Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘are christians always happy’

That Bloody Grace



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 Lies We Love; the Truth We Need


There are logical reasons why someone might choose to live a lie.  You can imagine people who cannot face up to the way they lived in the past; still others others who fear people would reject them if they shared the truth about themselves today.  But I suppose the worst excuse for lying to yourself would be in the name of Jesus. Not only we they suffer the consequences of practicing self-deceit, but we frequently drag family, friends and even churches along for the nightmare as well!

Here are 3 popular lies that followers of Christ should confess and get over:

“It’s not a problem.  I’m fine, seriously. Praise the Lord!” Trusting the Father’s purposes and power doesn’t mean that life never hurts.  God’s perfect will can be incredibly painful!  If you don’t believe that, ask Paul or Simon Peter or Stephen… or Jesus! When life delivers a major blow to your health or your family or your plans, you can acknowledge how disappointing it feels at the moment, even while you trust God to turn lemons into lemonade.  Jesus did not lose one ounce of his perfection when he prayed through his emotions about the cross just before his arrest.  He had emotions because he was human.

Faith is not reflected in false smiles and platitudes.  Before Paul discovered that God can be glorified in our weakness, he asked Him three times to take away his thorn in the flesh. At least twice, he was disappointed.  The church would be a healthier place if we all learned how to grieve over our disappointments rather than taking our frustrations out on friends when we’re actually angry at God.

“Of course, I’ll be glad to pray about that with you.” I don’t know many people who boast about their amazing memory.  In fact, I find that most people keep calendars, and to do lists, and all kinds of reminders because they are afraid of forgetting things.  That’s why I am mystified by all the people around churches who gladly accept dozens of personal prayer requests in a morning without ever writing any of them down!  Do most of us really enjoy such instant recall that we later retrieve a dozen random prayer concerns that came our way during the morning?

What kind of jerk refuses prayer requests,right?  Well, there are alternatives to being either a louse or a liar.  Between those two extremes, there’s wisdom to be found in saying, “Hey, let’s just pray about it now.”  Then pause and pray on the spot.  Otherwise, you and I should use a notepad or smart phone to jot down requests we promised to remember later. Jesus said my yes should mean yes, and my no should mean no.  Just a thought.

“I don’t need to love my enemies.  I don’t have any enemies.” Isn’t it ironic that Jesus encountered bitter adversaries at every turn, but you and I have only friends and acquaintances?  No wonder Christ explained, “A servant is not greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”  Anyone who walks in faith with Christ will sooner or later encounter critics, opponents, assailants, and traitors.  Blanket amnesty with a phony smile will not suffice.  You will need to pray for them frequently, intentionally release your hostility toward them, and constantly refuse the emotional narcotic of victim status.

True forgiveness is not impossible, but it’s not easy either.  And the hard work of forgiveness begins with the truth that people have hurt you in word or deed, and that you do have anger to process.  Part of spiritual warfare is trusting the Spirit to help you deal with rage that simmers just below the surface.  Forgiveness means acting out God’s grace through faith one day at a time until if finally becomes real in relationship.

No more lies.  Let’s be the kind of saints who live like the Truth will really set us free.

And lift up the Cross!



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