Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Impeaching Dead Presidents

APOTHEOSIS OF GEORGE

Mood swings are part of the human condition.  So it’s no surprise that the history of the human race is also marked by wild, irrational tides sweeping in extreme directions. Back in 1863, Americans wanted to honor George Washington prominently in the newly completed US Capitol building.  A renowned artist was commissioned to paint a fresco on the underside of the capitol dome.  Today you can still marvel at The Apotheosis of George Washington that depicts the first president elevated to the status of a god and seated among divine beings in the heavens.  Don’t miss the point: he’s seated in Heaven as a god, not a saint!

It’s a majestic fresco, but I’ve always hated it.  There’s only one God and his name is not George.  Indeed, Mr. Washington was a modest man who would never have tolerated such an irreverent comparison during his lifetime.  But by the 1860’s the country was emotionally charged, war drums were already pounding, and the impeccable character of the late first president was one of few things everyone could agree on.

So it’s painful to see angry mobs running toward the other extreme today.  We all agree that slavery is the darkest blot on the history of our nation, and it’s on the record that George Washington was one of many who owned slaves in the colonies.  Amazingly, even some well-educated Americans have actually been caught up in the delusion that this sin outweighs everything else the man ever did.  It matters not that he fought to win our liberty, or served as a unifying first president, or even that he refused to be crowned king for life! The rumbling has already begun that statues must come down; schools and institutions must be renamed.  To some, George Washington is nothing more than a despised human trafficker and a disgrace.

As Christians, you and I appreciate the simple principle that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Even saints have sinned.  The only reason any of us can ever stand before God hopeful and unashamed is that someone has carried our condemnation for us.  Christ has exchanged his righteousness for our fetid rags of guilt and shame. That’s why Scripture never conceals the fact that David committed adultery with the wife of one of his oldest and most loyal generals.  Worse still, he finally ordered the death of that trusted friend in order to conceal the illicit pregnancy and claim the woman for himself.  How can it be that God is a holy God and yet David can be described as a man after His own heart?  Grace is messy.

So it’s actually ungodly to demand that capable leaders must also be morally flawless in order to serve their country.  Nobody is.  That explains why a woman caught in adultery walked away unharmed after Jesus concurred with her death sentence, but insisted the first stone should be cast by someone who had never sinned.

It’s also outrageous and irrational to judge historical figures by present day standards that evolved in a different environment decades later.  Many of us in 2017 are offended by President Roosevelt’s order that Japanese-Americans should be rounded up and relocated at the onset of World War II, but we have the advantage of knowing how everything turned out.  He made that call in different circumstances under unimaginable pressure. We cringe when we read about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but President Truman had to sign that order back in 1945 having been advised that the military invasion of Japan could result in another 4 million casualties and 800,000 additional deaths among US fighting forces.  Wouldn’t it be grand if you and I could delay all our hard choices fifty years until we could confirm how everything had turned out?

The desire to erase painful national history is rooted in ignorance and immaturity. History is dead and gone, for better or worse.  Bad history doesn’t enslave and destroy people, but bad memory can.  There’s a reason we build Holocaust Museums.  We say “Never Forget,” so that it will never be tolerated again.  The same should be true of slavery.  Let’s not deceive ourselves with the illusion that great people are not capable of serious mistakes.  We all are.

The irony here is so rich.  Matthew 7 doesn’t actually command us not to judge other people, as is commonly suggested.  In context, it reminds us not to judge unfairly; not to hold others to unrealistic standards we could never meet in our own lives.  Christ’s warning is that people who judge unfairly will be held to the same unjust standards.  So the angry idealists assailing Washington and Jefferson are doing precisely what the Bible warns against.   Witch hunts can feel unifying and even satisfying in the moment.  They invariably lead to painful history, easier to prevent than erase.

And lift up the Cross!

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REAL RACISTS

Wait!  Hold on! What’s happening here?  Until a week ago, the most frequently quoted Bible verse in these United States was “Judge not that you be not judged.”  It was the logical destination of every conversation about bad behavior and moral living.

Suddenly everybody’s racing to judge the racists who carried Tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. The President of the United States quickly condemned the evil and bigotry that unraveled into fighting and thuggery, but he was universally assailed for not specifically denouncing the white supremacists, neo-Nazi’s, and the Alt-Right.  The hue and cry became such an avalanche that even Wal-Mart issued a statement demanding more passionate condemnation. Bloggers and columnists and celebrities are stumbling over one another to judge bigots and Klansmen in the most absolute terms possible! We keep hearing the same talking points: there must be no place in America for people like this!

Whatever happened to tolerance?

