Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

MEN TALKING

If God keeps waiting on the Church, this world will never be saved.  Let’s face the facts: they’re distracted and we’re paralyzed.  You know it’s true.

There’s so much buzz in church circles about relationships and building bridges to lost friends, but mostly what comes out of all that chill chatter is generalities and coffee conversations.  If that celebrated bridge ever gets underway, it’s generally another bridge to nowhere.  Maybe it’s partly due to growing urbanization and the oppressive idea of tolerance, but Jesus feels like a very offensive topic, even to people in the church.  His name may be the last taboo.

  • We’re afraid we’ll mention faith too soon and turn them off.
  • We fear we’ll be too direct and friends will feel judged.
  • What if they ask a question and I can’t answer?
  • It would be embarrassing if I got through my whole testimony and the only reply was, “So what?”

I’ve struggled with the same anxieties here along the Washington DC Beltway where people are very secular and overly sensitive.  After a lot of prayer, discouragement, and struggle, I’ve found a better way: Let Jesus do it.  He’s always more convincing when he uses his own words.  It’s not your job to argue with people.  Introduce them to Jesus!

FIRST: Find an opening in the conversation and ask, “Have you ever met Jesus?”  If your friend gives you a funny look, break the tension with a big laugh, and then add, “I’m serious.  He wants to meet you.”  Listen kindly for the next couple of minutes until they ask, in one way or another, what you’re talking about.”

This is not a trick question.  It’s not about being lost or found; not about being saved or condemned.  In a world where people talk about relationships all the time, you’re just wondering if they’ve met someone you happen to love and adore.

SECOND:  Don’t lecture.  Smile again and gently say something like this: “The Bible is like a letter from God.  He makes this promise to actually reveal himself to people who ask.  So I was just wondering if that ever happened to you?”

In case you’re unsure, this is absolutely true. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) Think about Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” My personal favorite is Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  There’s a ton of verses like this.  Just remember one in case someone asks if the Bible really says that.

THIRD: Suggest an experiment. Without trying to sound like your pastor encourage your friend to simply ask Christ to reveal himself, maybe for a month or so.  He can take a moment every day and simply pray, “Jesus, please reveal yourself to me.  I want to know you.”  Or better yet, read the Gospel of Luke, one chapter every day.  Then simply pause and ask Jesus Christ to show up.

Ask your friend if it’s okay if you check in after 30 days to find out what happened.  Tell him that Jesus Christ has always kept his word with you, and you’re wondering what might happen with him (or her.)  Here’s the amazing secret.

  • In a friendly, non-threatening way, you’ve invited someone to talk to God every day.
  • Without being judgmental, you have suggested daily Bible reading.
  • There’s a good chance you’ve created some curiosity.
  • Isaiah 55:11 promises God’s Word  “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

FINALLY, spend the following month praying for your friend. Then follow up as promised. In 30 days, create another opportunity to chat and ask your friend what happened.  You haven’t tried to argue anyone into Heaven or jam anything down someone else’s throat. You’ve simply let Jesus say it in his own way.

Let me know what happens.

And lift up the Cross!

Good to be Small Again

DOWNSIZING

Is it “body shaming” to suggest we’re all too large and would be happier if we were much, much smaller?  Matt Damon’s upcoming movie, Downsizing, is a comedy about people who allow themselves to be miniaturized so their income will go much farther and their dreams will be affordable.  The story apparently presses all the hot buttons of 2017: carbon footprints, unhappiness with one’s biology, the fragmenting family, and the confusion of a world where everything is normal.

It’s a fun idea: you could probably afford the McMansion of your dreams if the scale could be 90% smaller.  And you would surely use less fuel driving an SUV from the Hot Wheels toy collection.  But good luck when a regular-sized typhoon floods your tiny Leisureville Community- not to mention a sprawling monster hurricane like Harvey or Irma!

