Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘Bible Study’

Bad Theology & Bitter Church People

BREAKING BAD

Most of us roll our eyes at the first mention of theology; we make jokes about theologians chasing black cats in a dark room. But in fact, we are all theologians. Theology is simply what we believe about God. And while those ideas may be invisible or mysterious, they are so real that others can infer what we believe about the Almighty by watching the way we live. So try this on for size: bad theology is the reason many church people are grumpy on the outside and bitter on the inside.

For instance, take these three false and utterly un-biblical ideas about faith that are found everywhere in the church today.

  • Many church people believe God is obligated to keep us comfortable throughout all of life because of our faith, The most commonly heard response to tribulation is two words: why me.
  • There’s this widespread notion that we are entitled to understand the rationale for every painful thing God does because we have faith.  If I can’t figure out what God is doing, it can’t possibly make sense in Heaven!
  • And finally, we believe that faith guarantees we must always succeed in everything we touch.  Not even the shadow of failure can ever cross our lives! Everything I do has surely earned the blessings of God, right?

Now consider what the Sons of Korah said about true faith in Psalm 46.1 – 3.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah.”

The psalmist doesn’t insist this life must be trouble free.  To the contrary, he finds strength and refuge in his God who is there for him when life is agonizing and threatening.  Likewise, he clings to no guarantee that the earth will never give way when the mountains are thrust into the sea.  That has already happened in the Bible… in the first book… to a godly man named Noah!  Rather, the boast of the writers of the psalms is that if the earth should fall away again or the mountains should be covered in water once more, they will not fear.  Rather, their faith in God’s strength will be constant.

We see life from a different point of view; one we did not derive from the pages of God’s Word.  We have made this false assumption that faith is the promise of constant comfort, complete understanding, and routine success.  When it doesn’t happen, we look for people to blame.  We point fingers at family and friends; at leaders at church or bad translations; at luck, and karma and a hundred other lame superstitions.  And we grow bitter. Callouses begin to form around the heart. Ultimately we have to blame God, like it or not.  Worship is no longer so interesting when our illusions have crashed to the ground; people who haven’t also lost all hope are a nuisance and a threat.

The same myths and lies that can sound so motivating on a cheery Sunday morning, like the heresy that God is compelled to bless token generosity by making you a millionaire, leave people disappointed and burned out when they crash and burn on blue Monday. And they will always disintegrate one way or another because they are promises God has never made.

Test your attitudes about faith and adversity.  When it seems an idea you had about God has left you in the lurch, sit down and find where you ever found that notion.  Is it a scriptural principle or just another cultural fantasy?  There’s a reason Proverbs 4:23 directs us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  It doesn’t mean be careful who you love.  It means be careful what you believe.  Insist on Truth.  Search the scriptures and pray.

Lift up the Cross!

The World’s Last Christmas

CHRISTMAS CROSS

How would you celebrate if you knew this would be your final Christmas on Earth? Would your fond traditions from the past be enough or would you honor the birth of Christ in a new way, perhaps a more meaningful way?  How would you do it differently if you were certain you would never do Christmas again?

I only raise this question because the signs of the times are unsettling, eerily prophetic.  Here’s how Jesus describes the days leading up to his return to the planet: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21: 25 – 27)

Whenever prophets allude to ominous signs in the heavens, they are generally forecasting chaos on the Earth- political, military and natural cataclysms that leave the world order in tatters.  If you’ve been paying attention lately you may have noticed some of the earth’s leading political powers are suddenly paralyzed, declining, or verging on financial collapse.  The only political force having their way in the world right now call themselves Isis: they are well-funded, tech savvy, and growing globally. Their legions are bringing back the slaughter of children and crucifixion!  For the first time in history, Revelation’s forecast of tragic events witnessed simultaneously by everyone on earth is not only possible but already fulfilled on a daily basis. Everywhere people are faint with fear and foreboding.

With that in mind, how would you want to mark your last Christmas before leaving for Heaven?  Would you complain about the burden of shopping, the curse of the crowds, and the cloying Christmas ballads recycled 24/7 by every radio station on the dial?  Or would you sing more joyfully, meet human needs all around you, care for the brokenhearted, and look for opportunities to talk about Christ more and decorations less? Would you do anything different on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?  Would you talk about things you have never talked about as a family? Would you make peace with relatives who have brought out the worst in you for years? You’d surely want this Christmas to be more intentional, truly one of a kind, but what would you change to make that happen?

