge, let himself be judged by us, he put an end to the legitimacy of all judgment. The disciples got that and followed him, knowing that, like him, they too would be resurrected.

As I have said before, judging others is bad for us in so many ways. 

Jesus and his true followers show us that we don't have to do that anymore. 
Truth and health come with forgiveness and love.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


The crucifixion of Jesus is finally a mystery. We are told that when Jesus died, all died. That when he was raised from the dead, so were we. We are to believe that in the death and resurrection of Christ, something historical and objective happened which saved us and the world.

But how exactly does that work? Ho do we make sense of that? Lots of theories, but no one really knows.

While the cross of Christ is historical and did something to us objective and concrete, it also offers us healing for our minds, emotions, and relationships. In other words, the cross did something to us and for us whether we feel it or not and can also change the way we think and feel about ourselves and others. Contemplating the Son of God dying a criminal's death for us because he loves us, frees us from a lot of guilt, judgment, and self-hatred.

We spend much of our time thinking about what we and others should be and are not. This leads to sadness and anger. But, contemplating the death of Jesus frees us from much of it. The cross gives us a radical reorientation regarding what we and others should be.

  • On the cross God became limited and confined. Now I can more easily accept my own limitations and the limitations of others.

  • On the cross God became inferior so I don't have to pretend I am superior.

  • On the cross God became weak so I don't have to be strong or judge the weakness of others. 

  • On the cross God became disapproved so now I don't need the approval of others.

  • In the religious and civil courts God was proved wrong so I don't have to always demand justice for myself.

  • In the world's eyes and in the minds of his friends God was a failure so now I don't be a success or demand it from others.

  • On the cross God became poor in every way and he got over it. Now I don't have to be rich in any way.

We suffer far too much and too often because we don't measure up to what we think we ought to be. We judge others in the same way. Once we see that God became one of us and took on himself everything we don't like about ourselves, and got over it, so can we.

We are just human and Jesus showed us that that's good enough.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


On June 29, 2004, twelve U.S. soldiers coming home from Iraq were flying American Airlines Flight 866 from Atlanta to their home in Chicago. 

While passengers were waiting to board, a business man approached one of the soldiers and asked, "What is your seat number, soldier?" 

The soldier replied, "23B, sir."

The business man said, "No, son. That's my seat. Here is yours in first class." He handed the soldier his first class ticket and pointed him to the first class boarding entrance.

Word quickly spread throughout the plane and other first class passengers exchanged their boarding passes with the other eleven soldiers. 

That flight turned into a celebration. Jaded business people, exhausted soldiers, and everyone else on the plane experienced the Kingdom of God.

The best thing we can do for God, is to love and bless his children. In doing so, we make him happy and have a party in the process.

The Kingdom of God is a glad celebration.

We can throw one anytime we want.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


Religion is all about contract. The Holy Trinity is all about grace.

Biblical Christianity is not one of the great religions. It is utterly unique. One way to see this truth is to reflect on the difference between contract and grace.

We live in a contractual world. Study hard, earn A's, take out the trash, get your allowance. Be nice to me and I will be nice to you. Contract always has an If - Then clause. If the tree trimmers I contract with, do their job, then I will pay them.

Contract religion (which is redundant) is about you. It's about you saying your prayers, taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, paying your tithes, witnessing, or whatever. If you do those things, then God will like you.

Trinitarian grace is the very opposite. You can't do anything to earn God's favor. It's already yours. It's not if you repent, then you get forgiven - you already are.

"He chose you before he created the world to be holy and blameless. In love he predestined you to be adopted as his very own son or daughter."
 Ephesians 1:4-5

Your status was decided by the God of grace before you could do anything. No If - Then contract was ever imagined by God. Because of our guilty feelings, we imagined it. This is where religion comes from. We have invented ways to assuage our guilt and balance the books.

"Love keeps no record of wrong." 
I Corinthians 13:5 
There are no books to balance.

By nature God can keep no good thing to himself. All he knows how to do is give freely. The true If - Then clause goes like this.  

If we believe the good news that Jesus has included us inside his own fellowship with the Father and Spirit, then we can live free. 

And only then will we see what we are made of and made for.

Only then are we free to respond to God's love with our own love.

Only then will our obedience and devotion to him be what he is waiting for.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


     At the end of Luke 18 and the beginning of Luke 19 we see Jesus walking through Jericho. On his way into the city, he heals a poor blind beggar. On his way out of the city he heals and transforms the big time rich sinner, Zacchaeus. One man was at the bottom of the socio-economic scale; the other was at the top. One was a victim of blindness; the other was a political and economic victimizer. Jesus cared the same for both of them and healed each according to their need.

