Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘Healthy Family’ Category

The Mad Dash 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!





Is Your Bible Pink or Blue?

Lost and Confused SignpostA pastor in Houston has imagined a novel new reason to support transsexual bathroom laws.  “God is a transsexual,” he insists.  But in fact, God is a spirit. That’s like calling a creature from a distant planet in deep space “international” because he isn’t from the USA. God is not between genders: He is beyond gender. (Not to mention the fact that God doesn’t require a restroom.)

Just about a month ago, some anonymous soul put seven simple words on a plain white billboard on a county road in North Carolina: “Real men provide, real women are grateful.” It created a firestorm that rushed through the social media and spawned angry debates on national TV.  Had the sign said just the reverse, “Real women provide, real men are grateful,” not an eyebrow would have even been raised. In the words of the Joker, “Why so serious?”  

This week, the Barna Group released results of a study that indicates only 39% of evangelical Christians would accept a woman as pastor.  This clearly indicates the vast majority of evangelicals are bigots who hate women, right?  Except the same survey finds that 73% of those same Christians would be comfortable with a woman as President of the USA. That virtually matches the 75% of Americans at large who feel that way.

Many Americans love and respect women, and also believe in the secular agenda that men and women are interchangeable.  Many other Americans, conservative Christians, love and respect women but accept the authority of God’s Word.  That amazing Bible not only teaches that men and women are equal in the sight of God (Galatians 3:28;) but also teaches that elders in a church should be males (1 Timothy 3: 1 – 7;) and that a husband should be a spiritual leader in his home (Ephesians 5: 22 – 33.)

Christian churches not only respect women, we rely on them.  The same was true in the first century. Jesus shocked Jewish culture by allowing women to travel with him as he ministered.  His ministry was financially underwritten by women.  He encouraged women like Mary and Martha to leave the kitchen and sit with the men while he taught them.  He illustrated the injustice of condemning a woman caught in adultery while strangely allowing her partner in sin to go untouched.

But while Jesus included numerous courageous women among his disciples and even close friends, he selected only a few men to be his apostles.  You can disagree if you dare, or you can wonder what his reasoning might have been; but you cannot call that amazing man a bigot.

There is no doubt that our divine Creator is a spiritual being who is beyond race, age, and gender.  But when he reached out to teach us how to relate to him, he instructed us to call him Father.  Perhaps it’s only a symbol designed to teach us something valuable.  But rather than demanding the right to our own version of the Bible and our own politically correct definitions, many of us believe it would be wise to let God be God.

And so we continue to live with the Mystery.

To hear this week’s message, The Mystery ofMan and a Woman, click here.  And lift up the Cross!

Facebook Derangement Syndrome


Facebook encourages us to share our thoughts and feelings with the whole world- instantly, unfiltered, and unedited.  That’s one reason why the site that made social media a household term has now become such a bore.  Who knew there were so many angry, insecure people in the world? You could call it FDS.

Where did we lose those timeless truths; the insight that it’s generally not healthy to share everything you’re thinking and feeling instantly and unedited?  You can injure other people.  You can create unnecessary hostility and tension.  And you can make yourself look inexcusably ignorant, superficial, and immature.

When I was five or six years old, a garrulous neighbor stopped by the house to visit my mom. In my young mind, it must have seemed she had been going on and on forever.  So I blurted out a sensible request I must have heard someone else use: “Oh! Just get to the point!”  I don’t know how long the neighbor stayed after that: only that I got a swat on the bottom and a trip to my room!  My shocked mom later explained it’s uncivilized and unkind to say everything that comes to your mind. One of the most reliable metrics parents use to gauge how well their kids are growing up is simple self control.

Scripture counsels the people of God: “This you know, my beloved brethren, but everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (James 1:19)  In the Old Testament, the writer of Psalm 141 prays, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”

Outrage is like formal attire: it’s only appropriate for select occasions.  But in American society today, indignation has become the first line of defense.  In the realm of Twitter, you have to say it in 140 characters or less, like it or not.  That means we should tweet less and think more.  The real question is not how many characters are required, but rather, what kind of character does this message reflect?  Am I behaving like a jerk?  Do I seriously know all the facts?  Does this really need to be communicated?

