Foster Care in Williamson County TN

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November is Orphan Awareness Month.  As a church, we paused on November 8 to highlight the needs of orphans and bring awareness to the need we have.  The Department of Children’s Services in Williamson County also came and shared with us what is going on inside the foster care system.

Before we get into what they said, I’d like to give some statistics on Williamson County which might be of interest. The stats all come from 2014 so they may have changed a little in one year but not much. Here they are.

  • Median Household Income:  $93,337
  • Over 50% of the residents have Bachelors or Graduate degrees
  • Unemployment is at 2.9%
  • There are 71,407 households

The statistics above indicate what is commonly known, Williamson County is one of the wealthiest counties in our nation. We are currently ranked 16th wealthiest in 2015.  Additionally, our county is the healthiest and the most educated county in TN.

So, it was with utter incredulity that I heard DCS worker, Robin Sloan say there are only three homes in Williamson County that are qualified to take in a foster child aged 12-18.  I was a little surprised, is this true?

I’m not sure what all of that means. For Williamson County residents, we know there are many churches here, hundreds. I would think between the churches, we could take care of this dilemma. There is probably an information gap, people do not know where the need is.  Additionally, just because someone makes $93,000 doesn’t mean he/she has a lot of time to devote to other things.  All that said, the stats are still perplexing and I’m not sure we come out looking so good.

We want to take ownership of our city and county, do what we can to apply the gospel to every situation, including serving the disadvantaged.  As believers, we needn’t devote ourselves to judging, pontificating, and speculating about solutions.  We put our hands to the work and do what we can, trusting that God will receive that work and make much of it.

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A visit from our founding pastor

Paul and Rowena Martin

Paul and Rowena Martin

This past Sunday, Oct. 18, we did something special for our morning worship service. We had our founding pastor, Paul Martin, come in from McHenry IL to speak to us. Following the worship service, we had a meal together and then did some Q&A with Paul and his wife, Rowena.

Here is some background on how these things came to be. I first came to serve as the pastor of Faith Community Church in 2007. When I did I asked about those who came before me. Bernie Anderson was the man who preceded me. He pastored for thirteen years. However, before Bernie things were vague. Three men served before him, one of whom died. But the founding pastor, they told me, was a man named Paul Martin.

I actually tried to get in touch with him earlier on but was unable. Eventually I succeeded and was delighted to hear the story of how we started. Our conversations led to having Paul come and preach for us this past Sunday. I must say, this was one of the most meaningful and spiritually satisfying Sundays I’ve had in my ministry.

Churches have personalities, memories, and stories, just like people. It is good to know where you come from and have a sense of your history. God places churches in cities, towns for his own good pleasure. He gives churches a charge, a deposit if you will to which they are to remain faithful. To me it seems, this is nothing to overlook nor is this a point on which we should be ignorant.

Faith Community Church has had its own fair shares of struggles recently with needing direction and focus. When I hear stories of what was going on at the beginning of our church I wondered if in some sense, we have gotten derailed. We owned a building at one time! So I asked Paul to come and my purpose in having him come was two-fold: honor Paul and his wife for their labors as well as remind our fellowship of our beginnings.

So Paul gave us the story of the early days and here it is. Paul and Rowena came to Franklin and planted Alliance Bible Church in 1978. They launched with an eight day missions conference! For eight days straight they celebrated the cause of missions worldwide because Paul wanted to communicate clearly what this church was about. Soon after this launch the church was running at least a hundred people. Some time between year one and two the church was running two hundred.

The church was literally exploding. They were doing EE (Evangelism Explosion), running radio adds, and celebrating two core values: the deeper life and the worldwide mission of evangelism. Paul had an expository teaching style which served as the base for pulpit expression.

Soon property was purchased and they began to build a building. That building is on Franklin Road, here is the link. The pic isn’t too clear but the address is 415 Franklin Rd located here in Franklin TN. Paul was in his twenties at the time this project started.