     When Jesus and his entourage entered Jericho, crowds were on hand to greet him. His wonder-working fame had preceeded him. Above the crowd noise, a man could be heard yelling,

 "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

     The crowd told him to shut up, but he yelled all the louder. Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. He then asked the blind beggar,

"What do you want me to do for you?"

     It might seem obvious what the man wanted since he was blind and Jesus was famous for healing. But Jesus' question, like all his questions, was serious and he wanted the man to respond with specifics. After all, he was a beggar too. Maybe he wanted a charitable gift. Jesus said, in effect, I am asking a serious question and I want you to give me a straight answer. So the blind beggar answers,

"Lord, I want to see."

     Then and only then Jesus restores his sight.

The lesson?

     When we pray, we are often too general and vague. Bless me and bless so and so, etc. This story encourages us to ask Jesus specifically for what we want, then believe and expect a specific response according to what we asked for. See: Luke 11:24.

     Jesus and his crew continue to walking through and out of Jericho. He spots Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, up in a tree looking down at him. Jesus yells,

 "Zacchaeus! Come down right now. I must stay at your house today."

     When the people saw this, they began to mutter about Jesus going to be the guest of a sinner. Zach was a loathed collaborator with the Roman occupiers. He not only collected Roman taxes, but by his own admission, he also extorted and defrauded and grew rich on the backs of his religious community.

     At some point during dinner, Zach is healed and transformed. He blurts out,

"Lord! I give half of what I have to the poor and will give back four times what I have extorted."

     Coming into Jericho, Jesus heals a poor victim. Going out of Jericho, he heals a rich victimizer. Here is the sweep of the grace of God that comes to us in Jesus. Zach is the worst man in town. Everyone who heard Jesus say,

"I MUST stay with you today," 

knows that our relative morality or religious performance is irrelevant to him.

He loves all and wants to be gracious to all.

     Knowing this we can, with confidence, do what the blind beggar did.
     Ask Jesus for what you want and expect something good to result.


~ I am off to Thailand for a few weeks. Will post again when I return.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


     Fear is always unpleasant, but not always a bad thing. Fear may prevent us from strolling onto a busy freeway or making a bad investment or walking down the darkened street in a dangerous neighborhood. All to the good.

     But roughly 90% of our fear is totally unreal, pointless, and a waste of emotional energy. I didn't make up that 90% statistic. Numerous research studies have shown that somewhere between 85% - 95% of what people fear never happens or they fear something they can do nothing about ... like death or taxes.

     Since God is always looking out for us, always nudging towards abundant life, he tells us hundreds of times in the Bible to 
"be not afraid" 
"fear not"
"be of good cheer."

From even a cursory reading of the gospels, we see that our salvation, our connection to the goodness and power of God eliminates fear.

Good News!

     When our faith in the goodness and power of God fills our imaginations, fear disappears. When we fear, it simply means our focus has shifted away from faith.

     When our imagination becomes undisciplined and we fall into fear, we are focused on something that is unreal. Unreal, yes, but powerful, none-the-less. Fear has the power to kill and often does.

      A number of soldiers in WWI who thought they had been mortally wounded in a battle died. When their dead bodies were examined, no wound was found. I have spoken to people in Africa who saw people drop dead when they heard a witch doctor had cursed them. In South East Asia, people have died when they heard that an epidemic was coming their way. Long before the contagion reached them, they died of the symptoms associated with the disease.

     Fear of some unreal danger can kill quickly, but more often it kills slowly. Fear is the anticipation of something bad happening. Or as John put it,

"Fear has to do with punishment." 
1 John 4:18

     Fear kills creativity, risk taking, and intimate connection with others. It gradually kills everything that gives life its texture, joy, and meaning. Fear is the root of most of the evil in the world.

     The mythical but effective power of fear is not lost on religion. The priesthood in the Middle Ages used the fear of hell to whip gullible multitudes into churches and was the means of extorting money from them. Ignorance of the goodness and power of God tempts some religious leaders to take advantage of it even today.

     Since fear is so prevelant, some conclude that it must be natural. But nothing natural destroys faith in God. Nothing natural kills creativity, strangles self-confidence, destroys happiness, and makes abundant life impossible.

     Fear is based upon the illusion that we are separated from the 
provision, goodness, and power 
of our loving Father.

