Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘new testament’ Category

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

 

CSI: Naked and Afraid

NAKED AND AFRAID

It could be just another crime scene.  There’s a naked man, unconscious and bleeding, lying there alongside a mountain pass. Apparently, he was the victim of a robbery so there is no identification.  In Christ’s haunting saga of the Good Samaritan, the mystery is not what happened, but what happens next.  The most important clue, the detail commonly overlooked by people on the case, is one unpleasant but revealing word.

Stripped.  The Bible specifically says the robbery victim left for dead along the Jericho Road was naked.  His attackers had “stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” (Luke 10:30)  Gone was his prayer shawl, the tallit men of the region always wore. For Hebrew males, there was a tzitzit on each corner, a tassel that denoted reverence for God.  The Law required that Jewish men have a dark blue thread woven into the tzitzit. The Samaritans, their despised cousins, would have have been identified by a white thread in their tzitzit or perhaps light blue.  Without their traditional robes and clothing, the Jews and Samaritans looked just alike.

So the Jewish priest and the Levite did not step around the poor man, leaving him to die, because they were too busy to help a neighbor.  They couldn’t tell if the man was their neighbor or not!  Despite their calling from God to love their neighbors as themselves, their definition of “neighbor” was just too narrow to afford a stranger the benefit of the doubt.

What makes this parable so helpful and so compelling is the singular detail it does not divulge. The priest and Levite were Hebrews, and the Samaritan was obviously not Jewish. But the identity of the robbery victim is as mysterious to you and me as it was to the Samaritan arriving on the scene. Yet seeing a helpless human being in desperate need of assistance, this man from Samaria was moved with basic human kindness. We’re not even told he was a religious guy.  But here’s the bottom line: he didn’t have to rise above any feelings of resentment for an enemy.  He didn’t see an adversary.  All he could see was another man whose skin and features were mostly like his.

Love isn’t blind.  It just doesn’t need a formal introduction to act.

Writers and preachers tend to mock the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite who walk on by, but that dilutes the message.  In his telling of the story, Jesus allows us all to see the enemy, and it is us!  We have all failed at one time or another to look beyond the cultural disguises others affect in order to see the human heart that beats deep inside.  Skin-deep compassion must be a common condition.

For instance, historians tell us that young Mohammed reached out to both Christians and Jews around Mecca when he was trying to find his own spiritual bearings.  Sadly, both groups frowned upon pagans in their hometown as savages to be avoided; not neighbors to be loved and cared for.  Sadly, we know what happened next.  Even today, many of us are so agitated over Islamic extremism and open borders that we’d not only leave a Muslim-looking victim lying in the road, but we might kick him while walking past.

It’s easy to be condescending toward competitors, especially when they seem so angry. But false religion is not always a form of competition: more often it’s just a way to be connected to something instead of nothing.  And rage is frequently an expression of fear and desperation.  Of course, Islamist extremists are not seething with fury because they live in poverty; many don’t. They’re angry because they’re empty.  That spiritual hunger leaves them vulnerable to political players with personal ambitions.  They are dangerous, but they’re not really monsters.  They’re just people.

According to Jesus, loving God by loving my neighbors is the key to my faith. It’s also the key to their’s, being loved unconditionally by a fellow human being who knows Christ. As the Samaritan generously offered mercy to a fellow human being in need, let’s you and I go and do likewise.  We can take our frustrations to prayer closets and ballot boxes. Let’s take our love to the streets.

And lift up the Cross!

Do You Believe in Miracles?

BURNING CHURCHOne of my favorite “true” stories is certifiably true.  I had wondered about it over the years but  I never managed to find any evidence for or against.  Then recently it was confirmed by Snopes.com.  How do you explain this?

The choir at West Side Baptist Church met religiously for rehearsal on Wednesday evenings at 7:20.  So of course, shock and terror spread quickly across little Beatrice, Nebraska, one Wednesday night when the church furnace exploded at 7:25 PM.  The blast quickly leveled the church building, with flames leaping everywhere.  The force of the explosion knocked a nearby radio station off the air and shattered windows in neighboring homes.

Fire rescue workers and stunned neighbors descended on the scene expecting the worst. Weren’t there fifteen regular members in the choir?  How many charred corpses would they be forced to unearth from the ashes and despair?  Much to everyone’s astonishment and relief, the answer was 0.

No one was killed in the tragic blast because on that chill February evening, all fifteen members of the West Side Choir arrived late for rehearsal!

