Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘spirituality’

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 Plastic Version

Gavin DeGraw’s new CD has a great song called “Candy” built around a refrain that’s almost biblical.  “We have our lives to bear/ Our bags to burden/ But we just buy and we wear/ The plastic version of/ Love, hope, understanding./But we can’t survive on candy.”  The more we center our relationships around social media and cell phone text messages, the more plastic our version of 21st Century love becomes.

It strikes me that our lonely, hook-up society is primed and ready for the kind of message the Church teaches best.  Our faith is built around the concept of unconditional love.  Our Bible is full of principles about loving other people above self, dealing tirelessly with failed human beings, cultivating genuine love in a wilderness of meaningless sex.  Our Lord enjoyed full, satisfying relationships without the benefit of marriage, sexual immorality, or kinky perversion.  And he has called us to enjoy the same kinds of relationships with other human beings.

But we have this nagging problem- our marriages and friendships don’t seem so much better than those our unbelieving friends are enduring.  In fact, sometimes our version of friendship is even more plastic and worthless than theirs because we think it’s spiritual to pretend we love people when, in fact, we can hardly countenance them.  We can sit in the same room and sing hymns, but don’t ask us to sit at the same table and share a friendly conversation.  We are Christians in principle, but in practice we are atheists.

During these Christmas holidays, I’m going to devote myself to the priniciples of Relationship Rescue!  If there were Ten Commandments that could guide us in satisfying human relationships like marriage and friendship, what would they be?  Over the last several months, many of my Christian friends have helped to prepare me for this moment.  As I have watched people of faith misunderstand each other, disrespect each other, discount the uniqueness of other human beings, and attribute evil motives to people they don’t know well, I have heard the Spirit calling out again and again.  There are some basic, core principles from God’s Word that we shatter on the rocks of cynicism week after week, month after month.

So think about this question for a few weeks: if you were asked to identify the 10 biblical principles which are most applicable to healthy relationships, what would they be?  I dare you to make a list.   I’ll begin to share mine next week and we can compare notes.  So put on your thinking cap.  Let’s find the wisdom of God which our lonely world is dying to hear.

Lift up the Cross!

Bigger than the Bang!

One day this week, the Wall Street Journal reported the discovery of “the missing link.”  Somewhere in Africa, scientists had discovered an ancient deposit rich in bone fragments.  From all those fossils and shards, they were able to piece together a plausible skeleton with humanoid features and a tiny skull.  Was this really a primeval apeman or just an unlucky freak of nature?  Or was it simply misplaced bones accidentally glued together for a press conference display?   Speculation is fascinating but, frankly, we’ve heard it all before.

There’s a fundamental reason why most Americans and many scientists remain so skeptical of the current theories of our origins, but it’s not religious Fundamentalists. Even in a world where the Christian Faith did not exist, this particular question would still present nagging problems.  Thinking Americans want to know, “Where did the first Thing come from?”  As hard as Darwinists try to dismiss the question with condescending glances and semantics, it’s a problem that won’t die.

In his breakthrough book Cosmos, published in 1980, astronomer Carl Sagan opened with this sweeping statement: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”  Many Christians criticized him at the time for espousing a secular religion.  They argued that it is a statement of faith to say that apart from the cosmos, nothing else ever will be.   But in fact, Dr. Sagan was stating a natural truth apparent even to atheists: it’s impossible for nothing to produce something. The laws of science insist that matter cannot be created or destroyed.  If there is no  substance or force outside the current universe, then any new thing that might ever turn up can only be a new form of something else already in existence.

Skeptics were delighted that a best-selling scientist had just publicly imagined a universe where God is not necessary.  Unfortunately, that celebrated first sentence only served to underscore the First Question.  If all the heavenly bodies of the universe are merely shrapnel from an exploding marble of densely packed matter, where did the marble come from?  I have no problem with the universe being forged in some Big Bang. (I believe that mega explosion was the voice of God calling out, “Let there be light!”) But if you don’t believe in a Creator, you’ve gotta tell me where those cosmic blasting caps came from.

The mythical missing link between apes and men only begs the question.  The indisputable puzzle piece that’s required here is the missing link between Nothing and Something.  Who created that?  Hitting a stone wall in their search for the original Non-Life Form  that gave birth to a Life Form, some well-known scientists were forced to conceive a theory called “panspermia.”  They hypothesized that the original seeds for life on Earth were planted here long ago by meteors or advanced creatures from other regions of space.  But even that fanciful notion is crushed by the weight of the First Question: Before you worry about how Life originated on that other planet deep in space, kindly explain where that First Thing came from.  How big was that original IED that was tripped to set the cosmos in place?  Who wired the Big Bang?