It’s not likely shrinking the human body will catch on, so I’ve gotten a better idea: let’s shrink the human ego!  Downsizing the self would be a lot more practical. It would wipe out White Supremacy, which is a lingering fever, as well as Moral Superiority, which is a raging epidemic!  NFL players would emphasize the team over personal political agendas. What if I stopped emphasizing what makes me special, in favor of the idea that all human beings are equally valuable, created in the image of God? There must be a movie script there: a futuristic world where the human ego is reduced by 90%!  I can imagine a few laughs, but it wouldn’t have a lot of violence because people with downsized egos could live together in peace and tranquility, even in Washington, DC or North Korea.

Ironically, I came across a review of Downsizing after watching video of the desperate conditions in SE Texas after that historic storm.  A drenched, young woman and her family had just been rescued from their inundated neighborhood.  A reporter reached out with a microphone, asking, “How are you?”  She replied, “We’re alive.  But it humbled us.”  She was speaking for the multitudes.

If only those giant sucker punches delivered to Texas and Florida and the Carribean could momentarily knock the wind out of us all. It was almost miraculous how quickly the tone of news reporting changed for a few days as storms approached fragile communities!  So much of the political slander, bigotry, character assassination, instant outrage, and moral posturing have been washed away by news of flood waters that continue to rise in cities of despair.  Even as Americans grieve the losses being endured by our neighbors in Texas, there is a boundless optimism beginning to build.  Neighbors are helping neighbors. The other forty-nine states are sending in rescuers and equipment from hundreds of miles away.  Families are giving to charities and churches are organizing to provide relief.  None of us is sufficient for such a catastrophe but our combined resources can seriously add up.

Sadly, at this moment in September, the raging debate about NFL players kneeling or locking arms has drowned out reporting from devastated Puerto Rico. Surely, the apocalyptic crisis crushing millions of American neighbors should rate more attention than the perceived slights of a few privileged athletes.  If the USA is guilty of sins against humanity, surely one of them is ignoring devastated Puerto Ricans in 2017 while obsessing on an inconsequential debate that will be forgotten in two years.

More generosity and less instant outrage would demonstrate a more accurate appraisal of how small each of us really is and how little we actually know.  Less abject scorn in public and the social media would allow space for conversation rather than the unkind, snarky confrontation so popular in every realm of life today.  A great society doesn’t require that everyone must be perfect, or even that everyone must agree.  Rather, greatness in a land is possible when everyone’s ego is small enough that he can see beyond it to recognize the enormity of God and the value of others.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  1 Peter 5:6

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

Impeaching Dead Presidents

APOTHEOSIS OF GEORGE

Mood swings are part of the human condition.  So it’s no surprise that the history of the human race is also marked by wild, irrational tides sweeping in extreme directions. Back in 1863, Americans wanted to honor George Washington prominently in the newly completed US Capitol building.  A renowned artist was commissioned to paint a fresco on the underside of the capitol dome.  Today you can still marvel at The Apotheosis of George Washington that depicts the first president elevated to the status of a god and seated among divine beings in the heavens.  Don’t miss the point: he’s seated in Heaven as a god, not a saint!

It’s a majestic fresco, but I’ve always hated it.  There’s only one God and his name is not George.  Indeed, Mr. Washington was a modest man who would never have tolerated such an irreverent comparison during his lifetime.  But by the 1860’s the country was emotionally charged, war drums were already pounding, and the impeccable character of the late first president was one of few things everyone could agree on.

So it’s painful to see angry mobs running toward the other extreme today.  We all agree that slavery is the darkest blot on the history of our nation, and it’s on the record that George Washington was one of many who owned slaves in the colonies.  Amazingly, even some well-educated Americans have actually been caught up in the delusion that this sin outweighs everything else the man ever did.  It matters not that he fought to win our liberty, or served as a unifying first president, or even that he refused to be crowned king for life! The rumbling has already begun that statues must come down; schools and institutions must be renamed.  To some, George Washington is nothing more than a despised human trafficker and a disgrace.

As Christians, you and I appreciate the simple principle that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even saints have sinned.  The only reason any of us can ever stand before God hopeful and unashamed is that someone has carried our condemnation for us.  Christ has exchanged his righteousness for our fetid rags of guilt and shame. That’s why Scripture never conceals the fact that David committed adultery with the wife of one of his oldest and most loyal generals.  Worse still, he finally ordered the death of that trusted friend in order to conceal the illicit pregnancy and claim the woman for himself.  How can it be that God is a holy God and yet David can be described as a man after His own heart?  Grace is messy.

