Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘surrender’ 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!

 

Why Millennials are Smarter than Boomers

BOOMER AND MILL

As an active member of the Baby Boomer Generation, I often find myself arguing that most Millennials are not slackers (or hippies, just in case anyone remembers those psychedelic snowflakes from the Boomer years.)  Not only that, I think they’re making smarter choices than those of us in my generation did. We need to stop slamming them and offer a little appreciation.

Yesterday I read an article about the recent boom in toys being sold to adults. There are so many grown-ups snapping up Lego sets and other childhood favorites that a new term has evolved: kidults are voting age people who play with toys.  Naturally, the writer quickly injected that Millennials are leading the pack. That’s nuts!  What about all those Boomers and Builders who attend coloring parties and order their coloring books and crayons from Amazon?  I haven’t heard anyone call them slackers or brats.

A lot of Millennials have good instincts and are growing up into awesome adult men and women.  Consider just the latest evidence of a rebounding generation:

  • 58% of younger Millennial males want to be the breadwinners in their homes so their wives can stay home to raise their children.  Guys in my generation wanted so many expensive toys like boats and sporty cars that we nearly kicked out wives out of the house to find jobs. (Council on Contemporary Families research.)
  • A growing number of Millennial females are ambitious to stay home and raise their children.  What a novel new idea: children raised by their own parents. Many Boomer women were convinced they could have it all but found out too late that actually means a little of everything and a lot of unsupervised children.
  • The Millennial pastor tends to stay in the same church longer than pastors from earlier generations did.  (Thom Rainer/ Lifeway Research) Millennials are less likely to demand instant success and are more likely to sacrifice in order to start new churches in order to do things right from the ground up.  In my generation, the paradigm was a ladder that one climbed by jumping to a larger church every 3 years.  Longer pastorates will lead to healthier churches.

History doesn’t advance in straight lines.  That’s why nations don’t decay, decline, and go to Hell in three or four generations.  Just when you think The End of a civilization is at hand, you have a generation like the Millennials who put the brakes on decadence and irresponsible behavior and navigate a U-turn to retrieve lost treasure from the past.

Millennial Americans will come around on those questions of sexual ethics… just like every other generation has done.  But unlike their parents, the idealists in this maligned generation have the heart and convictions to build stronger families, healthier churches, and a more dynamic society.

It’s always darkest just before the dawn.  Thank God for the “entitled” generation and lift up the Cross!

Lights Out!

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Have you ever awakened from a nightmare so jarring that your heart continued to race even after you opened your eyes?  What now?  Like most people, you probably reached over and switched on the lamp.  Within two seconds, those clarifying beams of light had cast out the darkness and vaporized those lingering gremlins.

Jesus called his followers the light of the world.  “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden,” he explained.  “Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5: 14 – 15)

The Lord has a simple point: don’t conceal your power.  And yet we do.  For instance:

I bury the light of Christ when I suppose unbelievers need to be reassured I’m just like them.  Where did I get this deadly idea that being transparent means I show off my sin nature?  I struggle to be completely inoffensive by laughing off self-destructive behavior, winking at temptations, and self-censoring every honest word that might possibly reveal how differently I see life!

  • The problem here is that unchurched people don’t really fear that Christians aren’t like them.
  • They are actually convinced we are just like them- except that we pretend to believe quirky, obscure religious ideas that make us strangely nervous when we talk about them. Nobody takes that stuff seriously.

My witness is more compelling when neighbors and co-workers realize I care about them even though I am quite different from them.  Because I believe the most important assets in life are spiritual and supernatural, I reject materialism.  I am completely convinced that I’m going to live forever- just like Jesus promised those who live in him.  I believe that God has high expectations for me, so I make demands of myself even as I show grace to everybody else.  I can smile through my tears because God is in control.

My unchurched neighbors don’t really believe Christians are never sad: they just think we’re hypocrites with synthetic smiles.  It’s harder to dismiss my story when it’s apparent that I sometimes experience sadness or frustration: I just refuse to be ruled by misguided emotions.

