Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘fasting’ Category

Left for Dead @ Church

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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 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 that 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.

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Shaken, Not Stirred

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James Bond was describing his favorite vodka martini but he could have been thinking of American churches in 2016.  We have been shaken by the godless revolution that has turned social values on their heads and has forbidden the Bible as superstition and hate speech.  But we have not been stirred to repentance or even serious prayer.

Unfortunately, too many saints seem utterly fixated with the approaching presidential election.  Pastors and other spiritual leaders have squandered their good names endorsing one candidate or another, both of whom are appalling, and urging the people of God to pray about this election.  Tense, guarded voices warn us that this election represents our last good chance to take the nation back.

In fact, the nation we once knew is gone, and it’s time to get over it. There is no super hero- and certainly no politician– coming to turn back time and restore sanity to our government and our culture.  Like it or not, this is the new normal.  What if we in the church stopped wringing our hands in grief, and decided to accept the call of God?  Could this be the moment when we should resolve to stop living in the past and begin serving God in the place where He has planted us?

Christ encouraged his apostles to be fearless when he dispatched them to go ahead of him and prepare the way.  “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.”  (Hint: wolves are hazardous for sheep.)

The church in Laodicea was rich and comfortable, but utterly lacking in influence. Christ rebuked that church, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire.”  He was prescribing purity that can be derived only in the fires of persecution.  That may very well be what the Master has in store for churches in the USA as well; not because he hates us, but because he loves us.

Persecution is not the exception for exceptional churches; it is the rule. Counter-cultural congregations always threaten the Establishment.  The gospel unites people around timeless truth even as kings and congressmen scramble to divide us over race, economics, age, and gender.  The harder tyrants work to suppress the church or stamp it out, the more potent the Holy Spirit grows in multiplying the saints and manufacturing holy ambition. Pinpoint the places around the globe where holiness is rising, where churches are exploding, and you’ll find most of your pins point to places on the map where the church is under fire.

It’s not pleasant to think about the approach of serious persecution of believers: not just icy glares when one mentions Christmas, but violence and prison time.  But wouldn’t it be thrilling, even earth shaking, to experience the awe and wonder of Acts in our 21st Century American churches today? That may very well be why so much chaff is being sifted out of the church scene. Perhaps God is refining the Bride of Christ for what is to come: less is more. Thinking about persecution for ourselves and our children, it may be that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

That’s why prayer closets will be much more urgent than voting booths for many years to come.  If you can do both, vote and pray.  If you have to choose, opt for the latter.

Don’t pray for the election. Pray for the Elect.

And lift up the Cross!

Prayer is a B_ _ch

BEACH CHAIRSThe strangest thing: no one has ever asked me, “Pastor, could you please teach me how to pray?”  That’s crazy because I’m frequently asked to teach people how to study the Bible, how to share their faith, how to fast, how to prepare a sermon, even how to find their spiritual gifts.  Despite the fact that 95% of church folks confess, “I know my prayer life is not what it should be,” no one has ever asked me to show them how to make it right.

That’s why I think prayer is anti-American.

The same Americans who boldly fight for the right to pray at football games and commencement ceremonies aren’t even up to a minor skirmish when it comes to a quiet conversation with God in private.  And it’s not because most church people are actually lost, or because they don’t love God.  It’s just that prayer seems like a waste of time for many Americans.  It’s a fact: we value our time and we’d rather spend our limited hours doing something– actually doing it ourselves.  Invite us to a Bible Study.  Organize us for a mission trip. Rehearse us for a worship spectacular complete with music and fireworks!  But don’t ask us to just sit down and do nothing. That’s un-American, isn’t it?  Doesn’t the Bible say something about working while it’s still daylight?  Indeed.

It also says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  For all my frantic, over scheduled, hyper-drive fellow saints, I want to offer up a fresh, new paradigm for prayer. For my fellow worshipers in the USA who cannot imagine anything meaningful happening in a prayer closet, except maybe coming out of it, would a new image help?