The Bible opens with Genesis 1:1 in territory where arrogant 21st Century biologists dare not tred. “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”  Even with all the media hype, sophistry, and condescension surrounding the First Question, God’s Word remains the only answer on the table.

Lift up the Cross!

The Return of the “M” Word

For a quarter of a century, Americans and other “enlightened” people have avoided words like “moral” and “morality.”  We were lectured that those words were insensitive and restrictive.  We were urged not to try and be the Morality Police.  Suddenly, the world began chasing after “Values” for a while.  First there was “values clarification,” helping kids escape from the limitations of morality.  And later we evolved to “values free”education.  Schools decided it wasn’t their job to teach character or responsibility anyhow!

And now, we have riots in England by mainstream young people who have plenty to eat, lots of leisure time, but no foundations for moral living.  In America, we can watch security video of flash mobs robbing  7-11 or Victoria’s Secret stores!  Now we have liberal  publications like The Economist, wailing in despair.  “It turns out that if sufficient numbers of criminals want to create havoc on the streets, they can,” an editorial concluded after the rioting.  “In the absence of internal moral restraints, external ones can only do so much.”  In other words, a civilized nation can’t hire enough policemen or build enough prisons if most citizens aren’t already controlled by morals from within.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal* last Saturday, a British rabbi  described  the moral decay [his words, not mine] which led to the loss of control in his nation.  He described a generation engulfed by “a tsunami of wishful thinking that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage; children without the responsibility of of parenthood; etc., etc.”  Then he referenced a series of events that “remoralized” America and Great Britain early in the 1800’s.  Then as now, people were moving to the city, respect for authority was receding, the church was declining, unwed pregnancies were climbing, and every village was too familiar with drunkenness and fighting.  One historic event changed all that almost overnight!

The rabbi doesn’t name the historic event, but it was the 2nd Great Awakening!  Christian evangelists crossed the American states and the nation of Britain on horseback, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Worship reached a fever pitch in those English-speaking nations, and the moral fiber of those countries was rebuilt and restored.   The rabbi is calling for another event of those proportions.  May you and I join him in praying for revival in the land, and an awakening among the churches of Jesus Christ.

You will know when the cry for revival is about to reach critical mass.  You’ll know because you and so many others like you will be seeking the Lord, praying in repentance, crying out for fresh wind and fresh fire.  One of the first signs will be a slight uptick in church attendance.  The press won’t report this, but you might notice it in your town, your part of the country.  You’ll notice that Christians are talking about their spiritual lives in public once again.  And soon afterwards, you’ll see the forces of darkness being driven out; powers and principalities of evil being overturned.

Here at Providence, we’re in the midst of 40 days of prayer and fasting leading up to the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.  Nineteen radical Muslims shook our nation with four commercial jets and a handful of box cutters.  Now it’s time for the Church to shake the very gates of Hell.  Join us!

And by all means, lift up the cross!

* Wall Street Journal; August 20, 2011; “Reversing the Moral Decay Behind the London Riots” by Lord Sacks.

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Not long ago, it was just a popular jingle for cruise ships.  Now it describes a growing madness sweeping the world: “See people rocking — Hear people chanting — Feeling hot! Hot! Hot!  Keep up this spirit — Come on let’s do it — Feeling hot!  Hot!  Hot!”

With the creature comforts of prosperity slipping farther and farther away, the champions of tolerance, values clarification, and fulltime preschool enrollment for infants have awakened to discover this brave new world is hot! Hot! Hot!  The Arab Spring did nothing to bring about democracy in the Middle East, but it has inspired riots across Great Britain and in other European capitals as well!  In London last week, the police force actually lost control of the streets for entire evenings as buildings burned, stores were looted, and mayhem was committed against innocent bystanders.  There was nothing political about this.  These were not homeless people demanding food or foreign terrorists throwing firebombs.  Rather, these rabid slackers were young, homegrown Europeans who have no sense of spirituality, conscience or even civilization.  They know nothing of character or a moral compass.  In school, they were taught how to have safe sex and march for equality.  Now they are willing to take whatever they want by force.

