Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘engaging the culture’ Category

#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.

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Let Him Say it in His Own Words

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!

 

 

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!

Nobody Dies Here Today!

A DROWNING PREVENTED

“Is there a shark in the water?  What’s everyone looking at?”  The spectators on Panama City Beach were transfixed by the unfolding horror of an entire family being swept out to sea. Nine members of the Ursrey family had been caught up in a powerful riptide and cast helplessly into fifteen feet of dark, turbulent waves. Their cries of terror barely reached the shore.

A few men rushed into the sea and began to link arms.  Quickly others went racing out to join them.  Within minutes, a human chain began to take shape in the midst of the chaos. People who could not swim joined hands in a surf rising to their necks. Swimmers paddled out to the end to link arms.  Soon eighty men and women had instinctively orchestrated a human lifeline nearly 100 yards long.  They reached the imperiled victims and, one by one, passed them safely back to dry land.

One of the older members of the Ursrey clan suffered a heart attack but recovered at a nearby hospital.  Another swimmer was treated for a broken arm. Everyone went home alive.

The whole scene struck me as such a vivid picture of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Most of the eighty individuals who made the rescue possible could have done nothing on their own.  Many could not even swim, and others could not have managed the tide that day. But united in one great purpose, each did what he or she could do and lives were snatched from despair and destruction.

Jessica Simmons and her husband were among the bystanders who were so quick to respond.  Grabbing an abandoned boogie board she’d just spotted on the beach, she went rushing to the scene, ignoring the grim voices warning, “Don’t go out there!”  She had already resolved, “Those people are not drowning today. It’s not going to happen.  We will get them out.”

Jessica and her seventy-nine fellow heroes were driven by something sorely missing in the Church today: urgent compassion.  Death and condemnation are not the most effective conversation starters in reaching out to our lost friends and neighbors, but those two painful realities should quietly drive us to talk, to intervene, to build bridges. You and I are surrounded by people at risk but we typically seem far more concerned about sunscreen and cold drinks than the fate of people we love.

I’ve gotta resolve in my heart: “Nobody goes to Hell if I can help it.  It’s not going to happen.  I’ve got this.”  I have to pray, drawing down some fire from Heaven.  And then I have to find opportunities and step up to say something about Christ or His Kingdom.

Thankfully, Roberta Ursrey can’t even recall the most terrifying moments of her ordeal at sea.  But she easily remembers the chain of determined faces and the strong hands that tirelessly passed her family members to safety.  “These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time,” she said afterward.”  If most people don’t believe in angels anymore, it’s because they don’t see them very often.  As Jesus followers, you and I can fix that problem.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all.”  2 Corinthians 5:14.

Lift up the Cross!

For the actual news report, see nwfdailynews.com

 

Coffee with an Exorcist

THE EXORCIST PHOTORob is not a priest: in fact, he’s a police officer.  On duty, one of his tasks is training other officers to respond to subjects who are agitated, delusional, or otherwise suffering from some form of mental illness.   It’s what he does when he’s off duty that got my attention. Rob rescues people who are demon possessed.

Believe it or not, a mental health professional referred me to him.  A trusted friend of mine had described an extraordinary scene that erupted at a small dinner among friends late one evening. When I recounted what my friend had experienced, the therapist replied, “I’ve never seen anything like that in the field of mental health.  It sounds demonic to me.”  So that’s how I came to meet an exorcist at Starbuck’s on a Saturday morning.

Rob’s assault on the gates of Hell began late one night in 2007, standing alongside an automobile in a mall parking lot with a troubled young man inside pleading for help. Over the next four hours in two or three different locations, he found himself staring into the eyes of Hell.  He prayed, quoted scripture, prayed some more, and even called in a local church pastor for a while.  Around 2:00 AM, an evil spirit came shrieking out of the dazed victim, and an exhausted young police officer, soaked in perspiration, realized The Exorcist was more just pulp fiction.

Many episodes later, he draws an interesting comparison.  In the first century, people tended to perceive demons everywhere because they didn’t understand mental illness. Today we’ve been so programmed to look for mental illness and mood disorders that we don’t recognize the spiritual, the demonic when it should be apparent.

To my surprise, he doesn’t invoke mystical words or the jargon we often associate with demonology and exorcism, although he can pray in Latin. What makes this guy so compelling is the way he draws on the sermons of Jesus and core ideas of the Gospel. “Certain events or problems seem to open human beings up to demon activity,” he explains. “Things like trauma, sexual abuse, and unforgiveness.”  Even Christians can suffer spiritual oppression when we allow resentment to build up in our hearts and refuse Christ’s commandment to forgive those who offend and injure us.  “You don’t do it for the other person.” he elaborates. “You do it for yourself.”

When he finds himself face to face with someone who may be either controlled or at least harassed by an evil spirit, Rob doesn’t reach for a crucifix or a flask of holy water. “Intercessory prayer is key,” he asserts. “Always begin with intercessory prayer. Sometimes, it’s the prayer that provokes the demon to reveal himself.”

