Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘engaging the culture’ Category

Don’t Get Mad, Get a Life

FIGHT CLUBOur beloved battle hymn foresees the Lord returning to trample “on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”  Well if that’s a fair description of the end of time, then surely we have arrived.  Those bitter grapes are everywhere, indeed, the world is a vineyard.  Without a doubt, we are awaiting the last trump!  (Don’t scream at me: that last word is not capitalized.)

Here is the USA, fight clubs still sweep the country, not among gangs like MS-13, but championed by young, well-educated, urban professionals.  College students riot after being offended by trigger words.  Popular politicians are shouted down and hounded off the stage at town hall meetings.  If your business flight isn’t delayed while stubborn passengers are pummeled and dragged off the aircraft, it may be forced to land prematurely due to furious passenger assailing the flight attendant. Meanwhile, social media like Facebook and Twitter are so charged with rage, insults, and vitriol that ordinary people are afraid to sign on for their daily dose of baby pictures.

What gives?  C.S. Lewis offered a precise diagnosis of today’s world three-quarters of a century ago.  “Aim at heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

There’s a powerful idea we’ve abandoned, and it begins with trans.  Does anything come to mind? Not transsexual: but transcendent.  People who cherish transcendent values can live with disappointment and adversity in life because their spiritual convictions lift them above the moments of mundane frustration. Because they believe in heaven, in divine wisdom, and in the power of love, spiritual people literally transcend the down times by trusting Providence and practicing delayed gratification. People of true faith believe many of the best things in life are invisible at the moment, and other treasures are awaiting the fullness of time.

Materialists, on the other hand, expect satisfaction every day because they live in a world filled with things; and things are supposed to bring us joy.  Who wouldn’t be happy with the newest smartphone, the most gargantuan HD TV,  and a futuristic home where smart devices do everything for them effortlessly?  Apparently, that’s not nearly enough for most people.  Look again at the seething multitudes all around you.  To paraphrase a former president, “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to smartphones or social media or antipathy to people who don’t agree with their ideas as a way to explain their frustrations.”

People who hope only in the here and now have no patience with delay and defeat, even the most fleeting variety.  And therein is found the crux of our national despair.  We suffer from the most powerful forms of addiction; big money and big government.  And now that both of us have failed us miserably, we are left in the misery of withdrawal.  We traded away the transcendent spiritual truths that could lift our souls from the Slough of Despond.  Very soon, perhaps an old cliche’ will begin to resonate once again: Jesus is the Answer.  The world is not enough… seriously.

Lift up the Cross!

 

Lethal Injection and Legal Crucifixion

BEHIND BARS

I lost my enthusiasm for capital punishment just about a decade ago.  For most of my life, I had assumed the death penalty must be okay because it has the Old Testament stamp of approval.  Then as I was doing some research for a Bible Study on John 8, Christ’s defense of the woman caught in adultery struck a nerve.

Don’t misunderstand: Christ never condemns capital punishment.  He came to fulfill the Old Covenant, not abandon it.  But when a “lynch mob” approaches the Lord asking for his verdict on a woman they’ve just caught in adultery, he apparently notices the injustice the narrative makes so clear.  If the woman is guilty because she was actually caught in the act of adultery, where is the man who was obviously in bed with her?

Jesus seems to affirm capital punishment when he suggests it’s okay to follow through and stone her.  But he adds that telling caveat, “But let one of you who has never sinned cast the first stone.” (John 8:7)  This underscores the problem of selective condemnation; a practice he denounces on other occasions as well.

  • Don’t condemn others for sinful behavior you practice as well.
  • Don’t destroy someone else for an offense you have often committed in your heart.
  • And of course, the clear implication here is that we shouldn’t execute a woman caught in adultery if we allow her partner in sin to walk away in freedom.

To borrow a phrase from American liberalism, capital punishment should be legal but rare.  (I feel the same way about war.) It should be rare because compelling DNA evidence and reliable eye witnesses are frequently not available.  Because of faulty memories, political pressures, and lingering racism, it’s apparently not so hard for an innocent man to find himself locked away on in an American prison.  It’s bad enough to lose twenty years of your life for a crime you didn’t commit; worse still to be rushed off into eternity with no chance to ever correct that injustice.

