Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The Violence of Silence


 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6:14

They were unspeakably evil, those uniformed Nazis who operated the death trains. They herded innocents into overcrowded cattle cars, locked them in without water or restrooms, and shipped them off to faraway death camps for Hitler’s Final Solution.  Of course they were monsters.  But what about the ordinary citizens who lived along the railroad tracks; who heard the moans and cries for relief, and smelled the odor of caged human beings? When they turned up the volume of their radios to drown out the holocaust, they were just as heartless and calculating.

Who are the innocent bystanders?  The question has come to mind time and again as I have thought about the renewed racial tensions here in the USA.  Extremist groups like Black Lives Matter have created a false narrative that most police officers leave home every morning gunning for black victims.  Most of us reject that slander. We have enormous respect for the men and women who populate that thin blue line between us and savagery. We have seen the stats that prove most police shootings are not racially motivated and are completely justified.  But we never talk about the unjustified exceptions, where an unarmed innocent is shot down for no apparent reason.  Our silence suggests that in the dangerous world of law enforcement, a certain number of innocent deaths is acceptable. But it’s not-especially if one of those victims is someone you cared about.

I suspect that’s why so many ordinary, law abiding, hard working black Americans still wonder about equality here in America: our silence. A missing white teenager gets a lot more news coverage and conversation that a black teenager shot dead for no apparent reason. It’s not anti-cop to grieve with the families, to ask why this particular injustice happened, or to require an investigation.  Neighbors want to know why other neighbors died at the hands of the government.  Why do we seem so disinterested….and silent?

The Birth of a Nation is a compelling new film about Nat Turner’s deadly slave uprising in 1831.  The movie is painful and jarring: not only because it depicts the demonic brutality of human slavery; but because it refuses to paint all white Virginians with the same broad brush.  Many of the white people in Nat Turner’s community treat their own slaves with a certain amount of “decency.”  They truly imagine themselves as kind people, even Christians.  Their faces clearly register their discomfort when they observe some of the violence inflicted upon the slaves of other plantations. But their silence offers their tacit approval of this very public evil. They become bystanders to some of the worst instances of barbarism.  But they are not innocent.

It was apparently legal for first-century Jewish leaders in Israel to stone a woman caught in adultery, even if her male partner was mysteriously missing.  Jesus interrupted and challenged his outraged neighbors to examine their hearts and consider their own bias and hypocrisy.  If we accept our role as the body of Christ in our generation, we have to accept that prophetic role as well. It’s not enough to pour oil on troubled waters. Victims of injustice can drown beneath all that lovely oil.

Lift up the Cross!




If you’re still wondering whether Muslims outnumber Christians in this country yet, you may be seriously out of touch.  Entertainment has eclipsed us all as the most popular religion in the USA. If it has never dawned on you that TV is the chief prophet for the most recent religious revival in the 50 States, think again.

Talent contests like The Voice or America’s Got Talent now emphasize “the story” as much as the talent of the young people on stage.  If you have struggled against all odds on the wrong side of the tracks in Detroit; or if you have battled against an abusive father or same-sex discrimination as a teen, Hollywood can save you.  I’m serious: every show now features tearful video testimonies to the power of show biz to change damaged lives. And you don’t even have to pray for anybody: just vote as many times as possible.

There are  reality shows like Home Free which give away dream homes to Americans with tragic life stories.  If destiny has dealt you a losing hand, reality TV shows have the cash and the star power to reshuffle the deck.  Each week, tearful winners testify to the power of the American Entertainment Industry. Amen and amen!

Spiritual truths once taught in Sunday Schools and Bible Studies are now conveyed through 60″ HDTV screens or laptops with wireless speakers.  No, it’s not those old school lessons about faith in God; sacrifice for others; honesty; or humility.  The values and virtues of the 21 Century are Tolerance, Diversity, Recycling, Kindness to Animals, and being Yourself.  We have repented of the New Testament in favor of the Now Testament.  And this is the Good News: you’re fine just the way you are as long as you have the faith to express yourself.

No wonder interest in churches has faded in every corner of the country.  The local church finally has the big screens, but we can’t compete with the big money and the big names! It’s too bad we ever tried, isn’t it?

