Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘theology’

It’s Not What you Know….

What you believe about Jesus Christ is vital.  If you believe he is obligated to reward your faith with riches, perfect health, and a Hollywood lifestyle, you will be bitterly disappointed.  If you imagine him angrily firing spiritual darts at sinful people 24/7, you will tend to be harsh and too critical of other people.  And if you are convinced Christ is so cool and chill that he doesn’t really care how anybody lives on a day to day basis, you will most likely be an enabler, quietly encouraging others to delay in seeking the Lord.

So please make no mistake: good theology is essential for healthy Christian living.  But sometimes we overlook the simple biblical truth that we are not saved by the facts we believe.  Over the years I’ve known at least a couple of miserable church members who were quite well versed in the Bible.  Both could quote Bible verses, but both were angry, critical, caustic individuals who hated others because of church politics.  Their theology sounded right, but their lives made the Church of Jesus Christ look angry, corrupt, petty, unforgiving, and unloving.  They could quote the words of Jesus, but clearly knew nothing of his Spirit or his transforming power.  How does that happen?

In Mark 5:28 a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years comes to Jesus Christ for help.  She knows little about him- almost entirely what she’s heard from others.  She has concluded that if she simply touches the hem of his garment, she will be healed.  Such an outcome is promised in neither the Law nor the Prophets.  So it’s clear there’s a certain amount of superstition in what this suffering woman believes about Jesus Christ.  But the power of that amazing Messiah reverses her illness and instantly restores her to health.

In John 9:17 Christ heals a man who was born blind.  When the man is later asked his opinion about Christ, he replies, “I think he must be a prophet.”  That’s not true.  Christ is much more than a prophet- he is the long awaited Messiah.  But this healthy man will be able to unpack all that theology over years of faith and study.  When he first comes to Christ, he knows little more than the fact that he is a sinner and Jesus is a Savior.  That’s what he’s counting on.  The rest he will learn through the Spirit.

Sometimes we reach the strange conclusion that we are saved by the wonderful things we believe- about the people in the Bible, about the death of Christ, about the miracles of the New Testament.  We accept all those things as facts, but – needless to say- Satan knows all those things are true.  Believing the facts about God hasn’t helped the Devil at all!  Why should it help you and me?  Being able to embody the truth of Christ only happens when I meet Jesus Christ and he sends His spirit into my life.

True faith, childlike faith, is about trusting Christ so completely that we must go after him.  I am so convinced that He is the Truth that I reach out to him, count on him, rise or fall by trusting him.  I became a believer when I was five years old.  All these years later, I have read the Bible through many times and have gained tons of insight into what God is like, what is true, and what is important for human life.  I have a fuller and more complete theology than I could ever have imagined when I was five years old, but I was just as saved then as I am today.

Ideas are powerful, but they’re not powerful enough to pay for your sins.  Only Jesus could do that.  When we put our faith in Him, he will lead us to all truth and wisdom (John 16:13.)   But when we first begin, it’s not about facts.  It’s about faith in a particular person.  A grain of that kind of faith even the size of a mustard seed can cast mountains into the sea and get sinners into the Kingdom of Heaven.  The faith isn’t that great but the Savior is.

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!

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!

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!

The Tick Tock of Eternity

It’s easy to forget how drastically the invention of the clock changed the course of human history.  Before the advent of the clock, human beings simply worked all day and looked forward to the eventual arrival of night.  We endured time and tracked the passing of the day with shadows.  But after the hands of the clock began to sweep across the face of history, we began to measure time.  Today many Americans aspire to “fifteen minutes of fame,” and most of us suffer from a three minute attention span.  Some sporting events are timed in thousandths of a second!  We live in a hectic, clock-driven world.

We’re told that time is more valuable to Americans than money:  Americans will spend money to save time.  We know what money is because you or I can hold a $100 bill in our hands.  But what is time?  Time, oxygen and electricity are all invisible.  But I can flip a switch and stop the flow of electricity.  And I can create a vacuum by sucking all the oxygen out of a room.  But time is very different from other resources.  You can’t hold it in your hand, or stop it, or remove it from a room.  It cannot be stored in a cell like energy or detected in the air like radiation.  Time is not a thing.

In fact, time is actually a measure based on the rotation of the Earth and its revolutions around the sun.  An hour is 1/24 of a rotation of our planet, and a month is only 1/12 of one full revolution of the Earth around the sun.  Human beings began to make progress when we discovered how to synchronize our lives with something bigger and more stable than a human life on the Planet Earth.  By adjusting our lives according to the larger standards of the solar system, we imported new order and unity into our lives as inviduals and communities.

