Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

Lost in Space

Christians carry on the goofiest conversations about Heaven.  Just think about  it: we are convinced that there is a utopian paradise where people who love God will live forever.  We say we believe something as exciting and mind-bending as that, and then we make these outrageous and uninformed comments.  We believe in a real place where God reigns for all eternity, and then we become utterly lost in space.   We say things like:

  • “Will we have pets in Heaven?  If my dog can’t be there, I could never be happy.”
  • “I think I’ll get bored sitting around playing a harp all day!  There will surely be sports and games in Heaven, won’t there?”
  • “You know there will be sex in Heaven!  How could we ever be happy without being married and having sex?”
  • “I hope Heaven looks like a painting by Thomas Kinkeade!  Wouldn’t it be amazing to live in a place like that?”
  • “Do you think we’ll all have mansions?  Do you really believe the streets are paved with gold?”

Even as we affirm the existence of Heaven, we utterly miss the point!  The most important thing about Heaven is that God is there in all his glory, in all his fulness.  We will be in God’s presence, seeing him face to face, for all the ages to come and beyond!  We will see more of his power, understand more of his character, experience more in worship than we ever have before.  Who cares whether the streets are 28kt gold or just 14kt?  Why would I quibble about being asked to play a harp or an oboe?  What’s the difference if we eat pomegranates or T-bone steaks brushed with white chocolate?  The Almighty God is there and people who love him get to live there in paradise forever!

Sunday morning in Bible Study, I reminded a good friend of mine that he and his wife have lived in 10 different cities over the course of his career.  They really enjoyed some of those cities and didn’t care at all for a couple.  But they were happy in all those places.  My friend’s wife never quibbled about the variety of restaurants or the standard of living or even the crime rate in any of those places before moving there.  She cheerfully relocated to every single city and enjoyed being there because she could be with the love of her life; and he would be with her.  Everything else was inconsequential compared to being with the one you love most.

In Heaven we will get to be with God in all his glory.  That’s the point.  That’s why godly martyrs in every age have gladly exchanged life here for life eternal there!  It’s about God, not the paving materials used for highways.  If I inherit a mansion or a shack in the woods, I couldn’t care less.  If I am asked to be a worship leader or a spiritual garbage collector, it doesn’t matter.  If there’s chocolate there, I will smile; but if sugary foods are prohibited in Heaven, I’ll be happy all the same.  Because after all these years of loving God through a glass darkly,  I will finally see him face to face… forever.

That’s why Heaven is special.  Never lose sight of who really makes that Kingdom truly unique.

And lift up the Cross!

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Love or Addiction?

This blog is the fifth in a series about the Relationship Rescue.  We’re searching for the ten most powerful New Testament principles about building healthy relationships.  What would your Ten Commandments of Relationship be?

#4: Thou shalt not encourage irresponsible behavior.  Have you ever heard a bad actor screaming at a loved one, “You made me do it?”  No doubt, they’re generally wrong in passing the blame, but sometimes those miserable men and women are half right!  Do you have a Bible handy?

What you read in Galatians 6:2-5 may seem contradictory on the surface.  In verse 2, Paul directs us to”bear one another’s burdens.”  Two verses later, he observes that each of us must carry his own load.  People in Bible Study groups often get bogged down in this text and wonder if one of those statements is a mistake.  But in the original Greek language, the two ideas fit precisely together.  When Paul directs us to bear one another’s burdens, the Greek term in question denotes a huge, ovewhelming, crushing weight.  It conjures images of an unexpected crisis that appears overwhelming.  By contrast, when Paul explains that each of us must carry his own load, the Greek word speaks of a backpack- the kind a soldier or hiker might carry.  A backpack is reserved for the routine, daily necessities of life.