Of all people, Christians should be most sensitive to the possibility of an innocent victim being wrongly convicted and sentenced to lethal injection or a firing squad or a cross.  It happened to Jesus.  What’s more, in recent years groups like the Innocence Project have seen dozens of wrongfully accused men and women finally set free from prisons- some from death row.

I suppose extreme measures could still be legal for profound cruelty that goes beyond the pale.  A civilized society might decide to execute serial killers or terrorists who brutally murder scores of innocent victims.  A nation does have divine authority to wage war and execute justice in defense of its citizens.  One might draw a bright clear line in the sand, but the standards for imposing capital punishment should be more bullet proof than those for sending someone to prison. The evidence should leave no doubt the defendant is absolutely the one.

So I’m troubled by the news from Arkansas that eight inmates are about to be executed in 11 days before the state’s supply of potassium chloride expires.  The governor says it’s necessary; that many of these men have occupied death row cells for more than twenty years.  Perhaps, but it looks like a celebration of death by government. It naturally arouses the dread that destroying eight human lives with a hasty deadline in mind must surely increase the odds that a wrongly accused man gets the ax.

Okay, maybe that’s emotional, but I get emotional about unborn babies as well. We’re talking about human life here. And it seems to me that the sanctity of human life relates to more than the issue of who is responsible for what happens to a human in a womb. Being pro-life means I also care about what happens to a human being in a death row holding cell. If there is a chance he’s an innocent man, it’s unjust and irreverent to impose a penalty that could never be corrected.

Lift up the Cross!

Why Millennials are Smarter than Boomers

BOOMER AND MILL

As an active member of the Baby Boomer Generation, I often find myself arguing that most Millennials are not slackers (or hippies, just in case anyone remembers those psychedelic snowflakes from the Boomer years.)  Not only that, I think they’re making smarter choices than those of us in my generation did. We need to stop slamming them and offer a little appreciation.

Yesterday I read an article about the recent boom in toys being sold to adults. There are so many grown-ups snapping up Lego sets and other childhood favorites that a new term has evolved: kidults are voting age people who play with toys.  Naturally, the writer quickly injected that Millennials are leading the pack. That’s nuts!  What about all those Boomers and Builders who attend coloring parties and order their coloring books and crayons from Amazon?  I haven’t heard anyone call them slackers or brats.

A lot of Millennials have good instincts and are growing up into awesome adult men and women.  Consider just the latest evidence of a rebounding generation:

  • 58% of younger Millennial males want to be the breadwinners in their homes so their wives can stay home to raise their children.  Guys in my generation wanted so many expensive toys like boats and sporty cars that we nearly kicked out wives out of the house to find jobs. (Council on Contemporary Families research.)
  • A growing number of Millennial females are ambitious to stay home and raise their children.  What a novel new idea: children raised by their own parents. Many Boomer women were convinced they could have it all but found out too late that actually means a little of everything and a lot of unsupervised children.
  • The Millennial pastor tends to stay in the same church longer than pastors from earlier generations did.  (Thom Rainer/ Lifeway Research) Millennials are less likely to demand instant success and are more likely to sacrifice in order to start new churches in order to do things right from the ground up.  In my generation, the paradigm was a ladder that one climbed by jumping to a larger church every 3 years.  Longer pastorates will lead to healthier churches.

History doesn’t advance in straight lines.  That’s why nations don’t decay, decline, and go to Hell in three or four generations.  Just when you think The End of a civilization is at hand, you have a generation like the Millennials who put the brakes on decadence and irresponsible behavior and navigate a U-turn to retrieve lost treasure from the past.

Millennial Americans will come around on those questions of sexual ethics… just like every other generation has done.  But unlike their parents, the idealists in this maligned generation have the heart and convictions to build stronger families, healthier churches, and a more dynamic society.

It’s always darkest just before the dawn.  Thank God for the “entitled” generation and lift up the Cross!

Never Die

DEAD MAN WALKING

“We will make death optional.”  That’s the promise of some trendy research scientists who met in Silicon Valley not long ago.  The New Yorker described the chatter at a cocktail party where millions of dollars were being raised to fund the effort.  “We can end aging forever.”

