Monthly Archives: April 2011

Education, Economics and Why Great Teachers Aren’t Enough

What would you do to make sure your child received a quality education? Tanya McDowell, a homeless woman, enrolled her 5 year old son, in a great school even though she didn’t live in that district. She used the address of the child’s babysitter so that her child could attend Brookside Elementary School. Now she is charged with first degree larceny because falsely enrolling her son cost taxpayers in that district over $15,000.  Read more about the story here.

Here in Champaign, Illinois we have an interesting system for enrolling children in kindergarten called “Schools of Choice.” Parents indicate which five elementary schools they would like their child to attend and rank them one to five. A computer program then decides if they get their first choice or not. According to the school district, “Factors and priorities which will affect student assignments include: parent choice, building capacity, socio-economic status, availability of special programs, presence of siblings in the school, and proximity preference.” Starting in 2002 our district was under a Consent Decree to ensure that children received a quality education at all schools in the district, not just the schools in the middle class areas of town. The Consent Decree is now over but the district uses the Schools of Choice process to ensure that each child gets a quality education. Read the rest of this entry


The End is Here: Love Wins Ch. 8

The end is here. This is the conclusion of my review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins but by no means is it the end of my theological journey on what the Bible says about the afterlife. Bell raised some thought provoking questions that I honestly don’t want to deal with but I know I need to struggle through.

Chapter 8 in review

Bell begins his last chapter telling about his conversion experience as an elementary school student where he prayed “the prayer” with his parents. Though there is a temptation to deconstruct earlier experiences like this and discount them, Rob cautions against this first response. He explains, “Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God, again and again and again.” Bell also talks about the importance of repentance and dying to ourselves so that we can be alive with Christ now. Our focus should be on being alive with Christ and his love now, instead of focusing totally on living with Christ in heaven. Read the rest of this entry

It’s Friday…But Sunday’s Coming

We have to deal with the torment and pain of Friday before we can get to the hope and joy of Sunday. Here is a video that mixes the sermon of S.M. Lockridge with scenes from the Passion of the Christ done by CityWestChurch.

Christians and Boring Parties: Love Wins Ch. 7

I can't believe churches actually have signs like this

I had a law teacher in high school who would never tell us what he thought about a given subject and it really annoyed me. I just wanted hear what he believed because I respected his opinion. But for whatever reason, he wouldn’t come out and give us his opinion. I guess he was training us to think. In this chapter I really wanted Rob to clearly state his opinion on hell but he dodged a clear answer. I know some hate this, and I do sometimes, but it has actually caused me to think about what I believe about hell. A clear answer would not have helped me wrestle with doubts and ideas about God that don’t seem to line up. This is one of the reasons why I think Rob’s books should be read in community instead of isolation so we can learn and dialogue with each other. Read the rest of this entry

Is Judas in Heaven or Hell?

With all the hoopla around Rob Bell and Hell, I could have imagined this question would come up this week: Is Judas in Heaven or Hell? Here is a great post from Craig Gross, founder of, on where he thinks Judas is.  It is a great article and sends profound message this week.

Jesus, Rocks and Weed: Love Wins Ch. 6

Chapter Overview

Rob Bell begins his sixth chapter telling a story of a man he met who came to know the Lord in a very real way while smoking pot. In the midst of smoking pot in his home, this man felt a deep sense of love that literally knocked him to the floor and his only option was to accept this love and become a follower of Christ. Bell then weaves in the story of Moses striking a rock and water coming out to quench the thirst of the people. He makes the point that Paul makes later in the New Testament that Jesus was present in the rock (1 Cor. 10). God uses a variety of means to draw people to himself. Read the rest of this entry

Slow Down!

