Meeting at the Square


Last month, I found myself standing in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. The place dripped with historical significance. The place also seemed haunted in a "this isn't the safest place to express your badass self," kind of way. Yet, people gathered and took photos. People gathered and took time to reflect. And I think part of the mystique is that this is a place where men and women from all over the world gather to listen to their heart and learn from the past.
I have also stood in Red Square in Moscow and I have stood/sat/and lingered in Trafalgar Square in London. I have walked through and participated in the life of Times Square in NYC and I have had a coffee in the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) in Madrid, Spain. Around the world, places were kept for people to come together and simply enjoy the art of relating to one another.
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Why Would A Loving God Create A Place Like Hell?

When Rob Bell released his book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, he capitalized on the historic controversy surrounding the existence and nature of hell. Critics of Christianity have cited the hell’s existence as evidence against the loving nature of God, and Christians have sometimes struggled to respond to the objection. Why would a loving God create a place like Hell? Wouldn’t a God who would send people to a place of eternal punishment and torment be considered unloving by definition?

The God of the Bible is described as loving, gracious and merciful (this can be seen in many places, including 1 John 4:8-9, Exodus 33:19, 1 Peter 2:1-3, Exodus 34:6 and James 5:11). The Bible also describes God as holy and just, hating sin and punishing sinners (as seen in Psalm 77:13, Nehemiah 9:33, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7, Psalms 5:5-6, and Matthew 25:45-46). It’s this apparent paradox reveals something about the nature of love and the necessity of Hell:

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Why We Can't See God

Even though you may be convinced God is real, are there times in your life when God feels distant and hidden? It’s okay to admit it. King David was being very honest when he wrote, 

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

So why do people who believe God exists sometimes lose sight of God? Here are several possible reasons.

We take general revelation for granted. Our consciousness becomes callused to God’s creation; over a lifetime, the miraculous seems commonplace and we forget to notice that the wonder of the natural world reveals God. 

We’re using only our eyes. Jesus confronted a woman at a well who was struggling to believe. He told her, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The woman was looking only with her eyes, when she should have been seeing Jesus by faith.

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Are Near-Death Experiences for Real?

Remember all those books about people who died, went to heaven, and then returned to life with stories of their celestial vacation? They were referred to as “heaven tourism” books, and whether or not you are one of the millions of people who read one, you have to wonder. Are these Near Death Experiences (NDEs) for real or figments of over-active imaginations?

If you go by the immense popularity of books like Heaven Is for Real, a multi-million-selling book about a boy who dies and goes to heaven and comes back, the least you can say is that people are very curious about this question. They want to know if NDEs are for real, and by implication, if heaven is for real. Here’s our quick response.

If the historic words of Jesus, who actually died and came back to life, are not enough to convince someone that heaven is for real, why would the words of a little boy do the trick? Do the subjective words of everyday people carry more weight than the Bible? Maybe we’re being a little harsh. Personal experiences count for something, and millions of such experiences can’t be dismissed out of hand. Something is going on.

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Top Ten Tips for Beginner Writers

by Rachel Summers 

Whether you are writing a novel or other forms of creative writing, when it is your first time it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to start. This guide is here to provide you with ten of our top tips when it comes to writing when you are a beginner.

For those who are completely brand new to writing and have no idea, then alongside this guide the site Helping Writers Become Authors has many tools and resources available for you to use to help you structure, plan out and write the best you can.

We hope that you find this guide useful and that it helps you in your writing journey.

Be Passionate

Make sure that whatever it is that you are writing, you love doing it.

Belong Before You Believe?

The church has it all backwards.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the church. I am personally invested in the church. But I’m pretty sure that the church needs to change directions.

Of course I’m talking about the visible church, the one found in physical locations, not the invisible church, also known as the body of Christ. The invisible church is doing just fine, thank you very much. It’s the visible church that needs to rethink its strategy.

The strategy I’m referring to comes in a lot of different forms and formats, but mostly it can be summarized in one little phrase: “Belong before you believe.” The strategy behind the phrase is quite simple. If a church can attract people through its preaching and music and programs—all presented by cheerful, friendly, successful people—then visitors to that church will be compelled to keep coming and eventually believe what the preacher and the music and the programs are talking about.

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More Than One Way to Jesus?

Jesus insists and Christians believe that he is the only way to God (John 14:6), but is it possible that there are many ways to Jesus? Theologian Peter Kreeft asks the question this way: “What subjective relationship must one have with Jesus in order to be on the right way?”