In the midst of all this growth, some internal disagreements formed among the leaders.  The issue was control. Unfortunately, these disagreements brought harm to the church. The church stood behind Paul but most of the people simply left. Eventually, Paul had to make the difficult decision to leave. The church had to choose between paying for a pastor or paying off the loan for the building. Since so many left, the resources were now meager.

So Paul left. The next pastor was Bill Weinberg. He died while serving as pastor. Then the church had Weldon Blackford. Following him came Charles Kleiser. Then came Bernie Anderson. I count Bernie as a good friend. He has been nothing but supportive of me. I appreciate his true heart’s desire to see our church flourish. This is evident in his unceasing support and affirmation.

I’ve often wondered if the church is feeling the discipline of God or if we had done something corporately that is influencing our health today. I wondered if the church had sinned against it’s founding pastor. Paul assured me this was not the case. I do believe there is such a thing as corporate sin and the individuals serving in office, representing the entity, are irrelevant to that corporate weight. They might come and go but the responsibility remains. I don’t think that is at issue in our church.

I do however have a sense that we have not yet regained fully that vision we had in our early days. So it was with keen interest that I heard Paul mention the two things he thought set the Alliance church apart: dependence upon the Holy Spirit for Christian living and the worldwide mission of evangelism.

Paul’s message this past Sunday was about waiting on God. He spoke of the need to abide in the vine, not do things “for God.” This message was at the heart of one of the emphases he brought to the church. It was a very good word because it addresses this fundamental desire within us to “do something” for God, make something, take control. Our job is to remain with the Master and out of this satisfying relationship flows mission and ministry.

Anyway, the Lord came and visited his people Sunday. Oddly enough, we weren’t able to record the message! I couldn’t believe it! I’m enjoying continuing to ruminate and think about the future of our church. We’ve been wandering around for a while, at least under my leadership, but I’m sensing the Lord begin to stir us up for some direction once again. May he glorify his son in his love for our body.

July 13, 2015

 Books from Elder's Bookstore

I went out with my wife yesterday.  We spent the day together because it was our anniversary.  I’m glad she planned it because I couldn’t of planned what she did.

We had two ladies from our fellowship tag team to watch the kids so we were literally off at 9:30AM and got back a little after 9PM.  What follows is a recount of our day.

First, we went out to breakfast at La Peep.  This is a breakfast store up in Nashville, the Belle Mead area.  My wife, Natanya, went there when she was little but hasn’t been back since so this was very special.  We both enjoyed our meals.  The highlight for Natanya was this freshly squeezed orange juice.  She let me have a sip, it tasted…real.  I’m not sure what we get from the grocery store, though.

After breakfast it was off to McKay’s, a used bookstore where you trade in books if you want.  They now have CDs and DVDs as well as some electronics.  I’m a big fan of the Easton Press.  I decided several years ago, in light of the digital revolution, that I would try to not buy physical books anymore.  That is, unless they are good books and they are published by the Easton Press.  So, we went into McKay’s and I made a beeline for the Easton Press books.  Most of them were in decent condition.  I ended up buying “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stow.  I haven’t read that so I’m looking forward to working through it.  Natanya didn’t find any books.  So, off we went again.

Natanya asked me if I wanted to go to another bookstore, I said….yes.  The next one is called “Elder’s Bookstore.”  McKay’s was busy, very busy, and I enjoyed the moment we finally left.  Elder’s was an entirely different story.  As soon as we went in the atmosphere was noticeably different.  It was quiet and the smell of old books, not paperback but hardcover books hung in the air.  There was an invitation, unspoken in the air.  It was the invitation to sit, think, learn, study, and contemplate.

I was truly awestruck.  The bustle of Nashville was outside, inside was pure sanctuary.  The books were old and most pertained to history.  You really didn’t want to just touch them.  It almost seemed disrespectful and some shelves actually had a note on them saying you needed to ask before you handled the books.  I felt like I had walked into another world.