So what does this have to do with faith and theology? Well, one of the first things we all learn about God is also one of the qualities that make it so difficult to understand our heavenly father.  The Bible clearly and consistently teaches that he is eternal.  Genesis opens the Bible with the universe being set in place by a God already in existence.  A few chapters later, Abram plants a grove  in Beersheba and “begins to call on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God.”  Moses assures us in Deuteronomy 33:27, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  Psalm 106 describes him as “everlasting unto everlasting.” In  1 Timothy 6:16, Paul refers to Jesus Christ, “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”

God is not clock-driven because Eternity is timeless and limitless. He is above time because he created the Earth and the sun, set them in their places, and rules over them.  He is not influenced by their movements.  Rather, the revolutions and rotations of all the bodies in all the galaxies are ordained by him; choreographed to the rhythm of his principles.

He is not influenced by the latest fads or trendy attitudes which are, by nature, the products of a moment in time.  One generation is offended by the idea of resurrection.  A thousand years later, the arbiters of fashion are disgusted by the authority of moral absolutes or the inequity of elevating heterosexual love.  Yet the Earth spins on its axis and another revolution around the sun is completed, and the arbiters and antagonists fade into history.  The eternal God continues to rule and his Truth remains completely intact.

C.S. Lewis once pointed out that we should never confuse divine truth with our opinions.  The fact is, our opinions will not always mesh neatly with every eternal edict and ideal of the Almighty God.  Part of living faith is the struggle that comes in conforming my earthbound heart to the unchanging and undying Word of God.  But in the contest to allow God’s mastery of my stubborn will, I once again discover how to sync my life with something vastly larger and infinitely more stable than my impulses and desires.  And as I adjust my movements to the larger standards of the Creator of the Cosmos, I import new order and meaning into my life and my community.  His eternal splendor is my hope of glory.

Lift up the cross!

Dr. Hawking’s Broken Computer

A celebrated physicist and author made headlines earlier this week when he relegated Heaven to the same realm of fiction as Neverland, Narnia and the planet Krypton. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” Dr. Stephen Hawking told an interviewer. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers. That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”   Although his books and articles have famously made reference to the design of the universe or “the mind of God,” those are simply Hawking’s metaphors for completely natural forces like evolution or spontaneous combustion.  He insists there can be no God.

I am under no illusion that my intelligence or comprehension of science could ever approach the intellectual wattage of Dr. Hawking’s brain, but even I can recognize circular reasoning when I hear it.  The  analogy of the human brain as a broken down computer begs the question.  Let’s ignore all human experience and concede that over several billion years, pieces of metal, plastic and silica randomly scattered all across the Earth could someone drift into the same general area, ingeniously assemble themselves, and become a highly evolved Macintosh Computer.  Even having positioned themselves correctly without the benefit of a designer or IT, the world’s first and only Mac would still amount to nothing more than a sleek but worthless machine.  Who would generate the electricity to power it?  Who would construct the outlet and plug it in?  And who would produce the software to actually enable it to operate and do work?

Granted, anything is possible if anything is possible.  But scientists insist we live in a universe with severe limits.  If a Coke bottle suddenly appears in a remote jungle somewhere in Zaire, only the most primitive cave man would suppose that it arose spontaneously from vines, quicksand and lizard blood.  Educated people reading about the discovery would instantly recognize the wayward soda bottle was designed by intelligent minds, produced in a factory, and dropped from a helicopter flying overhead. 

Dr. Hawking’s real fallacy is not his conclusion that a broken computer does not get shipped to Heaven.  You and I could agree.  Rather, his reasoning stumbles long before that  when he asks us to believe that zero + zero + zero = one trillion!  There has never been a computer that did not originate in a highly intelligent mind. Rocks happen when natural forces shatter boulders or wear away at mountains. The idea of flesh and blood laptops and smartphone self-generated over time through erosion, decay or  spontaneous combustion is just a fairy story for people afraid of God.

That’s so obvious it should not even require discussion.  Likewise, it’s apparent that arguing against Heaven is an example of the weakest logical position: a universal negative.  To say something might exist somewhere in the universe, you only need produce one nugget of evidence.  But to insist that something doesn’t exist in any condition in any place, you must prove it’s not found on the earth or our solar system; that it’s not found in the cosmos; that it’s not invisible to the eye; that it is actually subject to human measurement.  Arguing for the evolution of frogs from non-living matter is a pretty daunting task in itself.  Making the case that unconscious structures evolved over time into fully conscious, even self-conscious human beings, is an even greater stretch.  But dismissing Heaven altogether is a universal negative; impossible to prove and, therefore, silly to argue.

Romans 1:20-22 anticipates the blindness which afflicts some of our most brilliant minds in the realm of science today: “For since the creation of the world, His insisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful; but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…”

Dr. Hawking feels so wise and self-assured that he can debate a universal negative.  The breathless voices of the media hail  him a visionary.  The Lord just calls him a fool.

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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