Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘coming out of the dark’

Making Love

“After the wedding celebration was over, they departed for their honeymoon where they consummated their marriage.”  When was the last time you heard that quaint old expression?  The idea of consummating a marriage is just one more ancient rite of passage abandoned and forgotten in our postmodern obsession with Here and Now.  The fear, indeed the expectation in many quarters, is that most young people have hooked up long before reaching the marriage bed.  The only thing left undone is changing the young woman’s name.  At least two popular motion pictures have recently explored the fashion of “friends with benefits,” young men and women who don’t aspire to a romantic relationship but simply find it convenient to use each other for sex.  What was once the “consummation” or completion of a maturing relationship between a man and a woman has now been reduced to sharing some snack food slightly more significant than popcorn.

The ideal of reserving sexual intimacy for marriage, once considered virtuous in mainstream America,  has always been rooted in the Christian Faith.  As far back as Adam and Eve, the higher aspiration of sexual intercourse was in “knowing.”  The Hebrew text literally explains that Adam knew his wife and she became pregnant, and gave birth to Cain.  This explains our use of the Latin word, consummare, which means to sum up or finish.  After a man and woman grow to know each other personally, intellectually, and emotionally, they commit to one life together and know each other sexually, each revealing an aspect of self shared with no other human being.

In Isaiah 62:4-5, the prophet promises Jerusalem, “Your new name will be ‘The Bride of God,’ for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride…Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.”  Imagine a young man caught up in the rapture of his first night with his new bride.  Notice that the city of Jerusalem foreshadows the role of the Church, later identified by Christ as his bride.  Revelation 21 characterizes the future climax of all human history as the wedding celebration of Christ and his glorious bride, the Church.  The consummation of that holy and treasured relationship awaits in Eternity.   And with the consummation of the marriage between the Bridegroom and the Bride, everything begins anew; without pain, without tears, without limits.

Prophetically, five decades of sexual liberation have not ushered in that promised New Age where joy is greater, experience is deeper, and human beings are more sacred.  Rather, people have become objects for the use of others, and the experience is so shallow that erotic toys, flavored gels, whips and chains, and sex in unusual settings or with multiple partners have all become necessary to enhance a rapidly fading experience.  Meanwhile, diamonds are valued because they are so costly to acquire.  Movie theater popcorn is appealing because we can’t have it every day.  But in 21st Century America, sex is as casual as sneezing and as common as biology.

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage that God can create a mushroom in five days, but he requires 50 years to produce an oak tree.  Instant gratification is very 21st Century American, but patient expectation is eternal.  Getting into someone’s pants is the highest ambition of our Hook Up culture, but knowing another person mind, body and soul is the ultimate measure of intimacy in the Kingdom of God.  That faith-infused variety of intercourse is so much more elevated and more noble than our present day cultural mosh pit for couples that the word “relationship” instantly falls short as inadequate and archaic.  Divine love is so pure and unselfish that the lover can sacrifice himself for the one he loves, having never yet experienced consummation. Love that can wait for the ultimate expression to follow in the world to come is the most tireless and powerful love of all.

For centuries, we in the Church attempted to model our human marriages on the divine model.  We have emphasized knowing and growing in intellectual intimacy.  We have held character in high esteem- growing my own and cultivating the character of my loved one.  We have spoken and written fondly of our expectation, looking forward to the time of consummation when the timing of God is working with us.  Suddenly and without warning, we seem willing to toss everything timeless and eternal under the bus in order to leap aboard the graffiti-covered subway to relevance.

What the Beatles once sang is still true: All You Need is Love.  Tragically, most Americans never find what they need because they have settled for something more common and less delightful.  It can’t keep a marriage or a soul alive for long.

Lift up the Cross!

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The Tree of Life

“Someday we’ll fall down and weep.  And we’ll understand it all- all things.”  That’s the promise of director Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life.  When the movie opened at the Cannes Film Festival recently, it created quite a stir.  Some audience members booed and walked out, while others stayed and cheered.  Well-known critics blasted it as boring and pretentious, while others found it mesmerizing and triumphant.  Cannes gave it their highest award.

