If you’ve ever been a leader, then you’ve probably had somebody question your leadership. “Why do you get to choose? What makes you better than us? You can’t tell me what to do! You’re a hypocrite!” More often than not, this goes on behind your back, and you may never even hear about it. Truth is, if you’ve ever been led, you’ve done this to your leaders.

I asked my wife a few years ago what kind of emotions the word authority stirred up in her, and she said, “Only bad”. Authority is a bad word. We don’t want other people to have authority over us. We relentlessly look for hypocrisy in our leaders and immediately call them on the carpet for it. We instinctively distrust anyone in a position of authority.

What do you do when someone questions your leadership? Your character? Your motives? It’s the easiest thing in the world to abuse the power you’ve been given as a leader. One way we do this is to silence opposition, to crush those who question you and tear them to pieces.

When you feel tempted to use your authority in destructive ways, remember that any authority or leadership you have over others has been given to you by God. When speaking of his authority in the church at Corinth, Paul described it this way: The authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. Paul understood that God granted him authority in the churches so that he would build them up, not tear them down. God intends for power to be used constructively. He has authorized you to build others, not to destroy them.

Leaders (and that includes pastors, business leaders, parents, teachers, etc.), you may want to unleash the full power of your fury on someone under your leadership, but you must not. You may be tempted to defend yourself at the expense of someone else’s reputation, but you must resist. It’s up to you to show those under your leadership what it means to lay down your life, to refuse your rights, and to build up others at the expense of your own reputation and vindication. God has only authorized you to build.

I always enjoy getting comments on my blog entries, but most especially from Preston, who always thoughtfully and winsomely pushes back when he sees the need. Yesterday, he left a comment on my post Jesus > Heaven, part of which said:

I can almost accept sending Gandhi to Hell for not taking the step of putting his faith in Christ, a figure with whom he was obviously familiar. But what of the child in a third world country who simply never heard? This question is a tired cliche, but I’m curious where you stand. Is that why we are called to make disciples if the nations? If so, the blame for the eternal fiery torture of all the unevangelized people groups I haven’t yet personally reached is on my head, making me deserve Hell more than any sin I could ever imagine committing. I can’t imagine there being no tears in heaven knowing that I had been such a tragic failure yet got in because I knew the owner.

This is a great reflection on that ever-pressing question, “What happens to everybody who hasn’t heard the gospel? Do they go to hell?” I’d like to tie together three passages from the New Testament that will help us on the way toward an answer to this question.

The first is John 15:22. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Because Jesus only preached the gospel to the Jewish residents of Israel (with a few exceptions), he is clearly talking about the Jewish people that rejected him–namely, the religious authorities. But there is a principle at work here: Those to whom Jesus has not spoken are not held accountable for their sin. As we stretch that out across space and time, I think it’s safe to say that, those to whom Jesus has not spoken through the Church (which is his body on earth) will not be judged as those to whom he has spoken. It’s common sense, really. If you haven’t heard of Jesus or the gospel, then God won’t hold that against you.

The second is Romans 3:25-26. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Paul seems to be saying that God has not meted out judgment upon those who lived before Jesus, which implies that, somehow, there must still be hope for them. But how?

This brings me to the third verse, 1 Peter 3:18-20. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. This is definitely one of those, “What the heck does that mean?” verses. I don’t want to speculate too much, but it seems to imply that Jesus, after resurrecting from the dead, was somehow able to preach the gospel to those who lived and died before he came.

Tying these verses together, I think we can draw some conclusions:

  1. God is just.
  2. No one will be condemned to hell because they never had the opportunity to hear the gospel.
  3. Everyone will have the opportunity to hear the gospel eventually.

This is a mystery to me. What happens to the poor child in the third-world country who has never even heard of Jesus? Well, we should do everything we can to tell him about Jesus. But, if we can’t reach him in time, perhaps, sometime between death and resurrection, Jesus himself will preach the good news to him. Maybe this life isn’t our only opportunity to repent and turn to Jesus. It clearly wasn’t for those imprisoned souls to whom Jesus preached.

