Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Archive for the ‘train up a child’ Category

Good to be Small Again


Is it “body shaming” to suggest we’re all too large and would be happier if we were much, much smaller?  Matt Damon’s upcoming movie, Downsizing, is a comedy about people who allow themselves to be miniaturized so their income will go much farther and their dreams will be affordable.  The story apparently presses all the hot buttons of 2017: carbon footprints, unhappiness with one’s biology, the fragmenting family, and the confusion of a world where everything is normal.

It’s a fun idea: you could probably afford the McMansion of your dreams if the scale could be 90% smaller.  And you would surely use less fuel driving an SUV from the Hot Wheels toy collection.  But good luck when a regular-sized typhoon floods your tiny Leisureville Community- not to mention a sprawling monster hurricane like Harvey or Irma!

It’s not likely shrinking the human body will catch on, so I’ve gotten a better idea: let’s shrink the human ego!  Downsizing the self would be a lot more practical. It would wipe out White Supremacy, which is a lingering fever, as well as Moral Superiority, which is a raging epidemic!  NFL players would emphasize the team over personal political agendas. What if I stopped emphasizing what makes me special, in favor of the idea that all human beings are equally valuable, created in the image of God? There must be a movie script there: a futuristic world where the human ego is reduced by 90%!  I can imagine a few laughs, but it wouldn’t have a lot of violence because people with downsized egos could live together in peace and tranquility, even in Washington, DC or North Korea.

Ironically, I came across a review of Downsizing after watching video of the desperate conditions in SE Texas after that historic storm.  A drenched, young woman and her family had just been rescued from their inundated neighborhood.  A reporter reached out with a microphone, asking, “How are you?”  She replied, “We’re alive.  But it humbled us.”  She was speaking for the multitudes.

If only those giant sucker punches delivered to Texas and Florida and the Carribean could momentarily knock the wind out of us all. It was almost miraculous how quickly the tone of news reporting changed for a few days as storms approached fragile communities!  So much of the political slander, bigotry, character assassination, instant outrage, and moral posturing have been washed away by news of flood waters that continue to rise in cities of despair.  Even as Americans grieve the losses being endured by our neighbors in Texas, there is a boundless optimism beginning to build.  Neighbors are helping neighbors. The other forty-nine states are sending in rescuers and equipment from hundreds of miles away.  Families are giving to charities and churches are organizing to provide relief.  None of us is sufficient for such a catastrophe but our combined resources can seriously add up.

Sadly, at this moment in September, the raging debate about NFL players kneeling or locking arms has drowned out reporting from devastated Puerto Rico. Surely, the apocalyptic crisis crushing millions of American neighbors should rate more attention than the perceived slights of a few privileged athletes.  If the USA is guilty of sins against humanity, surely one of them is ignoring devastated Puerto Ricans in 2017 while obsessing on an inconsequential debate that will be forgotten in two years.

More generosity and less instant outrage would demonstrate a more accurate appraisal of how small each of us really is and how little we actually know.  Less abject scorn in public and the social media would allow space for conversation rather than the unkind, snarky confrontation so popular in every realm of life today.  A great society doesn’t require that everyone must be perfect, or even that everyone must agree.  Rather, greatness in a land is possible when everyone’s ego is small enough that he can see beyond it to recognize the enormity of God and the value of others.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  1 Peter 5:6

Lift up the Cross!




The Soft Atheism of Low Expectations


Not many Americans would call themselves atheists; only about 3% according to Pew Research.  But that doesn’t count the practicing atheists.  I’m thinking about all the people who religiously go to church on Sundays but live the other six-and-a-half days as though heaven is empty and the Bible is fiction.

I’m not even talking about secret sins that weaken our testimony. Think about all those honest, open conversations between Bible believers, those of us who call ourselves Evangelicals.