So it’s actually ungodly to demand that capable leaders must also be morally flawless in order to serve their country.  Nobody is.  That explains why a woman caught in adultery walked away unharmed after Jesus concurred with her death sentence, but insisted the first stone should be cast by someone who had never sinned.

It’s also outrageous and irrational to judge historical figures by present day standards that evolved in a different environment decades later.  Many of us in 2017 are offended by President Roosevelt’s order that Japanese-Americans should be rounded up and relocated at the onset of World War II, but we have the advantage of knowing how everything turned out.  He made that call in different circumstances under unimaginable pressure. We cringe when we read about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but President Truman had to sign that order back in 1945 having been advised that the military invasion of Japan could result in another 4 million casualties and 800,000 additional deaths among US fighting forces.  Wouldn’t it be grand if you and I could delay all our hard choices fifty years until we could confirm how everything had turned out?

The desire to erase painful national history is rooted in ignorance and immaturity. History is dead and gone, for better or worse.  Bad history doesn’t enslave and destroy people, but bad memory can.  There’s a reason we build Holocaust Museums.  We say “Never Forget,” so that it will never be tolerated again.  The same should be true of slavery.  Let’s not deceive ourselves with the illusion that great people are not capable of serious mistakes.  We all are.

The irony here is so rich.  Matthew 7 doesn’t actually command us not to judge other people, as is commonly suggested.  In context, it reminds us not to judge unfairly; not to hold others to unrealistic standards we could never meet in our own lives.  Christ’s warning is that people who judge unfairly will be held to the same unjust standards.  So the angry idealists assailing Washington and Jefferson are doing precisely what the Bible warns against.   Witch hunts can feel unifying and even satisfying in the moment.  They invariably lead to painful history, easier to prevent than erase.

And lift up the Cross!

REAL RACISTS

Wait!  Hold on! What’s happening here?  Until a week ago, the most frequently quoted Bible verse in these United States was “Judge not that you be not judged.”  It was the logical destination of every conversation about bad behavior and moral living.

Suddenly everybody’s racing to judge the racists who carried Tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. The President of the United States quickly condemned the evil and bigotry that unraveled into fighting and thuggery, but he was universally assailed for not specifically denouncing the white supremacists, neo-Nazi’s, and the Alt-Right.  The hue and cry became such an avalanche that even Wal-Mart issued a statement demanding more passionate condemnation. Bloggers and columnists and celebrities are stumbling over one another to judge bigots and Klansmen in the most absolute terms possible! We keep hearing the same talking points: there must be no place in America for people like this!

Whatever happened to tolerance?

A poll conducted by the Barna Organization last year found 74% of Millennials agree with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.”  Overall, 57% of American adults agree that determining right and wrong is a matter of personal experience.”  The bottom line is that there are no moral absolutes: what’s right is what’s right for you.

This prevailing ethos practiced by most Americans leaves no room for being honestly intolerant of racists, much less judging them in public.  You don’t know their experiences. You have no idea what kind of bigotry they’ve suffered.  You don’t even know if they’re secretly overcompensating for secret shame over gender issues or sexual addiction. Maybe their hatred for racial minorities because of self-loathing that’s been building up for years.  What if all they need is understanding?  Haven’t we told that love is the answer for Jihadi’s who stock up bombs and weapons to kill civilians?  Surely there’s enough love to go around for a few neo-Nazi’s, too.

The universal spiritual mantra of 2017 America demands tolerance.  Judge not that you be not judged.

If there is no universal evil that’s always wrong, are we denouncing racism because it’s unfashionable?  And if we do agree that racism is an absolute, moral evil, that raises a logical question.  What else?  Once you acknowledge one sin that is always worthy of condemnation, might there be others?  And what if you never act out your racism, but only harbor that resentment in your heart? Isn’t it still a sin?  God says it is.

