Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘emerging church’

Seven Ways to Make Sunday a Slam Dunk


Other people cannot make you happy: happiness depends mostly on you. Worship is like that, too.  The band can rock, the praise can make the walls shake, and the pastor can call down the glory of Heaven.  But if the Spirit can’t move you personally, lunch may be more useful than the time you’ve just invested at church. Here are some simple tips to guarantee you are fully engaged when the call to worship rings out on Sunday morning.

1. Wear some worship to church.  When you first wake up, pause to sit up in bed and give thanks to God.  While you are getting dressed, reflect on God’s goodness to you over the last week. Think of what life was like before you met Jesus. Then go to church prepared to give thanks with gusto even if everybody else sits there like rocks on the shoreline.

2. Go prepared to give as well as receive.  Identify a Bible verse that has meant a lot to you this week and be ready to pass it along in conversation.  Think of something you’ve learned this week that might be useful to someone else.  Be ready to pause and pray right there in the worship center with someone who is struggling. Don’t make it all about you.

3. Be on the lookout for people who are changing, growing, elevating in their faith.  We all tend to notice the usual suspects who are cranky, rude, or impatient; but then we come away complaining!  A few weeks ago, a longtime member who has often struggled with anger issues came over and offered a sincere apology for a recent episode that really wasn’t that bad.  I knew what a big step of spiritual growth this was for him: evidence God was working right there in front of me.  That fired me up for worship.

4. During the message, critique your own attitudes rather than the pastor’s style. If you sense skepticism, impatience or offense rising up inside, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the roots of these bitter weeds.  Ask God to forgive you of evil in your heart. Then give thanks for the sermon that allowed you to repent and grow.

5. Take notes– not only about the pastor’s remarks, but about impulses and insights the Holy Spirit brings to your mind.  If a story in the sermon reminds you of an act of kindness you have been planning to perform, jot it down and commit to action.

6. Plan to linger for a moment after worship and greet someone you’ve never met before.  Look around for someone who is not engaged in conversation with anyone else: walk over and shake his hand.  Introduce yourself and offer a sincere compliment or an encouraging observation.  When you’re having a bad day, an unexpected smile is sometimes sufficient to help you rise above the gloom.  Help someone else rise up!

7. Pay it forward. Pick a staff member or greeter or someone else who actively serves the Lord, and commit to drop that person a note of appreciation during the coming week. Let some of the joy God has generated in you spill over into the life of someone else.

Worship is a time when we set our hearts on bringing a smile to the face of God. Sometimes the quickest route to worship is winning a smile from a fellow struggler while you’re getting in gear to praise the Most High God.

Lift up the Cross!


Something’s Got to Give


There’s a mad dash to soften the Christian Faith for our very sensitive generation, and the pace keeps getting faster.  Our historic faith can seem rigid, anti-scientific, even intolerant; but everywhere you turn there are experts, authors and theologians who know just how to fix this.

  • Many believe the faith is a turn-off because so many Americans believe in an ancient earth.  They’re looking for ways to read a few million years into Genesis 1, and perhaps they can.  We’ll see.
  • Others insist we are way too dogmatic. We need to stop pushing moral categories, and welcome sinners just as they are.  That depends on what you really mean by the word welcome.
  • Another segment of church marketers argue that our structures are all out of date.  Everything has to change: the way we communicate, the way we advertise, the way we approach ministry.  We are still far too 1950’s.  It’s a given.

There’s surely some truth in all those ideas and many others like them.  In fact, I have said some of those things myself in recent years.  Churches can drift into empty tradition, angry morality, and narrow mindedness .  It’s easy to fall out of step with a generation on the move, particularly when they are running away from you as fast as they can.  But it has finally become to dawn on me that the ultimate ministry challenge facing the US church in 2014  is broader and deeper than ministry style or communication techniques.

Genesis is emphatic that God created the universe, and that he did this with specific standards in mind. Forget about the hours in a day for a minute.  He concluded that everything was “good,” until the sixth day when he evaluated it as “very good.”  God has the authority to measure by those standards because he created everything for his purposes.  That means he has the authority to critique us, correct us, and even condemn us when we fail to live up to those original purposes.  We are the pinnacle of creation, and the Creator put us there for his own reasons.

And that’s the problem the Gospel will face in these United States even if we all joyfully embrace evolutionary theory, interactive sermons,  gay marriage, and pot smoking.  We would still be promoting a God of authority to a generation of people who reject all authority except their own.  Twenty-first Century Americans want the freedom to do our own thing; write our own values statement; be our own gods.  It’s not new, of course. That’s all Eve wanted way back at the dawn of time– to be like God.  It’s what Americans want once again today- and not just the secular ones.  Many churches are SRO with New Age consumers who want it their way- not The Way.

Only God can make hearts like these receptive to a Truth like his.  We will never be able to make the true church cozy enough for humanists who utterly reject the authority of a Holy God.  And that is the Spirit of our Age.  Pray that the Creator will make our generation desperate enough that his holy fire can soften our hardened hearts. It is proud hearts that need to be softened.

And lift up the Cross!

The Christian Brain, Part 1

Editor’s Note: For an updated version of this  2011 blog, please visit:

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!

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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