     Here is fear killing truth from Jesus himself:

"I am in my Father, you are in me and I am in you."
John 14:20
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you." 
John 15:9
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you ... Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
John 14:27

Thursday, February 2, 2012


     Last time I pointed to several instances where Jesus says the Father judges no one and neither does the Son. I then said since the only one capable of judging rightly does not judge us, we are now free to forego judging ourselves or others.

     This is very good news. Think about it. When we renounce judging, life becomes so much easier and lighter. Jesus says, 

"My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:30

     We are not happy when we are judging. Judging is heavy, tiresome, and painful. It is pure drudgery. The abundant life Jesus promises becomes more abundant in our experience when we renounce our judgments.

     We cannot, however, stop others from judging us. They will. But we do not have to be significantly affected by their judgments. Paul knew this. This is how he responded to his critics in Corinth. 

"I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself." 
1 Corinthians 4:5

     In the past, I have been judged negatively for what some call my "over emphasis on God's grace." One of my critics is a very senior Christian theologian. Most of you have his books in your library. He wrote in a magazine article, "Dr. Blue is an able expositor but his over emphasis on grace is dangerous to your spiritual health." Paraphrasing Paul, in 1 Corithians 4:5, I responded with, 

I have a low opinion of your opinion of me. 
 I have a low opinion of my opinion of me. 
God alone will assess you and me in the end.

     If we are secure in our identity as the much loved children of the non judgmental Father, we can learn from our critics, yet not be disheartened by them. 

     Unfortunately for my team, Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game of football. If someone told him he sucked as a quarterback, it would be water off a duck's back. He is secure in his football identity and for good reason. However, if someone told a 14 year old Q.B. that he sucked, that judgment could be devestating. The point is obvious. When we are secure in our identity, the criticism and judgment of others is of little effect.

     Our identity is, in fact, secure. 
We are OK because Jesus made us OK. 
We cannot be more secure. 
We can only awaken to that truth and speak and act as if it is true.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


     We cannot imagine a world without judgment or judges. In our fallen state, we find the necessity to judge between right and wrong. We see the need to reward the right and punish the wrong.

     We must judge, reward, and punish to hold our society and world together.

     We find it natural then to project all of this onto God, making him the ultimate judge. But this is an illusion. We made it up. What do you make of Jesus saying, 
"The Father judges no one." 
John 5:22a
  No one has seen the Father but the Son (John 6:46). He is the expert witness on who the Father is. The only one who has seen the Father says he 
"judges no one."

     Following this, Jesus says, 
"The Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son."
John 5:22b 
John 5:27

     So, if the Father judges no one and has entrusted all judgment to the Son, then does Jesus judge us? Jesus answers this question, 
"Do not think I accuse you to the Father." 
John 5:45
"I do not judge anyone." 
John 12:47

     The Father gave the Son authority and capacity to judge and Jesus refrained from doing it. So if the Father judges no one and Jesus, who could judge but doesn't, then who judges?

     In John 8:15, Jesus explains, 
"You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one."

     There it is. We live in a world held together by judgment based more or less on arbitrary human standards. We are the ones who judge others and ourselves. We can't imagine our world working in any other way.

     We judge ourselves because we feel guilty and we often judge others for the same reason. The biggest criticism of the church that I have heard over the past forty years of ministry is that it is so judgmental. I have always thought this very odd, since we claim to represent the God who judges no one.

     You may judge that you are not spiritual enough, don't pray enough, etc., or that you are too fat, too stupid, or too wrong in some other way. That judgment is yours and yours alone. You either made it up or you accepted someone else's opinion of you. 

Enough pain.

     Don't compound it by thinking God shares your opinion of you. He doesn't. When the Father looks at you, he sees his Son in whom he is well pleased. He has the same affection for you as he has for his Son. That Son says, 
"I do not judge, for I did not come to judge the world, but to save it." 
John 12:47

     So let's let him save us. 
Save us from judging ourselves and everyone else.

Friday, January 20, 2012


     Some people are anxious to discover God's perfect will for their lives, especially when making big decisions, like who to marry, where to live, what job to take, etc. Behind this anxiety is the notion that if they miss God's leading and make the wrong choice, they will have to settle for less than his best. A softer version of this is a preoccupation with finding God's guidance in daily life. Such people often get stuck, wondering if they have really heard from God. 

     In early Israel, the adolescent days of the people of God, he led them by visible, audible signs: voices, fire, cloud, fleeces, talking animals, and prophets. That was the old way of knowing God's will. Now there is a new way. 