God invented the incarnation of Christ, but people invented Christmas.  I doubt we’ll ever sing carols around a lighted tree in Heaven: Jesus was born here, but was always there.  If the Lord comes back in 2015, you and I will never celebrate Christmas again.  And when we do celebrate celestial holidays in heaven, there will be some familiar faces from the Earth who will be missing- unless something changes.

Smart people not only recognize the signs of the sky, but the signs of the times as well.  (Somebody we trust said that.) And the times they are a changing- going south fast. Even if Jesus doesn’t come back next year, he’s still watching this year; and he probably thinks some of my Christmas traditions are lame.  I can do better and I will this year.  So Merry Christmas and Maranatha: come again, Lord Jesus!

LIft up the Cross!

The Christian Brain, Part 3

I spotted a new bumper sticker for atheists last week: “God is too big for one Religion.”  You can expect this slogan to start showing up everywhere in the near future.  It will likely catch on because a) it feels good to give God props while dissing religion; b) secular Americans prefer feeling to thinking; and c) too many Christians fail to laugh at the folly of brainless ideas.

To weigh the honesty or dishonesty of the slogan in question, simply replace the religious terms with non-religious ideas.  Let’s try out a slogan like this: “Healing is too big for one Science.”  When you realize how vastly important health and wellness are, why in the world would you trust only one field like conventional medicine?  Think of all the other callings that are widely available and very sincere: voodoo, snake oil, magic spells, phrenology, bleeding, psychic surgery, positive thinking, therapeutic touch, and witch doctors!  Surely, there’s an element of truth in each of those pursuits!  Right?

Imagine hearing your own physician utter those fateful words: “You have an aggressive strain of cancer.”  Shocked and dazed, you respond, “So what are you thinking, Doc?  Will it be drug therapy or surgery?”  Then your doctor replies, “Don’t be so narrow minded! Cancer treatment is too big for one small field!  I’m going to recommend that you visit a root doctor in East Tennessee.  He treats everything from acne to hemorrhoids with roots, ashes and snake blood.  Here’s his address….”  Yeah, yeah, healing is a gigantic concept, but I’ll bet you quickly forget all about that root doctor as well as the blockhead who suggested you waste precious time with roots and ashes!

In the same way, most Americans are never going to try Buddhism or Hinduism or Zoroastrian religion.  God is big but most people aren’t clueless.  So let’s just confess that the notion of God being too big for one religion is actually an insult to the true God and all religious people.

  • If all religions are partially true, then all religions are mostly wrong.  Living as individuals in Heaven, merging with one great spirit, becoming a star in the cosmos, or eternally recycling from one life form to another cannot all be true. Contradictory ideas can all be equally correct only if they’re all absolutely wrong.
  • To be valid, the statement requires that God must be too small to reveal himself to anyone; too powerless to demand anything of anyone; too irrelevant to require accountability; too distracted to care about microscopic earthlings or what happens to them.
  • The message is this: “Respond to the Big, Big God any way you want or- if it’s more convenient- don’t bother to knock at all.  (Wink! Wink!) We’ve always known that people who waste their time with religion are dolts!”

So when some pseudo-philosopher tries to put you in your place with all this nonsense about a big god and small religions, just smile and reply, “Surely, you’re joking!”  They’re not joking but you should laugh all the same.

Lift up the Cross!

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Not long ago, it was just a popular jingle for cruise ships.  Now it describes a growing madness sweeping the world: “See people rocking — Hear people chanting — Feeling hot! Hot! Hot!  Keep up this spirit — Come on let’s do it — Feeling hot!  Hot!  Hot!”

With the creature comforts of prosperity slipping farther and farther away, the champions of tolerance, values clarification, and fulltime preschool enrollment for infants have awakened to discover this brave new world is hot! Hot! Hot!  The Arab Spring did nothing to bring about democracy in the Middle East, but it has inspired riots across Great Britain and in other European capitals as well!  In London last week, the police force actually lost control of the streets for entire evenings as buildings burned, stores were looted, and mayhem was committed against innocent bystanders.  There was nothing political about this.  These were not homeless people demanding food or foreign terrorists throwing firebombs.  Rather, these rabid slackers were young, homegrown Europeans who have no sense of spirituality, conscience or even civilization.  They know nothing of character or a moral compass.  In school, they were taught how to have safe sex and march for equality.  Now they are willing to take whatever they want by force.