A poll conducted by the Barna Organization last year found 74% of Millennials agree with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.”  Overall, 57% of American adults agree that determining right and wrong is a matter of personal experience.”  The bottom line is that there are no moral absolutes: what’s right is what’s right for you.

This prevailing ethos practiced by most Americans leaves no room for being honestly intolerant of racists, much less judging them in public.  You don’t know their experiences. You have no idea what kind of bigotry they’ve suffered.  You don’t even know if they’re secretly overcompensating for secret shame over gender issues or sexual addiction. Maybe their hatred for racial minorities because of self-loathing that’s been building up for years.  What if all they need is understanding?  Haven’t we told that love is the answer for Jihadi’s who stock up bombs and weapons to kill civilians?  Surely there’s enough love to go around for a few neo-Nazi’s, too.

The universal spiritual mantra of 2017 America demands tolerance.  Judge not that you be not judged.

If there is no universal evil that’s always wrong, are we denouncing racism because it’s unfashionable?  And if we do agree that racism is an absolute, moral evil, that raises a logical question.  What else?  Once you acknowledge one sin that is always worthy of condemnation, might there be others?  And what if you never act out your racism, but only harbor that resentment in your heart? Isn’t it still a sin?  God says it is.

In case you’re wondering, I denounce racism, white supremacy, neo-Nazism in the strongest terms possible, and call upon hateful people to repent of their evil. That’s a consistent position for me because Christ has taught me there are moral absolutes. Like others who follow Him, I recognize that racism, hatred, greed, and lust are all tragic symptoms of a more fundamental problem: sin.  Sin destroys lives; not only the lives of those who practice iniquity but innocent bystanders around them as well.  We have been taught to hate the sin, but love the sinner.  We believe that the grace of God can transform the most twisted and evil life.  We encourage all sinners to confess their sins and turn to the One and Only Son of God.

I am proud to stand in unity with my black fellow Americans when they suffer bigotry or fear for the safety of their sons and daughters.  I have marched in Martin Luther King Day parades, and have demonstrated against the KKK in their hometown, Pulaski, Tennessee. I have ministered in Soweto, South Africa when it was an unelectrified ghetto crammed with disenfranchised black South Africans.  My church partners with a school in one of the toughest districts in Washington, DC. Sometimes speaking up is not enough. You have to show up.

But I am not willing to stand with all the trendy, hypocrites posturing to look relevant, gain social currency, or make a profit by jumping on the Outrage Train that’s racing around the cultural universe today. When condemnation feels this good, it’s usually a bad thing. Are we doing this because it makes us feel superior?  If we don’t believe there are moral absolutes, it’s sheer hypocrisy to condemn the behavior of others we don’t understand. And if I’m convinced there are God-given standards of right and wrong, why do I only speak out when the popular media grant me permission?  The voices against injustice that count most are those that dare to cry out in the wilderness when others cower in silence.

I hope you’ll join me in praying for the family of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was tragically run down near the rally in Virginia.  Please also pray for the families of two Virginia state police officers who died in a helicopter crash monitoring the violence that followed.  Today’s news is all outrage, all the time! There’s seldom been a world more desperate for Good News?  For such a time as this, you and I were brought into the Kingdom.

Lift up the Cross!

The Mad Dash for Last

RACING FOR LAST

The difference between music and noise is rhythm.  That’s true whether you listen to hip hop or hymns. Beyond the notes and scales and measures, the basic idea of tempo is so critical that there are more than sixteen different Italian words for the pace of a melody. Allegro makes the heart race with joy, while adagio calls for calm and unhurried tranquility.  The fermata looks like a bird’s eye, and it commands the musician to rest.  The pause is placed there for a purpose.

Rhythm is also the difference between mere existence and a purposeful, satisfying human life.  The Creator who engineered the human body designed it with different speeds for changing seasons, and he not only suggests a regular fermata: he requires it.  The Ten Commandments set aside one whole day each week for a break in the action in order to rest in God.  Later the Gospels recount the life of God’s Son, who extended this invitation to us all: “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There’s labor.  But there’s also rest.

That small still voice of God makes a lot of sense when you occasionally detect it, but it’s more commonly drowned out by the roar of 21st Century voices screaming from the bleachers.  Go for it!  Don’t look back!  Do it all night!  No time to Wait!  No stopping us now!  We are a generation hooked on speed. There is no such thing as enough.  We have convinced ourselves that rest is impossible unless we get away.

A friend of mine confesses, “I don’t know how to relax!  Even when I force myself to slow down and do nothing, the things I should be doing make me tense and anxious.”  My buddy has a spiritual problem but his name is Legion. I know this because sometimes I have the same problem.  It’s a heart condition that’s as common as dirt.  But it’s not irreversible.

