Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

shutterstock_561903547It doesn’t take any faith at all to believe in God.  Even atheists know there is a God.  Otherwise, why would an intelligent individual build his adult identity around the defiance of someone who doesn’t exist? Worse yet, why get so angry at an imaginary being or publish books denouncing him?  The Christian Faith rests on a few very specific divine convictions defined by the New Testament, but everyone intuitively believes in a God.

It’s not the idea of God that offends atheists and many others today.  It’s the Truth that is associated with that God.  And there’s the rub.  No faith is required to simply believe in a deity, but courage is required to build your life on his truths and walk with Him. And this is not an attack on atheists.  A lot of people are afraid of one truth or another in life.  Fear is a universal condition.  The fear of divine Truth happens to be the most lethal variety.

In the story of Adam, what begins in arrogance ends quickly in terror.  The original inhabitants of Eden trade away their personal, productive walk with the Creator in exchange for a failed chance at equality with Him.  The nakedness that sends them hiding among the scenery represents more than guilt or shame: it’s fear of Truth.  They are suddenly afraid to walk with the God whose Truth they have betrayed. (Genesis 3:10)

Walking by faith with Jesus Christ requires courage to embrace the timeless facts and outlast the immediate consequences.  This is why conversations about God tend to become emotionally charged and rely on slogans rather than substance.  It’s because God has created a cosmos where there is death; where ideas have consequences; where the right path is surrounded by many pathways to self-destruction; in which transformations happen.  Frankly, a lot of earthbound people don’t want to be reminded that life does end and we are all accountable for how we lived here.

Many of the pop mantras of the moment insist that God is unloving; that faith is unscientific; that respect is deserved rather than earned.  And they are generally regurgitated on Twitter or in office chatter by people who seldom think very deeply about life: too frightening and distracting.  It would be unnerving to consider that scientists still have no idea what happened one moment before the Big Bang or what happens one moment after the Final Curtain.  It’s uncomfortable to be told that some liberated lifestyles are actually destructive to individuals and to society, as well.  And it’s unfashionable to insist that everyone should be treated politely, but you have to earn the respect of others and yourself.  Followers of Jesus Christ are not afraid to calmly discuss any of those realities;  our unbelieving neighbors, not so much.

Realizing that most people are actually afraid to consider Jesus Christ doesn’t make it any easier to share your faith with them.  But it helps you and me maintain a right perspective.  The tide has not turned against the Faith because the body of Jesus has been discovered among some ruins outside Jerusalem, or because mountains of new evidence have proven the Bible is wrong.  The current rage against God is a fashion, not a movement.  It has no rational foundations.  The thin veneer of faux-atheism is already beginning to crack.

Don’t be afraid to talk confidently about the love and the power of Jesus Christ.  Many of our neighbors seem dead in their apathy.  Pray for them and look for openings. We follow a Savior who raises the dead.

Lift up the Cross!





Did you See the Gorilla?

GORIILA WITH GLASSES (2)Two prisoners have been locked away in this pitch-black underground bunker, a sort of black hole of Calcutta.  They have endured weeks of complete and utter darkness.  Suddenly, inmate #1 cries, “Look! A light!  There’s a light breaking through!” His comrade twists left and right, shouting “Where? Where? I don’t see anything!”

Inmate #1 replies, “It’s directly overhead!  Look up! It’s brilliant!”  Once again, the second prisoner sees nothing. “What light? Where?”  Finally, after a few minutes, the men begin to argue.  Inmate #1 insists the light is clearly visible directly overhead.  His cellmate can only hurl insults and dismiss the man as deranged or psychotic.  Assuming both men are completely honest, how can this be explained?

The conundrum has two possible solutions. It could be that Inmate #1 has finally lost his mind.  After weeks of isolation, he is experiencing a hallucination.  But there is another logical possibility: the second prisoner is blind.

This is precisely how God explains the chasm of darkness between the children of light and our neighbors who are convinced we’re living in Fantasy Land. “In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

There is more here than a metaphor.  For example, have you seen that classic video that asks you to count how many times people dressed in white shirts pass a basketball around?   Six young people toss two basketballs between themselves.  And if you’re very focused, you will count fifteen passes between the players in white t-shirts.  After 30 seconds you’re asked how many passes you observed.  Then there’s a second question: “Did you see the gorilla?”  What?  What gorilla?  When you review the video once again, you see an adult in a black gorilla suit walk slowly across the stage directly through the players, actually pausing in the center to pound his chest!  Show the video to a few friends and you’ll confirm that people focused on the balls invariably miss the gorilla completely!  Watch the video.

You don’t have to be physically blind to miss surprising and unusual events occurring all around you.  You only need to be focused on something more routine and less significant.