In case you’re wondering, I denounce racism, white supremacy, neo-Nazism in the strongest terms possible, and call upon hateful people to repent of their evil. That’s a consistent position for me because Christ has taught me there are moral absolutes. Like others who follow Him, I recognize that racism, hatred, greed, and lust are all tragic symptoms of a more fundamental problem: sin.  Sin destroys lives; not only the lives of those who practice iniquity but innocent bystanders around them as well.  We have been taught to hate the sin, but love the sinner.  We believe that the grace of God can transform the most twisted and evil life.  We encourage all sinners to confess their sins and turn to the One and Only Son of God.

I am proud to stand in unity with my black fellow Americans when they suffer bigotry or fear for the safety of their sons and daughters.  I have marched in Martin Luther King Day parades, and have demonstrated against the KKK in their hometown, Pulaski, Tennessee. I have ministered in Soweto, South Africa when it was an unelectrified ghetto crammed with disenfranchised black South Africans.  My church partners with a school in one of the toughest districts in Washington, DC. Sometimes speaking up is not enough. You have to show up.

But I am not willing to stand with all the trendy, hypocrites posturing to look relevant, gain social currency, or make a profit by jumping on the Outrage Train that’s racing around the cultural universe today. When condemnation feels this good, it’s usually a bad thing. Are we doing this because it makes us feel superior?  If we don’t believe there are moral absolutes, it’s sheer hypocrisy to condemn the behavior of others we don’t understand. And if I’m convinced there are God-given standards of right and wrong, why do I only speak out when the popular media grant me permission?  The voices against injustice that count most are those that dare to cry out in the wilderness when others cower in silence.

I hope you’ll join me in praying for the family of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was tragically run down near the rally in Virginia.  Please also pray for the families of two Virginia state police officers who died in a helicopter crash monitoring the violence that followed.  Today’s news is all outrage, all the time! There’s seldom been a world more desperate for Good News?  For such a time as this, you and I were brought into the Kingdom.

Lift up the Cross!

The Mad Dash for Last

RACING FOR LAST

The difference between music and noise is rhythm.  That’s true whether you listen to hip hop or hymns. Beyond the notes and scales and measures, the basic idea of tempo is so critical that there are more than sixteen different Italian words for the pace of a melody. Allegro makes the heart race with joy, while adagio calls for calm and unhurried tranquility.  The fermata looks like a bird’s eye, and it commands the musician to rest.  The pause is placed there for a purpose.

Rhythm is also the difference between mere existence and a purposeful, satisfying human life.  The Creator who engineered the human body designed it with different speeds for changing seasons, and he not only suggests a regular fermata: he requires it.  The Ten Commandments set aside one whole day each week for a break in the action in order to rest in God.  Later the Gospels recount the life of God’s Son, who extended this invitation to us all: “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There’s labor.  But there’s also rest.

That small still voice of God makes a lot of sense when you occasionally detect it, but it’s more commonly drowned out by the roar of 21st Century voices screaming from the bleachers.  Go for it!  Don’t look back!  Do it all night!  No time to Wait!  No stopping us now!  We are a generation hooked on speed. There is no such thing as enough.  We have convinced ourselves that rest is impossible unless we get away.

A friend of mine confesses, “I don’t know how to relax!  Even when I force myself to slow down and do nothing, the things I should be doing make me tense and anxious.”  My buddy has a spiritual problem but his name is Legion. I know this because sometimes I have the same problem.  It’s a heart condition that’s as common as dirt.  But it’s not irreversible.

Sunday was not set apart for the saints because churches needed a whole day for worship.  Rather, the Day of Rest reminds us that human beings need a whole day to renew our spirits, sharpen our focus, re-energize our hearts, and lead families to delight in the Lord.  We need a day to capture visions.  We require a day for reflection on our decisions and dreams of our future.  The Lord’s Day is a testimony: the most important assets in life are produced by God’s labor, not our own.

The idea of pausing to wait upon the Lord is central to everything we do and believe in the Church.  It speaks of our confidence in the Gospel: Christ accomplishing what we can only trust him for.  It underscores our conviction that we are body and soul; that the soul requires nurture as well.  When the French Revolutionaries of 1793 conspired to eradicate the hated Christian Faith once and for all, they abolished the seven day week. Those firebrands were convinced if they could obscure Sunday as just another day, the faith would weaken and die.  It was, of course, their strange new calendar that died, and only twelve years later.  But they were right about one thing: the Lord’s Day should be sacred to his people.