Sunday was not set apart for the saints because churches needed a whole day for worship.  Rather, the Day of Rest reminds us that human beings need a whole day to renew our spirits, sharpen our focus, re-energize our hearts, and lead families to delight in the Lord.  We need a day to capture visions.  We require a day for reflection on our decisions and dreams of our future.  The Lord’s Day is a testimony: the most important assets in life are produced by God’s labor, not our own.

The idea of pausing to wait upon the Lord is central to everything we do and believe in the Church.  It speaks of our confidence in the Gospel: Christ accomplishing what we can only trust him for.  It underscores our conviction that we are body and soul; that the soul requires nurture as well.  When the French Revolutionaries of 1793 conspired to eradicate the hated Christian Faith once and for all, they abolished the seven day week. Those firebrands were convinced if they could obscure Sunday as just another day, the faith would weaken and die.  It was, of course, their strange new calendar that died, and only twelve years later.  But they were right about one thing: the Lord’s Day should be sacred to his people.

It would probably require another radical revolution to recover that unique role of Sunday here in the USA.  Sadly, the Lord’s Day has become Football Night in America, more associated more with the interceptions than the resurrections. But thinking Christians like you and me would be wise to rediscover the power of reverence and rest; and reclaim the sacred place of Sundays in our lives.  Whenever I discipline myself for stillness simply to be present, I am surprised anew by the presence of God, who has been waiting in the stillness all along.  Shabbat.

Lift up the Cross!

 

 

 

Starry Eyed for Islam

STARRY EYED FOR ISLAM

Why does the American Left feel so much affection for Islam?  It’s a question often raised but seldom answered.  It seems impossible to explain the passionate bond that has been forged between US liberals who demand sexual freedom and a religion that compels women to wear burkas and condemns homosexuals.  Where is the common ground between irreligious leftists who demonstrate for world peace and a religion founded by a military leader whose armies waged wars of conquest for centuries?

Twenty years ago, the Left was horrified by Christian men who attended Promise Keepers rallies. The idea of a married woman voluntarily respecting the leadership of her loving husband was an affront to the core ideals of the American left even then.  Two decades later, the same feminists who still denounce Evangelicals as “woman haters” remain strangely silent about the segregation of Muslim women from public events, or the ban against their voting or even driving in some Islamic nations.  Reasonable people might ask, “What gives?”

There’s a simple answer.  Western intellectuals are determined they will not be distracted by a secondary issue like Islam when they are finally poised to vanquish their historic foe, the Christian Faith, once and for all.  It has taken a generation to sexualize and secularize the entertainment industry that once made epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments the standard for great entertainment.  It was a monumental struggle to gradually remove all references to God or the Bible from public schools and the public square.  The activists of the secular left have paid their dues in the culture war against God for decades. Then just when it seemed like Christendom was ready to collapse, some unwitting Muslim extremists hijacked four commercial jets and Islam came crashing into the national debate!

How do you maintain the outrage when you spend decades warning about Christian intolerance, only to have another religious group suddenly steal the headlines by hacking off the heads of infidels and blowing up innocents?  You blame it on the Crusades.  One can hardly fault those poor young men from Saudi Arabia for striking back when sadistic Christians started it all 1,000 years ago. (The first Crusaders were deployed to defend pilgrims to Jerusalem from attacks and hostage taking at the hands of people who revered Mohammed. But let’s not be distracted by details.)

Secular progressives are apparently determined to drive their final stake in the heart of Christianity and seal that historic tomb once and for all.  This is no time to be distracted by Islamic extremists suddenly arriving on the scene.  In fact, Jihadis don’t like Christians either, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That’s how the religious Pharisees and the decadent Herodians bridged their mutual disgust in the First Century: Jesus was a threat to them all.

It’s tolerance with an expiration date, of course.  I believe the lords of Western culture are convinced that once they have  annihilated the Christian Faith and its ethical system, they can make short work of those poor, benighted fanatics from the Middle East.  If values-free education won’t do it, they’ll convince them that abortion is the most effective way to fight poverty.  There will be more momentum for all of that once that unsinkable Church of Jesus Christ is sunk once and for all.

This is no cause for hand wringing or a pity party among American believers.  Saints in China and India are suffering fiery persecution. Here is the West, we’ve been gored by our own golden calf.  We wanted the bling.  We were willing to be seduced by the siren call of Success. While the activists on the left went after hearts and minds, we were too busy with work and church to win anybody to Christ. We traded away our birthright for a sequined pot of designer stew, and now the world refuses to give it all back.  In fact, they wish we’d just drop dead, and they’re willing to help.