  • Royena Estes had planned to leave on time, but her car wouldn’t start.  She called and asked her sister Ladona for a ride, but the high school sophomore needed a few more minutes to solve a geometry problem in her homework. They ran late.
  • Pastor Klempel and his wife were about to leave at their usual time when she noticed her dress was badly wrinkled.  She went back inside to press it, so they left home late.
  • Harvey Ahl was nearly always early for rehearsal, but on this evening his wife was out-of-town and he was having fun playing with his two young sons.  When he finally glanced at his watch, he was already running behind.
  • Marilyn, the pianist, had planned to arrive half an hour early to rehearse a difficult section in one of the songs, but she nodded off for just a moment and over napped. Because she was late, her mother, the choir director, was also slow to arrive.
  • And so it went on February 1.  One choir member took a nap and overslept. Another felt lazy and decided to steal just five more minutes wrapped up in her blanket. Two were frustrated when their automobiles wouldn’t crank.

So on the night when West Side Baptist Church exploded, not a single choir member was inside the building.  All had been providentially hindered by completely unrelated distractions, and everyone was uncharacteristically late.

Some would say they were all just lucky.  But the odds of all 15 faithful choir members being late on the very same night would surely be one in a million.  It calls to mind the promise from Ephesians 3:20 that our God can do more than we ask or imagine.

Lift up the Cross!

Is God Safe?

mount-sinai

Should churches be required to have warning labels?  Without a doubt, many of the secular elites who dominate the media believe that we should.  Warning: use of this product can result in unacceptable attitudes and incorrect behaviors including intolerance, superstition, changes in habits, personality changes, discriminating thinking, unwillingness to compromise, conservative values, strong convictions, ethical thinking, and a belief in moral absolutes.

Maybe that’s why so many of our friends in the Faith seem so eager to portray the church as harmless, just a place where nice people drink coffee, enjoy good music, and talk about relationships.  Many have described this as the “dumbing down” of Christianity.  It strikes me as a flashy but desperate attempt to repackage God.

And it begs the question: is God safe, really?  Jesus warned his budding followers that his ideas would turn their families against them.  He promised his disciples that they would be hated, hounded, reviled and persecuted simply because of him.  He encouraged people who wanted to believe that they should first count the cost: ideas have consequences. See Matthew 10: 34 – 38; Luke 14:28; Matthew 10: 16 – 25.  There are many places around the world in our own era where followers of Christ are persecuted, forced into hiding, arrested, and even put violently to death.

The same New Testament that teaches God is love also asserts our God is a consuming fire (1 John 4:8; Hebrews 12:29.)  Jesus strongly advised his disciples not to be afraid of the people who wanted to kill them.  Rather, he admonished them, “Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4)  Hint: it’s not Satan.

That flies in the face of well-intended saints who reassure us, “God doesn’t send anyone to Hell. People send themselves.”  Jesus does not agree.

There’s no doubt the New Testament is very different from the Old.  We don’t rely on the Law but the Spirit; don’t build temples because each of us lives in one; don’t relate to Mount Sinai the way we relate to Mount Zion.  God doesn’t shroud himself in darkness and warn us not to come in, the way he did in the Holy of Holies.  But despite the dramatic difference between the two Covenants, it’s the same God.  God is not ashamed of the Old Testament, the way we sometimes seem to be.

What has changed is the way we are able to approach the Creator God of Eternity.  It’s different because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished.  He has become the covering for our sins and selfish defiance of His Father.

That means that going to worship is not at all like visiting the mall.  What happens in worship and devotion makes true believers less comfortable with the evil ideals of our secular culture, not more at home here.  And the hottest thing in a church building should not be the Starbucks coffee.  I’m praying for the rediscovery of awe and wonder among the saints and our churches all across the USA in 2017.

To hear Sunday’s exploration of this idea, Lost in the Mountains , click here.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

The Saving Power of Hollywood

hd-tv

If you’re still wondering whether Muslims outnumber Christians in this country yet, you may be seriously out of touch.  Entertainment has eclipsed us all as the most popular religion in the USA. If it has never dawned on you that TV is the chief prophet for the most recent religious revival in the 50 States, think again.

Talent contests like The Voice or America’s Got Talent now emphasize “the story” as much as the talent of the young people on stage.  If you have struggled against all odds on the wrong side of the tracks in Detroit; or if you have battled against an abusive father or same-sex discrimination as a teen, Hollywood can save you.  I’m serious: every show now features tearful video testimonies to the power of show biz to change damaged lives. And you don’t even have to pray for anybody: just vote as many times as possible.

There are  reality shows like Home Free which give away dream homes to Americans with tragic life stories.  If destiny has dealt you a losing hand, reality TV shows have the cash and the star power to reshuffle the deck.  Each week, tearful winners testify to the power of the American Entertainment Industry. Amen and amen!