It’s gotten so bad that Prime Minister David Cameron dared to use the “M” word a couple of days ago.  In a major address, he demanded, “We must reverse this moral collapse!”  Two decades ago, the cultural elites warned us that morals are destructive and restricting.  “Values” are more flexible and less confining.  Too late we have apparently discovered that riots are destructive, and maybe morals are good for something!

It brings to mind the sneering laughter of evil Emperor Ming from an old Flash Gordon cartoon, “Pathetic Earthlings!  Who will save you now?”

Sadly, mentioning morality in a speech is not nearly the same thing as cultivating faith and moral character among citizens and nations.  I suspect most of the young thugs burning down those European cities have no idea what “moral” means anyhow.  Unlike self-esteem, it hasn’t been in fashion in a long, long time. A speech requires half an hour.  Cultivating faith and character requires years of diligent parenting and grounded instruction.

Europe has been running away from its Christian heritage for more than a century.  Two years ago my son served an internship in Wales where he discovered the churches are all full of old people.  The only youthful faces ever spotted in the pews belong to the isolated sons and daughters of clergymen who must attend a summer camp for PK’s each year to enjoy peer fellowship with other believers their age.  Share your testimony with a student there and his first question will likely be, “What is ‘faith?'”

If the USA is superior at all, it’s simply because we’re two decades behind!  Even so, we breathlessly race ahead over the stepping stones that have led Europe to decline and despair.  Morality is archaic.  Marriage is obsolete.  Gay is good.  Gender is meaningless.  Sex is a toy.  Drugs are good for everything.  Hard work is to be avoided.  The Christian Faith is superstition.  Rules are made to be broken by the truly enlightened.  Until recently, all this cultural revolution felt so right.

We’ll explore this further next time we’re together.  For now, allow me to wrap this up with a warning we should have heeded fifty years ago.  There were voices in the wilderness crying out, but they were just “superstitious old fools.”  Here’s the old axiom: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  Proverbs 14:12 is the counsel Prime Minister Cameron is desperately searching to find.  It’s so close he could almost touch it.  I pray he doesn’t miss it.

Lift up the Cross!

He Can’t Change His Mind

It’s one of those thorny little questions that pop up from time to time.  Exodus 32 narrates the story of Aaron and the Golden Calf.  The whole incident is so insulting to the Most High God that he suggests he should wipe the Children of Israel off the face of the Earth.  But Moses intervenes, imploring God to show mercy to these poor fools.  And the King James Version of the Bible reports that God “repented” and spared the people.  Thinking men and women read this account and wonder, “Why does a holy and righteous God need to repent?  Did he sin?  Didn’t he know better?”

The Bible teaches that the Heavenly Father is completely trustworthy and fully reliable.  For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ assures us that not one of God’s teachings can fall to the ground until they are all fulfilled.  In Romans 3:4, Paul asserts that God must tell the truth, even if it makes all human beings out to be liars.  But the Bible goes even farther than that.  Both Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29 insist that God doesn’t lie; neither does he change his mind like human beings do.

This makes perfect sense to you and me.  We tend to change our minds when circumstances change and surprise us, or when we learn more information about a decision we have made.  But God never finds himself in this kind of situation.  Being omniscient, he already knows everything; not only the past, but the future as well.  Because this is true, it’s impossible for circumstances to surprise him.  Likewise, it’s impossible for someone who knows everything to suddenly acquire more information.  So when God makes a decision, it is not only true, but it is timeless as well.  God’s promises will stand the test of time because he already has all the answers to that eternal quiz!

So how can God repent or change his mind, as indicated in Exodus 32 and on a couple of other occasions in the Old Testament, as well?  The answer is more simple than you might imagine.  The Hebrew word translated “repent” in this particular passage can be legitimately translated in a variety of ways.  For example, in our own English language, the simple word “run” has many possible meanings.  You can run a mile.  Or you can run an advertisement in a publication. Or you can run an electrical wire from one room to another. What’s more, water can run from a faucet and refrigerators run on electricity.  Whether the word denotes traveling, printing, wiring, operating or flowing depends on the context.  Only in context can you know what the word finally means!

