Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘Jesus Christ’

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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Shine!

CITY SET ON A HILL

“We must consider that we shall be as a city set on a hill.  The eyes of all people shall be upon us.” Puritan Pastor John Winthrop, 1631

Liberal Democrats aren’t the only ones who misquote the Bible and take it out of context.  Conservative Republicans also tend to practice selective theology.  President Ronald Reagan lifted the “city set on a hill” from Pastor Winthrop, and applied it to America.  So for the last twenty years, we’ve all insisted that our national greatness is supposed to make the USA a gleaming city on a hill, an shining example for a hopeless world.  Unfortunately, that’s lame theology.

Whatever happens to America, it’s the Church of Jesus Christ that is rightly depicted as a city set on a hill. John Winthrop was paraphrasing Jesus Christ.  “You are the light of the world,” the Lord explains in his Sermon on the Mount.  “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  Shining a light into the world is the task of saints, not patriots.  That’s because the world needs more than freedom or even prosperity: the world needs Jesus Christ.

It was conservatives who first made the mistake of assuming we could impose democracy on Muslim nations.  Unfortunately, Islamic nations don’t seem motivated to become democratic republics.  They seem to prefer authoritarian regimes.  It was the Christian faith and the character of Jesus Christ that prepared the American colonies for true liberty.  Our founding fathers said that time and again.  And only the Gospel will create the necessary foundation for freedom in Iraq or Iran.  This means we might consider celebrating “American values” a little bit less, and the Good News of Christ  a lot more.  It’s the glory of God that drives men and women to seek freedom of worship. Point them to the glory of Christ.

Lift up the Cross!

Forget About World Peace! I’ll Take Some Peace of Mind.

The dirty little secret of psychiatry and psychology in 2012 is that talking is out and writing is in.  There’s not nearly as much lying on a sofa and sharing your deepest feelings with the doc as there used to be.  These days, your shrink or analyst is busy writing prescriptions.  Seriously, if you’ve got an emotional issue, we’ve got some sexy meds to make you feel better.  Business is booming because Americans are more willing to take pills than think deeply and reflect.

Xanax, Cymbalta and Prozac are just three of the long and growing list of antidepressants available to  this generation.  The list goes on and on…and on!  In many cases, your friends and neighbors are taking combinations of prescription meds in their battle against anxiety and depression.  Nobody can explain how these prescriptions work or why a particular drug is effective with some clients but leads to thoughts of suicide in others.  And ER physicians report that the number of Emergency Room incidents involving the abuse of antidepressants is up 30% in the last few years.

Last week I came across an article in a respected magazine which cites that half of all the people in the world being treated for depression live in the USA!  Wow! Granted, a share of those people must surely have clinical depression- the real thing.  But should we really have half of all the victims of depression in the whole world?  I tend to distrust  numbers like this, but let’s suppose the figure might be off 10% either way.   It’s still a troubling statistic when less than 5% of the world population lives here.  Why are so many Americans gulping antidepressants every morning?

I suspect that for many of us, the answer is disappointment, not depression.  We are disappointed with life.

  • We have all been taught that we are special and should feel good about ourselves, but quite often we find that others don’t seem to appreciate us, and the result is that we feel bad about ourselves.  Self Esteem has failed us.
  • We have insisted that marriage is mostly about sex, romance, and sharing some fun.  But there are many days when we’re too tired or stressed out for sex, romance or fun.  Now what?  Now I realize that “marriage material” calls for more than a smoking hot body and a sense of humor.
  • We are told endlessly that the secret to happiness is to find a job you enjoy doing, and do it every day.  But my boss doesn’t care if I feel happy or not and there’s not another job available.  Career has gone south.
  • And don’t even start me talking about college.  Sure it was fun while I was there, but now that I have my degree, I can’t find anybody except Chick Fil-A who wants to hire me.  The University was a lie.

You could say we’re suffering from disillusionment.  But that’s not a bad thing.  When I am disillusioned, it means I can finally see through an illusion- a lie– that held me hostage for years.  It was a seductive counterfeit, but it couldn’t deliver.  So now I have a choice.  I can either wallow in despair and try to self medicate using alcohol or something more medical sounding.  Or I can kick that illusion to the ground and resolve, “Okay.  Now I’ll find something that’s true.”

Good News!  That’s is where true faith always begins- at the Dead End of Self Deception.  Starting over is a good thing.  In the Church, we call it Repentance.  More next week.  In the meantime, lift up the Cross!

Survival Skills

 

Bear Grylls has survived being stranded on a mountain, being swamped in a blizzard, and being abandoned in a rain forest.  Clearly, this is a man who knows how to take care of himself.  That’s why a recent interview in Mens’s Fitness Magazine is so revealing.

An editor asked Bear, “What are your backpack essentials?”

Grylls replied, “Definitely a phone, water-proofed with double, zip-locked bags.  Tell people where you’re going and when you’re due back.  One of my knives- the one I always use on the show is called the Ultimate Knife.  I always take a laminated picture of my wife and my three kids, which I tuck into the sole of my shoe.  And my grandfather’s New Testament.”

Just a few years ago, the highly knowledgeable adventurer realized he didn’t have a clue about surviving the Earth and making his way through eternity.  He enrolled in the Alpha Course in Great Britain where he ultimately became a follower of Jesus Christ.  So it’s not surprising that he never leaves home without his New Testament.

We’re confident that the Discovery Channel will never find a wilderness that Bear Grylls can’t survive.  But if they do and things go south, the hero of Man Vs Wild is confident that Jesus Christ will get him safely home.  There’s a lesson here somewhere.  You can always find something to eat, even if it’s only bark or beetles.  However, man cannot live by bark and insects alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Lift up the Cross!