Devotional prayer is much like a trip to the beach.  You have to take off your shoes and slow down.  You walk more slowly and finally you just stop.  You need to hear the roar of the sea, and fall into the rhythm of the waves.  The noises of people slowly fade into the background as the cry of the gulls begins to do something inside your heart.  The things you do on a beach are not much different from regular life- sitting and lying around, running or throwing a frisbee, walking or standing around in the surf.  The presence of something vast and a purpose that is profound make everything seem different on the seashore.

God moves slowly.  Granted, he was able to release the Hebrew slaves from captivity in Egypt so quickly that there was no time for the bread to rise.  But more commonly, the God of Eternity tends to work in seasons, generations and even centuries.  Not so much in seconds!  No one can outrun God, but when he pauses to talk, you could run past Him! So prayer requires that highly motivated, overcaffeinated people do something almost impossible: slow down and come to a halt.  Be still and listen.  Devote yourself to stillness even if nothing happens for a bit.  In an invisible Kingdom, important things can well be happening when it seems like nothing’s going on.

Most of us are familiar with the episode in 1 Kings 19 in which God speaks in a small, still voice to one very discouraged Elijah.  You may recall that God first sends a mighty wind that blasts the rocks on the mountainside apart.  Then he sends an earthquake that rocks the whole region.  Next he dispatches a raging fire that scorches everything in sight.  Only after all the chaos is finished do Elijah’s ears detect the gentle whisper of Eternity: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  We can read the entire account in less than five minutes.  It probably lasted for hours! The legendary man of God stood there waiting for hours, enduring all manner of terrifying phenomena, before he was finally rewarded with the gentle sigh of a loving Go. Sometimes you can do nothing but wait.

“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.” (Isaiah 40:31.)

Devotional time alone with the Father is not much like 21st Century America, but it is so very much like 1st Century Jesus. In only three or four years, he managed to accomplish everything required of him to redeem the world and launch the Church, and he did it in spite of all the days and nights he spent alone in prayer.  Dare I say because of all the days and nights he spent alone in prayer?

The first step forward into the presence of the Almighty God is counter-intuitive to us in America: stop.  Let your life slow down. Let your heart slow down. Be intentional and find a quiet place: force everything to stop for fifteen minutes even if nothing supernatural happens.  Somewhere in the Kingdom of Light, something supernatural will occur.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

Naked Church

STORMY NIGHT AT SEA

In the morning you say “There will be a storm, for the sky is red and threatening.”  Do you know how to read the signs of the sky, and yet cannot discern the signs of the times?

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Ghost and The Darkness (1996.)  A big game hunter named Charles Remington looks at a humiliated comrade and says, “We have an expression in prize fighting: ‘Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.’ Well my friend, you’ve just been hit. The getting up is up to you.”

That’s a fair appraisal of where the followers of Christ here in this country find ourselves in 2016.  Something happened to us when the US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right last year. We had voted and lobbied and marshalled all our poitical might only to be undone by five unelected justices! Really? For many, it was like a sucker punch to the gut.  It felt like the last straw.  Some decided to keep fighting a battle that seemed utterly hopeless.  Others decided to cave and find some kind of compromise position between welcoming and affirming.  Then the dreariness and discontent descended like a dark cloud

Reading Zephaniah today, I came across a word that almost leaped off the page.  I had been thinking about this malaise so evident in American churches; this prevailing mood that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely a train!  Then this little known “minor” prophet made me snap to attention.

“At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The Lord will not do good nor will he do ill.'”  Zephaniah 1:12

That’s where 2016 finds many of us in the church: complacent.  When the Jews were captured by the Babylonians, it was bad enough losing everything and being uprooted and relocated into a pagan land.  But almost as bad was the haunting question, “Where is our God?  Why does he look so weak and hapless?”  In fact, their God had engineered the entire tragedy to bring his people to their senses.  He had stripped them naked to reveal their shame.