Somewhere in our journey to Relevance, too many of our churches gave up on the supernatural! Our number is Legion.  We let go our ambition for the dramatic life change that always follows the Gospel of Christ.  We began to settle for the low hanging fruit: things like counseling, weight loss, support groups, and spending all our energy on interventions to end human trafficking or advance racial equality.  No doubt those causes are good, and they make us feel warm and significant somewhere inside.  But they’re not the best.  They are not the Main Event.

I suspect we began to lose the next generation when we accidentally packed away the Gospel along with all those 16 mm movie projectors and audio cassette players.  It seemed edgier, more current, to engage the culture than just save souls.  We embraced the rush of feeling empowered, instead of praying and waiting for the power of being saved.  We surrendered the high ground of Hope, and went charging down hill to meet the rock bands and movie crews in the valley of Hype. The rest is history.

When the Church competes with Show Biz, their beauty and their bling and their buzz will overpower our 2nd-rate special effects every time.  What Hollywood cannot compete with is the undiluted, outgunned, unafraid-to-seem-irrelevant Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And for a long, long time, they haven’t had to.

I’m praying for a Great Awakening to sweep across Jesus Churches of all shapes and sizes all across the Land.  I hope you will join me in praying for a powerful movement of the Spirit of God among his people; a call to share the truths of Christ even when they seem untimely- as they often have throughout history.  Pray for a mighty army of newly awakened men, women and young people determined to stop Dancing with the Stars and start following Jesus with a cross once again.  It’s surely late, but it’s not too late.

Lift up the Cross!


Deck Chairs on the Titanic

make-disciplesWhere did Christians get the trite idea that we’re supposed to change the world? If we can all agree on anything about the Book of Revelation, it is this: the church doesn’t reform the world.  To the contrary, John makes it clear the world will get worse and worse until God finally brings the curtain down.  Like it or not, our unsinkable world will one day go down.

Think about it: Joseph was empowered by God to become the second most powerful man in Egypt, but he didn’t even change Egypt, much less the neighboring world.  David led Israel to become a stronger nation, but certainly not a center of spiritual revival.  Daniel saw God do mighty miracles but Babylon remained a bastion of paganism till the day it fell.

God never directs us to change the world.  Isaiah dismissed the nations as a mere drop in the bucket to God. Rather, Christ commissions us to make disciples and win souls. Winning a Christian majority may eventually change the spiritual worldview of a nation, but not necessarily.  The largest church in the world continues to thrive in communist China where oppression has recently intensified. Regimes decline. Fashions fade.  Souls last forever.

Enter the words “world” + “change” in a Bible concordance.  What you’ll find is Romans 12:2, which admonishes us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  The only guaranteed change that happens in the world occurs when Jesus transforms the individual men and women he has saved by grace through faith.  How will they hear without a messenger?

I am convinced the vision of miraculously changing the world has become a destructive paradigm, at least for our generation of saints.  It shifts our emphasis to political elections and social activism.

  • The quickest way to change the world is to elect a new president or improve the economy, right?  If you can’t figure that one out, just Google “Moral Majority.”  Political changes are easy come, easy go: except they don’t come that easy.
  •  In addition, we tend to be sidetracked and enraged by the moral decline all around us. We spit in the eye of the malign culture and its captives, rather than steeling ourselves to grow outstanding disciples in a lifetime struggle against decay and hostility.  We have to become better planters.

One of my heroes, William Tyndale, eventually had a huge impact on the world but it was generations after his violent death at the hands of the government.  His English translation of the New Testament enabled simple farm boys to sing the scriptures as they went about plowing and harvesting.  In time, his ministry really did change the world but his goal had simply been to make disciples and win souls.

God is big enough to change the world in his own season.  The task for us is less daunting: share the gospel and win souls.  Entrust the gospel to disciples who are trained to share it with others.

There must be a reason Revelation is the final book in the Bible.  The closing four chapters guarantee that God will change the world forever.  Until we finally reach chapter 19, the church must persevere under fire and preach the undiluted but often unpopular gospel. Change will come in God’s time.  We tirelessly make disciples one soul at a time.

Lift up the Cross!