It’s gotten so bad that Prime Minister David Cameron dared to use the “M” word a couple of days ago.  In a major address, he demanded, “We must reverse this moral collapse!”  Two decades ago, the cultural elites warned us that morals are destructive and restricting.  “Values” are more flexible and less confining.  Too late we have apparently discovered that riots are destructive, and maybe morals are good for something!

It brings to mind the sneering laughter of evil Emperor Ming from an old Flash Gordon cartoon, “Pathetic Earthlings!  Who will save you now?”

Sadly, mentioning morality in a speech is not nearly the same thing as cultivating faith and moral character among citizens and nations.  I suspect most of the young thugs burning down those European cities have no idea what “moral” means anyhow.  Unlike self-esteem, it hasn’t been in fashion in a long, long time. A speech requires half an hour.  Cultivating faith and character requires years of diligent parenting and grounded instruction.

Europe has been running away from its Christian heritage for more than a century.  Two years ago my son served an internship in Wales where he discovered the churches are all full of old people.  The only youthful faces ever spotted in the pews belong to the isolated sons and daughters of clergymen who must attend a summer camp for PK’s each year to enjoy peer fellowship with other believers their age.  Share your testimony with a student there and his first question will likely be, “What is ‘faith?'”

If the USA is superior at all, it’s simply because we’re two decades behind!  Even so, we breathlessly race ahead over the stepping stones that have led Europe to decline and despair.  Morality is archaic.  Marriage is obsolete.  Gay is good.  Gender is meaningless.  Sex is a toy.  Drugs are good for everything.  Hard work is to be avoided.  The Christian Faith is superstition.  Rules are made to be broken by the truly enlightened.  Until recently, all this cultural revolution felt so right.

We’ll explore this further next time we’re together.  For now, allow me to wrap this up with a warning we should have heeded fifty years ago.  There were voices in the wilderness crying out, but they were just “superstitious old fools.”  Here’s the old axiom: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  Proverbs 14:12 is the counsel Prime Minister Cameron is desperately searching to find.  It’s so close he could almost touch it.  I pray he doesn’t miss it.

Lift up the Cross!

He Can’t Change His Mind

It’s one of those thorny little questions that pop up from time to time.  Exodus 32 narrates the story of Aaron and the Golden Calf.  The whole incident is so insulting to the Most High God that he suggests he should wipe the Children of Israel off the face of the Earth.  But Moses intervenes, imploring God to show mercy to these poor fools.  And the King James Version of the Bible reports that God “repented” and spared the people.  Thinking men and women read this account and wonder, “Why does a holy and righteous God need to repent?  Did he sin?  Didn’t he know better?”

The Bible teaches that the Heavenly Father is completely trustworthy and fully reliable.  For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ assures us that not one of God’s teachings can fall to the ground until they are all fulfilled.  In Romans 3:4, Paul asserts that God must tell the truth, even if it makes all human beings out to be liars.  But the Bible goes even farther than that.  Both Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29 insist that God doesn’t lie; neither does he change his mind like human beings do.

This makes perfect sense to you and me.  We tend to change our minds when circumstances change and surprise us, or when we learn more information about a decision we have made.  But God never finds himself in this kind of situation.  Being omniscient, he already knows everything; not only the past, but the future as well.  Because this is true, it’s impossible for circumstances to surprise him.  Likewise, it’s impossible for someone who knows everything to suddenly acquire more information.  So when God makes a decision, it is not only true, but it is timeless as well.  God’s promises will stand the test of time because he already has all the answers to that eternal quiz!

So how can God repent or change his mind, as indicated in Exodus 32 and on a couple of other occasions in the Old Testament, as well?  The answer is more simple than you might imagine.  The Hebrew word translated “repent” in this particular passage can be legitimately translated in a variety of ways.  For example, in our own English language, the simple word “run” has many possible meanings.  You can run a mile.  Or you can run an advertisement in a publication. Or you can run an electrical wire from one room to another. What’s more, water can run from a faucet and refrigerators run on electricity.  Whether the word denotes traveling, printing, wiring, operating or flowing depends on the context.  Only in context can you know what the word finally means!

