Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘scriptural authority’

Blurred Lines


American Christians were shocked to wake up to this image in all the headlines on Sunday morning.  Twenty-one Christian men had been beheaded by the Libyan branch of the ISIL terror army.  The victims had traveled to Libya hoping to find jobs to support families back home in Egypt.  Their capital offense: calling on the name of Jesus Christ.  Today they are still being celebrated in Heaven.

These godly men probably realized that traveling to Libya would increase their risk, but were already accustomed to that kind of hardship.  They had faced violence and oppression at the hands of Muslim extremists in their Egyptian homeland as well.  Inquiring minds might wonder how anyone in Libya detected they were Christians.  By and large, they look like their Muslim neighbors in Islamic nations: same complexion, same language, same dialect.  But unlike many in such places who mask their deepest convictions beneath a shallow Muslim veneer in exchange for personal safety, Coptic Christians are utterly unashamed of their faith in Christ. They comprise one of the oldest living churches in the world, and they’ve seen it all before!

Casual Christianity is an oxymoron in the Middle East.  That’s why the death of these martyrs at the hands of religious ghouls comes as a slap in the face of us who call ourselves saints in the USA.  We don’t know what could motivate followers of Christ to live so boldly and so selflessly in a hostile environment. And that’s just one of the areas where our confidence is lacking.  In our First Church of the Last Fifteen Minutes, we think blurred lines are a mark of sophistication:

  • We are not sure Jesus is the only way to God.
  • We don’t know if homosexuality is really a sin or just an alternate lifestyle.
  • We aren’t positive about the relevance of the Bible in our scientific age.
  • We are not convinced that the Church is important, much less essential.
  • We have no idea why fornication is wrong for unmarried people of faith,
  • We don’t know how to teach our children about faith, or how to tell our friends about Jesus.
  • We don’t believe in denying self or picking up a cross, because it’s easier to blend in with the other narcissists and party down before we get old.

Ironically, this is the news that would have shocked and horrified the saints of the first century in the Book of Acts. They refused to countenance fifty shades of gray or even two or three! They enjoyed a sharply honed sense of God’s purpose, and a clear cut definition of holiness.  Materialism and sexual immorality were an accepted way of life everywhere except in the Church.  In the Kingdom, these things were anathema. In their holy war, the weapon was truth and the battlefield was one of hearts and minds.

On the other hand, they were perfectly willing to die for their faith without offering so much as a pinch of incense to the pagan Emperor. Like our 21 sons of light from Egypt, they were not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, even at the pain of death. In our age of blurred lines where nothing seems taboo anymore, that alone is unthinkable.

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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