No wonder multitudes aren’t streaming into American churches for answers: they don’t have any questions!  We in the Church have convinced ourselves that the only way to get close to lost people is to turn off the light!  “They don’t know Jesus! Hurry! Lights out!” I dare not let them see that I’m different!  Put a bag on it!

That’s why lost people assume we’re just like them- except that we go to churches on Sunday mornings to talk about religious ideas we don’t honestly believe. Why would they possibly aspire to change anything to become more like us?  In our hearts, it’s painfully clear we’re already just like them.

Let’s you and I do something radical and unsettling for Easter.  Tell someone you care about that you’re going to live forever!  Smile and trust God’s promises even when your heart is broken. Define what holy really means and then explain why it hurts so good. Let your transparent life raise questions in the hearts and minds of the clueless.

Turn on the Light and leave ’em wondering!

Lift up the Cross!

Never Die

DEAD MAN WALKING

“We will make death optional.”  That’s the promise of some trendy research scientists who met in Silicon Valley not long ago.  The New Yorker described the chatter at a cocktail party where millions of dollars were being raised to fund the effort.  “We can end aging forever.”

It turns out that writer wasn’t hopeful we’ll ever actually see the God Pill that has generated such hype.  It would necessarily be produced by the pharmaceutical industry.  And the only way Big Pharma makes the big bucks is through healing diseases.  It defies logic and human nature that they might create a pill that would send them all out of business!  Let not your heart be troubled.

Think about this: the longer you stay on the Earth, the longer you’re away from Heaven.  I mean, I’m happy to do my duty here and put in my time: maybe 80  years or possibly 100.  But I’ve got bigger plans.

Last week at a neighborhood market, our checkout line was delayed endlessly by a customer with coupons, and a handwritten check, and lots of questions about prices.  As I finally reached the cashier, she shrugged and said, “I’m sorry you had to wait so long.”

I smiled and replied, “It’s okay.  I’m going to live forever.”  And I wasn’t being sarcastic.

That’s the ultimate fulfillment of the Christian Faith, is not?  We’re not here to learn how to have glam relationships or make tons of money.  We weren’t sent here to party or maintain tanned hardbodies.  Even pagans can do all those things without a mustard seed of faith or even a molecule of worship!  We’re here on TDY, to represent the Kingdom until we get to go home.

What was it Jesus told his grieving friend Martha? “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  Call me crazy: I believe it. (John 11: 25 – 26) 

Eternal Life is not some spiritualized myth wrapped up in a paradox to calm our anxieties. It’s why the first century Christians were willing to die at the hands of angry Jews and corrupt Romans.  They didn’t forfeit anything: they were trading up for something better.

  • It’s why you and I can turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute us, give to any who ask, and confess Christ even in the face of execution.
  • It’s why we don’t mind walking away from privileges, pleasures or property here: because God will overcompensate us there.

The way some church people suppress all mention of Heaven and the great hereafter makes you wonder what they seriously believe.  There’s no doubt what Paul believed.  “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15: 17 – 19)

I’m not going to hold my breath until Silicon Valley delivers the God Pill.  By the grace of God, I’ve gotten to know the God-Man.  When life finally gives me its worst, the LORD is prepared to offer me His Best.  There’s no greater confidence than that.

So don’t be ashamed to let your neighbors and co-workers know what gives you so much confidence and joy.  It’s not because you go to church.  It’s because of what you’ve been promised by the guy who started The Church. (The One who made Sunday famous!)

You can listen to the companion message that inspired this blog.  Click Never Die.

Lift up the Cross!

Wishful Blindness

SAD GIRLShe could be your daughter. Perhaps she’s one of your friends.  She’s an extraordinary girl in many ways, but there are girls like her everywhere. She believes she is a liberated woman.  You can see she’s trapped.

She’s like a lot of other girls, a victim of her own wishful blindness. She is entangled in the spell of an angry young man.  On occasional Friday nights, he seems like the strong, masculine presence who can cradle her in feelings of safety and belonging.  But most times he’s only selfish, tense, distant, distracted, and ungrateful.