On one hand, God desires that you and I be responsible.  Each of us is expected to develop healthy priorities, recognize the things we require for life and success, and plan to take care of those responsibilities.  We should teach our children to develop responsible behavior, and we should encourage the same among relatives, friends and co-workers.  On the other hand, we should recognize that life can occasionally send an unexpected tsunami that threatens to overwhelm somebody we love.  When someone finds himself at risk due to unanticipated and overwhelming circumstances, we should be glad to rush in and prevent the victim from being swept away.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want to help a spouse or a friend get sucked down the toilet bowl of irresponsible living, it’s really simple.  All you’ll need to do is regularly help that person carry his daily backpack of responsibility.  When he forgets it day after day, you rush home and retrieve it for him.  When he loses it through careless living, you neglect your own “To Do” List to search for his lost backpack.  When she wastes the essential resources of daily living on foolish decisions time and again, you put your own resources in the “victim’s” pack.  And before long, your spouse or friend will come to believe that being irresponsible, selfish, immature, careless, impulsive and foolish has no real cost or consequences because someone else will always come along to take care of any problems.

  • You see, that’s one reason careless people do stupid, impulsive things over and over again.  They have a “special friend” who will always come along to pick up the pieces or cover the losses.  When you are that “special friend,” we call you an Enabler. (And believe me, you’re not so special.)
  • An Enabler may rationalize this away and say, “I only do it because I love her.”  In fact, that’s not true.  Real love encourages responsibility and healthy living.  The reason I enable a loved one to continue pursuing a reckless life is because I enjoy that sense of  being needed.  This person really needs me!  And if I allow this person to continue this kind of life, I will probably always have this person around to make me feel “loved.” (Did you ever wonder why Michael Jackson’s inner circle failed him so miserably?  The answer begins with an “E.”)

So let’s be honest.  Encouraging bad behavior in other adults is not about compassion.  It’s about settling for the illusion of “power” in another adult’s life.  It’s about trying to ensure that I won’t eventually be all alone.  Of course, when that other person finally self-destructs or finds another “special friend” with more resources than you, you will lose your power and your companionship anyway.

So let’s be responsible.  Encourage responsibility.  Extend grace when others are threatened by unexpected catastrophes of life.  And learn to know the difference between a backpack and an overwhelming burden.

Lift up the Cross!

Sing it, Aretha!

This blog is third in a series on “The Ten Commandments of Healthy Relationship.”  Have you ever tried to identify the ten most practical biblical principles for creating community and living together in harmony?  Here’s my attempt.

#2: Thou shalt treat other adults like adults.  I’ve drawn this principle from those familiar words of Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Aretha Franklin would probably sing it this way: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T; you don’t know what it means to me!”  Now that we’ve all got the Queen of Soul testifying in our heads, let’s think about it what it would take to get more R-E-S-P-E-C-T for others pumping out of our hearts.

Apparently, living in this Age of Narcissism has tainted nearly all of us with this sense that each of us is King of the Universe.  We live and breathe in a culture where the propaganda says that “tolerance” means all ideas are equally valid, all standards are equally true, all opinions deserve equal respect.  The upshot is that everything I think and desire must be absolutely right as long as I think it and I desire it.  So in the words of Aretha, “Sock it to me…sock it to me…sock it to me…[repeat quickly nine more times,] or “Hey! I’ve got a right to this!”

  • Respect means that I always remain in my “adult” mode when I’m engaging with another human being.  I refuse to shift into the “parent” mode, scolding another adult on how he should behave or what he should do.  Nobody wants to be lectured.  Likewise, I refuse to shift down into the “child” mode, demanding my way, my wishes, and my will.  In fact, I refuse to act like a child even another adult slips into the “parent” mode first.  When I’m dealing with adults, I insist on acting that way.
  • Respect allows another adult to disagree with me.  It’s not necessarily a problem when a married couple or a couple of friends don’t agree on some pressing topic.  However, it can become a genuine mess when I demand that we have to settle it today, and that we’re going to talk/debate/argue until it’s done.  It’s amazing how often time and grace can accomplish things that logic and passion won’t produce even if we quarrel all night.  People who love each other can sometimes agree to disagree.
  • Respect means I can enjoy the fact that a friend has different opinions or different habits than I do.  On occasion, I can make attempts to gently persuade you or help you see the others side, but those attempts cannot be constant.  And I must never behave as though my friend differs only because she’s stupid.