But the Gospel is about resurrection!  You and I must honor God and rediscover how the salt of the earth can change the flavor of the culture. For this reason, we love our enemies tirelessly.  We pray for those who persecute us.  One thing hasn’t changed: the Gospel still resonates in the broken human heart, and there are broken hearts scattered all across our secular wasteland.  So don’t be filled with resentment: be filled with the Spirit.

And lift up the Cross!

That Bloody Grace

 

DUNKIRK BOAT

The motion picture Dunkirk recaptures the story of how grace transformed a colossal military blunder during World War II into a historic rescue of epic proportions.  It appeared to be a moment that would cost Britain the war. More than 300,000 British and French soldiers and sailors found themselves trapped on a beach at Dunkirk, encircled by a tightening noose of Nazi troops and tank brigades intent on slaughtering them all.

An opening caption from the movie explains they were waiting for deliverance; hoping for a miracle. Their answered prayer would arrive in the form of some 700 small, privately owned boats shuttling warriors away from imminent disaster over a few days and nights.  It was a costly miracle; unarmed fishermen, merchants, and school teachers risking everything- and some losing it all– for the warriors who had marched off to war to save them in the first place.

That dimension of grace- the ominous, terrifying part– explains why we who call ourselves Evangelicals can seem so false, so inauthentic, to a skeptical world. With a wink and a smile, we sometimes reduce the extravagant gift of God to a free toy in a box of cereal. We are quick to argue that our salvation is better than recreational drugs, more thrilling than immoral sex, more satisfying than a meal at a five-star restaurant.  And God has tossed it into the box for free if you’ll say a prayer and come to church.  Open up the box, find your free gift inside, and you’ll be hap-hap-happy forevermore.

If that doesn’t sound very convincing to thoughtful people, it’s no wonder.  It’s not even persuasive to religious types who sometimes prefer not to think.

I once participated in a popular ministry that trained believers for evangelism.  It was organized around a simple outline that explained the wonder of grace, the sacrifice of Christ, and the urgency of repentance and faith.  In case a listener should confess Christ, there was a simple prayer of faith.  That was followed immediately by a brief recap of the Gospel along with directives to read the Bible and watch out for Satan.

I once heard a trainee ask a leader, “Why are the attacks by Satan not mentioned until after the personal commitment?”  The leader replied, “Well, we don’t want to discourage people.”  Maybe that’s why they become disillusioned and drop out later.  Where is all that uninterrupted peace and joy, anyhow?

I suspect skeptical Millennials and Generation Z will demand full disclosure. The gospel delivers followers of Jesus Christ to a higher quality of life, but not a perpetual Happy Hour.  Faith is not a Safe Zone; it’s never far from danger. Christians live as though something is at stake because it is.  Something very important is on the line.  Worship is a celebration, but godly living happens on a spiritual battlefield.  It’s messy.  We are compelled by love to get our hands dirty. Ask any parent: real love really hurts.

If the saga of Dunkirk remains deeply fascinating today, it’s not because the boats were so small or so numerous.  Most of those vessels had traveled the Channel before. Dunkirk captures the imagination and inspires us today because a profound catastrophe on a massive scale was about to explode on that beach in France; and because so many who could have looked away were willing, instead, to choose love over safety.  Amazing grace is always about someone who has chosen love over safety.

The battlefield where Jesus Christ won the day for us was splattered with his blood. It followed years of rejection, inconvenience, and sacrifice.  Christ even warned his disciples that very soon they, too, would be arrested, hounded, threatened, and put to death (Matthew 24:9.)  It hardly sounds like a Carribean cruise, does it?

The Lord practiced transparency: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The grace of God is deep and awesome.  It reaches us in our darkest moments of despair.  It transports us to a life of purpose, satisfaction, celebration, friendship, and adoration. But the moments in the mountains are particularly delightful because the months in the valleys test our faith to the limits. Ultimately our saving faith is like gold, which can only be refined by fire, but which becomes more precious after it is purified.  And one day we arrive in Heaven!

So give ’em the whole gospel!  Let them see that those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. And lift up the Cross!

 

The Fearless Embrace

LiL RED RIDING HOOD

Who will you be today: the champion you dream of being or the person you’re afraid you are?

For most people who feel trapped on the hamster wheel of mediocrity, the problem is not lack of talent or bad luck or even bad fashion instincts.  You don’t have to make a million dollars or win America’s Got Talent to climb out of life’s overcrowded basement and create some excitement.  Consider this: God can indeed do more than you ask or imagine, but there must be a reason he gave you a brain and a heart!