In the same way, the Hebrew word pronounced shaw-kham can mean to repent.  But it can also mean to comfort yourself, to relent, or to change course.  In Exodus 32:10, many translations explain that God thought about destroying the people, but after Moses intervened God relented.  In other words, God took one course of action until Moses rose to assert his responsibility for these stubborn people.  Upon hearing that, God relented and carried out Phase 2.  His first action was not evil.  And it was not a mistake, requiring that he should change his mind.  Rather, God did one thing first and then performed another action second.  To “repent” means to acknowledge a mistake or sin and change course.  To “relent” simply means to stop.  God often takes one action until he receives a desirable response, and then relents to initiate a second action.

Consider the Bible for example.  We don’t have a New Testament because the Old Testament was wrong.  God didn’t repent of the Old Covenant and launch a New Covenant with us.  Rather, God used the Old Testament to bring the people of Israel to a particular point in their spiritual journey.  Then when they were ready for the Messiah, he fulfilled the terms of the Old Covenant by sending Christ.  Now we are living in a New Testament that was founded on the Old.

God doesn’t sin and he doesn’t make mistakes.  He doesn’t lie, and he doesn’t need to change his mind.

Lift up the Cross!

Remembering Adam

Research suggests that most Americans still believe God created the heavens and the earth, but there’s a trendy new paradigm sweeping the church that reimagines how God might have done his work.  The new spin is called Theistic Evolution.  It a nutshell, it suggests that the Bible is true, but Darwin was correct as well.  The underlying assumption is that God relied on evolution to create the stars, the planets, the animals, as well as human beings over billions and billions of years.  A lot of believers are quite excited about this new possibility.  They assume that they can now identify themselves as Christians without being labeled morons and “flat earthers” by skeptics and unbelievers.

They’re wrong on two counts.  First, no matter what we might opine about evolutionary science, it’s the idea that Jesus Christ is the only way to God that has always brought the brickbats and insults flying in our direction.  Slap a Darwin bumper sticker alongside the  One Way sticker on your car and you’ll still look like a superstitious ignoramus to some people.

Secondly, champions of theistic evolution are also wrong about the Bible.  Science books change every decade or so as new ideas are developed which reverse the old ideas.  In fact, whenever new discoveries make the headlines, one of the most frequently used taglines insists “this rewrites everything we know about this field!”  Meanwhile, the Bible has remained faithful to God’s account of creation for more than three thousand years.  And the biblical concept of the fall of man does not sync with Darwin’s theory about the rise of man.

Progressive church people like to shake their heads and insist, “Don’t take the Old Testament so literally!”  But in fact, theistic evolution has problems with the New Testament as well.  Everyone knows that Genesis 3 attributes our sin problem to Adam and Eve.  But some have apparently forgotten that Paul uses the same explanation when he frames the theology of Christ in the New Testament!

  • In Romans 5:17 after alluding to the story of Adam and Eve, Paul concludes, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 15:22, he explains, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
  • In 1 Timothy 2:15 he continues, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”

Paul traces the universal sin nature of all mankind all the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He identifies Jesus as the remedy for the epidemic that Adam spread to his descendants.  He explains that the reason we need new life in Christ is because of the death brought about by Adam.  And he takes the Genesis account so seriously that he actually bases church policy on the details of who was created first and second.  There is no rational basis for the silly notion that Paul considers the accounts of Genesis to be an inspiring and instructive creation myth- or that we have the freedom to make that assumption.

In contrast to Paul, Darwinism leaves no place for original sin.  There is no possibility for the fall of man because the theory of evolution does not begin with an ideal situation or a perfect world or a righteous creature.  Evolution begins with disorder and chaos.  Change is the random result of natural selection, not willful choices.  There are mistakes, dead-ends and hopeful monsters on every branch of the evolutionary tree.  But there is no place for any sort of fall, just as there is no standard other than survival by which any choice may be measured.  By the time a Cain-figure could emerge from the evolutionary swamp to murder an Abel-figure, it’s would all be a matter of no harm, no foul.  Apes and other predecessors would have been killing and eating each other for millennia.

Liberal Protestant author Rob Bell writes hopefully, “I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian.  Something new is in the air.”  In fact, what he’s wondering about is not new at all.  Universalism is not new.  The Church has refuted it and dismissed it for 2,000 years.  Misinterpreting scripture is not new.  That’s why church leaders met at Nicea three hundred years after Christ: to confront and reject false doctrine.  And pretending to respect the Bible while actually distrusting it isn’t new either.  Satan quoted Deuteronomy on three separate occasions during his temptation of Christ.  He cited it.  But he didn’t mean it.

Lift up the cross!

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