In the same way, the Hebrew word pronounced shaw-kham can mean to repent.  But it can also mean to comfort yourself, to relent, or to change course.  In Exodus 32:10, many translations explain that God thought about destroying the people, but after Moses intervened God relented.  In other words, God took one course of action until Moses rose to assert his responsibility for these stubborn people.  Upon hearing that, God relented and carried out Phase 2.  His first action was not evil.  And it was not a mistake, requiring that he should change his mind.  Rather, God did one thing first and then performed another action second.  To “repent” means to acknowledge a mistake or sin and change course.  To “relent” simply means to stop.  God often takes one action until he receives a desirable response, and then relents to initiate a second action.

Consider the Bible for example.  We don’t have a New Testament because the Old Testament was wrong.  God didn’t repent of the Old Covenant and launch a New Covenant with us.  Rather, God used the Old Testament to bring the people of Israel to a particular point in their spiritual journey.  Then when they were ready for the Messiah, he fulfilled the terms of the Old Covenant by sending Christ.  Now we are living in a New Testament that was founded on the Old.

God doesn’t sin and he doesn’t make mistakes.  He doesn’t lie, and he doesn’t need to change his mind.

Lift up the Cross!

Remembering Adam

Research suggests that most Americans still believe God created the heavens and the earth, but there’s a trendy new paradigm sweeping the church that reimagines how God might have done his work.  The new spin is called Theistic Evolution.  It a nutshell, it suggests that the Bible is true, but Darwin was correct as well.  The underlying assumption is that God relied on evolution to create the stars, the planets, the animals, as well as human beings over billions and billions of years.  A lot of believers are quite excited about this new possibility.  They assume that they can now identify themselves as Christians without being labeled morons and “flat earthers” by skeptics and unbelievers.

They’re wrong on two counts.  First, no matter what we might opine about evolutionary science, it’s the idea that Jesus Christ is the only way to God that has always brought the brickbats and insults flying in our direction.  Slap a Darwin bumper sticker alongside the  One Way sticker on your car and you’ll still look like a superstitious ignoramus to some people.

Secondly, champions of theistic evolution are also wrong about the Bible.  Science books change every decade or so as new ideas are developed which reverse the old ideas.  In fact, whenever new discoveries make the headlines, one of the most frequently used taglines insists “this rewrites everything we know about this field!”  Meanwhile, the Bible has remained faithful to God’s account of creation for more than three thousand years.  And the biblical concept of the fall of man does not sync with Darwin’s theory about the rise of man.

Progressive church people like to shake their heads and insist, “Don’t take the Old Testament so literally!”  But in fact, theistic evolution has problems with the New Testament as well.  Everyone knows that Genesis 3 attributes our sin problem to Adam and Eve.  But some have apparently forgotten that Paul uses the same explanation when he frames the theology of Christ in the New Testament!

  • In Romans 5:17 after alluding to the story of Adam and Eve, Paul concludes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 15:22, he explains, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
  • In 1 Timothy 2:15 he continues, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”

Paul traces the universal sin nature of all mankind all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He identifies Jesus as the remedy for the epidemic that Adam spread to his descendants.  He explains that the reason we need new life in Christ is because of the death brought about by Adam.  And he takes the Genesis account so seriously that he actually bases church policy on the details of who was created first and second.  There is no rational basis for the silly notion that Paul considers the accounts of Genesis to be an inspiring and instructive creation myth- or that we have the freedom to make that assumption.

In contrast to Paul, Darwinism leaves no place for original sin.  There is no possibility for the fall of man because the theory of evolution does not begin with an ideal situation or a perfect world or a righteous creature.  Evolution begins with disorder and chaos.  Change is the random result of natural selection, not willful choices.  There are mistakes, dead-ends and hopeful monsters on every branch of the evolutionary tree.  But there is no place for any sort of fall, just as there is no standard other than survival by which any choice may be measured.  By the time a Cain-figure could emerge from the evolutionary swamp to murder an Abel-figure, it’s would all be a matter of no harm, no foul.  Apes and other predecessors would have been killing and eating each other for millennia.