It turns out that writer wasn’t hopeful we’ll ever actually see the God Pill that has generated such hype.  It would necessarily be produced by the pharmaceutical industry.  And the only way Big Pharma makes the big bucks is through healing diseases.  It defies logic and human nature that they might create a pill that would send them all out of business!  Let not your heart be troubled.

Think about this: the longer you stay on the Earth, the longer you’re away from Heaven.  I mean, I’m happy to do my duty here and put in my time: maybe 80  years or possibly 100.  But I’ve got bigger plans.

Last week at a neighborhood market, our checkout line was delayed endlessly by a customer with coupons, and a handwritten check, and lots of questions about prices.  As I finally reached the cashier, she shrugged and said, “I’m sorry you had to wait so long.”

I smiled and replied, “It’s okay.  I’m going to live forever.”  And I wasn’t being sarcastic.

That’s the ultimate fulfillment of the Christian Faith, is not?  We’re not here to learn how to have glam relationships or make tons of money.  We weren’t sent here to party or maintain tanned hardbodies.  Even pagans can do all those things without a mustard seed of faith or even a molecule of worship!  We’re here on TDY, to represent the Kingdom until we get to go home.

What was it Jesus told his grieving friend Martha? “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  Call me crazy: I believe it. (John 11: 25 – 26) 

Eternal Life is not some spiritualized myth wrapped up in a paradox to calm our anxieties. It’s why the first century Christians were willing to die at the hands of angry Jews and corrupt Romans.  They didn’t forfeit anything: they were trading up for something better.

  • It’s why you and I can turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute us, give to any who ask, and confess Christ even in the face of execution.
  • It’s why we don’t mind walking away from privileges, pleasures or property here: because God will overcompensate us there.

The way some church people suppress all mention of Heaven and the great hereafter makes you wonder what they seriously believe.  There’s no doubt what Paul believed.  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15: 17 – 19)

I’m not going to hold my breath until Silicon Valley delivers the God Pill.  By the grace of God, I’ve gotten to know the God-Man.  When life finally gives me its worst, the LORD is prepared to offer me His Best.  There’s no greater confidence than that.

So don’t be ashamed to let your neighbors and co-workers know what gives you so much confidence and joy.  It’s not because you go to church.  It’s because of what you’ve been promised by the guy who started The Church. (The One who made Sunday famous!)

You can listen to the companion message that inspired this blog.  Click Never Die.

Lift up the Cross!

Barefoot Worship

moses-and-god

This doesn’t sound very romantic or culturally sensitive, but it’s a fact.  When Moses takes his famous detour to a burning bush and finally encounters God, the Lord doesn’t reward the old man with benefits: he gives him a job. (Exodus 3: 1 – 15)

I think many of us in church life today have regressed to the smarmiest form of bait-and-switch evangelism.  We invite our friends to church, hyping the chance to make new friends or find someone to date.  Then there are all those other benefits: good cheer for the down and out, relationship tips for the lonely, great coffee for those in need of caffeine. Behind all this is our hope that one benefit or the other will lead them to God.

But that’s not how it happens in the Bible.  Jesus doesn’t heal every sick person in Israel, or feed every hungry mouth, for that matter.  The select signs and wonders he performs are geared to raise questions in the minds of all the other people. Christ understands that true worship begins with Mystery.  The greatest questions are about God and living water, not emotional urges and financial needs. We are asking for disappointment when consumers come to our churches in search of benefits. (Then most hurry away once again.) Moses begins his worship quest with questions he cannot answer.  Why isn’t that bush consumed by those flames?  Is that really what an angel looks like?  True worship is driven by mystery.

We minimize the power of God when we pass him off as a mere psychologist who can bring closure to the grief-stricken; or a relationship coach who can enhance one’s marriage. And we prepare our friends to behave like immature children: always asking what God can do for us next, never pondering our place in His Grand Design.  Benefits are a by-product. The point is God, knowing Him and actually being known by Him.