Spiritual truths once taught in Sunday Schools and Bible Studies are now conveyed through 60″ HDTV screens or laptops with wireless speakers.  No, it’s not those old school lessons about faith in God; sacrifice for others; honesty; or humility.  The values and virtues of the 21 Century are Tolerance, Diversity, Recycling, Kindness to Animals, and being Yourself.  We have repented of the New Testament in favor of the Now Testament.  And this is the Good News: you’re fine just the way you are as long as you have the faith to express yourself.

No wonder interest in churches has faded in every corner of the country.  The local church finally has the big screens, but we can’t compete with the big money and the big names! It’s too bad we ever tried, isn’t it?

Somewhere in our journey to Relevance, too many of our churches gave up on the supernatural! Our number is Legion.  We let go our ambition for the dramatic life change that always follows the Gospel of Christ.  We began to settle for the low hanging fruit: things like counseling, weight loss, support groups, and spending all our energy on interventions to end human trafficking or advance racial equality.  No doubt those causes are good, and they make us feel warm and significant somewhere inside.  But they’re not the best.  They are not the Main Event.

I suspect we began to lose the next generation when we accidentally packed away the Gospel along with all those 16 mm movie projectors and audio cassette players.  It seemed edgier, more current, to engage the culture than just save souls.  We embraced the rush of feeling empowered, instead of praying and waiting for the power of being saved.  We surrendered the high ground of Hope, and went charging down hill to meet the rock bands and movie crews in the valley of Hype. The rest is history.

When the Church competes with Show Biz, their beauty and their bling and their buzz will overpower our 2nd-rate special effects every time.  What Hollywood cannot compete with is the undiluted, outgunned, unafraid-to-seem-irrelevant Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And for a long, long time, they haven’t had to.

I’m praying for a Great Awakening to sweep across Jesus Churches of all shapes and sizes all across the Land.  I hope you will join me in praying for a powerful movement of the Spirit of God among his people; a call to share the truths of Christ even when they seem untimely- as they often have throughout history.  Pray for a mighty army of newly awakened men, women and young people determined to stop Dancing with the Stars and start following Jesus with a cross once again.  It’s surely late, but it’s not too late.

Lift up the Cross!

 

1 Minute After You Die

SOUL COMES ALIVE

“What happens to me when I die?  Do I go straight to Heaven, or does my soul sleep in the grave for a while?”  It’s a question that comes up every month, even more often after the death of a beloved friend.  The Bible doesn’t define the process precisely, but when you put all the relevant verses together you come away with a pretty clear picture.

Imagine a guy named Max, a devout follower of Jesus, and let’s use him to illustrate my take on the question. As it is for everyone, death is a process for Max; not actually a moment.  His organs begin to shut down and finally his heart stops beating.  Momentarily or even ten minutes later, his brain calls it a day.  At some point in this process, his soul evacuates his body, which is no longer viable for life.

Max’s body is not fitted for eternity: flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 15:50)  For the moment it’s in the way, so Max’s family will have a mortuary make the body more manageable, either through embalming and burial, or through cremation.  But the Bible teaches resurrection– not simply the immortality of the soul- so this is not the last chapter for that inconvenient body once called Max.

The soul that belongs to God is immediately translated into God’s presence in Eternity. Some have wondered about limbo or purgatory, a kind of temporary storage facility, but the Bible says nothing about that.  Places like that may belong to Roman Catholic tradition, but are not taught in scripture.

Rather, Jesus promises the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:43)  Some have argued that Jesus did not ascend to heaven until days after his death; would not have been there that Friday.  That’s debatable, but there’s no question that  Jesus is God.  And God was always in Heaven.  And on the day that former thief passed away, he was with God in Heaven. Elsewhere in Revelation 6:9, we also read a description of souls already in heaven. The martyrs who have just been executed, presumably by the Romans, are huddled by the altar asking God, “How long will the bloodshed continue?”  The Father assures them there is a appointed time and He is still in control. They are curious because their souls have just escaped the fiery persecution, and they are alive in the comforting presence of God.

But let’s return to Max.  His soul, his life force, has now been ushered into Heaven by the angels.  His body has been buried and has already begun to decay.  That’s okay: no one is trapped there.  Nobody’s home at all.  In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul explains that as long as he survives on the earth, he is at home in the body but away from the Lord.  He goes on to exclaim he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  In the same text, he compares his body to an aging and deteriorating tent: “while we’re still in the tent we groan and are burdened.”  Like Max, Paul escaped those burdens when he was executed and his soul departed from that bleeding, lifeless mound of flesh in favor of Eternity.