Inspired by passages from the Book of Job, the film revolves around one small town family, the mysteries of their life and their search for answers.  Although this production seems  heavy with spiritual overtones and allusions to faith,  viewers hoping for a consistent Christian worldview will come away disappointed.  Nevertheless, one line from the trailer could be torn straight from the Gospel.  “There are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace.  You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”

Having said that, theatrical films like this never instruct us how to actually choose that way of Grace or discover the Tree of Life.  Cinematically speaking, it’s all about struggling and enduring until everything is revealed. In the meantime, while you’re waiting on Heaven, you might as well raise a little Hell!  Right?

When you’re ready to find the Tree of Life, go to the source, the Bible.  The  very first book opens with an image of that mysterious tree standing majestically in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.  After the Fall, it fades from view as Adam and Eve are evicted from Eden lest they eat from the Tree and live forever in their corrupted condition.  The Tree of Life turns up again only at the very end of the Bible.  Revelation 22 describes it standing alongside the River of Life, bearing 12 kinds of fruit year round.  In fact, if you read the chapter carefully, it seems the tree has multiplied and produced an orchard of life.

In contrast to Hollywood whose primary goal to to generate profits, the Bible was written to offer us a road map to Life, fruitfulness, and Eternity.  The New Testament is not vague or ambiguous about this:

  • John 6:27 Jesus counsels his listeners (and readers:) “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”
  • John 6:40 “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
  • Galatians 6:8 “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
  •  Titus 3:7 “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The Way of Grace eludes the masses of humanity who hunger for self-esteem, peer approval, and fifteen minutes of fame.  The Tree of Life will only be found by those who are willing to risk something, deny themselves, and search for Truth with all their hearts.   Even when Jesus Christ was physically present on the Earth, not even his most astonishing miracles could hold the attention of the Religious Elite whose only ambition was wealth and prestige.  Grace held no attraction to the climbers who wanted to maintain the Status Quo at least long enough to cash in on their connections.  But desperate people could see an Exit sign flashing in the darkness every time Christ healed another leper or raised another dead body to life again.

To the eyes of the jaded and overly ambitious, American culture is a brand new luxury liner.  They can’t wait to make their way to the next deck, to see what splendors might be waiting there.  But human beings who’ve been broken, or rejected, or shattered see clearly through the fog.  They recognize a sinking ship and realize their only hope will be found in swimming away.  But where do you go in the dark, frigid sea of life once you’ve left behind that vessel you once trusted?

It is at moments like this that the voice of Christ breaks through the background noise: “Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  This is where we find the strength to swim away from the crowded ship sailing toward destruction, and swim toward the nearly empty life boats drifting gently in the direction of Grace.  You sometimes miss the reassurance of all those hustling, bustling crowds, but  silence, too, can be comforting.  Only the sight of the Gates up ahead keeps you moving.

Between those book-end appearances of the Tree of Life at the beginning of Genesis and the end of Revelation, we set our sights on a different tree.  It stands high on a hill that is shaped like a skull.  There’s a man dying there who doesn’t deserve to die.  There’s a tomb nearby that won’t be occupied for long.  There’s a group of frightened men who don’t deserve to be called the Church.  And there is a purchase that can only be made when the man on the cross has died, and when the tomb has been vacated, and when the terrified disciples have faced their fears and taken the Good News to the waiting world.

Revelation 2:7  “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”

“There are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace.  You have to choose which one you’ll follow.”

Lift up the Cross!

Give it to me Straight, Lord

It must be one of the most memorable lines ever uttered in a movie .  The scene is a military courtroom in A Few Good Men.  The young military prosecutor played by Tom Cruise barks at a general on the stand, “I want the Truth!”  Jack Nicholson’s belicose character bellows back, “You can’t handle the Truth!”

