Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘holiness’

Cool and Superficial

PET ROCK

“How have we Christians become so irrelevant when we have tried so hard to be relevant?”  – Os Guinness

There was a time when every cool individual in the USA either owned a Pet Rock or knew somebody who did.  For $9.99 you could enjoy the most low maintenance pet in all the world.  Each rock came nestled among soft straw in a designer crate, complete with a handy manual on the care and training of rocks.  A generation later, Pet Rocks seem like another goofy idea whose time has come and gone- along with Rubik’s Cube, the Slinky, and the hip Christian.

Followers of Christ have been trying hard to achieve relevance for over a decade now.  We’ve burned through Postmodern Christianity, the Emerging Church, and Open Theism in our attempt to scratch what itches in our pagan culture. They’re not itching for us!  It’s 2013 and we rock out at more more cocktail parties, enjoy more R-rated movies, and wear more daring fashions than ever before.  We even share apartments with unmarried members of the opposite sex, generally sleeping in separate rooms but projecting an image that meshes with the American Zeitgeist.  Breaking news: we still get no respect and more Americans are self-identifying as agnostic than ever before.  Why do they see no evidence of a holy God in our trendy examples?

It’s sad to try so hard and fall so flat!  But face it- when you conceal or deny the deepest convictions of your faith, all you have left is surface religion.  We call that “superficial.”  People may like superficial TV shows, but what’s the point of superficial religion?  A good stand up comic can make you laugh without demanding you change anything in your life.

We will never enjoy popular acclaim until we fit in.  But as Os Guinness points out in his book Prophetic Untimeliness, the man or woman who lives by faith cannot fit in.  We are called by the Gospel not to be conformed to the patterns of the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  If we cannot afford to be seen as misfits, then the change required by our world is too expensive for us.  We have sold out to fashion.

Lift up the Cross!

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Cruel to be Kind?

Some friends thought they had finally found an undeniable contradiction in the New Testament.  Two weeks ago, the sermon on Sunday focused on the command (Matthew 5:48) that we must love as God loves.  More than loving those who love us, followers of Christ must love people who hate us, forgive people who offend us, even pray for angry souls who persecute us.  We must love as God loves; that is, completely.  Then last Sunday, one of our Bible Study classes hit the wall with 1 Corinthians 5:11.  Paul writes, “I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people.  Don’t even eat with such people.”

Someone raised a logical question: “So are we supposed to love everybody, the good and the bad?  Or should we shun them because they are evil?”  On the surface, questions like that seem to make sense.  You can’t have it both ways; either you love everybody, or you turn your head and refuse to look at some people because they are evil.  What does God really want us to do?

Here’s the answer:  To love someone means to desire what is best for that person; to refuse to tolerate angry, hateful feelings toward that person.  Followers of Christ love everyone and desire what is best for everyone we know.  However, common sense dictates that the command to love everyone does not equate with the idea of spending time with everyone.  You don’t have enough time to spend an hour with everyone in your church, much less the nation or the world.  You can’t choose whom you will love but you absolutely have to choose whom you will spend time with.  This is where godly priorities come into play.

You and I have a Christian obligation to lost people in our world: we want to reach them for Christ.  I can’t reach people without having a venue for sharing Christ with them.  In order to build a bridge for sharing my faith, I have to make a conscious decision to reserve some time for lost people in my circle of influence.  I can’t possibly spend time with every lost person I know, but I strategically spend time with some because I believe I can use my influence to point them to faith in Christ.  So I choose to spend time with some people based on the chance that I may have enough influence to carry out ministry.

By contrast, you and I have a different obligation to people in our church.  We must love them, encourage them, pray for them, and do our best to help them grow to maturity in faith.  If people in the church adopt habits that make a mockery of the faith, we must find ways to correct them.  First we pray for them.  Then we rebuke them.  Then we warn them.  And then if all else fails, we remove them from membership in the church, in hopes that they will repent and return.  That’s precisely what happens when Paul’s first letter (5:1) warns the Corinthians they should not tolerate a man in the church who is living in sin with his step mother. Eventually, he is excluded from the church. But after the man repents, Paul writes a second letter (2 Corinthians 2:7) encouraging them to forgive him and restore him before he becomes discouraged!  That’s the cycle of grace.

In the name of mercy, 21st Century churches tend to overlook immorality among members until it spreads and becomes routine.  Tolerance turns up everywhere until holiness can’t be found anywhere.  In Corinth, the believers dealt strongly with an immoral brother, and were able to restore him to friendship, membership and spiritual health.

Refusing to associate with a person does not mean you must shout at him, glare at him, or treat him harshly.  It simply means you advise him that his behavior is a stain on the reputation of your church and, regretfully, you will invest your time with other people you can genuinely help until such a time as he recognizes his need for repentance and restoration.  That’s not mistreatment: it’s tough love.  People who are afraid to be firm in their love are often the very people who enable others to slide farther into sin and self destruction.  Love refuses to watch a brother drown.

Love like God loves.  And lift up the Cross!

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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