I listened to a podcast a couple days ago. It was a New Years Prayer but the overall message was based on Ephesians 3:20. "Now Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us..."
But before I begin, I must rabbit trail a little bit.
I was introduced to his podcast during a very difficult time in 2015 and his bits of encouragement impacted me greatly. When I felt my world was falling apart, I was able to listen to particular messages over and over again, as it brought hope to my despairing self. When it seemed as if the Christian community had all but given up on me, feeling like they had thrown me to the curb, I could count on him and his weekly messages. I am grateful to my friend Sue for introducing him, as well as to his beautiful words that were like drops of mercy to me.
I giggle somewhat because of the bad rep he's gotten over the years. And I'm shocked at how many Christians speak of him negatively. Over time, I've shared the special trinkets I've picked up along the way from his messages, with family and friends. One family member said, "Isn't he the one that doesn't believe in hell?" Well now I've already said enough for you to have guessed who the mystery "him" is. 'Hell' is the key word. Yes, yes it's the one and only Rob Bell who used to be the pastor of the mega church in Grand Rapids, MI.
So, one night last week I was sharing a portion of one of his podcasts with a friend of mine. I was retelling the message to her, which it was about Naaman the Prophet in 2 Kings 5. She interrupted me saying, "Now is this the Rob Bell that's not a Christian or is this a different Rob Bell?" She proceeded to tell me that a snippet of an interview with him was played at her church and they're actually telling the congregation that he's no longer a Christian. I'm like what?!! Seriously. Okay, well now I feel like I have to defend him but not in a mean confrontational sort of way, that's not my style, but a gentle explanation of who I believe he is. And I don't really even know him personally to share the intimate details of his heart (I'm not God) but since I've read every one of his books and listened to almost all of his podcasts, I think I can give somewhat of an accurate view of the kind of person I think he is.
Which this isn't what I originally intended for this blog but since I've rabbit trailed this much I might as well wrap it all the way around till I get to the intended subject.
2nd rabbit trail.
I fell flat on my face as a Christian last year. I'm still feeling the effects of the decisions I made in 2015. I not only made some poor choices but other individuals made choices regarding myself, to share my failings in a very demeaning way. My name was drug through the mud, so to speak, as it was told over and over and over and over again. Now we all know when one person tells it, then another, then another, it no longer becomes truth. Possibly elements of truth but people never stick to exactly how it was originally spoken to them so it becomes this huge monstrosity of a story.
What once was told to one person, even if intended for good, becomes lies, cause that's just what man does. We distort the truth because we can never remember exactly how it was told to us.
It's like the telephone game you played when you were a kid. That game brought lots of laughs but in real life it's not funny. But that's the name of the game with gossip. The enemy uses well meaning Christian folk to spread the word about someone else and it's intent is to destroy. That's his MO, to steal, kill and destroy. And what better way than to use Christians to do his bidding by opening their mouths to talk about another person.
I imagine the telephone game was played on Rob Bell as well. When one person said he didn't believe in hell, well say what?!!! Gasp! How could he?!!! But since I've read all of his books I know that he didn't in fact say that. What he presented is that people don't have to go to a place called hell to experience a 'kind' of hell in the here and now. And as I'm typing this someone will most likely twist my words as well.
Third rabbit trail.
But all you have to do is open your eyes and you can see people living, in what they would consider hell to them. Look at the atrocities around the world. During WWII the Holocaust was a kind of hell. I've read countless books on personal stories of what these people experienced. Torture, starvation, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Babies thrown into raging infernos. Sounds like hell to me. People stripped of their basic human rights, filed into cattle cars, peeing and pooping on themselves in front of each other. Again, hell.
If you want here's a more modern day hell. 1994 the Rwandan genocide occurred. According to the United Human Rights Council, more than 800,000 men, women and children perished during the genocide. The goal, the annihilation of an entire tribe. The result, approximately 75% were murdered. That my friends is hell right there.
