Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Facebook Derangement Syndrome

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Facebook encourages us to share our thoughts and feelings with the whole world- instantly, unfiltered, and unedited.  That’s one reason why the site that made social media a household term has now become such a bore.  Who knew there were so many angry, insecure people in the world? You could call it FDS.

Where did we lose those timeless truths; the insight that it’s generally not healthy to share everything you’re thinking and feeling instantly and unedited?  You can injure other people.  You can create unnecessary hostility and tension.  And you can make yourself look inexcusably ignorant, superficial, and immature.

When I was five or six years old, a garrulous neighbor stopped by the house to visit my mom. In my young mind, it must have seemed she had been going on and on forever.  So I blurted out a sensible request I must have heard someone else use: “Oh! Just get to the point!”  I don’t know how long the neighbor stayed after that: only that I got a swat on the bottom and a trip to my room!  My shocked mom later explained it’s uncivilized and unkind to say everything that comes to your mind. One of the most reliable metrics parents use to gauge how well their kids are growing up is simple self control.

Scripture counsels the people of God: “This you know, my beloved brethren, but everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)  In the Old Testament, the writer of Psalm 141 prays, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Outrage is like formal attire: it’s only appropriate for select occasions.  But in American society today, indignation has become the first line of defense.  In the realm of Twitter, you have to say it in 140 characters or less, like it or not.  That means we should tweet less and think more.  The real question is not how many characters are required, but rather, what kind of character does this message reflect?  Am I behaving like a jerk?  Do I seriously know all the facts?  Does this really need to be communicated?

There are many, many reasonable responses to an unwelcome situation.  There are replies that can pour oil on troubled water.  There are attitudes that suggest this is not a crisis; we can all work together.  There are answers that apply the balm of Gilead to bruised and broken hearts. And then… there is the Personal Apocalypse!  Everybody on the floor! Now!

We live in a dysfunctional, distressing culture; so much that I often find indignation rising in my heart, quite unjustly, over something as simple as a thoughtless remark.  I quickly bite my lip. Silence can truly be the pause that refreshes.

  • Sometimes I realize the emotion that’s in order here is surprise.  I wasn’t expecting that! So I reply, “Sorry, you caught me off guard.  Tell me again….”
  • Once in a while, I realize that I am at fault.  It’s painful to be informed I have needlessly injured another person.  “I’m sorry” is always a good start.
  • Occasionally a situation occurs that simply disappoints me.  Sadness is a necessary part of life.  It’s not an occasion for a lawsuit or a fist fight. It’s okay to be sad once in a while.
  • Then there are those moments that are embarrassing.  My face glows red and I have no idea what to say.  So I break the ice, “Well, this is awkward….”  People smile and relax.

Even on occasions when outrage is appropriate, it’s often not effective.  Human trafficking is as outrageous and barbaric today as it was in the 19th Century when the British economy was dependent on slavery.  Outrage didn’t end legalized human bondage: that sort of rage fizzles too quickly:  too intense and not focused enough.  Rather, human slavery was finally outlawed in Britain as the result of prayer, cooperation, statesmanship, determination, and tenacious, tireless resistance against barbarism. It required a generation. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to live decades of ones life in a state of perpetual outrage, although some people foolishly try.  Even crusaders have to occasionally lighten up and let a few things pass unchallenged.

A thousand years before Christ, Scripture noted “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  In a world of Facebook flatulence and Twitter twaddle, that principle is just as valid as ever.  Being measured is a part of being wise.

Lift up the Cross!

 

hacksaw-ridgeMel Gibson’s latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, was a religious experience for me.  You’d probably never expect to hear anything like that about a war movie so agonizingly violent. But there’s a cross in the title when it appears on the screen.  And the Sermon on the Mount is at the heart of the story.

Perhaps you already know the plot.  Desmond Doss is a devout follower of Christ, a Seventh Day Adventist who carries a Bible with him when he goes off to World War II. Because he has taken a  vow never to touch a weapon, he enlists as a conscientious objector and volunteers to serve as a medic.  Remarkably, the movie manages to celebrate Doss’ principled refusal to fight, without ever demeaning the character or convictions of the warriors all around him who do risk their lives to wage the war for freedom.

Amid the carnage of a just war, Hacksaw Ridge brings to life some of the most noble ideas of the gospel: turning the other cheek, blessing those who hate you, praying for those who despitefully use you, demonstrating mercy to your enemies. You’d never expect to see forgiveness play such a prominent role in a drama so charged with gunfire and explosions! And I cannot remember when any other major motion picture has portrayed the call of God with so much majesty and respect.