We’re all accustomed to raising that familiar question, “What would Jesus do?”  It’s a fine question but, in fact, it’s never mentioned in the Bible.  Another question is just as useful and is actually more biblical: “How would I like to be treated in this regard?”  When I find the answer, that is how I should treat my friend or my spouse.  I find that a little respect goes a long, long way toward healthy friendship.

Lift up the Cross!

The Plastic Version

Gavin DeGraw’s new CD has a great song called “Candy” built around a refrain that’s almost biblical.  “We have our lives to bear/ Our bags to burden/ But we just buy and we wear/ The plastic version of/ Love, hope, understanding./But we can’t survive on candy.”  The more we center our relationships around social media and cell phone text messages, the more plastic our version of 21st Century love becomes.

It strikes me that our lonely, hook-up society is primed and ready for the kind of message the Church teaches best.  Our faith is built around the concept of unconditional love.  Our Bible is full of principles about loving other people above self, dealing tirelessly with failed human beings, cultivating genuine love in a wilderness of meaningless sex.  Our Lord enjoyed full, satisfying relationships without the benefit of marriage, sexual immorality, or kinky perversion.  And he has called us to enjoy the same kinds of relationships with other human beings.

But we have this nagging problem- our marriages and friendships don’t seem so much better than those our unbelieving friends are enduring.  In fact, sometimes our version of friendship is even more plastic and worthless than theirs because we think it’s spiritual to pretend we love people when, in fact, we can hardly countenance them.  We can sit in the same room and sing hymns, but don’t ask us to sit at the same table and share a friendly conversation.  We are Christians in principle, but in practice we are atheists.

During these Christmas holidays, I’m going to devote myself to the priniciples of Relationship Rescue!  If there were Ten Commandments that could guide us in satisfying human relationships like marriage and friendship, what would they be?  Over the last several months, many of my Christian friends have helped to prepare me for this moment.  As I have watched people of faith misunderstand each other, disrespect each other, discount the uniqueness of other human beings, and attribute evil motives to people they don’t know well, I have heard the Spirit calling out again and again.  There are some basic, core principles from God’s Word that we shatter on the rocks of cynicism week after week, month after month.

So think about this question for a few weeks: if you were asked to identify the 10 biblical principles which are most applicable to healthy relationships, what would they be?  I dare you to make a list.   I’ll begin to share mine next week and we can compare notes.  So put on your thinking cap.  Let’s find the wisdom of God which our lonely world is dying to hear.

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!

The Christian Brain, Part 2

Occasionally, I’ll hear someone confess that it’s “hard” being a Christian.  The hard part usually boils down to the challenge of saying No to temptation, or the pain of being rejected by fashionable people.  Sure, stuff like that is tricky.  But I believe that the biggest difficulty of walking with Christ is the part about speaking the truth in love.  Sometimes, it’s hard to accept the truth when the world believes the it’s idiotic or even destructive.  And when I finally dare to utter it, the truth tends to come across as offensive and “in your face” because I have delivered it in anger or self-defense rather than love.

The Christian brain operates differently than an ordinary human brain.  For example:

  • A Christian brain is aware that it’s software has been corrupted by sin; warped by a short-timer’s perspective in an world that cycles in centuries; and confused by temptation.  Hence, pure reasoning is usually insufficient for effective problem solving.
  • The mind of a believer cries out for some objective truth to counter all the subjective emotionalism generated by the warp and woof of living in 21st Century America. Rather than simply enduring a diet of cultural sugar, my brain craves the nutrients and fiber that come from God’s Word.
  • In the face of a challenging situation, there are dividends I can reap when I refuse to respond instantly out of reflex.  Instead, I slow down, open up my mind to the Holy Spirit, and allow him to breathe some insight in the midst of my typical, hyper-active, do-something-even-if-it’s-wrong approach to life.

We’re all familiar with the mode of thinking you might call “secular humanism.”  In this viewpoint, God may or may not be real, but either way, he’s not a factor.  Then there’s another mental construct you might call “theistic humanism.”  That is, God is active and real, but his wisdom is largely limited to those important but invisible realms we call spirituality or religion.  In other words, “We can figure out science by ourselves.”  In contrast to both those worldviews, believers operate from a mode of thinking you might call “Christian theism.”  That is, we believe that the only reliable truth or interpretation of the truth available to us is from God, who is not only real, but is central to all of life.