I strolled over to a section that was devoted entirely to, you guessed it, the Easton Press!  Natanya found two books that were priced very low due to being defaced.  They two titles were, “Devotional Classics” and “Spiritual Classics.”  I found a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy still shrink wrapped for $25!  We gathered them together and went to the front.  The gentleman talked with us a little bit and noted that he had a copy of Emily Dickinson’s Poems for $15, Easton Press of course.  Let me think about that….yes!

He was an older man named Randy Elder and his wife sat in a desk facing him.  His desk was made of ornate woodwork and I could tell it was all hard wood, ornately made.  I had the impression that he knew his trade and that he was…wise.  Honestly, I wanted to pull up a chair and talk to him about whatever.  It turns out his father started the business during the Great Depression.  Eventually, he (Randy) took the business over.  I’m not sure how old he is but I would put him in his sixties.

Natanya and I both enjoyed visiting that bookstore.  The atmosphere, the books, the man and his wife who were calm and wise made us want to stay there much longer.  However, it was soon time to go and we did go happily with our newfound treasures.

Next we went to the wood shop, I go there most Mondays anyway.  Natanya helped me organized some things.  I had made drawers for one of the work benches and there are bins there with tools and materials which all need to go into drawers.  She is good with these things.  She grew up in her father’s woodshop so I’m a blessed man to have her as my wife.

From the shop we went to Buffalo Wild Wings.  Not to be haughty but the blazing wings, well, I really don’t think they are that hot.  I had five “blazing” wings, and five “wild.”  It was really good.  Natanya did something, I don’t remember what the flavor was but it was mild.  We enjoyed our food.

Finally, we went to Arrington Vineyards.  The sun was setting so the day was cooling.  It had been in the mid 90s during the middle of the day.  Natanya had packed some things for us and we had a little picnic there.  Then she read out loud from one of the books she had secured at Elder’s store.  She read a bit from Henry Nouwen on solitude.  He wrote about the difficulty we have of getting quiet and meditating.  Yep, big problem for me.  The reading was very helpful and we talked about it for a while.

I’m recognizing a hunger and need in my soul for more solitude.  I’ll sometimes look for distractions and noise because I’m not sure what to do with myself when things are quiet.  Strangely enough going to that bookstore and reading that piece from Nouwen helped to quieten my spirit, calm me.  It really is a matter of trusting in God, nothing more nothing less, trust.

I love my wife!  It was a good day and I’m glad she declared it.

There Were Great Searchings of Heart

There is a story in the book of Judges about a woman named Deborah.  I first read this story as a teenager and have always been mystified by a phrase that occurs two times in this story:  there were great searchings of heart.  I think I understand it now.

Deborah was a prophetess.  At the time of her ministry, Israel was being oppressed by a foreigner.  Deborah called on a military leader named Barak to take the battle to the enemy.  Barak was hesitant to go.  He finally agreed but on one condition; Deborah goes with him.  Ok, she agreed to that but warned him that this route would result in glory going to a woman, not to Barak.  Barak was fine with this because he then gathered the troops and went into battle.

The battle was victorious for Israel.  The glory did go to a woman, other than Deborah.  In Judges 5 Deborah sings a victory song about the battle.  She praises several of the tribes for the valor they demonstrated in the day of battle.

Ephraim is recognized for marching.  Benjamin is recognized for fighting.  Issachar is recognized for providing faithful support to Barak.  Zebulun risked their lives for the cause.  Naphtali too fought.

It is in Judges 5:16 that Reuben is singled out for engaging in “great searchings of heart.”  Verse 16 clarifies the matter.  Keil and Delitzsch put it this way, “In this tribe there did arise a lively sympathy with the national elevation.  They held meetings, passed great resolutions, but it led to no practical result; and at length they preferred to remain quietly at home in their own comfortable pastoral life.”  As to why they would prefer to not respond?  Well, they preferred “the piping of the shepherds, instead of the blast of the war-trumpets.”  The Reubenites were shepherds.  It was easier to maintain attention on one’s own interests and familiar surroundings than to move out, go somewhere else, and fight “someone else’s battle.”