There are intelligent, experienced people in your office or classroom whose eyes and affections are honed in on the familiar: the hottest people in the room, the minutes left before lunch, the irritating buffoon in the adjacent cubicle, video games on their iPhones.  That’s all they expect, so it’s all they see.  Hence, they never detect the evidence of the invisible kingdom, the wonders of the human body or the world where we live, or the design so evident in the lives of other people. They are limited only by a lack of curiosity and their selective attention.

Here’s how C.S. Lewis characterized that spiritual handicap: “We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

So I never get impatient with the atheists who write angry books or the celebrities who roll their eyes and suggest people who hear from God are mentally ill.  They can’t help it.  They’ve been blinded.  I keep praying that God will get their attention and their eyes can finally be opened.  We must be humble and kind.

And lift up the Cross!

Good SamaritanWhat’s the difference between holiness and relevance?  For starters, holiness is what followers of Jesus used to value.  Relevance is the priority that replaced it.

Striving for holiness means the direction of my life is visibly different from most people because my purpose and objectives are godly and eternal.  Reaching for relevance means I value the same things my unbelieving neighbor’s value and I’m eager to prove it.  Holiness means God is my audience, but relevance is cultivated to please the people in the bleachers.

Imagine this: if you have been robbed, beaten, and left for dead lying by the road, will you really care who stops to help?  I mean, while you’re drifting into a coma if the first person who stops is Chris Pratt or Scarlett Johansen or an insecure, middle-aged postman, does it really matter at all?  Scarlett and Chris are cool, but who could possibly be more relevant to you than someone who cares enough to stop and care for you? Will you be offended if the person who stops to save your life is a human trafficker?  We are so fearful that holiness might be a turn-off to the lost.  Not if we approach desperate people, fully determined to love them and meet them where they are.

People who are out of step with the pop culture are never celebrated as relevant.  That’s what holy means, of course: out of step, on a different path because of a different purpose.  The thing that makes us holy is not stern morality: it’s love.  Holy love never condescends, but it does stoop to help a fallen neighbor.  Godly love esteems others before self; it pays the price, even if the price is death.  You know what the Holy Bible says: “Love never fails.”

What does it mean when underpaid deputies and soldiers are expected to risk everything for others, but Christians insist on watching safely from the Comfort Zone?  It means somebody has a high view of duty and a low view of love.  Somehow, low wages and civic duty mean first responders and soldiers must risk everything for others, but the death of Jesus on the cross calls for nothing on the part of his followers.  We don’t have to strive for the greatest kind of love; just be nice and go along to get along, right?

The hole in our holiness is that very low view of love.  We don’t allow for the love of God to be perfected in us.  We don’t believe that love always strives and never fails.  We insist that we all sin against one another, but we fail to grasp that a sinner who loves is one who also repents and asks others to forgive him.  Symbolic love has no ambition.

Holiness doesn’t mean I am the most moral person on my block.  It means I am the one most likely to care; to stop and help; to sacrifice for a stranger.  The holiest person in your church may have never thought about sustainable agriculture or fair trade coffee or human trafficking.  But when your heart is broken, or your joblessness lasts longer than expected, or you test positive for some risky health condition, the most relevant person in the whole world will be the one who stops to help.

Some people know political action.  Some people care about the arts.  But when you’re trapped, there’s no one more welcome than someone who knows God well and shows up with love.  If you and I can’t do that, worship style, mission trips, and Bible translations don’t matter at all.

Lift up the Cross!

Short Memories

Tidal WaveTo many, it seems the world has never been more violent or chaotic than it is today.  That’s only because we haven’t been around very long!  No doubt, things have been better in previous years.  They’ve also been worse.

The flu that rocked the USA this winter was unprecedented- except that it wasn’t.  In 1918, a flu outbreak infected just about 1/3 of the global population, resulting in 20 – 50 million deaths worldwide, and 675,000 in the US alone.  In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed 30 – 60% of the population of Europe.  Now that’s a pandemic!

The United States is more polarized and divided than we’ve ever been- except for 1861 when the Civil War broke out and Americans literally spent four years killing each other on battlefields across the land.  The years leading up to the war were marked by public insults, deadly massacres, and fistfights on the Senate floor.  There have been other times when American politics were brutal as well; we just don’t remember.

Has there ever been a time when sexual behavior was so flagrant, so common, and so openly embraced?  Well, a brand new biography describes German society in 1525 when even conservative Christians were expected to celebrate their new new marriage by having witnesses present for their first act of copulation.  This particular biography was about Martin Luther, no less, and was written by Eric Metaxas.

The violent death of seventeen students in Broward County last week was profoundly tragic and could have been prevented.  But it doesn’t reflect a growing trend.  To the contrary, school shootings are incredibly rare, and have been declining since the 1990’s.  Without a doubt, they should break our hearts and move us to act, but they don’t really mean that American classrooms have become war zones.