As the heroic Army medic roams a vast battlefield of terror and death, all the while praying, “Lord, let me save one more,” all I could see through my tears was a man carrying a cross. I was jolted by the reality of how little courage is required for my level of sacrifice on the battlefields of life today.  Each of us is called to pick up a cross and follow.

Everybody’s different: Hacksaw Ridge may be too bloody for you. I would suggest it might be worth occasionally closing your eyes to let one saint’s testimony rock your world.  I expect to encourage all the leaders at our church to experience this story on the big screen. It’s truly a keeper.

Lift up the Cross!

 

That’s It? Now What?

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As presidential campaigns go, 2016 may not actually be the nastiest ever. Even before the internet and 24/7 cable coverage, US voters have frequently been dragged down by shocking, depressing campaign fodder. Candidate Grover Cleveland was paying child support for an out-of-wedlock offspring, inspiring the slogan, “Ma! Ma! Where’s my Pa?” His opponent James Blaine was left reeling when a personal letter surfaced, confirming his corrupt dealings with the railroads. Before that Abraham Lincoln was slandered as “a horrid-looking wretch, sooty and scoundrelly in aspect, a cross between the nutmeg dealer, the horse-swapper and the night man.”

And despite everything we’ve heard from talking heads and anguished neighbors, the current political divisions may not be the most serious crisis that has ever confronted our nation.  When Abe Lincoln took office in 1860, he was quickly robbed of his newfound joy as states in the south began to nullify the election and announce their secession from the Union.  The situation is certainly ominous today, but things must have looked awfully grim at the outbreak of World War I, amid the suffocating grip of the Great Depression, and during the Nazi terrors of World War II.  The constitution has been imperiled in the past, as well.

If we have learned anything, we have surely learned that no war will ever end all wars; there is always a next one.  And elections only settle things for four years. The next campaign begins almost immediately.  We have also been reminded time and again that campaign promises have a very short shelf life, that all leaders have feet of clay, and that God never promised anybody the American Dream.

As citizens of Heaven, our hope is in the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. The church is not a museum of American cultural history: we are the Embassy of Heaven located on hostile soil in a foreign land. Whatever happens in the political world here, we must represent the values of the Kingdom of Light. Whether freedom seems to be rising or falling across this land, we must advance the interests of the Kingdom.  We make disciples.  Sometimes that’s easier when the world seems otherwise hopeless.  Maybe these times are like that.

So I keep reminding myself that faith and hope are mostly the same.  Our hope is not the last gasp of a desperate victim who clings to bland, wispy optimism.  My hope in Christ is as certain as my hope that the sun will come up tomorrow; that payday will come in two weeks.  I have been instructed and inspired by the confidence of those men who wrote the Psalms, not to mention my own experience with Christ.

Psalm 130: 5 – 6 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.  I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 23: 1 – 2 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He is gracious to us.

Isaiah 40:31 But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

I will be distracted neither by the winds of politics, nor the fashion of catchy slogans. Campaigns and candidates come and go, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

scrabble

Anybody can talk.  Most of us get started around the age of three and never learn to shut up. But talk is not the same thing as communication.  Many of us never learn how to communicate.  Fresh ideas and gestures of good fall wasted to the ground, unheard and unheeded.  We try to be peacemakers, but are shocked when we make things worse!

The gospel can be helpful here.  We are reminded that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. [Proverbs 25:11] By the standards of the Proverb, it’s not sufficient to simply utter the truth; it must be spoken in the most helpful way.  Similarly, Christ counsels us, “Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no.  Anything beyond that is sin.”  [Matthew 5:37]  Once again, we are not simply told to be truthful.  Beyond honesty and integrity, Christ is cautioning his disciples that we must also speak with clarity and consistency.  Only then do people learn to trust the truth we convey.

Here in 2016, it’s almost cliche to that assert that communication is necessary for any healthy relationship.  We’ve all heard it 1,000 times.  Communicate!  Communicate! Communicate!  But we make the failed assumption that simply requires talking to one another.  There is, in fact, such a thing as too much talk.  Communication begins when I speak my words in the manner that is most helpful and appropriate; I strive to share my thoughts with clarity and consistency.  Then I add an exclamation point by listening to the other person’s response. That’s communication. That’s treasure!

