Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘patience’ Category

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!

Show Me My Cross

CROSS AT DREAMSTIME

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  It was true in the second century when Tertullian first penned those words, and it’s been the experience of saints somewhere on the planet in every age since.

In his profound spiritual reflection, Silence and Beauty,  Makoto Fujimura reconsiders the awe and the agony of the Christian community which took root in Japan in the 16th Century. The number of believers there soon reached 300,000, a feat so amazing that missionary Francis Xavier concluded Japan, of all nations in Asia, was “most suited for Christianity.”  When the backlash came, it was brutal, demonic, and devastating.

Fujimura, himself a believer, describes a monument to 26 Christian martyrs from that era of darkness that descended on the church: a few missionaries, some adult believers, and two boys, Ibaraki and Anthony, the older being 13 years old. This particular group of believers was force-marched 480 miles from their home to a hill in Nagasaki.  The ordeal began with their ears and noses being cut off, and it concluded with twenty-six crosses lined up and waiting at their destination.  The tormentors must have been certain this nightmarish ordeal would bring about a change of heart.  They had miscalculated.

As soon as they arrived, one of the battered lads stepped forward and called out, “Show me my cross.” The other boy followed, “And show me mine.”

In spite of our reverence for the cross, many of us in the West scarcely consider the power and the impact of suffering for righteousness.  In our age of convenience and consumer values, the idea of enduring affliction for a higher cause seems unnecessary at best and maybe even ungodly at worst. Why would I do that?  And yet a friend described for me just last night how she slept on the floor beside her husband’s sickbed night after night as he lay dying, just to be near him in his final hours. How commonly we skip meals when a family member is suffering.  Many of us understand bearing discomfort for loved ones, and yet for Jesus…?

The Book of Job can be a perplexing struggle, but our problem is not just the poetry.  The ancient hero’s dark night of the soul seems like utter folly to us.  We throw up our hands, asking why God’s people should suffer bad things; finding no answer.  In fact, that’s not the question God addresses in this familiar story.  Job could never have discerned that his misery had resulted from a conversation in Heaven. Neither can you or I detect spiritual forces and purposes that turn the wheels of heaven just out of sight.

Job’s story asks a more compelling question: Do we really love God, or do we simply use him for His blessings?  The old man clung to God even as his earthly assets went down the drain.  Later in the New Testament, Paul was convinced he could know Christ better by  bonding with him through his own afflictions.  “I want to know Him..!” (Philippians 3:10)

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost sight of Heaven.  It’s easy to become addicted to the comforts of here and now; offended by anything less that The American Dream.  Then I recall the promise of Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  The most splendid experience in that kingdom will be his presence.

Scripture teaches the saints to pray for gold refined by fire.  Many of us might find it helpful to take a look at Silence and Beauty; or just read the Book of Job again, more slowly this time.

Lift up the Cross!

Don’t Get Mad, Get a Life

FIGHT CLUBOur beloved battle hymn foresees the Lord returning to trample “on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”  Well if that’s a fair description of the end of time, then surely we have arrived.  Those bitter grapes are everywhere, indeed, the world is a vineyard.  Without a doubt, we are awaiting the last trump!  (Don’t scream at me: that last word is not capitalized.)

Here is the USA, fight clubs still sweep the country, not among gangs like MS-13, but championed by young, well-educated, urban professionals.  College students riot after being offended by trigger words.  Popular politicians are shouted down and hounded off the stage at town hall meetings.  If your business flight isn’t delayed while stubborn passengers are pummeled and dragged off the aircraft, it may be forced to land prematurely due to a furious passenger assailing the flight attendant. Meanwhile, social media like Facebook and Twitter are so charged with rage, insults, and vitriol that ordinary people are afraid to sign on for their daily dose of baby pictures.

What gives?  C.S. Lewis offered a precise diagnosis of today’s world three-quarters of a century ago.  “Aim at heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.”

There’s a powerful idea we’ve abandoned, and it begins with trans.  Does anything come to mind? Not transsexual: but transcendent.  People who cherish transcendent values can live with disappointment and adversity in life because their spiritual convictions lift them above the moments of mundane frustration. Because they believe in heaven, in divine wisdom, and in the power of love, spiritual people literally transcend the down times by trusting Providence and practicing delayed gratification. People of true faith believe many of the best things in life are invisible at the moment, and other treasures are awaiting the fullness of time.