1 Minute After You Die


“What happens to me when I die?  Do I go straight to Heaven, or does my soul sleep in the grave for a while?”  It’s a question that comes up every month, even more often after the death of a beloved friend.  The Bible doesn’t define the process precisely, but when you put all the relevant verses together you come away with a pretty clear picture.

Imagine a guy named Max, a devout follower of Jesus, and let’s use him to illustrate my take on the question. As it is for everyone, death is a process for Max; not actually a moment.  His organs begin to shut down and finally his heart stops beating.  Momentarily or even ten minutes later, his brain calls it a day.  At some point in this process, his soul evacuates his body, which is no longer viable for life.

Max’s body is not fitted for eternity: flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 15:50)  For the moment it’s in the way, so Max’s family will have a mortuary make the body more manageable, either through embalming and burial, or through cremation.  But the Bible teaches resurrection– not simply the immortality of the soul- so this is not the last chapter for that inconvenient body once called Max.

The soul that belongs to God is immediately translated into God’s presence in Eternity. Some have wondered about limbo or purgatory, a kind of temporary storage facility, but the Bible says nothing about that.  Places like that may belong to Roman Catholic tradition, but are not taught in scripture.

Rather, Jesus promises the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:43)  Some have argued that Jesus did not ascend to heaven until days after his death; would not have been there that Friday.  That’s debatable, but there’s no question that  Jesus is God.  And God was always in Heaven.  And on the day that former thief passed away, he was with God in Heaven. Elsewhere in Revelation 6:9, we also read a description of souls already in heaven. The martyrs who have just been executed, presumably by the Romans, are huddled by the altar asking God, “How long will the bloodshed continue?”  The Father assures them there is a appointed time and He is still in control. They are curious because their souls have just escaped the fiery persecution, and they are alive in the comforting presence of God.

But let’s return to Max.  His soul, his life force, has now been ushered into Heaven by the angels.  His body has been buried and has already begun to decay.  That’s okay: no one is trapped there.  Nobody’s home at all.  In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul explains that as long as he survives on the earth, he is at home in the body but away from the Lord.  He goes on to exclaim he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  In the same text, he compares his body to an aging and deteriorating tent: “while we’re still in the tent we groan and are burdened.”  Like Max, Paul escaped those burdens when he was executed and his soul departed from that bleeding, lifeless mound of flesh in favor of Eternity.

Which brings us to the resurrection.  In 1 Corinthians 15:51 we are assured, “Behold! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep [die,] but we will all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” The word sleep is the same euphemism Jesus used for Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:52) who was quite dead and required a miracle to recover. God promises we will not all die, but we will all be changed- instantly.

The second resurrection happens on the day when Christ returns in judgment to the Earth. Here’s how it is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17  “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

When Christ returns, the bodies/bones/ashes of the saints will instantly be changed!  Like the resurrected Christ walking through a locked door, these resurrected bodies will rise through the Earth to be instantly reunited with their souls.  Resurrection means that we live again body and soul!  The Day of the Lord begins with a very personal kind of reunion or reintegration for the saints!

Some have scoffed, “Come on, doesn’t that sound outrageous to you?  In one moment, you have all these restored bodies emerging from the ground, and living souls descending out of heaven; and they are all finding their way to each other? Really?”  I suppose that might have presented a practical, intellectual problem fifty years ago.  But today, UPS is able to track millions of packages of all sizes as they travel all around the world.  At any moment, the man in brown can instantly tell me whether my package is shipped, or has departed the terminal, or is waiting in Topeka, Kansas, or is in a local vehicle en route to my house!  If UPS can track millions of packages accurately and instantly, I have no worries about God’s ability to have invisible chips in every body in order to guide souls instantly to the correct address!

So be comforted.  If you belong to Jesus Christ, you will never be consciously or unconsciously sleeping in the ground.  (Good news for claustrophobic believers everywhere!) Your soul will be with God only moments after you check out here, and your body will remain disconnected and inactive until it can be fitted for life in eternity, body and soul.  Don’t grieve like others who have no hope.

And lift up the Cross!


The Rising: Has it Begun?