Three additional tribes took no part in the fight:  Gilead, Dan, and Asher.  These tribes were at ease in their trade and personal interests.  They had no “skin in the game” so to speak and so would not be bothered with coming out to engage the enemy.

It is the better part of valor and courage to fight when the times comes.  Moral clarity, ownership, recognized affiliation with one’s friends all make these decisions easier.  I’ve been on the other side, speculating, wondering whether the outcome will be to my benefit.  We can also trust in God.  To make a mistake is ok.  To not move forward in faith is even worse.  Naturally we want to live in a life free of error but a forward looking life based in faith will facilitate great works of God.  Speculation and equivocating only results in compromise and frustration.

Let’s respond to the call of Christ.  Let’s be eager to move.

Could you please move?

I don’t remember how old I was.  It was probably when I was 10-11.  I was watching a show on television, by myself.  I don’t remember the name of the show.  A man had received a ring from another man and it had this inscription “with love.”  Another character struggled to understand if perhaps one man could actually love another man.  The conclusion was left ambiguous.

This was the first time I was ever exposed to the idea of homosexuality.  It left me confused because I had no such categories in my mind.  This would have been circa 1985.  That was thirty years ago.  Now, these things are common place.  Everybody knows of these categories.  I have spoken with my children at different time regarding such things.  I’ve preached on these things too.

What is surprising is how swiftly things have turned.  In one generation homosexuality went from being abnormal to being celebrated.  Our president is on record as approving of same-sex marriages.  Almost every day another celebrity announces that he/she is gay.  It is almost a known fact that later this year the Supreme Court will rule favorably on same-sex marriage.  Time and lack of interest does not permit me to reference all the professing Christians who are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Things are moving fast.  It seems  that Christianity is being swept away.  Tim Keller commented on this seeming phenomenon.  He notes that the number of Christians continues to rise.  However, the number of nominal Christians is declining swiftly.  He references a middle group that used to provide cover for Christians.  This middle group was deferential and respectful to Christianity.  They professed Christianity but it was a cultural confession.  That group is disappearing.  They are shifting to secularism.  Essentially, the middle group has changed sides.

What we have then is a group of Christians who are finding themselves outnumbered and in the minority.  It’s never hard to accept an increase in pay is it?  It’s never hard to accept a lift in social status.  What is difficult is losing these things once you have them.  Now what?  How will you respond now?  Will you cry, will you complain?  Will you retreat and harbor resentment?  Will you grow old and bitter, remembering the glory days?

Almost in tandem with Keller’s remarks and probably informed by them, John Piper recently spoke some words to the American Church.  He is saying that the experiment is over.  For some three hundred years Christianity has been the norm, the acceptable reality in America.  Now it has changed, and Christians are having a hard time accepting these changes.

This reminds me of something that happened to me when I was still in seminary.  I was attending Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, SC.  The pastor, Mark Minnick, will always be one of my pulpit heroes.  A friend of mine and I arrived early and seated ourselves before the evening service.  Then an odd thing happened.  An elderly lady approached my friend, who was seated on the end of the pew, and asked if he could please move saying, “This is my seat.”

My friend, being a little more clued in on propriety, declined as there were many other seats available, and she was free to pick any of them.  She persisted two more times!  We moved.  The interaction makes me smile when I think of it.  That was her seat and her life was probably smaller in her old age.  That was her world.

Believers are being asked to get up and move.  We got here first.  We settled here first and started this thing.  We did the revivals, we built the Ivy League schools, we built the hospitals, and we brought the gospel.  We set the tone, imperfectly, but we did.  Having built infrastructure and invested so much, now we are being asked to please leave.

