Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

A Magical Mystery Tour of the Bible

RED SEA HIGH TECH

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!

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Scientifically, We’re Not Here

EARTH IN SPACESLIDE

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

SHUTTERSTOCK 45

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.

#Resist

THE RESISTANCE

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

There is another tsunami of rage sweeping your way.  Lately, it feels like we live and breathe in a sea of outrage, disgust, fury, and offense.  Serious people are not permitted to be tranquil, optimistic, or content.  It’s normative to be mad at the world: it’s expected.  Even when you must offer a bit of praise for someone or something noble or virtuous, it must be qualified.  Nothing’s that good anymore.

That’s the world we inhabit today.  And that’s the Establishment Jesus has empowered us to overcome.  Our Gospel is supernatural.   We can shine like lights in the darkness.  You and I are The Resistance, and we’re not nearly the first.  Paul coached resistance in the 1st Century:  “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (Romans 12:2; The Message)

Here’s how we resist:

Don’t be swept away in the rip current of outrage.  Anger is rooted in fear. Confess Christ and cast your fears to the winds.  Your Father cares for you.

Walk away from the angry demonstrators.  The culture of complaint and criticism keep us ever focused on negatives.  Find a place where God is positively working and join him there, and with passion.

Don’t be another #Me Too!  Others can hurt you, but only you can make yourself a victim.  Break out of your prison of the past and walk boldly into a future of hope and joy.  Leave the shame and powerlessness behind you.

Stop drinking the poison Kool-Aid.  Read the Bible more and best-selling fiction less.  Stop watching TV shows you know are profane and inflammatory, no matter how you’ve rationalized it as acceptable because everybody’s watching it.  Turn off news programs that stir up indignation just to keep you watching rather than praying.

Dare to be noble and compassionate.  In Christ, we have the capacity to concentrate on powerful ideas that are true, noble, excellent, commendable, lovely, and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)

Meet God in worship and take an outcast with you.  If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re only deployed here on hostile soil for a while.  We don’t have time to be dragged down by the aggravated, earthbound people around us.  They don’t understand that the names and faces change with each generation, but the system always stays the same.  That corrupted system is called The World.

That’s what we resist: the deadly system, not the politicians and power players, all interchangeable.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.  Don’t let outrage and irritation leave you powerless.

Lift up the Cross.

Real Racism and Phony Outrage

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!

CSI: Naked and Afraid

NAKED AND AFRAID

It could be just another crime scene.  There’s a naked man, unconscious and bleeding, lying there alongside a mountain pass. Apparently, he was the victim of a robbery so there is no identification.  In Christ’s haunting saga of the Good Samaritan, the mystery is not what happened, but what happens next.  The most important clue, the detail commonly overlooked by people on the case, is one unpleasant but revealing word.

Stripped.  The Bible specifically says the robbery victim left for dead along the Jericho Road was naked.  His attackers had “stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30)  Gone was his prayer shawl, the tallit men of the region always wore. For Hebrew males, there was a tzitzit on each corner, a tassel that denoted reverence for God.  The Law required that Jewish men have a dark blue thread woven into the tzitzit. The Samaritans, their despised cousins, would have have been identified by a white thread in their tzitzit or perhaps light blue.  Without their traditional robes and clothing, the Jews and Samaritans looked just alike.

So the Jewish priest and the Levite did not step around the poor man, leaving him to die, because they were too busy to help a neighbor.  They couldn’t tell if the man was their neighbor or not!  Despite their calling from God to love their neighbors as themselves, their definition of “neighbor” was just too narrow to afford a stranger the benefit of the doubt.

What makes this parable so helpful and so compelling is the singular detail it does not divulge. The priest and Levite were Hebrews, and the Samaritan was obviously not Jewish. But the identity of the robbery victim is as mysterious to you and me as it was to the Samaritan arriving on the scene. Yet seeing a helpless human being in desperate need of assistance, this man from Samaria was moved with basic human kindness. We’re not even told he was a religious guy.  But here’s the bottom line: he didn’t have to rise above any feelings of resentment for an enemy.  He didn’t see an adversary.  All he could see was another man whose skin and features were mostly like his.

Love isn’t blind.  It just doesn’t need a formal introduction to act.

Writers and preachers tend to mock the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite who walk on by, but that dilutes the message.  In his telling of the story, Jesus allows us all to see the enemy, and it is us!  We have all failed at one time or another to look beyond the cultural disguises others affect in order to see the human heart that beats deep inside.  Skin-deep compassion must be a common condition.

For instance, historians tell us that young Mohammed reached out to both Christians and Jews around Mecca when he was trying to find his own spiritual bearings.  Sadly, both groups frowned upon pagans in their hometown as savages to be avoided; not neighbors to be loved and cared for.  Sadly, we know what happened next.  Even today, many of us are so agitated over Islamic extremism and open borders that we’d not only leave a Muslim-looking victim lying in the road, but we might kick him while walking past.

It’s easy to be condescending toward competitors, especially when they seem so angry. But false religion is not always a form of competition: more often it’s just a way to be connected to something instead of nothing.  And rage is frequently an expression of fear and desperation.  Of course, Islamist extremists are not seething with fury because they live in poverty; many don’t. They’re angry because they’re empty.  That spiritual hunger leaves them vulnerable to political players with personal ambitions.  They are dangerous, but they’re not really monsters.  They’re just people.

According to Jesus, loving God by loving my neighbors is the key to my faith. It’s also the key to their’s, being loved unconditionally by a fellow human being who knows Christ. As the Samaritan generously offered mercy to a fellow human being in need, let’s you and I go and do likewise.  We can take our frustrations to prayer closets and ballot boxes. Let’s take our love to the streets.

And lift up the Cross!

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