Let's bring it closer to the current times. Across the globe, ISIS began the systematic killings of Christians in their region. A 12 year boy had his fingertips cut off and beat severely, in front of a crowd, including his father. ISIS promised they would stop IF they renounced the name of Christ and embraced Islam again. I cannot imagine the hell these people endured at that moment.
I can't say that I'm a historian by any means or even a consistent follower of current news but if Hell is a place where you experience torture, weeping and gnashing of teeth, unspeakable pain then I believe those accounts that I've stated above are equal to experiencing hell right now upon the earth.
Those three groups had one thing in common, the annihilation of a certain group of people. They are playing God themselves. Who are they that they get to decide who lives and who doesn't? Who's important and who isn't? Remember Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. Those groups are doing that exact thing. They are puppets for the devil himself. And where the devil is, hell is there also.
Boy have I really rabbit trailed or what?
Do I believe He's a Christian? Yes I do. Do I think it's important if he says that he is or believes exactly how mainstream Christianity believes in order to prove that? Absolutely not. I do think that those bent on spreading lies about him is a complete character assassination and it's wrong. Whether those people believe what they are sharing is true or not Jesus tells us to Love our enemies. But here's the thing, he's not our enemy!!! He's a fellow believer! Jesus said the world will know us by our love for one another. How is that love to say negative things about him even if you don't agree with his view? He shares his interpretation of scripture and because it may not be how mainstream Christian's interpret it, then damn him (lots of sarcasm).
The podcast I listened to last week, the New Years Prayer, Rob shares this beautiful story of how his friend wanted to be baptized, that he wanted to live differently. So right there in the Pacific Ocean, they just happened to be surfing, they found a cove close by and Rob asked him why he wanted to be baptized, what it meant to him. And in the traditional way, Rob baptizes him in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...buried in the likeness of His death, raised in the likeness of His resurrection.
My purpose for sharing this with you? Remember how the devil in the wilderness and how he kept twisting the truth to try and get Jesus to worship him? The twisting of truth is still going on today and it's very much alive in the Christian community. Religious leaders don't like other Christians to draw attention from the norm. They didn't like Jesus doing it, the disciples, they definitely didn't like Paul doing it. The truth was the same, they were just using a different way to say it. And they certainly don't like Rob Bell saying it differently. Man oh man, cause he's gonna pay by his reputation being annihilated. Gotta twist his words to make it look like he's not a Christian.
Well we know that Jesus words were twisted, so they crucified Him for it. Ah, epiphany...that's what they are doing to Rob as well, obviously not on a cross but by way of spreading fear about him.
And who cares if he said there wasn't a hell anyways? He didn't but for fun, let's say he did. Does it mean I have to agree with him? No. Listen people are gonna see things differently. We all have a different set of eyes. I'm not gonna agree with every single thing that is told to me. And neither should you!! Hopefully it causes you to search the scriptures yourself to find out His truth. And when you discover it then do it!
I went to a Catholic school. I remember being in religion class and them talking about purgatory. I didn't agree with the concept because I'm not Catholic. However, people are valuable, period. And it's better to love the person and be okay with seeing things differently than to disagree to the point that you destroy their name just so you can be right.
But the bottom line, THE most important truth in the bible is this: Love God with your whole being. And Love people. When you do these two things, all, I mean ALL of the Law and the Prophets are based on these two commands. Bam! There you have it folks. What he saying is right after all. He's just repeating it in his own words.
Much like the telephone conversation that's spread about him and myself. People use their own words to share what's been to told to them. Part of the problem though, is that by using your own words, the possibility of changing the authenticity of the story is at hand. We must be very careful in doing so. Proverbs 18:21 says, "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." Will we use that power to bring life or to bring death?
However, everything, every word and deed, should be measured in love 'cause if it's not then it means nothing.
If you don't know how to say it in love, here's the measurements for it in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, "Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
I believe Ghandi was correct when he said, "Simply implying you are a Christian isn't enough. By our way of life, people should be able to say: "This is a follower of Christ." Actions speak louder than words folks.
Let's start loving each other like Jesus commanded in John 13:35 nlt, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
So what's Rob promoting after all? What's so bad about it? Agh! A radical way of living! Love God, love people and love wins.