So it’s significant when God actually calls out to Moses by name.  Yes, this indicates He is not a stranger; that he knows this sheep herder who is coming his way.  But he doesn’t read the mind of Moses and offer to help him with his anger problem or relieve him of that stinking job tending sheep when he’s been educated in geometry and astronomy back in the palace at Egypt!  No, God simply says, “I’ve decided to free my people who are trapped in bondage in Egypt, and I’ve selected you to go and talk to the Pharaoh.”

That’s really what we all need in this world: an eternal Father and and a magnificent mission.  Consumers get the goods, but they never accumulate enough possessions or pleasure to fill the hole in each of their hearts.  Faith and Purpose do that, and who knows it better than the Creator who designed our souls and our brains, and hardwired us with DNA?  Significance follows life-giving relationship and service.

So don’t invite your co-workers and neighbors to worship because it will help them with their melancholy or offer them a short-cut back into the dating scene.  Tell them the truth: God is better than the Bomb.com, and church services can be an opportune place to search for Him.  Ask  them to join you in worship because you sense they’re looking for something valuable, and you suspect the answer to their questions starts with a capital G. And, by the way, there’s great coffee there… if they still need it.

To hear the companion audio message, Take Off Your Shoes, click here.

And lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Ways to Make 2017 Amazing

year-2017New Year’s Resolutions won’t change your life, but new habits will.  Over the last few years, I’ve added some extremely helpful habits to my own life, and I’m working on a couple of new ones for 2017.  If you’re thinking about ways to make the coming year more kingdom-oriented and transformative, here are some power tips I can gladly pass along.

  1. Read through the Bible in twelve months. There are schedules that allow you to advance book by book; others that allow you to read selections from the Old and New Testaments and Psalms every day.  Reading the whole Bible in a year will require discipline, but it will pay big dividends.  You will not only gain new insights into scripture, but your confidence will soar! For resources, click here.
  2. Train to be an Encourager.  Nobody ever receives too much encouragement, and most people could use more.  Be more intentional about noticing good things others do, times when people around you seem down and out.  Make it a point to offer words of kindness or encouragement at least twice a week.
  3. Take a walk with Jesus.  Schedule a couple of hours on a nice day to go off and be alone with the Lord.  Identify a scenic park or some other uplifting location.  Take your Bible and perhaps some quiet music.  Spend two hours walking around, reading from the Word, journaling, and listening for the small, still voice of God.  This is guaranteed to become a day you remember for years! You’ll soon schedule another.
  4. Stop complaining.  Take this a week at a time: just promise yourself you won’t complain about anything- not even the weather.  When you find yourself tempted, pause and pray or find something worthy of praise.  Be  relentless in shutting out all forms of complaint for one full week.  Then do it for another week… and another.
  5. Drink more water. The Bible says wonderful things about water and even compares Eternal Life to it.  Let the water cleanse your body and remind you that Jesus is truly the only water that allows the one who drinks to never thirst again.  Put a few bottles of the wet stuff in your fridge and drink it three times a day.
  6. Take notes in worship.  Write down great ideas that arise while you’re praising God. Take notes on pertinent ideas from the message.  You can collect them and review them later, or you can toss them.  Just the practice of writing things down will make the event more memorable and will help you listen constructively.
  7. Measure your prayer life and increase it 20%.  Set aside a week to actually inventory how often you pray, and which times and settings are more helpful.  Then set a goal of 20% more time in prayer, and train yourself to take advantage of the times of day that are more conducive to prayer.  Go for variety: use lists once in a while, read from the Psalms and other prayer books, pray aloud some times and write your prayers down on other occasions.  Grow your prayer life and watch your walk with the Lord become more satisfying and productive. God listens!  It’s really true.

I don’t think about these things as self improvement.  Rather, I see them as self surrender. I am looking for new ways to open myself up to God’s grace and allow more of his character and purposes to flow through me.  It’s not about trying harder.  It’s about trusting more.

There seems to be a lot more enthusiasm and positive attitudes across the USA than we’ve seen in several years.  But if the only hope and change that excites us is the political variety, we’ll be crashing and burning once again before the year is done.  I’m building more spiritual muscle and vision into my life because I believe God is ABLE.  I hope you feel that way too. Happy New Year to all my friends and fellow disciples!

Lift up the Cross!

 

That’s It? Now What?

 hope

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!

 

 

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