Liberal Protestant author Rob Bell writes hopefully, “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian.  Something new is in the air.”  In fact, what he’s wondering about is not new at all.  Universalism is not new.  The Church has refuted it and dismissed it for 2,000 years.  Misinterpreting scripture is not new.  That’s why church leaders met at Nicea three hundred years after Christ: to confront and reject false doctrine.  And pretending to respect the Bible while actually distrusting it isn’t new either.  Satan quoted Deuteronomy on three separate occasions during his temptation of Christ.  He cited it.  But he didn’t mean it.

Lift up the cross!

True 2 the Gospel

In his new book, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, author Jason K. Stearns recounts the true story of a pygmy who was brought to the USA from the Central Congo in 1904.  The poor man, Ota Benga,  was displayed in a monkey house at the Bronx Zoo. Every day some 40,000 guests visited the exhibit, which also featured an orangutan in order to highlight the similarities between the small black man and the large ape.  When some Americans objected to the inhumanity and insensitivity of this humiliating spectacle, the influential New York Times responded with an arrogant editorial.  According to the editors, “Pygmies are very low on the human scale…The idea that men are all much alike except as they have had or lacked opportunities for getting an education out of books is now far out of date.”

This sorry crime could be committed only because the diverse minds of science, American culture, and the church all came together as willing accomplices.   The elites of science and culture seized this opportunity to affirm Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Through the power of evolution and the ingenuity of liberal social policy, the dream of  a Super Race of human beings seemed much closer to becoming a reality.  (Adolph Hitler would soon champion this idea.) Sadly, the church was involved because Mr. Benga had been transported to the States by an American missionary returning from Africa.

The story of the pygmy in the monkey cage came to mind again this week as I read about the latest efforts of many Christians to win the respect of the culture.  Why do we behave as though every decree from the New York Times is somehow timeless and true?  Why are we so hell-bent on changing what we believe or how we operate simply because the lost world sees things differently?  Shouldn’t we expect unspiritual minds to operate differently from transformed ones?  Nevertheless, the race to fashion a trendy, more relevant church continues.

  • The doctrine of Hell is under fire from prominent church leaders who insist it is an affront and a stumbling block to thinking people in the secular realm.  How can they put their trust in a God who seems so vindictive and unmerciful?
  • Other authors and pastors argue that the theology of the cross must be adapted.  Educated men and women in our 21st Century culture are horrified at the idea of a God who set up a system of justice so barbaric that his son must be executed on a cross to advance some religious or philosophical ideal.
  • Needless to say, the authority of God’s Word is also under attack.  “Sensitive” Christians warn us that we tend to take the Bible much too seriously.  Why insist that it must be accurate in matters of history, science or mathematics when the spiritual message is all that really matters?  Why argue with scientists or historians when the Bible was written to  describe the Kingdom of Heaven rather than the processes of life on Earth?

There’s a reason Paul once wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Romans 1:16.)  He wrote those words because many in the Roman Church were apparently embarassed by the lack of sophistication of the Gospel.”  Thinking Romans were fairly certain that all roads lead to God.  The Gospel describes two roads: the broad highway to destruction and the narrow path of Jesus Christ.  Sophisticated pagans had a history of indiscriminate sexual adventure, while the Gospel encourages followers of Christ to flee sexual immorality.  Rome celebrated a god named Bacchus who lived for drunkeness and debauchery.  The Church celebrates a Savior who died to extend God’s grace and call human beings to holiness.  And amazingly, the Gospel that Paul refused to glamorize is still alive and well while the Roman Empire has been dead for centuries.

The fads and fashions of any age are fleeting at best and destructive at worst.  They are destined to fade.  Why would a believer suppose that the timeless Gospel should be updated in the interest of conventional wisdom that will be discarded as foolishness in twenty years or less?

Yes, the appeal to be accepted is powerful!  Apparently, the rush that comes from being embraced by the mainstream media, the entertainment industry, and scholars from well-known universities is absolutely euphoric.  But none of that emotional bling compares to Eternal Life.  Just one day in Heaven will make all that earthly glory look like faded tinsel from Chistmas 1965!  Only the pure and undiluted Gospel will ever get anyone to Heaven.  Let’s refuse to exchange the Gospel of Jesus Christ to win 15 minutes of acclaim in the eyes of a dying world.  The power of conventional wisdom will only lead me to a funeral.  The undiluted Gospel of Christ will get me into the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

I”ll take the pure Gospel every time.

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