Like every morning for the past who-knows-how-long, we were awakened by the sounds of a crying baby well before 6:00 am today. For whatever reason, Zeke’s body clock has decided that anywhere between 5:00 and 5:15am is wake-up time, and there shall be no other wake-up time. There are, obviously, many things not to like about this situation, but there is one thing that I do enjoy about it: more time with the family in the morning.

This morning, Breena was reading the Bible before breakfast (honestly, it could have been after; it’s all a blur) and set it down on the couch. Sometime later, Cyrus came over, picked it up and started reading it. After a couple minutes of this my brain kicked in and said, “Record this!” So, here’s a cute little video of Cyrus and Eisley reading the Bible.

If you’re a Jesus Nerd like me, you know that there was a huge blow up this past weekend in theological circles. (Yes, there are theological circles.) HarperOne released the promotional material for Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins, and speculation quickly grew that Rob had become a Universalist. It started at Justin Taylor’s blog at The Gospel Coalition, and then John Piper tweeted “Farewell, Rob Bell” with a link to the blog post. There has been a veritable firestorm of bloggers and tweeters since then, with many condemning Bell and many supporting him.

My first response, which I left on two friends’ Facebook posts, was “I’m disappointed, but not surprised.” All I had to go on was the HarperOne promotional blurb and a short video of Rob speaking. I have not, of course, read the book yet. I was foolish to pass judgment so quickly, and wish that I hadn’t done so. Perhaps Rob Bell has become a Universalist, and perhaps he hasn’t. I’ll have to wait for the book. (By the way, bravo HarperOne for your marketing strategy. I’m not sure you intended to do it this way, but you’ve just generated A TON of interest.)

If you don’t know, a Universalist is someone who believes that God welcomes every person into heaven. Hell is either empty or it does not exist at all. One of the toughest questions that faces Christians is this: “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?” The Universalist’s answer is, “He doesn’t”.

This little dust up got me thinking about Universalism, heaven, hell, and the afterlife. Whether or not Rob Bell is a Universalist is beside the point. Universalism seems to be a reaction against a strict fundamentalism which places a great amount of emphasis on the afterlife, escaping hell, and getting into heaven. Gandhi is often the Universalist’s prime example of justification for their view. If Gandhi is in hell, they might say, then God truly is unjust. The Fundamentalist’s retort would be, of course, “Unless Gandhi placed his faith in Christ, he’s burning in hell.”

The trouble with Universalism and these strict forms of Fundamentalism is that they get things all backwards. Heaven is not the grand prize; Jesus is. Heaven is just the parting gift. The only reason heaven is great is because that’s where Jesus reigns. Jesus makes heaven great. Universalists are wrong because you can’t reject the grand prize and then demand the parting gift. If a potential employer clears the company account and rolls out the red carpet for you, and you turn down the job, don’t expect them to validate your parking.

Fundamentalists and Evangelicals get it wrong when we say that Jesus is the way to heaven. He’s not. He’s what makes heaven worth pursuing. Heaven is nothing without Jesus. In fact, without Jesus (and the Father and the Holy Spirit) there is no heaven, because wherever they are, that is heaven! Let’s make sure we’re getting these in the right order. Jesus > heaven.

It’s been a really cold winter here in central Ohio. My wife and I have been wanting to get the kids out into the snow, but it’s just been too bitter for them to stay out for any extended period of time, and most of the snow we’ve gotten has been accompanied by a very large amount of ice. But today the weather is nice, and we’ve got a shade more than a dusting of snow on the ground, so I took the older two out for a snowball fight after lunch.

They especially enjoyed throwing snowballs at the house…and daddy. I told them daddy was off limits once I got the camera out.

We had a lot of fun, and the snow was perfect for making snowballs. If only we had gotten a few more inches of snow, we could have made the greatest snow fort ever!

Check out this video I shot of Cyrus terrorizing his sister. (Don’t worry, Eisley got in plenty of good hits of her own.)