How does one handle a demotion gracefully?  The demotion is this, “Please leave the public square; you are no longer welcome.”  Such a request will make you think.  What is my mission anyway?  What am I about, and why am I here?  What is the church supposed to be doing?  Our goal is not to be in power, to control government.  Dominion Theology is wrong and distracting.  What this demotion is doing is helping us come back to first things.

Our goal is to make disciples!  Making disciples is a much more feasible task then holding on to power, winning PR campaigns, and dominating the culture.  This is in alignment with the Master’s instructions (Matt. 28:18-20) and therefore it affords rest even in its execution.

God Blesses the Wise and Confounds the Foolish

The message comes from Matthew 2:1-12.
This passage is about the visit of the Magi and the schemes of a devious King, Herod.  The wise men, not knowing Herod’s true character, interact with him and believe him to be as sincere as they are.  This is not the case.  Herod’s desire was to kill Christ so as to solidify his own hold on the throne.  The wise men find Christ and fall down before him in worship.  Herod does the opposite and tries to have him killed.  In the end, Christ survives to become King and Herod comes to an ignoble end.  While history reveals Herod to be evil, God has extinguished his line, his people, and his “great” name.
What do we take away from this story?
  • God is pleased to use the least and the lowly.
    • We see this in several things.  First, the Gentile wise men discern the true nature of Christ’s birth.  They were outsiders and yet they knew!
    • Second, this little town of Bethlehem is the birthplace of the King of the universe, who would ever choose such a town?
    • Lastly, of all people, the peasants Mary and Joseph are chosen to be his parents.
      • This influences our souls mightily.  It gives us pause.  If God is using such instruments to accomplish his will then we may slow down because he will work in ways that confound us too!
      • It causes us to keep an open mind.  We would never choose the least and the lowly, we choose the healthy, the strong, and the blessed.  But God works in mysterious ways and therefore let’s give him the room he needs to work in our lives too.
      • We also pay attention to the least and the lowly.  God delights in using humble instruments so let’s be attentive to such persons and scenarios.
  • God will resist the proud and give grace to the humble.
    • God utterly crushed Herod.  Herod’s plans all came to nothing.  His descendants were foul men.  History reveals it all.  The temple he built was destroyed 70 years later.  Nobody cares for this man.  God truly crushed him.
    • On the other hand, God exalted the wise men.  We really don’t know their names but they are part of this story because they knew the King was here.
      • The take away here is simple.  Let’s so position ourselves to receive grace from God.  This translates into a yielded heart, an attentive posture that can receive correction and instruction.  It is much better to receive grace then to fight him in our pride.
      • Should we be entertaining pride in our hearts lets repent of that and cleanse ourselves.  There is no way anyone will ever fight God and prevail.
  • The worship of Christ is the end to which we were all created.
    • The wise men came a long way, probably from Babylon.  They searched for a long time, a trip like this is no small undertaking.
    • When they finally found him they fell down and worshipped!  Mission complete.
    • The worship of Christ is the end to which we were created.  Let’s continue putting him where he belongs as rightful King of our hearts and lives.

Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Creation Museum Visit

Creation Museum VisitEarlier in the year, I heard the Creation Museum was offering free admission to children aged 12 and under.  I checked it out and sure enough, it is true.  We have six children and the oldest is 11.  We live 4 ½ hours from the museum so this was a no brainer.  In the paragraphs following I’d like to talk about the trip and what it was like.

We made our plans and left Franklin at 6am CST.  I might add, we took one of the church members with us.  She is very scientifically minded and provided wonderful company.  We made a short stop in KY but arrived at the Museum at 11:30 EST.  There we linked up with my folks who came from Mansfield OH.

My wife and I paid for adult admission and all the children came in free.  One ticket is actually good for two days.  The brochure we received broke down the options for the day.   There is a tour, planetarium, bookstore, zip lines, botanical gardens, some theatrical presentations, and a petting zoo.  The planetarium costs extra money, $7.95 per person.  You can get a lower cost when more people go in together.  The zip lines were extra too with a starting cost of $29 per person.  The tour, at least one theatrical presentation, the botanical gardens, and the petting zoo were all included in the admission ticket.  Needless to say, we took advantage of the options that were covered under the entry ticket.