There are many, many reasonable responses to an unwelcome situation.  There are replies that can pour oil on troubled water.  There are attitudes that suggest this is not a crisis; we can all work together.  There are answers that apply the balm of Gilead to bruised and broken hearts. And then… there is the Personal Apocalypse!  Everybody on the floor! Now!

We live in a dysfunctional, distressing culture; so much that I often find indignation rising in my heart, quite unjustly, over something as simple as a thoughtless remark.  I quickly bite my lip. Silence can truly be the pause that refreshes.

  • Sometimes I realize the emotion that’s in order here is surprise.  I wasn’t expecting that! So I reply, “Sorry, you caught me off guard.  Tell me again….”
  • Once in a while, I realize that I am at fault.  It’s painful to be informed I have needlessly injured another person.  “I’m sorry” is always a good start.
  • Occasionally a situation occurs that simply disappoints me.  Sadness is a necessary part of life.  It’s not an occasion for a lawsuit or a fist fight. It’s okay to be sad once in a while.
  • Then there are those moments that are embarrassing.  My face glows red and I have no idea what to say.  So I break the ice, “Well, this is awkward….”  People smile and relax.

Even on occasions when outrage is appropriate, it’s often not effective.  Human trafficking is as outrageous and barbaric today as it was in the 19th Century when the British economy was dependent on slavery.  Outrage didn’t end legalized human bondage: that sort of rage fizzles too quickly:  too intense and not focused enough.  Rather, human slavery was finally outlawed in Britain as the result of prayer, cooperation, statesmanship, determination, and tenacious, tireless resistance against barbarism. It required a generation. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to live decades of ones life in a state of perpetual outrage, although some people foolishly try.  Even crusaders have to occasionally lighten up and let a few things pass unchallenged.

A thousand years before Christ, Scripture noted “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  In a world of Facebook flatulence and Twitter twaddle, that principle is just as valid as ever.  Being measured is a part of being wise.

Lift up the Cross!


Silence is Golden. Wisdom is Platinum.


Anybody can talk.  Most of us get started around the age of three and never learn to shut up. But talk is not the same thing as communication.  Many of us never learn how to communicate.  Fresh ideas and gestures of good fall wasted to the ground, unheard and unheeded.  We try to be peacemakers, but are shocked when we make things worse!

The gospel can be helpful here.  We are reminded that a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. [Proverbs 25:11] By the standards of the Proverb, it’s not sufficient to simply utter the truth; it must be spoken in the most helpful way.  Similarly, Christ counsels us, “Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no.  Anything beyond that is sin.”  [Matthew 5:37]  Once again, we are not simply told to be truthful.  Beyond honesty and integrity, Christ is cautioning his disciples that we must also speak with clarity and consistency.  Only then do people learn to trust the truth we convey.

Here in 2016, it’s almost cliche to that assert that communication is necessary for any healthy relationship.  We’ve all heard it 1,000 times.  Communicate!  Communicate! Communicate!  But we make the failed assumption that simply requires talking to one another.  There is, in fact, such a thing as too much talk.  Communication begins when I speak my words in the manner that is most helpful and appropriate; I strive to share my thoughts with clarity and consistency.  Then I add an exclamation point by listening to the other person’s response. That’s communication. That’s treasure!

A word fitly spoken is what happens when I learn to be assertive.  I strip away all the anger, skepticism, and toxic emotions that might otherwise be part of my conversation, and I say clearly what I need.  It’s not the same as being aggressive.  Aggressive is generally pushy and often unkind.  Assertive is just the facts, Ma’am,

  • For example, an assertive spouse does not grow angry when guests are arriving in half an hour, but her husband is still watching sports commentary on ESPN.  She does not imply he is a worthless clod, or that he has lost all his self-respect.  She simply gives him a kiss on the cheek and asks sweetly, “Honey, can you pause and help me pick up the den so it will be straight when the Johnson’s arrive in a few minutes?”
  • When your mother-in-law continues to push an idea for the kids that you completely abhor, letting your “no” mean “no”does not require rehashing the pro’s and con’s and angrily repeating your rationale fifteen times.  The word aptly spoken sounds like this: “Thanks, Mom. [Smile!] You know I love you.  But I’m going to stand firm on this.” You don’t have to make your case any more.  Say this repeatedly.
  • Neither does clear communication require shouting at your kids because they quarrel with one another every day after school.  Screaming parents aren’t much better than quarreling kids.  Wisdom calmly explains the unacceptable behavior and the penalty that will quietly come down at the first appearance of a violation.  The wise parent explains there will be no further warnings, no additional debates.  The first outbreak will bring the specified penalty, and Mom or Dad will be pleasant and utterly unperturbed as they collect all the video games and ground offenders for the week.