Which brings us to the resurrection.  In 1 Corinthians 15:51 we are assured, “Behold! I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep [die,] but we will all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” The word sleep is the same euphemism Jesus used for Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:52) who was quite dead and required a miracle to recover. God promises we will not all die, but we will all be changed- instantly.

The second resurrection happens on the day when Christ returns in judgment to the Earth. Here’s how it is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17  “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

When Christ returns, the bodies/bones/ashes of the saints will instantly be changed!  Like the resurrected Christ walking through a locked door, these resurrected bodies will rise through the Earth to be instantly reunited with their souls.  Resurrection means that we live again body and soul!  The Day of the Lord begins with a very personal kind of reunion or reintegration for the saints!

Some have scoffed, “Come on, doesn’t that sound outrageous to you?  In one moment, you have all these restored bodies emerging from the ground, and living souls descending out of heaven; and they are all finding their way to each other? Really?”  I suppose that might have presented a practical, intellectual problem fifty years ago.  But today, UPS is able to track millions of packages of all sizes as they travel all around the world.  At any moment, the man in brown can instantly tell me whether my package is shipped, or has departed the terminal, or is waiting in Topeka, Kansas, or is in a local vehicle en route to my house!  If UPS can track millions of packages accurately and instantly, I have no worries about God’s ability to have invisible chips in every body in order to guide souls instantly to the correct address!

So be comforted.  If you belong to Jesus Christ, you will never be consciously or unconsciously sleeping in the ground.  (Good news for claustrophobic believers everywhere!) Your soul will be with God only moments after you check out here, and your body will remain disconnected and inactive until it can be fitted for life in eternity, body and soul.  Don’t grieve like others who have no hope.

And lift up the Cross!

 

We’re Toast!

THE END

If we learned anything from the Mayans, it’s that if you don’t finish something it’s not the end of the world.

Doomsday predictions are always wrong (so far) but they’re not always a waste of time. I can vividly recall one of those years when everybody was reading a book entitled 88 Reasons Why the Lord will Return in 1988. Newspapers actually counted down the days!  I was serving in Tennessee at the time when a young mom named Eva showed up at our church after reading the book.  Fearing the end, she became a follower of Jesus Christ. The highly publicized day of destiny came and went, but her faith was the real thing.  In fact, she still worships there in Columbia, Tennessee, and we’re Facebook friends.  I expect she still appreciates the irrelevant little book that prompted her 14 kt decision for Christ!

There’s a popular cliche that insists if you know you’d do things differently with the end of the world approaching, you should go ahead and make those changes now.  I guess that sounds compelling at first glance, but then someone reminds you that actually happened in 1 Thessalonians.  People gave up their jobs and sat around waiting for the return of Christ.  That is, until Paul wrote and warned them to stop sitting around watching 1st Century cable TV and do something.  “This we commanded you,” he reminded them, “That if any would not work, neither should he eat.” 1 Thessalonians 3:10.

But what if the end of the world were considered a certainty in only three weeks? Imagine that Asteroid Arnold is hurtling predictably toward a cosmic impact with Planet Earth, and the ETA is 21 days away.  Would you quit your job and hurry off to the beach?  Would you stop making your mortgage payment or car payment?  If the drawing for the Mega Millions Lottery is 48 hours away and only two other people have bought tickets, will you spend $5 for a 1 in 3 chance at $200 Million to squander on your final 19 days of survival?

Why does an high paying job or a lottery pay off matter so much in the normal course of life, and yet matter so little with three weeks left on the earth’s Game Clock?   Why should you justifiably rush back for the priceless diamond pendant you accidentally forgot while checking out of your hotel room if you’re on vacation, but not hurry back to retrieve it from your stateroom if you’re on the RMS Titanic?

It seems the standard by which we measure most things is Eternity and our proximity to that event horizon.  If I am under the impression the doorway to God is decades away, money and the things it will buy seem to matter so much more.  If I detect I may have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, I’ll be far more likely to chuck it all. But seriously,why “live like you’re dying” and try to cram as much earthly pleasure as possible in your final countdown?  Will any pleasures here really compare to the celestial pleasures awaiting us in Heaven?  Really?

Calculating the currency exchange rate of Eternity is easier when you strip away the illusions and walk through life with a biblical perspective.  “All people are like grass and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field,”Isaiah reminded himself.  “The grass withers and the flowers fall.” (Isaiah 40:6)  Even compared to a Redwood Tree, you and I aren’t here for long!  Isaiah adds that the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Years ago, serving among poverty stricken believers in Malindi, Kenya, I discovered why fashions and status symbols are often called “the trappings of life.”  It’s because you can esteem them so highly that they trap you in a dangerous place and leave your soul at risk. That’s why few things clarify the mind as effectively as knowing The End is near.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

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