Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘patience’ Category

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 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!

 

Silence is Golden. Wisdom is Platinum.

scrabble

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!

Don’t Give Me That Look!

SCORN SIMON

How can something that looks so vile feel so good?  I’m talking about disapproval, the joy of heaping contempt on others.  In its most extreme form, it morphs into the kind of violent scorn that leaves dozens of young people dead on a nightclub floor in Orlando.  It’s reported the assassin laughed at he slaughtered nearly fifty strangers on Saturday night.

Granted, radical Islamists seem to specialize in contempt that goes beyond the pale. Most of us cannot even fathom how religious communities could celebrate the bloody massacre of unsuspecting civilians, young or old, gay or straight, who are a threat to no one.  But the fact is that the rest of us universally practice a more domesticated variety of disapproval.  It’s the gift  no one wants to receive, but virtually all of us enjoy dishing out!

For years, we in the church have preached “hate the sin, love the sinner,” while sometimes appearing to take that first verb more seriously than the second.  We fail to take our cue from God who causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  He sends sunshine into the lives of the righteous and the unrighteous.  By contrast, most of us have occasionally looked down our noses at sinners in a manner worthy of that old cliche, if looks could kill.

Of course, scorn is not the exclusive territory of Christianity.  It’s actually a part of the baggage we all bring with us when we begin to repent but stop too soon.  The unbelieving world is filled with all those dark colors of disapproval, contempt, rejection, reproach and disfavor. Among our secular friends and popular TV personalities, there’s nothing wrong with passing judgment as long as it’s not religious, and can shut down a difficult discussion. Think about it:

  • “Bigot” is the gibe that keeps on giving, even if the only evidence is use of the word “niggardly” by a judge who has battled against racism for  thirty years.
  • It’s always Open Season on fascists (people who disagree on politics;) fanatics (people more religious than you;) ignoramuses (people who don’t accept your opinions;) and hypocrites (people with higher moral standards than you.)

No doubt, it’s unfair when we in the church take so much heat for a vice that is practiced widely and prominently on nearly every TV show and in 90% of the world’s conversations. But we should allow the injustice of it all to remind us that we are held to a higher standard.  We really should strive to be the people who don’t seem to get a rush out of opprobrium.  We are priests, not the morality police.  We are the vanguard of grace, not God’s grim executioners. Sin should always make us uncomfortable, but let’s be sure that discomfort doesn’t look so much like arrogance.

  • We are saddened when others in the church fall into sin, but when we offer correction we do it with a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1
  • We are concerned when unbelievers pursue deadly lifestyles of reckless abandon, but we must reach out to them with gentleness and respect, in the example of our own high priest who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, knowing that he himself was tempted. Hebrews 4:1

We all have an easy target for disapproval this week: radical Islamists or maybe even bloodthirsty terrorists everywhere.  But perhaps the world would be better served if we left waging war to the government, and devoted some time to praying for the souls of our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44.)  It would also be Christ-like this week to mourn with those who mourn.  There are a lot of people like that in Orlando today.

Lift up the Cross!

 

God Turns the Page

RUSSIAN SAINTS

God has such a sense of humor!  While many believers in the USA have been brought to despair by their choices in an upcoming presidential election, one can hardly believe what’s happening in the once “godless” Land of the Tsars.  It’s seldom reported here, but there is a nuclear explosion of faith unfolding in Russia!  More than 70% of the Russian people now identify with the Church, and President Vladimir Putin long ago renounced atheism to join the Orthodox Church.

Even as US congregations grope to find their way through the shadow lands of same-sex marriage, transgender restrooms, and mainstream resentment of churches, Russia seems to be in a renaissance of traditional values.  I obviously have no idea how sincere Mr. Putin is in his faith, but here’s what he says about society: “We must protect Russia from that which has destroyed American society.”  He’s talking about anti-Christian secularism.

We have finally bid farewell to that era when the USA was the World Center of Christianity. That doesn’t mean we will never enjoy spiritual revival: I pray that we do.  But it suggests that much bigger movements of God are afoot in distant shores.  The ground beneath us is shifting and powerful forces are driving the Gospel in new directions.

  • The engine of church growth and renewal is relentless in Africa today.  In the face of militant Islam stalking some nations with violence and intimidation, the Christian faith is like a tidal wave of love and worship sweeping across the continent.  There are literally megachurches whose pastors urge members to stay home occasionally so that more new believers can be accommodated in their jammed worship centers.
  • The biggest church in the world is still in China. Recent reports of intense, new political crackdowns on Chinese pastors suggest the saints are once again multiplying at rates considered out of control.
  • In Iran, a vast and growing population of Jesus-followers are worshiping together weekly and quietly awaiting the fall of the hateful Imams.
  • And then there’s Russia…!

Here in the States, we would do well to take our cue from the saints beyond our borders who are rocking this world.  Our destiny does not rest in the hands of either a Democratic insider or a Republican outsider, and we must stop wringing our hands as though God has lost control.  The Lord hasn’t lost any clout, but he may well have lost interest in American churches as flat as a three day old Coke.  The Creator has nothing left to prove: it’s we in the church who have something to prove.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Joel 2: 12 – 13

Let’s stop praying for a new candidate in the race, and begin to pray for a new heart in the church.

And lift up the Cross!

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