So it is with so many of the “seekers’ and spiritual pilgrims who search the web and visit the bookstores in America today: they insist they want the Truth.  The sad fact is that many can’t handle the Truth. After a generation of being being polluted with the ideals of relativism and tolerance, many of us are unprepared to deal with truth that is authoritative and absolute.  We vastly prefer personal truths which vary from person to person, age to age.  We are predisposed to convenient truth which can be adjusted to fit our circumstances.  The very fact that an idea is offered up as absolute or binding means that it cannot be valid at all.  It it doesn’t our 21st Century template.

Of course, the Bible is transparently authoritative. One of the recurring themes of the Old Testament is “Thus saith the Lord.”  While that phrase doesn’t occur in the New Testament, these phrases and statements do:

  • “Teach them to obey all the things I have commanded you [Jesus.]”  Matthew 28:20
  • “All Scripture is inspired by God…”  2 Timothy 3:16
  • “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.”  John 10:27 
  • “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.”  James 1:22

Sometimes we speculate that the men who wrote the Scriptures might have had no idea they were jotting down the very words of God.  Perhaps not, but they certainly realized it pretty quickly afterwards.  In 2 Peter 3:16, the Apostle Peter describes the letters of Paul as “Scriptures.”  He even concedes they are sometimes difficult to understand and have sometimes been twisted by false teachers, but they should be heard and heeded.

Rational men and women are not intimidated by healthy authority.  In fact, the average American is delighted when his GPS device is authoritative in offering up directions.  It can be downright unsettling when the trusted navigator  shifts into the vague uncertainty of “Recalculating… recalculating…..!”  Likewise, it is extremely comforting when a physician speaks with authority: “This is your diagnosis and here’s how we plan to make you well.”  Can you imagine that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach after receiving bad news from your physician and then watching his expression shift to uncertainty and confusion?  Marines and other warriors of the US Armed Forces succeed when the people in command are clear and direct in issuing commands.  Even the Bible suggests how confusing it is for an army or a nation “when the trumpet is uncertain.”

In the swamp of relativity that is American culture in 2011, it seems trendy to blur distinctions and resist the status quo.  Even so, most words still have meaning.  Red is a color that we can recognize.  A pound is still a measure of weight that is precisely defined.  Likewise, the word disciple has a specific meaning.  A disciple is not a fan.  Fans are known for their enthusiasm.   A disciple is not an admirer.  Admirers are drawn to a look or a personality.  A disciple is someone who is so devoted to the ideas and priorities of a teacher, that he builds those principles and priorities into his own life.  Jesus Christ only calls disciples.  We don’t simply cheer him on with enthusiasm.  We walk with him by faith, striving to embody his Truth in our lives.   We didn’t come to the cross looking for suggestions.  We came to find a Savior!

One of the first things you learn at the amazing US Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA is the story of Sgt. Eddie Wright.  In Iraq in 2004, Wright’s platoon was attacked by a larger group of armed insurgents.  The assault resulted in the deaths of Sgt. Wright’s commanding officer and at least five other Marines.  At one point, an RPG struck his rifle and blasted it out of his hands.  As the dust cleared moments later, the dazed Marine discovered he was unable to pick up the pieces of his rifle because he had lost both hands and both forearms.  Despite these and other profound injuries, he continued to direct the evacuation of the wounded, pointed out targets for the gunners, and directed the evacuation of the entire platoon.  Forty-five minutes  later aboard a helicopter, a shocked medic fought desperately to stop all bleeding.  He commented to the young warrior, “With all these injuries, I can’t believe you didn’t go into shock.”  Sgt. Wright replied, “I couldn’t.  I was in command.”

In life or death situations on life’s battlefields, there is no substitute for for a qualified individual in command.  Who better to command my life than the Creator God who sent his son to rescue me from death and destruction?  The Word of God provides directions to a destination I’ve never visited.  It describes conditions in a realm I cannot see.  What’s more, this is not just one more consumer decision.  This is a matter of life and death.  Along with millions of other well adjusted human beings, I am happy to pray, “Give it to me straight, Lord.”  He is in command.  I am glad to take orders.

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