Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

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Left for Dead @ Church

SHUTTERSTOCK 45

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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God Likes Millennials

millennialsMillennials are truly the generation that gets no respect.  Everyone seems to agree they are entitled, cynical, and obsessed with their image on social media.  What’s more, they do strange things with their hair, run away from commitment, and are confused about sexual ethics. (They also like selfies too much, but don’t pretend you don’t.)

So I could assert that God loves them, but critics would reply, “Sure, but God loves everybody.  Duh!”  So let’s put it this way: God likes Millennials.  And there are wonderful qualities we should all appreciate in their generation.

For instance, Millennials know that God doesn’t live in a building.  You might demur, noting “We all know that.”  But in fact, quite a few of us in previous generations have behaved as though God does live in church buildings and waits for us to drop in on Sundays.  Until recently, most churches have ministered out of a fortress mentality: “everything that matters happens here in this building.” And saints have retreated to the holy bunker not only to worship; but to pray, to plan, to eat together, even to celebrate uninspired Christmas parties. Didn’t Jesus say something about a lamp hidden under a bushel?

We’re changing now because Millennials asked, “What’s so special about this stuffy old building?  God is out there… and so are the neighbors we’re supposed to love and care for!”

Paul tried to alert us to this reality centuries ago. Speaking to the pagan intellectuals on Mars Hill, he explained, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.” (Acts 17:24) Rather, he pointed out that even some of their own Greek poets had rightfully supposed the Creator God is all around us in the cosmos he fashioned, and that it is “in him we live and move and have our very being.”

That long-suppressed truth completely demolishes the false construct practiced by so many believers: that life is segmented into church life, family life, career life, recreational life, and consumer living.  On one hand, it means we should get over the myth that spiritual things only happen at church.  And on the other hand, we must embrace the fact that God is out there working all around us, and if we really love him, we must join him.  He’s at work in your office on Capitol Hill.  He’s on the scene in your classroom.  He is involved in the truck stop when you pull your rig off the road for dinner.  No more church life versus my life: it’s all God’s life.  Am I in or out?

I long ago stopped complaining about how liberal the Millennials are:  we were all lefties when we were their age.  “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart. If you’re not a conservative when you’re older, you don’t have a brain.”  Time and faith bring profound changes.  So I’m confident we’re going to see some spiritual giants rise among this disrespected generation. They won’t be perfect, but they will rescue the church from hypocritical attitudes we tolerated too long.  There’s a lot to like.

For the companion message from Acts 17, click:No Interruptions, Only Invitations

And lift up the Cross!

Facebook Derangement Syndrome

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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!

 

12 Chances

12 days of christmas

Why would anyone seriously want 12 days of Christmas?  Most of us can gain enough pounds just in 2 or 3 holiday meals to make the approaching year a dance with death!  What’s left to do after two feasts and a couple of parties?  Do you really yearn for more time to shop or play that inane Dirty Santa white elephant gift game one more time this year?

I could spend 12 great days visiting Israel at Christmas, of course.  But in the Holy Land, you can almost see Jesus walking around or teaching people everywhere you look.  If we could somehow see more of the Lord, a twelve day Christmas would be more appealing, more inspiring.

So last week, I was struck with idea that really excites me.  What if I could spend 12 days of Christmas letting other people see more of Jesus?  What would happen if I set aside 12 days for my Christmas worship and found at least one chance to give something away every day?

Granted, most of us get really busy with family a couple of those days: the people we love most plus some other folks we see only once every year or two.  Amid all those faces, there are surely some people who need prayer or encouragement or a listening ear or $100 for some groceries.  So I want to spend two days giving away time, prayer and resources to my family.

Then there are the other ten days: so much to do so little time. It occurs to me I don’t have to concentrate very hard to come up with the names of people I know who could use an extra burst of joy in December: people who live alone and have no one to share Christmas with; folks who have been unemployed or under-employed for months; friends battling serious illnesses who wonder if this might be their last Christmas on earth.

Some people could use money for groceries while others need nothing more sacrificial than a personal visit over a cup of tea.  I’m thinking I can share a coat or some jeans with someone who really needs them; drop some extra money in the red kettle with a man ringing a bell nearby.

I’m not mentioning this because I feel so spiritual.  To the contrary, it strikes me that I must be pretty selfish and carnal to have waited all these years to think of something like this.  So to make up for my craven delay, I thought I’d suggest it to you just in case you like the idea as well.  It might not change the world at all if hundreds of us counted out the 12 Days of Christmas one good deed at a time. But then again….

It would have to be good for the world if I helped a few people see more of Jesus. It would surely be good for me.

Lift up the Cross of Christ!

 

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