She insists they’re not ready for marriage, all the obligations and burdens you accept in exchange for something that’s just a piece of paper.  Yeah, except she’s ready.  It’s why she waits for him to come home at night, does his laundry, straightens the apartment, and helps pay his bills.  If she weren’t ready for commitment, she would have already given up on him.

Her wishful blindness came to mind last week as I read through John 12.  Jesus laments that he’d give anything to rescue the trapped, self-destructive Israelites crowding the streets of the city all around him.  “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (John 12:40)

Anybody can see the power of God and the glory of eternity in this one of a kind rabbi named Jesus; anybody except all his wishfully blind countrymen who are so afraid of change that they continue to give a dead end avenue one more chance- and another, and another. This kind of blindness is sometimes confused with fearlessness, but in fact it’s nothing more than undiluted dread, the terror of coming up empty.

Unbelievably, there is none so blind as he who will not see.

Lift up the cross!

 

Losing It

silenceThis is a true story.  In 1614 the Christian faith was spreading rapidly through one region of Japan and beginning to take root.  For a number of political reasons, the government decided to crush and eliminate this threat to national unity.  A ruthless,unrelenting war against missionaries and evangelists was unleashed.  In October of that year, fifty-five persons of all ages were burned alive alongside the Kamo River in Kyoto. There were elderly people, young mothers, and children as young as 5 or 6 years old.

A crowd of 30,000 spectators gathered to observe the spectacle.  Here’s how an Englishman standing among the crowd described the event: “When the faggots were kindled, the martyrs said sayonara to the onlookers who then began to intone, The Magnificat, followed by [Psalm 113 and 116]… Since it had rained heavily the night before, the faggots were wet and the wood burned slowly; but as long as the martyrdom lasted, the spectators continued to sing hymns and canticles.  When death put an end to the victim’s suffering, the crowd intoned [a Latin hymn with these lyrics: ‘You are God, we praise you/ Your are Lord, we acclaim you/ You are the Eternal Father/ All Creation worships you.’]”

God not only commends saints who die for their faith; he encourages it.  Hebrews 11 concludes with this epic celebration of martyrdom: “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy…!” In Revelation 3:18, the Christ encourages us to ask for gold tried by fire; that is, fiery trial.

Here in the safety of our American fortress, Christians like you and me think of ourselves as tolerant and open-minded: we can talk openly about sex, adultery, pornography, or atheism- anything except the glory of the martyrs.  We send teams to the mission field praying that Jesus will keep them safe: not that God will make them dangerous.  We can scarcely summon the courage to suggest our young people consider the mission field. Heaven forbid we should think of them martyred for Christ while spreading the gospel! Mention personal sacrifice and we imagine two hours in church when the espresso machine is broken!

Of all the Christmas texts available for poetic reflection this Christmas, few of us will deal with aging Simeon’s prophecy to Mary during the dedication of Jesus at the Temple. The old man describes the ministry of the Messiah, and adds parenthetically for the young mother, “And a sword will pierce through your own soul, too.”  That’s clearly a scribal gloss: Everybody knows the Gospel makes us rich and happy!

Read Revelation this Christmas.  Jesus looks forward to celebrating in Heaven with all the martyrs who have given their lives in service on the Earth. He offers extraordinary rewards to those who dare to lose it all without regret.

In American churches, our brand of worship is high-tech, but low-ambition.  We aspire to joyful experiences with Christ.  We pray for God to heal everybody.  We feel persecuted when a clerk at Macy’s says, “Happy Holiday!”  Sadly, we cannot imagine why anyone would stand there watching godly people burn, and sing, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.  O Lord, I am your servant.  Praise the Lord!”

The narrative from Japan is taken from the introduction to a 1966 classic, Silence by Shusaku Endo.  It is an elegant, historical novel based on actual events.  I’m reading it for Christmas this year, and feeling unworthy.

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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