AWAKENINGWhen Bruce Springsteen wrote The Rising, he was thinking mostly about the first responders who ran heroically into peril after 9-11.  But he also sensed there was a resurrection quality to the anthem.  His song came to mind again today as I thought about the Church here in the USA.  After years of decline and discouragement, I have begun to suspect The Rising may well be underway in Christian America.

Millennials have reached their tipping point in regard to marriage.  Just a few months ago, we turned a corner: more of that generation are now married than single. Young Americans have historically shied away from the Church until they have married and begun think about babies.  A friend who is well-known for his research into the church scene sees evidence at the national level that the return of Millennials to Christ and his Kingdom is now beginning to build. They were simply delayed in the journey by their tardy embrace of matrimony.

In the face of so much hostility, the Gospel and followers of Christ are showing up everywhere. Christians have featured prominently in  medal ceremonies at the Olympics in Rio. Michael Phelps reported to ESPN that his high profile recovery and transformed attitude are rooted in his reading of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.  After taking Sundance by storm, The Birth of a Nation comes to the big screen this fall.  The writer/director/star of the film is Nate Parker, an outspoken follower of Jesus Christ.  The NFL and NBA are well known for athletes like Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins, and Stephen Curry, who confess Christ and the power of the Gospel.

No doubt, there’s a difference between a fashion and an awakening.  The Jesus Movement became a fad back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.  Pop music celebrated The Spirit in the Sky and love for fellow man. Books and movies were electrified by tales of exorcism and theories from Revelation; but the world was much more inclined toward faith and biblical values back then. The breakthroughs happening today are in absolute defiance of an angry, secular culture.  Believers are beginning to boldly swim against the cultural tide.

There’s a familiar scene in 1 Kings 19 in which we find Elijah  fleeing for his life,  cowering in the wilderness.  He cries out in despair that he’s the last believer left in the land and Jezebel is determined to assassinate him.  God scoffs, and tells his prophet to man up and get back to work.  “I have reserved 7,000 souls who have not bowed down at the altar of Baal.”

After two decades of gloom and doom reports of rising atheism, irreligious young Americans, and declining churches, we who follow Christ in the USA may be a bit like Elijah in his throes of depression: we have forgotten there is always more here than meets the eye.  Yes, Europe has drifted into spiritual death; but Africa is exploding in revival. God may not be finished with America yet.  There is still time to follow the road not taken- the narrow one.

So let’s never stop praying for fire from Heaven.  But let’s not be so discouraged that we fail to see the first signs of spiritual springtime spreading across the land.  I’m looking all around for sparks to shelter and glowing embers that can be fanned into flames.  These may well be the Good Old Days.

Lift up the Cross!


Make Believe War


Another day, another slaughter at the hands of terrorists.  This time, it’s a beach in France.  This time, the body count is 70 dead and counting.  To no one’s surprise, the heartless executioner was named Mohamed.

No wonder there’s a rising tide of rage against apathetic world leaders.  Once again, President Obama will condemn the violence, insult the coward who did this, and reassure us with promises about ultimate victories.  French President Hollande rushed into a press conference to comfort the helpless masses, and assure them France will be stronger after this.  Of course, we heard the same kind of platitudes after the last massacre of innocents, but it’s clear nothing has changed. Talk is cheap, particularly the kind of glib rhetoric that offers empty promises and meaningless slogans.  The savages are waging a real war with deadly weapons with a vengeance.  The nations have responded with pretend warfare, verbal assaults and pleas for peace.

But this is not a political blog.  As I listened to all the same, old tired promises and empty threats on my radio while driving to work this morning, it struck me that you could say the same thing about the spiritual war being waged by the Church today. Here in the USA, atheists, pagans, and radical activists continue to mount a shock-and-awe campaign against the foundations of civilization.  We have lost all the battles for social values: the right to pray in public events, the sacred right of the unborn to live, conjugal marriage, and even biological gender.  But that’s all happening because we are losing on a larger, more strategic front: the hearts and minds and souls of men and women.

This week, the Pew Foundation released polling data that indicates non-religious voters are now the largest voting bloc in the USA- outnumbering both Protestants and Catholics. Their number has increased by 50% just in the last eight years. For details, click here.

