Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

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!

The Fearless Embrace

LiL RED RIDING HOOD

Who will you be today: the champion you dream of being or the person you’re afraid you are?

For most people who feel trapped on the hamster wheel of mediocrity, the problem is not lack of talent or bad luck or even bad fashion instincts.  You don’t have to make a million dollars or win America’s Got Talent to climb out of life’s overcrowded basement and create some excitement.  Consider this: God can indeed do more than you ask or imagine, but there must be a reason he gave you a brain and a heart!

There is hidden wisdom often overlooked in the biblical account of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18.)  In just moments, Elijah confidently calls down literal fire from heaven after his pagan competitors have waved their hands and prayed all morning but to no avail.  The courageous prophet clearly believes in God as he scores his historic victory over the queen’s cronies.  But only one chapter later, still believing in the God of Israel, Elijah can be found cowering among the rocks, trembling in fear, and hiding from Jezebel.  How do you explain the difference?

Quite obviously, the things Elijah believes about God are unchanged from his success on the mountain to his humiliation in the cave one chapter later.  What’s different about his defeat is that our hero has permitted the alarm bells and warning lights of emotion to overshadow the calm voice of his Wonderful Counselor. He allows fake news to send him spinning into a panic attack.

That’s how fear takes charge in a life of faith.  I lose my traction and give in to those voices that warn disaster is about to strike; I will fail miserably at this new venture; I am not equipped for the destiny God has set before me; and more basically, I am just a screw-up! Lies don’t need credibility in order to cast their spell: they just need some poor sucker to welcome them in unchallenged.

Who will you be today: the person of influence you dream of being or the shmuck you’re afraid you are?  That world renowned philosopher Anonymous sums it up this way: “Never be afraid to try your hand at something new.  Amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic.”

When fear and insecurity threaten to shout down your brightest ambitions, pause and take a deep breath.  Then ask yourself:

  • Is that frightening idea positively, universally true?  Is The End of the World as you know it literally the only possible outcome?
  • How does that unlikely idea make you behave?
  • How will your life be different if you crush that irrational idea today and give God some room to work?

Embrace your calling!  Faith and fearlessness are a winning combination.  One opens the windows of heaven; the other slams the door on emotional hysteria that drives you away from ambition and adventure. You and I must lock and load the promises of Christ (John 14:27.) “Peace I leave with you, my parting gift to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Cast your fears to the wind, and 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!

Lights Out!

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Have you ever awakened from a nightmare so jarring that your heart continued to race even after you opened your eyes?  What now?  Like most people, you probably reached over and switched on the lamp.  Within two seconds, those clarifying beams of light had cast out the darkness and vaporized those lingering gremlins.

Jesus called his followers the light of the world.  “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” he explained.  “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5: 14 – 15)

The Lord has a simple point: don’t conceal your power.  And yet we do.  For instance:

I bury the light of Christ when I suppose unbelievers need to be reassured I’m just like them.  Where did I get this deadly idea that being transparent means I show off my sin nature?  I struggle to be completely inoffensive by laughing off self-destructive behavior, winking at temptations, and self-censoring every honest word that might possibly reveal how differently I see life!

  • The problem here is that unchurched people don’t really fear that Christians aren’t like them.
  • They are actually convinced we are just like them- except that we pretend to believe quirky, obscure religious ideas that make us strangely nervous when we talk about them. Nobody takes that stuff seriously.

My witness is more compelling when neighbors and co-workers realize I care about them even though I am quite different from them.  Because I believe the most important assets in life are spiritual and supernatural, I reject materialism.  I am completely convinced that I’m going to live forever- just like Jesus promised those who live in him.  I believe that God has high expectations for me, so I make demands of myself even as I show grace to everybody else.  I can smile through my tears because God is in control.

My unchurched neighbors don’t really believe Christians are never sad: they just think we’re hypocrites with synthetic smiles.  It’s harder to dismiss my story when it’s apparent that I sometimes experience sadness or frustration: I just refuse to be ruled by misguided emotions.

No wonder multitudes aren’t streaming into American churches for answers: they don’t have any questions!  We in the Church have convinced ourselves that the only way to get close to lost people is to turn off the light!  “They don’t know Jesus! Hurry! Lights out!” I dare not let them see that I’m different!  Put a bag on it!

That’s why lost people assume we’re just like them- except that we go to churches on Sunday mornings to talk about religious ideas we don’t honestly believe. Why would they possibly aspire to change anything to become more like us?  In our hearts, it’s painfully clear we’re already just like them.

Let’s you and I do something radical and unsettling for Easter.  Tell someone you care about that you’re going to live forever!  Smile and trust God’s promises even when your heart is broken. Define what holy really means and then explain why it hurts so good. Let your transparent life raise questions in the hearts and minds of the clueless.

Turn on the Light and leave ’em wondering!

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!

Wishful Blindness

SAD GIRLShe could be your daughter. Perhaps she’s one of your friends.  She’s an extraordinary girl in many ways, but there are girls like her everywhere. She believes she is a liberated woman.  You can see she’s trapped.

She’s like a lot of other girls, a victim of her own wishful blindness. She is entangled in the spell of an angry young man.  On occasional Friday nights, he seems like the strong, masculine presence who can cradle her in feelings of safety and belonging.  But most times he’s only selfish, tense, distant, distracted, and ungrateful.

She insists they’re not ready for marriage, all the obligations and burdens you accept in exchange for something that’s just a piece of paper.  Yeah, except she’s ready.  It’s why she waits for him to come home at night, does his laundry, straightens the apartment, and helps pay his bills.  If she weren’t ready for commitment, she would have already given up on him.

Her wishful blindness came to mind last week as I read through John 12.  Jesus laments that he’d give anything to rescue the trapped, self-destructive Israelites crowding the streets of the city all around him.  “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (John 12:40)

Anybody can see the power of God and the glory of eternity in this one of a kind rabbi named Jesus; anybody except all his wishfully blind countrymen who are so afraid of change that they continue to give a dead end avenue one more chance- and another, and another. This kind of blindness is sometimes confused with fearlessness, but in fact it’s nothing more than undiluted dread, the terror of coming up empty.

Unbelievably, there is none so blind as he who will not see.

Lift up the cross!

 

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