Last night I had the best softball game of my life, which isn’t saying much. I hit 2-2 and caught a fly ball in the windy outfield. On my last hit, I made it to second on a single from the guy hitting next. With two outs, the next batter hit a slow grounder to third and I took off hoping to beat him to the bag. Sprinting full steam to third, I felt a pop in my left hamstring and quickly slowed down as the throw to third beat me. In the dugout I tried to walk around but every movement was met with sharp pain. A call to my doctor-in-law confirmed the worst. It was a hamstring injury and I would have to rest for 3-4 weeks. The marathon I had been training for is out of the question. Read the rest of this entry

Palm Branches and the Conquering Hero

The Beautiful Gate in Jerusalem

What really happened on the day that Christians call Palm Sunday? We have first hand accounts of what happened, but what were the people thinking? Who did they think Jesus was? I think our picture of this day might be a little different than what really happened. Here is how Mark records the event:

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”

They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, Read the rest of this entry

Eminem and the Cross: Love Wins Ch. 5

The cross is everywhere. Rap musicians, basketball players and celebrities sport cross necklaces and tattoos. Even Eminem wears a cross necklace. Rob Bell begins his fifth chapter titled “Dying to Live” talking about how familiarity with the cross can make us think we know what it is.

He brings us back to the original listeners of the New Testament who were steeped in the sacrificial system. To these original listeners, the idea that Jesus was the final sacrifice would have rocked their world. He then walks us through the other ways to view Christ’s death on the cross.

  • Reconciliation – Christ’s death brought about peace between us and God
  • Justification – Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins so we could go free
  • Victory – Jesus’ death destroyed death and evil
  • Redemption – Jesus’ death redeemed what was lost
Each of these views of the atonement has a basis in Scripture. Bell argues that the early Christians looked around their culture for examples and metaphors of what Jesus’ death meant. Rob writes, “The point, then, isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a ‘correct’ or ‘right’ one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors.” In a sense they are all true.
Bell then moves on to deal with the resurrection and makes the point that “this death-and-life mystery, this mechanism, this process is build into the very fabric of creation.” This really isn’t a new concept. When we eat plants we are eating something that is dead and yet it gives us life. He also brings up the fact that the gospel writer John includes 8 signs in his book up until Jesus’ death. Then in the garden, the eighth sign occurs when Jesus rises from the dead. Rob says that this eighth sign happened on the first day of the new creation. And it happened in a garden which connects it back to the Garden of Eden. Bell writes, “John is telling a huge story, one about God rescuing all of creation.”
Bell ends the chapter by talking about Eminem and how he might have stumbled on this same truth of dying to live. Rob writes, “Is that why he wore a cross around his neck? Because we all want new life. We want to know that the last word hasn’t been spoken, we want to know that the universe is on our side, we want to know on Friday that Sunday will eventually come.”
What Metaphor is for Us?
As I read through the various metaphors in Scripture that described what Jesus’ death accomplished, I wonder which one works best for our culture. I have wondered why some concentrate so much on Jesus’ blood when in our culture this metaphor doesn’t quite connect. The emphasis on the blood would have meant so much more for Jews living under the sacrificial system. So how should we talk about what Jesus’ death accomplished to those around us in suburban/urban America? I am not totally convinced of one yet but I do know this emphasis of death and rebirth to life or what I would call redemption connects with some. This is why I love movies where the hero hits bottom, learns an important lesson and rises from the dust. There is something there that relates to people and their story.
Which metaphor do you think is best for our American culture? What resonates with people?

What is True Service?

Here is a devotional I wrote for our church’s Lenten Devotional on what true service is really about:


Mark 10:35-45

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

We are immersed in a fame-based culture. People will do anything to see see their names in the paper or get their 5 minutes of fame on television. Reality shows fill up the lineups of most television networks. Our worth is based on how many friends we have on Facebook.

Jesus’ disciples were no different than us. They were competing for the top spots next to Jesus in heaven. Once again Jesus turns the systems of the world on end and says that greatness is not based on social position or who wins, but on who is a servant.

Service in our culture has been watered down. Service is not serving food at a food kitchen or tutoring a child. Those things are good but the service that Jesus is talking about is much deeper. Jesus says that his service was giving his life as a “ransom for many.” His sacrificial death was his service.

Most of Jesus’ disciples went on to live the sacrificial life of a true servant. Christian tradition tells us that most of Jesus’ disciples were martyrs for the faith.

In this context of service, what does it mean for us to serve in Champaign-Urbana? How is our service sacrificial? I dare you to ask Jesus to show you what true service is all about and then walk in that direction.