Words are not weapons, but they can be destructive.  Words are tools.  A well-made hammer can smash fingers, break china, and leave bent nails jutting dangerously out of the wood.  But an ordinary hammer used correctly can fit pieces of wood together in ways that are beautiful and helpful.  Our words can bring things together that same way.  But it’s important to smile as we strip away the emotions, and bring peace and clarity together: just words.

Lift up the Cross!

Resistance Thinking (2)


Just yesterday, most Americans had never heard of gender dysphoria; and transsexuals were found mostly in schlock movies like the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Today we are warned there is a national epidemic for which the only cure is the wholesale renunciation of the male-female concept of gender.  Oh yes, and all individuals must be free to enter the restroom or locker room that fits the way they identify today.

This is not going to go well.  Progressives will continue to taunt traditionalists that only bigots and haters seriously care who’s sitting in the adjacent restroom stall. And alarmed parents will reply that only perverts and fools would demand that males who self-identify as females must be allowed to shower with adolescent girls.  And then a few religious folks will cap it off by snarling, “I’m a Christian and this is a sin against God.”

Last time, we acknowledged that it’s not very constructive to wade into a political debate firing Bible verses.  If my adversaries are unbelievers, my scripture doesn’t resonate with them; in fact, it proves I’m in the narrow minded religious minority.  A more rational approach might be to begin with the medical evidence that we are over dramatizing an adolescent phase that almost always passes, and an emotional disorder that responds to counseling, not surgery. For last week’s blog, click here.

Here’s my second principle for joining this cultural conversation (and many others:) In everything, lead with love.

It’s not helpful to suggest your Christian faith should automatically trump the opinions of other citizens who happen to be atheists or a Unitarians.  But it’s downright destructive when you make that statement with a condescending glare. We are the people who love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We are the ones who turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and are controlled by the love of God.  Even atheists who know nothing about our theology realize that we boast about love that is supernatural. They are right, of course.

We are not allowed to resent people who disagree with us- even radical activists who hope to undermine our traditions and deny us our civil rights.  We cannot hate our fellow Americans, even if we rightfully believe they are drilling holes in their end of our national life boat.

Paul leaves us a vivid example in Acts 17.  As he walks through Athens where pagan statues clutter every street and public pavilion, the great evangelist’s heart is broken. Scripture says his spirit is provoked.  What’s more, some of the intellectuals actually insult him, mocking his barbaric accent.  In response, Paul greets them warmly, quotes their favorite pagan poets, and respectfully warns them that the age of repentance has now dawned. They should turn to Christ.  He never rebukes them: he builds bridges.

This principle also applies to discussions of race, Black Lives Matter, and policemen who feel they have targets on their backs.  In having conversations with black Americans or frustrated law enforcement officials, I don’t have to win some kind of debate.  Trying to understand another person’s concerns is not the same thing as agreeing with them. I want to ask thoughtful questions, listen respectfully, and then plant positive but subversive images of which will linger in their minds long after they walk away.  The love of Christ lays the best foundation for cultivating haunting conversations.

More next time.  In the meantime, lift up the Cross!


Resistance Thinking


The sudden demand for transgender bathrooms and locker rooms took most of us by surprise.  We had seen the movement for same-sex marriage advancing year by year for more than a decade, but who knew transgender confusion and gender dysphoria had gone viral? That’s why most of us in the church are still left speechless when the topic arises.  Nobody wants to cave in and say, “Whatever,” but we don’t want to look like troglodytes either! So I’ve established some basic principles for my conversations about gender neutral restrooms and all the other emerging civil rights in our decaying culture.

I can expand upon these and explain my rationale next.  But here are my priorities for responding to gender neutral restrooms, as well as the next social catastrophe that comes down the pike in a month or two:

  1. Not every conviction that guides a believer is a biblical truth. Think!
  2. In everything, lead with love.
  3. Love is not the same thing as approval.
  4. Christ is more powerful than rules or laws.  Trust Christ.
  5. The laws of the land do not amend the Laws of God.