Most of us are familiar with the Gospel accounts of Legion, a wretched man inhabited by more demons that he could count (Matthew 8.)  Crazed and out of control, he lived among the gravestones, screeching and howling every night.  In a world already sensitive to demon possession, his terrified neighbors could not recognize his problem: he was their problem.  Their conventional methods, binding him with ropes and even chains, had failed every time.  Jesus of Nazareth was not afraid to peer behind that familiar one thousand yard stare to diagnose the ancient evil that afflicted him from within.  He cast them out with a simple command.

Immersed as we are in high-tech and Twitter feeds, you and I quite naturally try to boil our faith down to a short list of slogans: the gospel for dummies.  We tend to be uncomfortable with mystery- even the mysterious nature of the Holy God of Eternity. Despite biblical assurances that his thoughts and his ways are infinitely higher than ours, we’re still pretty sure we can explain anything with a smartphone and a Google search. Think again!

Author and theologian John Piper recalls his own experience in an exorcism several years ago.  And he emphasizes 2 Timothy 2:24, ” Teach with gentleness, correct your opponents in love. God may perhaps grant them to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth and be delivered or escape from the power of the evil one who had taken them captive.” Notice scripture’s use of the word perhapsit’s complicated.

Demons are not science fiction.  Even as skeptics dismiss the very idea as superstitious nonsense, they watch breaking news reports about the senseless and agonizing death some human beings inflict on strangers and ask “How could a human being ever do something like that?”  There is obviously more here than meets the eye.

The Book of Revelation foresees a new wave of demonic warfare just as the Final Countdown begins.  In other words, we won’t get out of here before all of us have encountered demons in the escalating conflict. Our victory is certain, but it won’t be cheaply won. “They overcame the devil by the blood of the lamb, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

Be ready for He is coming!  And lift up the Cross!

Don’t Look Now, But…

 

ISIS CRUCIFIXION

When 22 people died outside a concert hall in Manchester, England, the media coverage was wall to wall.  The cry went up that something must be done! Journalists followed the investigation.  Press briefings were scheduled regularly. With broken hearts, we pored over color photographs of the victims, many of them only children, and we listened to bystanders describe their horror.  The world grieved as the story unfolded for a week.

Five days later, 29 Christians in Egypt died when terrorists attacked their bus. Forty-two others were seriously injured and the assassins got away.  That story vanished in less than 48 hours.  No color photos.  No interviews with authorities. No tragic details.

Here’s what you probably never heard.  The Christian group of parents, grandparents, and children were traveling in two buses to pray at a monastery. Their vehicles were stopped by terrorists outside the town of Minya.  After the buses were surrounded by killers, passengers on one of the buses were forced to exit the bus one by one.  As each reached the door to face masked gunmen, they were asked, “Are you Muslim?” None of them were. Each was then given a chance to renounce Jesus Christ and convert to Islam.

As each passenger confessed Christ and refused to convert, he was dragged a few feet away to be killed by either a shot in the head or a slit throat.  One at a time, nineteen adults, and ten children were ordered to become Muslims or die.  One by one they were instantly murdered.  The criminals then fired on the group in the second bus, injuring 42, before speeding away to safety.

Why are tragedies like the one in Manchester more interesting or important than massacres like the one in Minya, Egypt?  I suppose it could be racism.  Or maybe we only care about tragedies that involve celebrities and beautiful people.  But I seriously believe two reasons are more likely.

The media run away from Christian martyrs because they are a powerful witness to the Christian faith.  When random concert-goers fall prey to terror, in the wrong place at the wrong time, it makes the rest of us feel sad but lucky.  But when Christians die because they refuse to renounce their faith, it speaks to the power and the freedom ordinary people discover in Christ.  No sane person willingly dies for something he knows is a lie. Historically, seeing the deaths of Christian martyrs has inspired others to follow the Savior as well.  The secular media wants no part of anything like that!  So a vague headline about people dying in a bus attack manages to cover the bad news without accentuating the Good News.

Christians in America turn their backs as well because stories about martyrs in other lands reflect poorly on the quality our faith here in the West.  In persecution lands, believers risk their lives and the safety of their children to attend worship services and even public prayer times. They worship Christ in the open, fully aware that churches and Christian gatherings are soft targets. But in the Land of the Free, we casually skip worship on Sundays to take our kids to soccer practice or recover from a mild headache.  Just imagine, if youth sports leagues existed in Minya, Egypt, those unfortunate children could have saved their lives by skipping church and going to play soccer instead!

In America, churches report that “regular worship attendance” is now defined as twice a month.  Think about it: when worshipers in Egypt and China become as committed to Christ as we are, the rate of martyrdom could be slashed by half!

The most difficult question facing the American church today is not “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  We already know the answer to that question: character, faith and the purposes of God.  The harder question is this one: What is a Christian, anyway?

Jesus said no one can come after him without first being willing to deny self, pick up a cross, and follow.  In the religious ghetto of American life, that particular Bible verse is just about as welcome as stories of Egyptian children who are willing to die violently before disappointing Jesus.

To hear the companion message, click Waging Peace

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

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