There is hidden wisdom often overlooked in the biblical account of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18.)  In just moments, Elijah confidently calls down literal fire from heaven after his pagan competitors have waved their hands and prayed all morning but to no avail.  The courageous prophet clearly believes in God as he scores his historic victory over the queen’s cronies.  But only one chapter later, still believing in the God of Israel, Elijah can be found cowering among the rocks, trembling in fear, and hiding from Jezebel.  How do you explain the difference?

Quite obviously, the things Elijah believes about God are unchanged from his success on the mountain to his humiliation in the cave one chapter later.  What’s different about his defeat is that our hero has permitted the alarm bells and warning lights of emotion to overshadow the calm voice of his Wonderful Counselor. He allows fake news to send him spinning into a panic attack.

That’s how fear takes charge in a life of faith.  I lose my traction and give in to those voices that warn disaster is about to strike; I will fail miserably at this new venture; I am not equipped for the destiny God has set before me; and more basically, I am just a screw-up! Lies don’t need credibility in order to cast their spell: they just need some poor sucker to welcome them in unchallenged.

Who will you be today: the person of influence you dream of being or the shmuck you’re afraid you are?  That world renowned philosopher Anonymous sums it up this way: “Never be afraid to try your hand at something new.  Amateurs built the Ark. Professionals built the Titanic.”

When fear and insecurity threaten to shout down your brightest ambitions, pause and take a deep breath.  Then ask yourself:

  • Is that frightening idea positively, universally true?  Is The End of the World as you know it literally the only possible outcome?
  • How does that unlikely idea make you behave?
  • How will your life be different if you crush that irrational idea today and give God some room to work?

Embrace your calling!  Faith and fearlessness are a winning combination.  One opens the windows of heaven; the other slams the door on emotional hysteria that drives you away from ambition and adventure. You and I must lock and load the promises of Christ (John 14:27.) “Peace I leave with you, my parting gift to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Cast your fears to the wind, and lift up the Cross!

 

Nobody Dies Here Today!

A DROWNING PREVENTED

“Is there a shark in the water?  What’s everyone looking at?”  The spectators on Panama City Beach were transfixed by the unfolding horror of an entire family being swept out to sea. Nine members of the Ursrey family had been caught up in a powerful riptide and cast helplessly into fifteen feet of dark, turbulent waves. Their cries of terror barely reached the shore.

A few men rushed into the sea and began to link arms.  Quickly others went racing out to join them.  Within minutes, a human chain began to take shape in the midst of the chaos. People who could not swim joined hands in a surf rising to their necks. Swimmers paddled out to the end to link arms.  Soon eighty men and women had instinctively orchestrated a human lifeline nearly 100 yards long.  They reached the imperiled victims and, one by one, passed them safely back to dry land.

One of the older members of the Ursrey clan suffered a heart attack but recovered at a nearby hospital.  Another swimmer was treated for a broken arm. Everyone went home alive.

The whole scene struck me as such a vivid picture of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Most of the eighty individuals who made the rescue possible could have done nothing on their own.  Many could not even swim, and others could not have managed the tide that day. But united in one great purpose, each did what he or she could do and lives were snatched from despair and destruction.

Jessica Simmons and her husband were among the bystanders who were so quick to respond.  Grabbing an abandoned boogie board she’d just spotted on the beach, she went rushing to the scene, ignoring the grim voices warning, “Don’t go out there!”  She had already resolved, “Those people are not drowning today. It’s not going to happen.  We will get them out.”

Jessica and her seventy-nine fellow heroes were driven by something sorely missing in the Church today: urgent compassion.  Death and condemnation are not the most effective conversation starters in reaching out to our lost friends and neighbors, but those two painful realities should quietly drive us to talk, to intervene, to build bridges. You and I are surrounded by people at risk but we typically seem far more concerned about sunscreen and cold drinks than the fate of people we love.

I’ve gotta resolve in my heart: “Nobody goes to Hell if I can help it.  It’s not going to happen.  I’ve got this.”  I have to pray, drawing down some fire from Heaven.  And then I have to find opportunities and step up to say something about Christ or His Kingdom.

Thankfully, Roberta Ursrey can’t even recall the most terrifying moments of her ordeal at sea.  But she easily remembers the chain of determined faces and the strong hands that tirelessly passed her family members to safety.  “These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time,” she said afterward.”  If most people don’t believe in angels anymore, it’s because they don’t see them very often.  As Jesus followers, you and I can fix that problem.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all.”  2 Corinthians 5:14.

Lift up the Cross!

For the actual news report, see nwfdailynews.com

 

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