Some insist you merely need to say a prayer inviting Jesus into your heart. Others suggest it isn’t enough to reduce your salvation to a “magic formula,” that there needs to be true repentance, or a desire to turn away from sin. But was the thief on the cross next to Jesus sorry for his sins? All we know from the text is that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What about the Old Testament saints? How were they saved? James the apostle, writing about the kind of faith it takes to please God, said that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (James 2:23). Abraham didn’t know Jesus, but he experienced the righteousness of God extended to sinful people through Jesus.
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The Myth of Equality: a review


If you’ve been following the writing career of Ken Wytsma, you’ll note that he’s been tackling such lightweight subjects as the pursuit of Justice and the practical nature of paradox. All kidding aside, Wytsma brings a warmth and intelligence to his material that is both accessible and respectable at the same time. Falling down on either side is not good, so this is important. A book that errs on being too accessible often dumbs down research and salient points. A book that errs on respectability can become laborious and too narrow. And this is especially important in his newest book entitled The Myth of Equality.

Immediately, the word ‘equality’ needs to be set in context and in a world super charged with angry tweets and social media rants, a book that tackles subjects like white privilege, equality, racial tension, and power structures must be both accessible and respectable. After all, this is what we all want in adult conversations about serious subjects and let me say from the start that this is the best way to read this book. I don’t think books on justice or equality accomplish much in an era overloaded with blog posts and web based information. My initial comment on Wytsma’s new book is that this should be read with another person or in a small group. In fact, I think it’s hard to grow in this subject area without allowing someone else to ask questions of you in real time and over a period of time

And I am giving away the most impactful undercurrent in Wytsma’s book. He frames it this way in chapter eleven: “Listening isn’t just about content but also about whose voice carries it.” Listening, then, is more than information and involves context and involves language, tone, non-verbal communication, and culture. Later on, Wytsma talks about the “texture to truth that comes from experiencing something directly,” and there is about a three hour coffee shop conversation that could stem from those two ideas alone.

The beginning of the book is an effort to set “white privilege” in a historical context and it’s an overview that references Downton Abbey, aristocracy, and European influence quite a bit. While this is important and to be commended, I felt like this overview in the first few chapters fought against the experiential aspects described in later chapters. For this reason, I feel Wytsma, like his book Pursuing Justice is writing an introduction to a subject that deserves further treatment.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday last year, I read Bryan Stephenson’s powerful book Just Mercy and I was glad to see Wytsma also highly recommend it. Stephenson’s book also gets the point across, but in the experiential, direct, and textured way that seems more focused and fervent.

Let me be clear. I think The Myth of Equality is clear-headed, accessible, respectable, and an important contribution to a discussion that is textured and layered with historical context rich in individual and collective nuances. At twelve chapters, Wytsma’s book is approachable and readable. What happens, though, if Wytsma’s subject gets the narrative voice of Stephenson’s Just Mercy?

In the end, this is an introduction to not only a subject that carries weight and baggage, but also a posture that carries the burden of listening and learning. Shame is the enemy of authentic relationship, so Wytsma is right to tread carefully through this topic. If you’re willing to have an adult discussion, Ken Wytsma could be a helpful guide and the world could use a few more adult conversations about things that matter.

 

 

(Royalties from sales of this book will go to helping leaders of color get published through The VOICES Project. )

The Story of Star Wars Is Our Story

For those who grew up in the era of Star Wars, the 40th anniversary of the space opera franchise is something to celebrate. Even if you’re a latecomer to the series, enticed by all the hoopla and impressed with the last two Star Wars movies, you can appreciate the 40-year history and the accumulated achievement of nine films, dozens of books, countless games and apps, plus the endless array of licensed merchandise. One estimate puts the value of all Star Wars films and products at $41 billion, or just over a billion dollars for every year Star Wars has been around.

These are staggering numbers, but there’s another even more impressive number: One. Millions of people have experienced Star Wars, either by working on the creative side of production or paying for the consumer products, but the genius of Star Wars comes from just one source. And it isn’t George Lucas. In fact, it isn’t a person, but a story.

Yes, George Lucas wrote and directed Star Wars: A New Hope, the movie that started it all. And he also wrote outlines for nine stories. But the original story was not his idea. It came from a place long ago and far away.
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How Do You Explain the Trinity?

You have probably heard some illustrations that are supposed to help explain the Trinity. One of the most common examples is the egg. Everyone knows an egg has three elements: the yoke, the white, and the shell. Each element is distinct from the other, yet they all combine to make up an egg. Just like the Trinity, right? Well…not really.

Yes, all three elements of the egg make up the egg, but each element by itself isn’t an egg. You can’t isolate the shell and say, “This is an egg.” The next time you have guests for breakfast, try scrambling up a couple of eggshells for them. We guarantee they will think you’re one egg short of a full omelet.

The shell is part of the egg, but separated from the other two parts, it isn’t truly an egg. By comparison, if you isolate Jesus or the Holy Spirit or God the Father and say of each one, “This is God,” you would still be right. They are all God, but they are not each other. Jesus is equal to God, but He isn’t God the Father. The Holy Spirit is equal to Jesus, but the Holy Spirit isn’t Jesus.

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