If we are victims at all, we are victims of a 24/7 news cycle, dishonest social media, and corrupt politicians who will say anything to fire up their base.  But we have not yet arrived at an historic catastrophe like no other!  In fact, most of us have never experienced any crisis that was unprecedented- not the Kennedy Assassination, not 9-11, not the most recent school shooting in Broward County. The Y2K global computer crash might have been unprecedented had it actually happened back at the turn of the century, but it failed to materialize.

It’s natural to be sad, even shocked when tragedies unfold. And the Beatitudes remind us that the godly should mourn the impact of sin on the lives of people around us. But the instant outrage so popular today always makes things worse.  Not only do we lack perspective; in the first 72 hours, we don’t even have all the facts.  And the strident tone of our debates makes meaningful, constructive discussions impossible.

Scripture reminds us that human beings are like the grass or the flowers of the field- here today and gone tomorrow.  We can’t be sure that anything we have experienced is unprecedented- except, of course, the love of God.  Nobody else ever created a universe or populated it with beloved human beings.  No one else ever sent his son to die on a cross in exchange for a way to being grace and wholeness to a sinful world.  Nobody else ever fashioned an eternal kingdom and invited people like you and me to live there forever.

Emotions are deceptive and memories are unreliable.  But the love of God means that every day is filled with opportunity.  The depravity and destructive power of evil is always present.  Yet because of God’s love, each morning is filled with new mercies.

A little perspective goes a long way. Lift up the Cross.


It’s the most-high tech museum in the world, and it’s all about the Bible!  You don’t often mention “cutting edge” and “Christian” in the same sentence, right? But the two ideas finally join hands at the brand new Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.  Delegations from the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Smithsonian in D.C. have already come calling.  They all went away proclaiming this is the museum of the future!

During a preview visit two weeks ago, workmen were still crawling under displays and preparing for the grand opening.  Some exhibits weren’t even in operation yet.  But nothing distracted from the power and character of God made so evident in the miraculous book we call The Holy Bible.  The design team has accomplished the seemingly impossible: both scholars and school children will find this place absolutely amazing!

Our trip through “Stories of the Old Testament” must have lasted twenty minutes, but it felt like five.  Yes, it’s built around world-class video that compares with the best of Hollywood.  But it also incorporates sculpture, theatrical lighting, and high-tech experiences that take your breath away.  Seriously, I will never forget approaching the burning bush with Moses. 

You can walk with your family through a village like the ones Jesus would have visited.  Kitchens and farm tools and a carpentry shop recapture the flavor and details of 1st Century Bethlehem.

There is a glass and chrome dining table, actually a giant HD video screen, where you can sit with your family and experience an authentic Passover Seder.  Seated there, video and sound allow you to join one family celebrating a daughter’s graduation with prayer and thanksgiving; another family praying together before dinner.  It’s amazing!  They are teaching young families how to pray together.

One entire floor features priceless scrolls, parchments, and fragments of historic scriptures.  A large share of the second floor illustrates the Bible’s unprecedented cultural and historical impact upon on the world and the USA.  Not open yet but very appealing to me was an amusement park style ride through the Bible, perhaps in a Jeep.  I can’t wait to go back and try it.

In a culture that generally mocks and dismisses the Bible when not otherwise ignoring it, the Museum of the Bible is an explosion of light and wonder!  The exhibits are not designed to evangelize, and there’s not a “decision room” where counselors wait with cards and pencils. Rather, the people who envisioned this museum wanted to let the Bible speak for itself.  When you visit, you’ll realize God’s Word may be even more captivating and inspiring than you thought.  No wonder it continues to inform and transform the world.  You’ll be reminded why this Word of God never returns without accomplishing the purpose for which He intended.

Go ahead and make your reservations to visit the most powerful museum in our nation’s capital- or anywhere. (Passes for this summer will go quickly!)  And lift up the Cross!


Most of us can’t even pronounce 700,000,000,000,000,000,000, much less count there.  For people who aren’t math geniuses, it’s 700 Quintillion.  According to recent research in Sweden, that’s the number of planets in the cosmos.  But the scientific team learned something else from their epic research project: amid those 700 quintillion planets, the Earth is one of a kind!

Astrophysicist Erik Zackrissen and his team developed a massive computer model to simulate the development of the universe.  They entered everything we know about exoplanets and then programmed in the laws of physics. They recreated 13.8 billion years of history.  The results demonstrate that life on earth defies all the odds.  Here’s how the article sums it up:  “His research indicates that, from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist.”

The writer for Discover concludes that “Earth appears to have been dealt a fairly lucky hand.”  That’s funny!  Three Aces and two kings is a lucky hand.  The scientists believe we were dealt five Aces! (Read the article here.)