The bread and butter of the day was the tour of history that covered the seven Cs:  Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, and Consummation.  This is what draws me to the Creation Museum.  They do a fantastic job of revealing the starting points for both Evolutionists and Creationists.  All believers, especially students will truly benefit and be educated by this presentation.  For instance, if God created humanity then humanity is valuable, truly precious.  However, if we merely evolved out of nothing then on what basis does one import value to humanity?  Are we more valuable than animals?  If there is no value imported to humanity than the way we behave will be affected.

The world view comparisons were very helpful.  Additionally, a brief study of Mt. St Helens reveals some very interesting facts:  petrified trees, lines of sediment in canyon like holes.  These things were formed in a short amount of time, in my own life!  This is a helpful illustration that the Museum gives for a younger earth view.

The Museum does present a young earth view and it comes on very strong.  I’ll take a brief detour here.  Ken Ham is the engine behind the young earth view; he is the engine behind the Creation Museum.  Mr. Ham has been very critical of Christians who espouse an old earth position.  Some home school conventions have actually banned Mr. Ham from speaking at their gatherings both present and future.  At issue here, is not Ham’s positions but his attitude toward those who disagree with him.  There is a noticeable pattern of Ham’s rudeness and dismissiveness of those with whom he disagrees.  I watched an hour long video of a debate between Ham and Hugh Ross.  These propensities of Mr. Ham are clearly visible in his interaction with his opponents.

In spite of Mr. Ham’s disrespect to his opponents, his positions on the age of the earth are still compelling.  His implicit trust in the perspicuity of Scripture, his dogmatism on the literal reading of the creation account is compelling too.  The Creation Museum itself and Ham’s consistent emphasis on the authority of the word of God is very helpful.  Ham has done much to educate believers on the creation and evolution debate.  These things need not be overlooked.

Coming back to the visit, the tour was the most helpful aspect of the entire day.  At the conclusion of the tour we viewed a presentation of the gospel.  A man was sitting at a campfire and spoke about the gospel.  The gospel message came out very clear:  God created the world perfect, we chose sin and brokenness, Christ came to heal us by his sacrifice on the cross, and there is now hope in him.

After the tour, we watched a 22 min. video entitled Men in White.  After this we went to the botanical gardens.  At the far end of the gardens was the petting zoo.  My children liked that part.  Finally the museum closed at 6pm EST.  We left soon after six.

On the way home I asked my kids what they liked most.  I was hoping to hear something like “God created the world!”  That was not what I got.  Most of them liked the petting zoo.  My oldest son did pick up on the apologetics of the museum.  I do recommend visiting the Creation Museum.  The most helpful part of the museum was the education on the differences between evolution and creation worldviews.

But There Is a Resurrection

Recently, an Iranian man faced death by hanging for a murder he committed. The mother of the victim, expected to initiate the hanging, instead forgave him and subsequently freed him. This surprises us because it happened in Iran and it wasn’t supposed to go that way. He was supposed to hang.

This is the resurrection. It was a brutal event that brought forth both beauty and power. This actual event, accomplished by Christ, makes for real response in the hearts of believers.

First, we believe. If Jesus arose from the dead, then he can do anything. I can trust him because he can do it. A myriad of possibilities are unleashed to us through faith. By trusting in him, we bring the kingdom of God into our lives. This is the first tangible response.

Second, we preach. If Jesus rose from the dead and I trust him with my life, then I’m going to talk about it. I cannot help but speak about it. This is real, it is not theory, I preach from objective truth which is working in my life! Of course I preach.