"In the old days God spoke to the fathers by prophets. These days he speaks to us by his Son."
Hebrews 1:1-2
      That is to say, God now leads us by the Spirit according to our knowledge of Jesus. We gain that knowledge by reading the New Testament, particularly the Gospels. At least 90% of all daily decisions are guided by what Jesus said and did. If we truly want God's will for our lives, we will believe what we find in Jesus.

What about the remaining 10%? 
The Bible doesn't tell us what car to buy or what job to take.
What now? 
The answer is do what you want to do.
Isn't this dangerous? 
Don't we all know people who have made a mess of things by following their own desires?
The caveat to this dilemma should be obvious. 

If we love Jesus and have his words and deeds in our thinking, we have his mind.

      If we have a teachable heart, we will not go too far wrong. And if we make a bad choice, it can be redeemed. After all, the biggest mistake we ever made was rejecting God when he came to us in the flesh of Jesus and that was spectacularly redeemed. So don't worry too much about making a mistake and don't get stuck.

     As Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Guidance comes when we are in motion. Trying to turn the steering wheel of a parked car is difficult and pointless.

     If God wanted us to know his perfect will for our lives he would have told us to find it. He also would have told us how to find it. Nowhere in the Bible does he do so. Therefore, 

we are in no way responsible for getting everything right.

     When the Bible talks about God's will for our lives, it's always in terms of our character. For instance, 
"It is God's will that you be sanctified." 
I Thessalonians 4:3
     Marry who you want to marry. Take the job you like. Book the vacation you desire. Attend the church you enjoy. God's will for your life is not about these things. His will is that whatever you do and wherever you go, be the best you possible.

     As we get older and log some experience, guidance becomes easy - provided we have been paying attention. If we love God and trust him, he trusts us. After all, we are told to have the same mind in us that was in Christ (Philippians 2:5) and the Spirit is in us to will and do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). 

So do what you want.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


     The greatest power humans possess is the power and freedom to make choices. By the time we reach our mid 20's our life looks mostly like the choices we have been making. If we want better lives we are free to make different choices and in time, our lives will reflect those choices. Some bad things that happen to us, of course, are not of our choosing. But we are free to choose how we respond to those bad things. 

     Victor Frankel, the famous Jewish psychologist, made this point in his classic book, "Man's Search For Meaning." One of the core insights he gained from his years in Nazi concentration camps is that when we are utterly victimized, suffering helplessly at the hands of others, one final power we have that cannot be taken away is our power to choose how to respond. He says that those in the camps who chose hope and a future tended to survive. Those who gave up died.

     In Deuteronomy 30:19-20, God tells Israel to "choose life.

Life equals prosperity, health, and long life for us and our children. 

     In the context of these verses, choosing life is:
loving God and listening to his voice. 

     That voice we most clearly hear is in the Gospels, the voice of God's visible image, Jesus Christ.

     Jesus is constantly calling us to make choices for life that result in life more abundant. His list of choices that lead to life is long. 

The list, while longer than this, looks something like this:

  • Repeatedly Jesus tells us to choose trust and faith over worry. Some of us find it hard to believe that worry is a choice, but it is. We can't choose not to worry directly. We just worry unless we choose to focus on and fill our imaginations with the Father Jesus knows. Jesus, who knows the Father personally, says he is a good, caring, providing, loving Father who is very fond of you. We are totally free to believe him and since what he says is true, we can believe with confidence.
  • We can choose repentance over guilt. Shame is feeling bad for who you are. It is always wrong, wrong, wrong. What can we say except - just stop it. Guilt is the result of what we do. Feeling bad for doing bad is the evidence of mental health, but it shouldn't last long. You were forgiven every sin, past, present, and future in the death and resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago. We access and feel that provision by owning our sin, making no excuses, confessing it and saying thank you for forgiveness.
  • We can choose forgiveness over bitterness. Forgiveness is a choice. We can do it. We can state it. While we don't have to feel forgiveness to forgive, in time, we are likely to feel what we choose to do. Our forgiving may do nothing for the person forgiven, but in so doing, we set ourselves free. We open ourselves up to more life. We literally choose life.
  • We can choose contentment over envy, community over isolation, love for the poor over indifference, prayer over T.V., etc.
     I know people, even have family members, who don't want life. They have chosen to see themselves as victims. Self pity is their dominant emotion. They say they are OK with that. Hopefully, you are not one of these.

     To make choosing life run more efficiently say out loud, many times a day:

Thank you Father for providing all I need in life. I'm so happy that you are fond of me.