Materialists, on the other hand, expect satisfaction every day because they live in a world filled with things; and things are supposed to bring us joy.  Who wouldn’t be happy with the newest smartphone, the most gargantuan HD TV,  and a futuristic home where smart devices do everything for them effortlessly?  Apparently, that’s not nearly enough for most people.  Look again at the seething multitudes all around you.  To paraphrase a former president, “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to smartphones or social media or antipathy to people who don’t agree with their ideas as a way to explain their frustrations.”

People who hope only in the here and now have no patience with delay and defeat, even the most fleeting variety.  And therein is found the crux of our national despair.  We suffer from the most powerful forms of addiction; big money and big government.  And now that both of us have failed us miserably, we are left in the misery of withdrawal.  We traded away the transcendent spiritual truths that could lift our souls from the Slough of Despond.  Very soon, perhaps an old cliche’ will begin to resonate once again: Jesus is the Answer.  The world is not enough… seriously.

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!

Does God Gamble?

does-god-gambleGambling is not even a possibility for God: he already knows the outcome of every competition, the answer to every question. But there is a moment in the Bible when God makes a bet with the Devil!  It’s found in the most ancient book of the Bible when Satan taunts the Almighty and questions the sincerity of a holy man named Job.  The devil insists that upright man of faith doesn’t seriously love God but simply plays along for the benefits. In fact, he’s so convinced that he makes a wager: take away all blessings the guy has enjoyed and he will quickly walk away from his faith.  The sudden deaths of all his children and the loss of all his possessions leave Job’s walk with God completely intact.

So Satan makes a second wager. “Okay, but take away his health and I guarantee you he will curse you to your face!”  God permits his faithful servant to be physically afflicted within an inch of his life because He places so much confidence in Job’s personal allegiance. Wow!

People are wrong when they suppose the story of Job is written to explain why bad things happen to good people.  Neither Job nor his friends could have ever understood why he was stricken: the reason was a wager in heaven they could not have detected or explained! The real question raised by Job’s story is this: Who wins the bet?

The answer comes in Job 2:10.  When Job is covered from head to toe in agonizing, oozing, festering boils, his agony leaves him writhing in pain day and night.  What’s more, the mysterious condition costs him his respected status in the community.  Friends turn their backs and abandon him.  His grieving wife encourages him to curse God and die.  And to all of this, the man of God replies, “Must we receive only good things from God and never anything bad?”  The narrator then summarizes, “In all of this, Job did not sin.”

So God wins the wager- of course!  In all his misery and disgrace, Job clings to his confidence that God is good and loving.  Yes, he complains; but in all those cries of frustration, his concern is only that God doesn’t understand.  He pleads for some way to stand before God and make his case; to clarify anything God has somehow misunderstood!

Job’s tireless pursuit of God answers the other big question raised by the story: do believers really love God or do we just play along for the blessings?  There is no doubt that Job’s faith is fourteen karat, the real thing.  And ours?

Sometimes you and I make Satan’s case. We are attracted to popular titles and slogans that promise faith will make us happy: God’s Best for You; Your Best Life Now; Every Day a Friday!  We seize upon the fantasy “If God is in this, everything will go smoothly!”  When friends enjoy prosperity, we slap them on the back and say, “You must be living right!”

Except that Job was living right.  So was the Apostle Paul.  So was Stephen, the first martyr; and William Tyndale, who translated the New Testament in hiding; and Lottie Moon, the missionary who died of malnutrition because she gave her food to orphans during a famine in China.

The first and best blessing from Heaven is God Himself.  It is He who gives us life, meaning, and purpose.  It is Christ who holds the forces of the universe together by the power of His Word.  And it is He who makes Heaven heavenly, ensuring that all those other wonders of eternity can satisfy us.

In the face of a life seeming to collapse all about him, Job insists, “God is enough.” Whatever happens here, he confesses, when the skin worms destroy my flesh, in my flesh I will see God!  Job is one of the first people in the Old Testament to truly understand resurrection.  He’s also one of the very first to truly understand faith.  Blessings are just a by-product of faith: the presence of God is the prize!

To hear Pastor Cole’s compelling message, click Is God Enough.

And lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

Facebook Derangement Syndrome

fds

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!

 

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