Third, we hope. We can use the word hope like an exalted wish. For instance, we might say “I hope my team wins.” We do not know if the team will win, we are expressing a desire that it does. Biblical hope is not so whimsical. Hope means I know what is coming and I’m waiting for it. We confidently expect it soon. This hope arms us with the fuel to handle the drudgery of sin and a fallen world. Most specifically, we are placing our hope in Christ for a personal resurrection upon death.

Lastly, we stabilize. Paul concludes this chapter with noting death’s impotence against us. It has no power over us. Knowing our Lord rules now, knowing he has conquered the power of death, knowing what is coming to us ought to produce a stability that does not wash away.

Yes, the resurrection is an unexpected turn of events that produces life in us. That brutal reality now works an even greater good in us while we await what is rightly coming to us.

This message was preached from 1 Corinthians 15:12-28.   Want to listen? Here’s the online sermon archive.

Relational Integrity: No Props Needed

We were once complete, emotionally.

When we were in the Garden of Eden we knew who we were before God.  After the Fall a sickness entered into our souls.  We crave acceptance, respect, and love and we go looking for it from other people.  We desperately want to be admired and lauded.

Undeterred by notions of integrity, we do what we must in order to bring in a harvest of adulation.  We will even help others come to realize that “I” should be respected and admired.  We master the art of subtleties.  We will drop names, casually reference superior insights, and dispassionately note former accomplishments.  Why?  It is really very simple.  I want to be the center of attention and I need people to think highly of me.  This also brings about a very practical benefit; things flow more easily.

Consider these words from Paul, from 2 Cor. 12:6.  He says, “If I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.”  Paul just mentioned some extraordinary things that had happened to him.  He is conscious, though, that the Corinthians not be “oohed” and “awed” by his resume.  He notes that he could say more and that he would be speaking the truth, about other things he is and has done.  I could do it.  However, I don’t want to sweep you along by my great accomplishments and thereby influence your perceptions of me.  No.  I want you to judge me based on who I am to you and what I do in your presence.  Think of me as I really am before you, not what I might have done in other circumstances.

Paul is practicing relational integrity.  I think of the line Sean Penn’s character gave in a recent film, “Beautiful things don’t need attention.”  We don’t need to help others notice us.  There is something shallow about “guiding” others to think more of you.  Let another person praise you, it is too much work to manage self-praise anyway.  We can respect others enough to let them form their own conclusions about us in due time.

We walk with God when we practice integrity.  God is our shield and defender.  We rest in his sufficiency and approval.  We do not sully his standing in our hearts by turning to others to do what only he can do.  This is living free, this is living in tandem with him.

 

23 Minutes in Hell?

Hell is not a subject any of us enjoy. Even those who believe in the biblical teaching of hell do not rush into conversations about it. Hell introduces ideas of punishment, torment, and finality at a level we cannot truly fathom. Those who do not believe in hell mock and ridicule the idea since it defies human reason. Whatever one’s beliefs, hell is not a subject conducive to nice conversation.

Several years ago I watched a video about a man, Bill Wiese, who claimed to have gone to hell and back. So it is with measured interest that I recently read his book entitled “23 Minutes in Hell”. We will consider briefly his story. What does he claim happened to him and why? Then we will take a look at the theology of the book. Is Bill Weise accurate when he speaks to biblical topics? We will also make some observations about his experience and experiences in general.

The title of the book gives us more than enough information on what the book is about. Weise went to hell for 23 minutes. November 23, 1998 3AM he was thrown into hell (xv). He found himself in what seemed to be a prison cell or holding area (2) of rough hewn stone with a door of thick bars (xv). Two evil reptilian creatures were in the cell (3) and were later joined by two others (5). “Instinctively” he knew their strength to be a thousand times greater than a man’s (6) and much of what he experienced there was a “thousand times worse” than would be possible on earth (7), among other things he references heat and smell.