Surely, we can all agree that friends must be able to speak honestly to each other, and without condemnation.  But when another follower of Christ confides in me that he’s undermining his jerk supervisor at work, what am I supposed to do with the New Testament idea of honoring God by the way I treat those in authority? (1 Peter 2:19) Atheism says the boss is a loser: he’s got it coming.  But a godly friend ought to sympathize, “Man, I understand why you’re so angry.  But I’m wondering if there’s a place for your faith in all of this. What do you think?”  No condemnation there!

When a married woman confides that her conversations with the new single guy at the office have gone well beyond innocent flirtation, what’s a friend in the faith to do? Atheism says we’re living in a whole new world: this seems harmless enough. But a friend who is also a believer has a different take. “Can we pray about this together?  It may feel harmless right now, but are you running away from sexual immorality, or tip-toeing toward it?” (1 Corinthians 6:18)  True friendship does require honesty, right?

In this week’s message on dealing with bad bosses, Pastor Cole reminded us how often we give each other a pass for doing evil.  Instead of coaching our fellow saints with faith and wise counsel, we tend to shrug and suggest we’re all only human. But that’s what atheists believe.  Followers of Jesus counter with 2 Corinthians 5:17.  “I am a new creation in Christ: the old has gone, the new has come!” Saints encourage each other to set our affections on this above, not the things of this world.

Suggest to a child that he’s not as capable of a B-average, and you’ll soon have a D student on your hands!  Tell a teenager it’s impossible to resist fornication, and she’ll soon agree with you wholeheartedly.  Imply to a Christian friend under fire that nobody seriously expects to be holy all the time, and you’ll soon have an unholy friend in an ungodly dilemma.

Being the salt of the earth requires more than merely influencing pagans and unbelievers next door.  It means we are willing to rub off on our friends at church as well.

To catch this week’s message, click Take this Job and Love It.

Lift up the Cross!



Inside Out in a World Upside Down


How do you describe Inside Out, the latest project from the animators at Pixar?  It’s the story of a little girl named Riley who learns to live with the five major emotions competing for acceptance in her mind.  Like everybody else, I found the movie to be hilarious and original.  But I also thought it was insightful and laden with questions only theology could answer.

Did you ever wonder why people living the American Dream of freedom and affluence also suffer depression at epidemic rates?  When consumers enjoy just about any privilege or purchase their hearts might desire, why do they still require 150 forms of self-medication for melancholia and despair?

The problem is those nagging emotions fighting for acceptance in our heads.  In the movie they are called Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear.  Like everyone watching from the audience, little Riley has trouble making good decisions because each life situation results in 5 powerful emotions shouting to explain everything from contrasting points of view. According to the movie, maturity is about learning that each emotion has a valuable role on certain occasions, so all five are actually beneficial. Yeah, but they are still constantly at war.

Many Americans turn to Zoloft and Prozac and stress relief and sleeping meds because it’s so exhausting when your universe is a tiny, heart-shaped gymnasium where all your energy is burned off trying to referee and separate competing emotions.  It’s like spending every day with five brats who never sleep or learn self-control: you have to play parent in every decision. There’s no rest or escape: only stress and distraction.  Like wild zebras, raw emotions refuse to be trained.  So what’s the healthy alternative?

The answer: just say No to them all.

For most of history across most of the planet, most nations have taught that it’s unhealthy, impolite, and even destructive to focus on yourself and your own accomplishments.  But today traditional virtues like humility and deferred gratification have been utterly abandoned by a Now Generation in search of self-esteem and instant gratification.  Quite suddenly we find the ancients were right: it is unhealthy and destructive to surrender to your ego and insist on always having it your way.  It can be downright depressing!  When you can constantly have anything you want, warring emotions make it hard to settle on exactly what that is.  You’re a lion tamer in a ring with five or more untamed lions and tigers.

Paging through your Bible, it can seem annoying when Jesus Christ says things like this: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  We tend to stumble over this idea as well as similar comments like the one about hating father and mother and brother and sister in order to love him.  It’s confusing for us not only because we have been brainwashed with self-esteem psychology, but because we don’t understand the ancient Hebrew way of speaking.