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!

Don’t Write a Hollywood Ending

This blog is eighth in a series on relationship rescue.  What are the ten most important biblical principles for healthy friendship?  Which principles would you include?  This is Pastor Tim’s list.

When people talk about a Hollywood Ending, we typically think of two people who overcome all their relationship problems and then ride off into a red and gold sunset together… forever.  In real life, that’s not how it works in Hollywood, is it?  To the contrary, lasting marriages in Tinseltown are as rare as the Hope Diamond.  Kim Kardashian dumped Kris after about two months.  Love goddess Liz Taylor ended eight different marriages in divorce!  Rock bands almost always split up, in spite of all the megabucks they could make by staying together, simply because they can’t get along.  Members of Credence Clearwater Revival still refuse to reunite with lead singer John Fogerty, despite twenty years of holding a grudge.  Sadly, Hollywood Endings are most commonly about crashing on the rocks after one year of bliss followed by two years of being unpleasant.

Ex-con Rodney King was living just outside Hollywood when he posed this idealistic Q: “Why can’t we all just get along?”  A: It’s easier to be proud and hold grudges!

Commandment #7: Thou shalt forgive others as God hath forgiven thee.

In Colossians 1:13, Paul directs us, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  We all know how that happens because it happens all the time.  We spit in the Father’s face.  Guilt and circumstances eventually catch up with us.  We repent and ask for forgiveness.  And as Scripture indicates, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.  This principle is so important that Jesus even warns us that forgiveness will be extended to us only as we are willing to offer grace and reconciliation to other people who offend us.

So why do followers of Christ have so much trouble writing happy endings in 2012?  One reason is that we are too proud to forgive people who have hurt us because they are undeserving.  Of course, that’s the only people who are qualified for forgiveness, isn’t it?  If people have never hurt you, they don’t require any grace.  All offenders are undeserving of forgiveness.  We don’t offer it because of the other person’s resume.  We forgive because we realize that we mess up all the time and the only reason we have any self respect at all is because God is so willing to get over it.  So when you have trouble forgiving, it’s not really about the quality of the other person’s character.  It’s really about your character, your faith and- yes- your deceitful heart.

Here’s an ironic fact: Forgiveness and reconciliation can actually build stronger, healthier friendships.  Jesus forgave Peter and reinstated him as a leader.  Peter forgave Paul and described Paul’s letters as inspired by God.  Christ forgave the people who crucified him and some became lifetime followers.  Some of my closest and most trustworthy friends are people with whom I have bumped heads in the past; but with whom I have shared grace and reconciliation.  I love these guys!

Some people don’t forgive; they just paper over the trouble and move on.  We call these people “enablers.”  They aren’t honest.  They typically don’t think they deserve friends so they settle for fiends instead.  Ignoring bad behavior and pretending everything is hunky-dory is not really spiritual:  it’s deceitful.  Real friends know how to speak the truth in love and be transparent.  Otherwise, they eventually get the Hollywood Ending they’ve been trying to avoid- the real kind, not the movie kind.

So be intentional about forgiving offenders when they repent- even when they repeat.  All your friends are sinners; that’s why they feel so at home with you.  Practice grace.

And lift up the cross!

The Playmate of the Month

This blog is second in a series dealing with Relationship Rescue.  What are the most basic biblical principles for healthy rapport with other human beings?

Last week I suggested there’s a lot our lonely, isolated world could learn from the Church about relationships.  I really think most people would like to know more about healthy family ties and friendships, but the saints don’t seem to be teaching anything useful these days.  Too often, our efforts at  building and maintaining bonds of love are just about as unbiblical and ungodly as those of our unbelieving neighbors.

So I’ve set out to identify the Ten Commandments of Relationship.  Maybe you’ve been pondering and flipping pages in the Bible and looking for your top ten principles.  Great!  Feel free to share your own or comment on mine.  Anyway, here goes something…!

#1: Thou shalt love your friends the way Jesus of Nazareth loved his.  Check out John 13:34.  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Jesus loved his friends by spending time with them, by patiently bearing with them when they misunderstood him or disappointed him, and by adding value to their lives.  The original disciples were never just a backdrop for Christ’s passion play.  He included them in the drama, loved them in spite of their failures, forgave them when they behaved stupidly, and equipped them to become leaders in his movement.

It’s painfully obvious that too many church people don’t really want friends.  We want classmates and playmates.  “Classmates” sit in Sunday School with us week after week, talking about esoteric, spiritual factoids without ever saying anything remotely personal.  Then we drive away from church to fraternize with co-workers and relatives.  Likewise,  “playmates” are expected to entertain us but never confront us, challenge us, or differ with us.  When a playmate stops being amusing, it’s time to shaft that lump of coal and find a more attractive gem.  Triva Question: Did Hugh Hefner really dream up the Playmate of the Month, or did the original concept erupt among fully clothed Baptists who couldn’t keep a friend for more than 30 days?

Jesus loved his friends enough to gently challenge them when they were mistaken.  They argued endlessly about who was closest to Jesus.  They insisted he should make personal safety a high priority.  His most powerful ideas eluded them and his most provocative statements sailed right over their heads.  Truly, they were not worthy of him.  But Jesus loved them tirelessly and cultivated good things within them.

We never did take our WWJD bracelets seriously, did we?  When Christian friends flounder and fumble and fail us, we assume the options are extremely limited.  Option A: Change friends.  Option B:  Change churches.  Historically, Jesus always looked for a different option; something more loving and less self-centered.  He seemed to prefer Option C: Love always hopes; always protects.  Love never fails.

Lift up the Cross!

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