It would probably require another radical revolution to recover that unique role of Sunday here in the USA.  Sadly, the Lord’s Day has become Football Night in America, more associated more with the interceptions than the resurrections. But thinking Christians like you and me would be wise to rediscover the power of reverence and rest; and reclaim the sacred place of Sundays in our lives.  Whenever I discipline myself for stillness simply to be present, I am surprised anew by the presence of God, who has been waiting in the stillness all along.  Shabbat.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

Starry Eyed for Islam

STARRY EYED FOR ISLAM

Why does the American Left feel so much affection for Islam?  It’s a question often raised but seldom answered.  It seems impossible to explain the passionate bond that has been forged between US liberals who demand sexual freedom and a religion that compels women to wear burkas and condemns homosexuals.  Where is the common ground between irreligious leftists who demonstrate for world peace and a religion founded by a military leader whose armies waged wars of conquest for centuries?

Twenty years ago, the Left was horrified by Christian men who attended Promise Keepers rallies. The idea of a married woman voluntarily respecting the leadership of her loving husband was an affront to the core ideals of the American left even then.  Two decades later, the same feminists who still denounce Evangelicals as “woman haters” remain strangely silent about the segregation of Muslim women from public events, or the ban against their voting or even driving in some Islamic nations.  Reasonable people might ask, “What gives?”

There’s a simple answer.  Western intellectuals are determined they will not be distracted by a secondary issue like Islam when they are finally poised to vanquish their historic foe, the Christian Faith, once and for all.  It has taken a generation to sexualize and secularize the entertainment industry that once made epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments the standard for great entertainment.  It was a monumental struggle to gradually remove all references to God or the Bible from public schools and the public square.  The activists of the secular left have paid their dues in the culture war against God for decades. Then just when it seemed like Christendom was ready to collapse, some unwitting Muslim extremists hijacked four commercial jets and Islam came crashing into the national debate!

How do you maintain the outrage when you spend decades warning about Christian intolerance, only to have another religious group suddenly steal the headlines by hacking off the heads of infidels and blowing up innocents?  You blame it on the Crusades.  One can hardly fault those poor young men from Saudi Arabia for striking back when sadistic Christians started it all 1,000 years ago. (The first Crusaders were deployed to defend pilgrims to Jerusalem from attacks and hostage taking at the hands of people who revered Mohammed. But let’s not be distracted by details.)

Secular progressives are apparently determined to drive their final stake in the heart of Christianity and seal that historic tomb once and for all.  This is no time to be distracted by Islamic extremists suddenly arriving on the scene.  In fact, Jihadis don’t like Christians either, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That’s how the religious Pharisees and the decadent Herodians bridged their mutual disgust in the First Century: Jesus was a threat to them all.

It’s tolerance with an expiration date, of course.  I believe the lords of Western culture are convinced that once they have  annihilated the Christian Faith and its ethical system, they can make short work of those poor, benighted fanatics from the Middle East.  If values-free education won’t do it, they’ll convince them that abortion is the most effective way to fight poverty.  There will be more momentum for all of that once that unsinkable Church of Jesus Christ is sunk once and for all.

This is no cause for hand wringing or a pity party among American believers.  Saints in China and India are suffering fiery persecution. Here is the West, we’ve been gored by our own golden calf.  We wanted the bling.  We were willing to be seduced by the siren call of Success. While the activists on the left went after hearts and minds, we were too busy with work and church to win anybody to Christ. We traded away our birthright for a sequined pot of designer stew, and now the world refuses to give it all back.  In fact, they wish we’d just drop dead, and they’re willing to help.

But the Gospel is about resurrection!  You and I must honor God and rediscover how the salt of the earth can change the flavor of the culture. For this reason, we love our enemies tirelessly.  We pray for those who persecute us.  One thing hasn’t changed: the Gospel still resonates in the broken human heart, and there are broken hearts scattered all across our secular wasteland.  So don’t be filled with resentment: be filled with the Spirit.

And lift up the Cross!

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