Old Testament men and women tended to draw stark comparisons.  If you favored one person over another in a particular situation, in that moment you were practicing love for one person and rejection (“hatred”) for the other.  We have no evidence that Jacob actually harbored animosity towards Leah, the woman he was tricked into marrying.  But because he favored his first love Rachel, scripture describes his disfavor towards Leah as “hatred.” Despite the fact that God loves the whole world, we are told on at least two occasions that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. There is no doubt the Almighty cared for Esau and family too, but when He favored the descendants of Jacob, he showed disfavor for Esau and his tribe.

Loving Jesus more than yourself doesn’t literally demand hostility towards Self.  It simply means you are able to choose on pivotal occasions to favor the call of Christ over the demands of your flesh; to favor charity and compassion over self-fulfillment and self-indulgence.  Holiness is the discipline of shutting out all the voices of Self to hear the Spirit of God.

What secular cartoons cannot depict and secular Americans cannot fathom is the liberating power of learning to say No to yourself.  Rather than enduring the constant assault of raging impulses, we allow faith to usher us out of the emotional war room and lock the door.  Self-indulgence doesn’t satisfy for long because it merely conditions the voices to scream louder. Self-forgetfulness is the road to peace because it allows us to overlook the demands of self-fulfillment. It’s a by-product of the cross. It is the path to peace.

Take a break from your bratty emotions: say No to them all.

And lift up the Cross!


This Crazy World: 3 Things Your Kids Need to Know

BAG OVER HEADIt’s confusing enough to be a grownup in America 2015.  You’ve got TV interviews with a successful male Olympian explaining his plan to be surgically altered; to become a woman even though he is still attracted to women deep within his psyche.  Elsewhere, the US Supreme Court debates whether or not the fathers of the US Constitution intended gay marriage to be a civil right. Meanwhile, you learn that the newest trend coming to a school near you is teen-aged boys visiting girl’s restrooms while they decide which gender they prefer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

A friend tried to reassure me last week: “The questions change but the answer is still Jesus.”  Except you have well-known celebrities who profess Christianity while comfortably embracing all this decay. On your best days you try to speak out but the tidal wave of the media drowns you out.  On your worst days, you occasionally wonder, “Am I just a Neanderthal?”  Imagine what the youngsters still growing up in church are thinking. Lately I get this question every week: How do I talk with my kids about this twisted culture? 

I’m hammering out some practical, down to earth nuggets of truth we can share with our kids. Insert them into conversations one at a time. Make it a thought, not a sermon.  Here are the first three.  I’ll share more suggestions next time. The challenge is to wait for for an opportune moment and unemotionally slide one of these truths into the mix.

1. Sometimes nations go crazy. Laws are often misguided.  Just a few generations back, many Americans bought and sold fellow human beings as slaves.  It was legal and acceptable to transport African men and women packed in ships with conditions so dreadful that many died on the way. More recently, many Germans voted for Adolf Hitler, who finally exterminated six million Jewish human beings and others  in death camps scattered across Europe. In fact, the legal slave trade was finally outlawed.  And the Nazis were defeated. Whenever and wherever evil prevails, God always finds a group of faithful believers who honor Christ and stand tall- often when they are badly outnumbered.

2. Hollywood celebrities are rich and famous because they are good at pretending to be someone else. Just because they make fun movies doesn’t mean they make good decisions.  Be sure to consider the life a person lives in private before you allow his public opinions to find a home in your heart.  Beauty fades quickly but wisdom sticks around and finally makes a difference.

3. The true measure of life is not popularity.  When Christ was nailed to the cross, it surely appeared he was completely alone and hopelessly on the wrong side of history.  In fact, he prevailed because he based his life on reality rather than appearances. If you root your decisions in truth from a timeless authority, your life will still make a difference when the fads and fashions of 2015 look as dumb and dopey to future generations as clothes from the 1960’s now appear to you.

Feel free to share your feedback with me.  I’ll return with three more nuggets in a week or so. In the  meantime, lift up the cross!


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