Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

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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!

Doctor! Doctor!

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Everybody agrees God is a loving God.  That’s a distinctive teaching  of the Bible; not Hinduism or Buddhism or Taoism, and certainly not Islam.  In the face of ancient people who had been taught their gods were petty, indifferent, impersonal or always in a rage, God has made scriptural promises like, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

But where did we get this lame idea that God is a magical doctor with a pill for every pain, and a prescription for every problem?  I happened to visit my doctor (seriously) for a check up today. He loves Jesus so we always wind up talking about the Father and the faith.  He mentioned the Christian priest from India who was crucified by ISIS on Good Friday.  Then a couple of days later, the Taliban bombed a church in Pakistan during Easter worship: eighty Christians died instantly.  What about that?

  • Here in America, we run to God with the slightest inconvenience, at the first hint of a dark clouds on some distant horizon.
  • We justify this by insisting God wants us to talk to Him about everything. He loves me so much that he will give me a parking place at a crowded mall if I pray, right?
  • The principle here is not that God cares more about martyred saints in distant lands than he does about the minor issues of life in America.
  • What’s wrong here is that I care more about my little irritations and emotional mood swings than I do about the life and death catastrophes facing other believers in very real places at this moment.  Are they family or not?
  • Would I ever be willing to suffer profoundly for the eternal good of others and the advance of the Kingdom of Light?
  • The truth is that my instant-answers god-therapist rushing in to fix every problem if I complain in faith is a creature of fantasy, not the God of the Bible.

“Hey God, my boss refuses to give me a raise, and he’s warned me not to talk about my faith at the office!  This is persecution!  What are YOU going to do about it?”  No wonder God is often silent.  Our self-indulgence doesn’t deserve a reply from the God of Creation.

It’s so embarrassing, but so true: the American religion really is therapeutic, moralistic deism.  That is, if I believe that God is real and if I try to be nice, he will protect me from all pain and suffering, and provide an instant miracle-cure for any discomfort that might befall me!  I don’t need God to be good and certainly not to be happy.  I just need him in a pinch.  He is my eternal EASY button.

  • It’s not just them, it’s me too.
  • Sometimes I find myself whining about some human slight and praying for a pill.

I could remind myself, “It could be worse.”  But faith promises, “It will be better. Just endure for a while.”  Small souls compare their suffering to the plight of others, but large souls have a different perspective. After years of arrest and beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, snake bites, and other close calls, Paul had this to say: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Faith is truth forged by fire in human hearts.  Courage is a motivating force , but faith is made of sterner stuff.  Faith makes the soul bullet proof.

Where was God when they nailed that unshaken Indian saint to a cross on Friday? The same place he was when they nailed His only begotten Son to a cross on Good Friday. He was ruling the heavens; shaping history to enlarge His Kingdom and save the whole world. That’s the best thing a loving Father could do.  It will be better.  So I have resolved to endure for a while.

And lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Doomed. We’re Busy.

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Go ahead: You tell him just to be brave when ISIS returns.

We call it persecution when Macy’s bids us “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas!”  In places like Iraq and Syria, persecution is what happens when masked terrorists arrive with machine guns to burn your village, crucify the men, rape the women and kidnap the children.

The saints in Muslim lands don’t begrudge us our freedom or even our prosperity. But they must occasionally wonder why we are deeply offended when a famous actor in Hollywood is snubbed by the Oscars, but hardly notice when Christian brothers and sisters are burned and decapitated in Syria.

Here are ways you can get involved and show you care:

1: PUSH. Pray for saints in Muslim lands as you’d pray for your own son or sister in similar circumstances.  Pray for divine intervention that God would be glorified; pray for boldness; intercede for the conversion of their captors; pray for a miracle. PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens!

2. Get Informed.  The Wilberforce Initiative, led in part by Congressman Frank Wolfe, is actively involved in making contacts, providing resources, and uniting Christians everywhere on behalf of the persecuted church in the Middle East.  Visit their site at  http://www.21wilberforce.org/syria-under-siege.html

3.Give.  Two trustworthy ministries you should consider:

4. Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and ask the President to address the Christian Holocaust unleashed by ISIS.

5. Contact your representative in Congress.  Visit http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

6. Contact your senator. Visit http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Lift up the Cross!

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