A word fitly spoken is what happens when I learn to be assertive.  I strip away all the anger, skepticism, and toxic emotions that might otherwise be part of my conversation, and I say clearly what I need.  It’s not the same as being aggressive.  Aggressive is generally pushy and often unkind.  Assertive is just the facts, Ma’am,

  • For example, an assertive spouse does not grow angry when guests are arriving in half an hour, but her husband is still watching sports commentary on ESPN.  She does not imply he is a worthless clod, or that he has lost all his self-respect.  She simply gives him a kiss on the cheek and asks sweetly, “Honey, can you pause and help me pick up the den so it will be straight when the Johnson’s arrive in a few minutes?”
  • When your mother-in-law continues to push an idea for the kids that you completely abhor, letting your “no” mean “no”does not require rehashing the pro’s and con’s and angrily repeating your rationale fifteen times.  The word aptly spoken sounds like this: “Thanks, Mom. [Smile!] You know I love you.  But I’m going to stand firm on this.” You don’t have to make your case any more.  Say this repeatedly.
  • Neither does clear communication require shouting at your kids because they quarrel with one another every day after school.  Screaming parents aren’t much better than quarreling kids.  Wisdom calmly explains the unacceptable behavior and the penalty that will quietly come down at the first appearance of a violation.  The wise parent explains there will be no further warnings, no additional debates.  The first outbreak will bring the specified penalty, and Mom or Dad will be pleasant and utterly unperturbed as they collect all the video games and ground offenders for the week.

Words are not weapons, but they can be destructive.  Words are tools.  A well-made hammer can smash fingers, break china, and leave bent nails jutting dangerously out of the wood.  But an ordinary hammer used correctly can fit pieces of wood together in ways that are beautiful and helpful.  Our words can bring things together that same way.  But it’s important to smile as we strip away the emotions, and bring peace and clarity together: just words.

Lift up the Cross!

Shaken, Not Stirred

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James Bond was describing his favorite vodka martini but he could have been thinking of American churches in 2016.  We have been shaken by the godless revolution that has turned social values on their heads and has forbidden the Bible as superstition and hate speech.  But we have not been stirred to repentance or even serious prayer.

Unfortunately, too many saints seem utterly fixated with the approaching presidential election.  Pastors and other spiritual leaders have squandered their good names endorsing one candidate or another, both of whom are appalling, and urging the people of God to pray about this election.  Tense, guarded voices warn us that this election represents our last good chance to take the nation back.

In fact, the nation we once knew is gone, and it’s time to get over it. There is no super hero- and certainly no politician– coming to turn back time and restore sanity to our government and our culture.  Like it or not, this is the new normal.  What if we in the church stopped wringing our hands in grief, and decided to accept the call of God?  Could this be the moment when we should resolve to stop living in the past and begin serving God in the place where He has planted us?

Christ encouraged his apostles to be fearless when he dispatched them to go ahead of him and prepare the way.  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”  (Hint: wolves are hazardous for sheep.)

The church in Laodicea was rich and comfortable, but utterly lacking in influence. Christ rebuked that church, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire.”  He was prescribing purity that can be derived only in the fires of persecution.  That may very well be what the Master has in store for churches in the USA as well; not because he hates us, but because he loves us.

Persecution is not the exception for exceptional churches; it is the rule. Counter-cultural congregations always threaten the Establishment.  The gospel unites people around timeless truth even as kings and congressmen scramble to divide us over race, economics, age, and gender.  The harder tyrants work to suppress the church or stamp it out, the more potent the Holy Spirit grows in multiplying the saints and manufacturing holy ambition. Pinpoint the places around the globe where holiness is rising, where churches are exploding, and you’ll find most of your pins point to places on the map where the church is under fire.

It’s not pleasant to think about the approach of serious persecution of believers: not just icy glares when one mentions Christmas, but violence and prison time.  But wouldn’t it be thrilling, even earth shaking, to experience the awe and wonder of Acts in our 21st Century American churches today? That may very well be why so much chaff is being sifted out of the church scene. Perhaps God is refining the Bride of Christ for what is to come: less is more. Thinking about persecution for ourselves and our children, it may be that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

That’s why prayer closets will be much more urgent than voting booths for many years to come.  If you can do both, vote and pray.  If you have to choose, opt for the latter.

Don’t pray for the election. Pray for the Elect.

And lift up the Cross!

The Violence of Silence

shhhh

 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!

 

 

hd-tv

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!

 

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