We feel the same way today:  defeated and disappointed that God could have been outflanked by activist judges.  But God wasn’t outsmarted or out-voted: He is still on his throne shaping and directing history.  He has stripped away all our pretense of being street smart, highly sophisticated, and media savvy.  Naked, we stand here looking like hypocrites and Neanderthals, clueless about the changes in culture and the hearts of men. A wicked and adulterous generation, we can tell where the wind is blowing but have no idea where the Spirit is going.

God hasn’t been hit, but we have.  The getting up is up to us.  But before we can stand we will need get off our backs and rise to our knees.  That’s how the army of God always advances- on our knees.  And that’s the first step to having the winds of heaven fill the sails of the churches again.

With Resurrection Sunday less than two weeks away, it’s useful to remember that our God does some of his finest artwork with the dark hues and heavy oils of hopeless situations.  If you and I begin the journey of repentance and searching, maybe some other complacent saints will follow.  I don’t want to seem glib here: repentance and renewal begin small and move slowly.  There are no quick fixes we can conjure up overnight; but a few broken-hearted saints can at least take one baby step in the right direction.  So I’m praying more with others seeking revival, and am eager to hear about others who are doing the same.

Just a thought: don’t give up; kneel down.

And lift up the cross!

 

 

 

Trust Your Gut

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The Bible says the heart is deceitful.  That might explain why you and I pay so much attention to that useful pump, yet think nothing of the versatile stomach which works overtime constantly.  Your heart pauses to rest after every beat. But when does the belly catch a break in an American culture where people eat constantly?

  • We celebrate by eating together.  We also mourn by eating together.
  • We conduct business over lunch.
  • We combat stress with comfort food.
  • We build family bonds over the dinner table.
  • We eat for fun when we’re bored.
  • We set the mood for romance with candlelight meals.
  • The first step in preparing for hurricanes and blizzards is a trip to the grocery store!
  • When Sunday rolls around, we worship with the Lord’s Supper.

But your belly is much more than a food processor.  Heartbreaking problems don’t generally bother your heart: it’s your stomach that gets tied in knots, isn’t it?  That’s why the worst nightmares are called gut-wrenching.  Your belly really does feel your pain!  Some tragic situations are so stomach churning that they leave us unable to even think about food.  But what do all our friends and relatives promise us?  “You’ll feel better if you eat something.”

Long ago when the Bible was being written, people were very self-aware. No, they didn’t understand the mysteries of DNA or neuroscience.  But they did realize that it’s your gut that should be trusted; not your heart!  Our spiritual forefathers (and mothers) associated the deeper emotions with the digestive organs.

  • In Jeremiah 4:19 the prophet mourns the destruction of Jerusalem.  His cry of grief is translated, “My anguish!  My anguish!  I writhe in pain,” but the Hebrew literally reads, “My bowels!  My bowels!”
  • 1 John 3:17 asks if we can truly possess the love of God if we refuse to open up our hearts to others in need.  The Greek word in question, however, means “bowels or digestive organs,” rather than “heart.”

This would explain why fasting is so commonplace in the Bible, and why reclaiming that discipline can be so helpful today.  Fasting is a “gut response” to a complex and difficult situation that requires divine intervention.  It is the natural cry for help from a stomach tied in knots: grieving people are not inclined to eat.  It is also a confession that we are governed by the principles of God rather than the appetites of our body.

Jesus noted that your stomach doesn’t cling to things that have no lasting value. In Mark 7:19, he explains that food cannot make us unacceptable to God “because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated.” It is the mind that clings to worthless things and refuses to let them go.  Our brains continue to harbor unhealthy affections, hateful emotions, proud ambitions, and useless worries. Not surprisingly, Paul compared all those to… wait for it...dung!  Your stomach reminds you that when things have no eternal value you should eliminate them; bury them and put them behind you.  Your heart is deceitful, but not your stomach.  Trust your gut.

And lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

 

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