Every Sunday, pastors and Christian leaders across the land stand in pulpits to assure us of the certainty of our victory. Does that sound familiar?  We are waging a spiritual war. Our cause is just. Souls are at stake.  The weapons of our warfare are not man-made, but they are mighty.  The battle is the Lord’s.

I’m not questioning the Lord’s willingness to fight, but isn’t He supposed to have an army?  He’s the general- not the infantry, right?  He’s the head: that means there is a body complete with hands and feet and eyes and a mouth, right?  There’s no doubt that Christ will finally win the war, but if you and I carelessly forfeit millions of souls of men and women in this particular battle, that’s on us.

Reports describe the street along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice last night as too ghastly to televise. There were corpses everywhere- bloody and mutilated, some only children. If only we had eyes to survey the streets and buildings around the world where the spiritual carnage numbers in the hundreds of thousands: people who could have been saved but, tragically, were never reached.  People who are still moving, but are doomed. Many won’t even know what hit them.

It’s counter productive to be angry at “them.”  They are lost and confused as well. The problem is “us.”  We should be angry at ourselves.  And then we should repent and cry out to God for grace and mercy and power.  And then we should resolve to stop the make believe war and the head fakes:to go risk something, to engage in a spiritual skirmish for souls.

The battle is the Lord’s. Yeah, yeah, yeah: but we are his Special Forces. It’s clearly going to require a work of divine race to get us off our butts and into battle. Please join me in praying for courage, vision and fire from Heaven.

And lift up the Cross!



Resistance Thinking (2)


Just yesterday, most Americans had never heard of gender dysphoria; and transsexuals were found mostly in schlock movies like the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Today we are warned there is a national epidemic for which the only cure is the wholesale renunciation of the male-female concept of gender.  Oh yes, and all individuals must be free to enter the restroom or locker room that fits the way they identify today.

This is not going to go well.  Progressives will continue to taunt traditionalists that only bigots and haters seriously care who’s sitting in the adjacent restroom stall. And alarmed parents will reply that only perverts and fools would demand that males who self-identify as females must be allowed to shower with adolescent girls.  And then a few religious folks will cap it off by snarling, “I’m a Christian and this is a sin against God.”

Last time, we acknowledged that it’s not very constructive to wade into a political debate firing Bible verses.  If my adversaries are unbelievers, my scripture doesn’t resonate with them; in fact, it proves I’m in the narrow minded religious minority.  A more rational approach might be to begin with the medical evidence that we are over dramatizing an adolescent phase that almost always passes, and an emotional disorder that responds to counseling, not surgery. For last week’s blog, click here.

Here’s my second principle for joining this cultural conversation (and many others:) In everything, lead with love.

It’s not helpful to suggest your Christian faith should automatically trump the opinions of other citizens who happen to be atheists or a Unitarians.  But it’s downright destructive when you make that statement with a condescending glare. We are the people who love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are the ones who turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and are controlled by the love of God.  Even atheists who know nothing about our theology realize that we boast about love that is supernatural. They are right, of course.

We are not allowed to resent people who disagree with us- even radical activists who hope to undermine our traditions and deny us our civil rights.  We cannot hate our fellow Americans, even if we rightfully believe they are drilling holes in their end of our national life boat.

Paul leaves us a vivid example in Acts 17.  As he walks through Athens where pagan statues clutter every street and public pavilion, the great evangelist’s heart is broken. Scripture says his spirit is provoked.  What’s more, some of the intellectuals actually insult him, mocking his barbaric accent.  In response, Paul greets them warmly, quotes their favorite pagan poets, and respectfully warns them that the age of repentance has now dawned. They should turn to Christ.  He never rebukes them: he builds bridges.

This principle also applies to discussions of race, Black Lives Matter, and policemen who feel they have targets on their backs.  In having conversations with black Americans or frustrated law enforcement officials, I don’t have to win some kind of debate.  Trying to understand another person’s concerns is not the same thing as agreeing with them. I want to ask thoughtful questions, listen respectfully, and then plant positive but subversive images of which will linger in their minds long after they walk away.  The love of Christ lays the best foundation for cultivating haunting conversations.

More next time.  In the meantime, lift up the Cross!


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