First, let’s not blame every controversy on the Bible.  Like most people, I have some opinions and convictions based on natural law, practical experience, science, and history; principles that are not rooted in the Word of God. When church people insist on hurling lightning bolts from the Bible into every political debate, it gives the impression that we are blindly reactive; not rational. What’s more, if our opponents don’t respect the Bible, we are merely casting pearls to the swine.

For instance, quoting Genesis and insisting “God created them male and female” doesn’t settle the question of gender confusion.  God also made tigers orange and black, but that doesn’t mean there are no albinos.  I’ve had friends at church throw up their hands in despair: doesn’t an earthworm have both sexes?  Some children do seem terribly uncomfortable in their assigned gender. Maybe the secular progressives are right: maybe life is more complex than male and female. Perhaps gender and sexual orientation are different categories altogether.  Maybe sexual orientation is always in flux!

Or perhaps we’re talking about mental illness and emotional disorders.  There is no doubt that people should not be mocked or shamed for the way they were born. Haven’t we been telling the world for twenty years that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of?  Americans who are burdened with shame should find their most compassionate support in the church of Jesus Christ.  But there’s a great deal of scientific research that indicates we’re spinning off civil rights and special privileges for fellow travelers who suffer from fleeting adolescent uncertainty or mental illness.

  • The American College of Pediatricians asserts, “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” In a lengthy official statement, their physicians have documented the fact that 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls finally accept their biological sex after puberty. For the complete statement, click here.
  • The Johns Hopkins University Hospital, which pioneered sexual reassignment surgery for transsexuals in the 1960’s, eventually discontinued that procedure. The most thorough research, both here and abroad, indicated that the radical physical alterations did not measurably improve the emotional disorientation.  Dr. Paul McHugh now insists that transsexuals need counseling, not surgery.  To read his summary click here.

The next time you have an opportunity to engage in a conversation about gender issues in this country today, take a few moments to listen thoughtfully.  Ask what makes gender dysphoria different from paranoia or PTSD or claustrophobia?  Sophisticated people in the 21st Century can surely manage to be both compassionate and rational.

I’ll pick up with Priority 2 next time.  In the meantime, lift up the Cross!




Five Reasons it’s Not an Apology


I have a friend who insists, “An apology is generally nothing more than a way to make an offender feel better!’  In 21st Century America that may be true more often than not.  But a genuine apology can serve a useful purpose: it’s the first step in resolving a conflict and correcting a destructive habit. Even so, it’s only a baby step- not a long jump!

If you need to repent and you’re trying to begin a relationship repair, there are simple principles to keep in mind.  For instance, don’t let any of these Apology Assassins creep into your statement of regret:

1. A genuine apology cannot be conditional.  Never tell someone you love, “I’m sorry if I offended you.”  If someone just told you he’s offended, you’re questioning his sincerity.  Caring people want to know for sure if they’ve offended another human being, and they are intentional about finding out.  So when you add an “if” to your statement of regret, you’re suggesting that either your friend is dishonest or you are uncaring.  Don’t do it.

2. Real apologies don’t offer excuses.  When you add an excuse to your apology, “I’m so sorry but I was just trying to be helpful,” you minimize your guilt.  When a guy hurts someone he loves, he wants to minimize the victim’s pain and sorrow- not his own culpability.  Just say “I’m so sorry I behaved so thoughtlessly and hurt you.”

3. A heartfelt apology doesn’t blame the victim.  I just hate it when I hear people say, “I’m so sorry you misunderstood.”  Statements like that suggest that someone got hurt only because he wasn’t thinking clearly or had a error of judgment.  When you truly regret what you’ve done, you focus on your offensive behavior, not the victim’s intellect or abilities.

4. An apology cannot pass the blame.  Don’t ever try, “It’s not really my fault, but I’m sorry for my role in this.” Even if other people are to blame for 75% of the injury, you are 100% responsible for your 25%.  Just tell the one you’ve hurt, “I completely understand why you are upset.  I am so very sorry for letting this happen.”

5. True sorrow cannot be sarcastic.  You can interject, “Okay!  I’m sorry! Enough already!”  But it won’t help.  Sarcasm and forced humor are inappropriate when you have injured someone you love.  One part of repentance is the willingness to sit quietly and allow the injured party to share her pain.  Say “Let’s sit down and start over. Tell me what I’ve done, because I would never want to hurt you.  I’m truly sorry.”

Lift up the Cross!

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