Skeptics would say, “Oh!  So you Christians believe you should check your brains at the church door.”  And I would reply, “No, we believe it’s important to use our brains.  I apply my intellect to comprehend what God’s Word says.  Then I further apply my mind to understand the lessons of biology, history, and physics.  Then I invite the Holy Spirit of God to give me the power to apply the truth, and the patience to pause until the fog lifts and other things become more clear.

It takes a lot more brain power to be a Christian because I can’t simply settle for reflex answers or personal insults.  I am called to know the truth, apply it to the situation at hand, and then communicate it with compassion.  Advocates and atheists can settle for slogans and insults.  Disciples of Christ are directed to speak the truth in love.

Lift up the Cross!

The Christian Brain, Part 1

Editor’s Note: For an updated version of this  2011 blog, please visit: https://t2gospel.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/legal-maybe-healthy-no/

Over the years, I’ve had a variety of friends and acquaintances who occasionally enjoyed drinking alcohol until they were bombed.  Whenever they have recounted their adventures with me, I have listened to their stories with a knowing smile.  I use the term “knowing smile,” because I know that my friends know I don’t approve of this behavior.  They would never invite me to go out drinking with them, although they might invite me to dinner, or a football game, or an evening at the movies.  So they share their exploits because they enjoy yanking my chain.  But they know I’d never demonstrate my approval by spending an evening getting loaded with them.

So I’m baffled to learn that Pastor Joel Osteen told an interviewer that, although he doesn’t approve of same sex marriage, he’d have no problem attending a gay wedding if invited.  Osteen explained to Piers Morgan that he’d never want to suggest to a friend “you’re not good enough for us.”  It didn’t take long for Dr. Al Mohler to pick up the topic in a blog.  “This is beyond mere incoherence,” Mohler writes. “It is moral and theological nonsense.”  I thought Dr. Mohler’s comments were right on.  If someone is truly a beloved friend, surely he doesn’t expect me to disregard my deepest convictions in order to remain in his good graces.  It’s not about whether a friend is good enough for me.  Rather, logic says I would never “celebrate” something I find deadly, destructive and morally offensive, no matter how much I might like the misguided soul involved.

But I was in for yet another surprise.  When the thread was later picked up by a writer at Christianity Today, he reached a conclusion that’s so irrational it’s almost funny.  “And if attending a marriage ceremony is the same as supporting the underlying theology of the union, does that prohibit Christians from attending Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or weddings from other religious traditions? Where is the line?”

Dear friends, here’s the line.  There is nothing immoral or offensive about one devout Muslim marrying another devout Muslim.  I have no respect for Islam, but I can still celebrate a wedding among Muslims who happen to be friends of mine.  I’m approving of their marriage, not their theology.  Likewise, if Hindu friends should invite me to a Hindu wedding, I can gladly celebrate their marriage with them and their families as an affectionate observer.  True friends would realize that I think Hinduism is a counterfeit faith, but I can still affirm their marriage.  I can sit through a Hindu wedding without worshiping anybody.  (Frankly, I’ve sat through a Methodist service in which I didn’t worship anybody, even thought I wanted too!)And likewise, Hindu friends might reasonably decide not to invite me to their ceremony, realizing I don’t give credence to their religion.

Should two gay friends invite me to their wedding, however, I would politely explain to them that I couldn’t celebrate their marriage because I believe it’s destructive and immoral.  It doesn’t matter whether they plan to be united in a synagogue or a mosque or a liberal church; the location is irrelevant.  It’s not the religious tradition that’s at stake here: it’s the very act of two men pretending to be married and suggesting that it’s normal.  In fact, real friends would never ask me to celebrate such an act with them.  In my view, they’re boring a hole in their end of the lifeboat we all share.  I can’t celebrate that.

I know that Christians are often respected for having tender hearts, but let’s use our brains as well as our hearts.  True friendship can tolerate all kinds of personal differences.  But a friendship that demands that I deny my most deeply held convictions is not a friendship at all.  It’s a sham.  Either my faith isn’t real, or my friends aren’t.

Lift up the Cross!

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