He was able to crawl out of the cell where he heard the screams of an untold multitude (8). He saw a one mile wide raging inferno ten miles away (10). He was grabbed by one of the creatures and dragged back into the cell where they began to torment him (13). Unexpectedly he was then taken to the pit he saw earlier (21). He saw the outlines of people through the flames (22). He saw smaller individual pits which were 3-5 feet across and 4-5 feet deep (30). Then he ascended up a hole (31).

Then a bright light appeared and he met Jesus. Wiese experienced immense relief, gratitude, and protection (32). He had an overwhelming sense of God’s love for both himself and mankind (33). There followed an inner dialogue with Christ regarding how and why this happened (34).

In Wiese’s dialogue with Christ the purpose of this experience was revealed. He notes, “The reason I was shown this place was to bring back a message of warning (xvi).” Later in the book Wiese writes what Jesus told him, “Go and tell them about this place. It is not My desire that any should go there (34).” According to Wiese, he has been appointed by Jesus to experience hell so that he could come back and warn people about hell.

After the dialogue Wiese was lifted up from the earth through the earth’s crust and into space. From space he came down earth again and finally into his body (44). There on the floor of his house his wife found him, screaming, at 3:23AM (46).

This is a very sensational account to say the least.

What do we make of this? The first thing we can do is consider Wiese’s theology of hell. If his testimony contradicts anything in Scripture we reject this account. More times then I can note he says something like this, “What God’s Word says is far more important than the story of my visit to that place (105).” Over and over he defers to what is written over his experience and that is good. Beyond this, however, we need to get to what he is saying about hell.

He affirms the literal fire of hell (104) according to his experience and quotes from our Lord as well Matt. 13:42. He affirms the place of hell as near the center of the earth (107) and quotes extensively those Scriptures which refer to Sheol or Hades as the “lower parts of the earth.” He says that his experiences were limited to Sheol but not the “outer darkness” (105) which depicts Gehenna or the hell of fire to which our Lord often referred. Everything he says about the doctrine of hell is biblical or within the perimeters of orthodoxy.

Wiese also quotes extensively from current theologians like Sinclair Ferguson, Erwin Lutzer, John MacArthur, and John Piper just to name a few. I can’t help but wonder what these men think of Wiese’s experience. From what I read in the book Wiese isn’t unbiblical in his teaching. However, let’s say that his experience is not replicated in Scripture. To put it another way, he experiences details which are not mentioned Scripture.

Here are some examples. Wiese describes the physical dimensions of demons. The Bible affirms the existence of demons but does not touch on their description. In the Bible Sheol is consistently referred to as in the earth but not 3,700 miles down. Here is another example. From the rich man in Luke 16 we note that someone in Sheol can think and reason all while experiencing immense pain in the body. Wiese claims human faculty is accentuated 1,000 times in hell. Finally, the Scriptures refer to a pit in which demons are currently kept. Wiese has this pit connecting the nether regions of the earth with the crust of the earth. These clarifications are what makes up much of the sensationalism.

Perhaps one of the primary questions one brings to a story like this is, “Did this really happen?” It is possible for God to take a human being to heaven. He did this with Paul and with John. It would seem then, to be within the realm of possibility for God to transport a human being to either heaven or hell. Ultimately we cannot know what happened to Bill Wiese, only Bill Wiese can know that.

There is one Scripture, though, that comes to mind when we speak about Bill Wiese’s account. This Scripture is from Luke 16 and comes from the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man, while being in torment, thinks of his brothers. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to them to warn them about these torments. Abraham’s response is, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” We might add, if someone doesn’t believe Jesus’ account of what comes after death why would they believe the experience of Bill Wiese?

“23 Minutes in Hell” is an interesting read. We are reminded of what the Bible teaches about hell. By evaluating Bill Wiese’s experience we are also reminded of the difference between subjective experience and the objective witness of the Word of God.  We trust the Word of God because of its ultimate author.  We need not trust men’s accounts of what is or isn’t regardless of his/her experience.  Verifying such things can be difficult if not impossible.  The finality and veracity of the Scripture is entirely different matter.  In the Scriptures we take comfort.