Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

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!

 

BEHIND BARS

I lost my enthusiasm for capital punishment just about a decade ago.  For most of my life, I had assumed the death penalty must be okay because it has the Old Testament stamp of approval.  Then as I was doing some research for a Bible Study on John 8, Christ’s defense of the woman caught in adultery struck a nerve.

Don’t misunderstand: Christ never condemns capital punishment.  He came to fulfill the Old Covenant, not abandon it.  But when a “lynch mob” approaches the Lord asking for his verdict on a woman they’ve just caught in adultery, he apparently notices the injustice the narrative makes so clear.  If the woman is guilty because she was actually caught in the act of adultery, where is the man who was obviously in bed with her?

Jesus seems to affirm capital punishment when he suggests it’s okay to follow through and stone her.  But he adds that telling caveat, “But let one of you who has never sinned cast the first stone.” (John 8:7)  This underscores the problem of selective condemnation; a practice he denounces on other occasions as well.

  • Don’t condemn others for sinful behavior you practice as well.
  • Don’t destroy someone else for an offense you have often committed in your heart.
  • And of course, the clear implication here is that we shouldn’t execute a woman caught in adultery if we allow her partner in sin to walk away in freedom.

To borrow a phrase from American liberalism, capital punishment should be legal but rare.  (I feel the same way about war.) It should be rare because compelling DNA evidence and reliable eye witnesses are frequently not available.  Because of faulty memories, political pressures, and lingering racism, it’s apparently not so hard for an innocent man to find himself locked away on in an American prison.  It’s bad enough to lose twenty years of your life for a crime you didn’t commit; worse still to be rushed off into eternity with no chance to ever correct that injustice.

Of all people, Christians should be most sensitive to the possibility of an innocent victim being wrongly convicted and sentenced to lethal injection or a firing squad or a cross.  It happened to Jesus.  What’s more, in recent years groups like the Innocence Project have seen dozens of wrongfully accused men and women finally set free from prisons- some from death row.

I suppose extreme measures could still be legal for profound cruelty that goes beyond the pale.  A civilized society might decide to execute serial killers or terrorists who brutally murder scores of innocent victims.  A nation does have divine authority to wage war and execute justice in defense of its citizens.  One might draw a bright clear line in the sand, but the standards for imposing capital punishment should be more bullet proof than those for sending someone to prison. The evidence should leave no doubt the defendant is absolutely the one.

So I’m troubled by the news from Arkansas that eight inmates are about to be executed in 11 days before the state’s supply of potassium chloride expires.  The governor says it’s necessary; that many of these men have occupied death row cells for more than twenty years.  Perhaps, but it looks like a celebration of death by government. It naturally arouses the dread that destroying eight human lives with a hasty deadline in mind must surely increase the odds that a wrongly accused man gets the ax.

Okay, maybe that’s emotional, but I get emotional about unborn babies as well. We’re talking about human life here. And it seems to me that the sanctity of human life relates to more than the issue of who is responsible for what happens to a human in a womb. Being pro-life means I also care about what happens to a human being in a death row holding cell. If there is a chance he’s an innocent man, it’s unjust and irreverent to impose a penalty that could never be corrected.

Lift up the Cross!

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!

11135590_m (1)

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!

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!

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!

 

Tag Cloud