The Bible never argues that the Earth is the only planet where life is possible.  But scripture is clear that the staging and adornment of our planet happened near the end of the Creation process, with the climax drawing near.  Genesis emphasizes the loving care demonstrated by God as he fashioned Eden as a splendid home for his masterpiece: men and women.

Last night I finally watched The War for the Planet of the Apes.  I was entertained but saddened.  The script is emphatic that all men and women are hopelessly destructive.  Except for one innocent child, every human being in the movie comes to a tragic, well-deserved end.  Hollywood finally agrees with the Church: all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death.

But in sharp contrast to the blind despair of Tinsel Town, the Gospel foresees a happy ending for people of this planet of apes.  The same God who so carefully crafted the planet with all the resources for life has also intervened to rescue his wayward sons and daughters.  Amid all the grief and confusion of the current age, we believe there is more here than meets the eye.

Step back and watch the Creator working in stardust and DNA.  You can see it every day in the beauty of fall foliage; in the mystery of tiny black seeds bearing giant, sweet watermelons; in the mystery and wonder of a child in the womb.  You can experience it when you read the Bible slowly enough to allow the pulse of Eternity to restart your heart.

We are unique in this dark, sprawling, mostly empty universe; but we are not alone. We are in the presence of our Father.

To hear the companion sermon, click Awe and Reverence.

Lift up the Cross!

Left for Dead @ Church


The good news is that people who love Jesus don’t hate gay men and women.  We love em!  Sadly, we love em to death.  We promise not to judge, we tell them about Jesus, and then we go away and leave them just standing there, beaten and dying slowly.

Everybody knows what Romans 1 says about same-sex attraction.  But that’s not the most useful verse for believers helping friends with SSA.  If you want to minister to a gay man or woman who reaches out to you with questions, think about Christ’s warning that we must not let our light be hidden under a bushel.  In Matthew 5:16, Christ goes on to say, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”

Churches leave wounded people for dead when we only give them half of the gospel.  We talk vaguely about trusting Christ, worshiping in spite of feelings, and praying fervently.  And we say it with those sweet little tears of concern, rain from heaven, welling up in our eyes.  But a lot of us seem to have trouble telling gay men and women that remaining morally pure will be a sacrificial act of love for Christ. Laying your life on the altar of God sounds uncomfortable at first, but the words of the Lord are clear and compelling: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me.”

We cringe because we know people with desperate addictions can’t see the power of that kind of self-denial and sacrifice in our lives.  How are they supposed to be convicted when we’ve buried the evidence?

What if the real reason I cannot encourage a gay neighbor seeking Christ to deny himself and carry his particular cross is that, frankly, it seems so unrealistic to me? Many of us have never forfeited anything precious in the name of Christ- except perhaps a cup of Starbucks’ coffee in order to give $5 to world hunger.  And even if I gave $100 or $1,000, is that really what Christ had in mind when he called me to crucify my flesh and die with him?

People with same-sex attraction would be more motivated in their pursuit of holy abstinence if they could see how other saints express adoration and sacrifice in profound ways as well.

  • Have I walked away from a career, at least risked being fired, when the job compromised my faith or dishonored the Lord?
  • Have my kids and I given up league soccer because it conflicts with worship on Sunday?
  • Is it apparent that I am generous with people who need a meal, a place to stay, new clothes for a job and a path out of poverty?
  • Can my life and schedule be easily interrupted by a neighbor who has relapsed into addiction and crawled back to a pub;  a woman whose husband has become violent; a young person whose angry parents have tossed her out of the house?
  • Does my compassion for others occasionally take me to difficult, dangerous places at inconvenient times, or do I just wait for a quick church activity in prime time to serve the Lord?
  • Has anyone ever seen me rejoice and praise God when my faith in Christ cost me something valuable and significant?
  • Does my love for Christ ever prompt others to call me ignorant or narrow-minded?  And on those occasions when it does, do I bear it all gladly, refusing to get angry and defend myself?
  • If a repentant gay friend ever asked me about the precious things I have given up in the name of Jesus, could I freely share my story with joy and tears?

Sacrifice is so far from the minds of most American church folks that we can’t even countenance a day of fasting. (“I would be worthless at the office if I skipped food all day! What’s the point?”)  We are convinced that 21st Century living means we can have it all.  But we can’t have everything else and have Jesus too.  

Christ compared the Kingdom to a man who finds treasure in a field and then sells everything he owns to make that plot of land his own.  It’s like a pearl merchant who finds a pearl so exquisite that he sells his entire inventory to claim that singular treasure.  Jesus clearly knew what that meant.  His first-century listeners understood as well.  Sadly, we in the 21st Century have no idea.

Let’s pray for repentance and faith, and pray tirelessly for a teachable spirit. Some of us in the church may need to be born again, for real.  And lift up the Cross!

To hear Pastor Cole’s companion message on Sacrifice, click here.

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