Core Ideas of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Posts tagged ‘what is the Gospel’

Take No Captives

MESSAGE IN THE SKY

Sunday’s sermon was all about forgiveness and reconciliation.  As followers of Christ, you and I are under orders to forgive first- even before the people who have offended us apologize.  In scripture, Jesus prays that the Father will forgive the people killing him and the others mocking him even though the murder and mayhem are still underway, and no one has said “I’m sorry.”  It may be proper etiquette to wait for an apology, but it’s not Christ-like.  Forgiveness is our default setting.

Saints offer grace because it was extended to us first.  We forgive first in hopes that the kindness of God will lead others to repentance.  It’s not grace with an asterisk.  It’s not “I forgive you, but…”  Like the father of the prodigal son, we have already applied forgiveness to the offenses of others long before we spot them on the horizon, running in our direction to make peace.  We have forgiven them before they utter a word.  It simply takes too much energy to live with an open wound.

After the sermon was finished, we sang that wonderful lyric from O Great God. The song begins, “O Great God of highest heaven, occupy my lowly heart.”  As we sang those words together, one single, vivid image filled my mind.

I could imagine myself inviting the Christ into my life.  “Come in, Lord, and make yourself at home.”  I could see myself guiding him through the living room, the den, and into the kitchen, even opening the refrigerator door.  Then I would show him the bedrooms and the garage.  And finally, I would take him down into the basement of my heart and show him the dungeon.

“Lord, I have to say how ashamed I am that I ever built a prison here.  But I wanted you to see that I have unlocked the door to this cell, and I have set my captives free. Lord Jesus, please occupy this dark sad place as well, and transform it to a worship center.”  That’s all I could think about on Sunday, and it’s still on my mind today.

Lift up the Cross!

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Burying Jesus

Killing JesusBill O’Reilly’s new book is titled Killing Jesus, so it’s not surprising that he focuses almost entirely on the crucifixion week. If you never watched Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, and if you’ve never given much thought to how Jesus actually died, you will find O’Reilly’s explanations helpful and instructive.  He follows the accounts of the New Testament very closely and treats them with respect.  You can tell the authors have done some research by little details woven into the account, like the title of the soldier responsible for ensuring that a victim of crucifixion was truly dead: the exactor mortis.

Mr. O’Reilly is the well-known commentator on the Fox News Channel, so it’s no surprise that he is largely interested in the history and politics that led up to the death of Christ.  Because he professes to be a devout Roman Catholic, we would expect him to to have deep convictions about the events he describes.  So I was surprised that the book offers no recent discoveries or fresh insights.  Regarding the death of Christ, Killing Jesus seems largely accurate and faithful to the Gospels.  It is interesting, but not compelling.

In the real world, the death of Christ is intricately interwoven with his ministry of the Gospel and his resurrection.  In this book, the ministry of Jesus before his final week merits only four chapters and his return from death gets three inconclusive paragraphs.  Without those vital elements, Jesus of Nazareth seems more like some unlucky political martyr who died unjustly at the hands of fanatics and political hacks. That’s tragic, but certainly not earthshaking.  Historically, Christ’s death on the cross was a pivotal moment in history only because it brought fulfillment to his revolutionary life and teachings, and paved the way for his resurrection, a once in history event!  So authors O’Reilly and Dugard capture the violence but miss the point.

Here’s how Killing Jesus describes the arrival of the women at Christ’s tomb on Easter Sunday morning: “Mary Magadalene cautiously steps forward and looks inside.  She smells the myrrh and aloe in which Jesus’s body was anointed.  She clearly sees the linen shroud in which the body was wrapped.  But there is nothing there.  To this day the body of Jesus of Nazareth has never been found.”  That’s it.

To this day, the body of Jimmy Hoffa has never been found either.  So what?  Significantly, the same four gospels on which O’Reilly has based his new book also describe Christ’s resurrection with the same wealth of detail.  Why should we trust what they say about the cross but discount their account of what happened at the tomb?  The historical resurrection of Christ was central to the message of his suddenly irrepressible followers who literally risked their lives to spread the Gospel and ultimately change the world.

Ironically, Mr. O’Reilly’s narrative style never rises to the level of inspiration until the very last page when he quotes a politician.   President Ronald Reagan once said of the Lord, “He promised there will never be a dark night that does not end.  And by dying for us, Jesus showed how far our love should be ready to go- all the way.”

Lift up the Cross!

Sharing Your Faith: WWJD?

CONVERSATION 03

Talking to your friends about Jesus Christ in 2013 can sound ominous if you over-think it.  What if they ask about gay rights?  What if they believe in evolution?  What if they think the Bible was concocted by a pagan emperor and a bunch of sycophantic Catholic priests?

Here’s the key: don’t wade into all those details. For most of the history of the Bible, the finest Christians in the world lived bold lives for the Kingdom without ever thinking about those particular questions.  Granted, you and I have to think about them, but that’s not where you should begin in talking to a secular friend or co-worker about Jesus Christ.  Instead, keep the main thing the main thing!

1. Talk about the meaning of Creation.  The fact is that even mainstream Christians don’t all agree on the details of God’s creation of the universe.  Was it six literal days, six long periods of time, or the Eternal God working through evolution?  I have very strong convictions about the details of creation, but my unsaved friends need to hear the meaning.  God created us because he takes pleasure in men and women and has equipped us with unique talents and potential.  We have a reason for being here, and one reason is to be loved by the Creator God.  Talk about God’s purpose- not Darwin’s theory.  Leave room for the Holy Spirit to instruct them once they become disciples.

2. Talk about the message of the Bible.  You and I have very real positions on the inspiration of scripture.  We have definite ideas about inerrancy, infallibility, and insinuations by atheists who have written best-selling books.  But when you are talking to people who don’t know Christ, don’t even go there.  The 66 books of the Bible are interwoven around one message: God loves fallen human beings so much that he has made one effort after another to connect with us, reach out to us, and draw us into his divine life.  The Bible has two covenants but one God- the one who loves us so much that he wants to see us as righteous.  Talk about that.

3. Talk about the miracle of Christ’s Resurrection.  The cross of Jesus Christ is a central element of the Gospel, but don’t forget the resurrection!  Read the Book of Acts carefully and you’ll find that’s what riveted the attention of people who first heard the sermons of Peter and Paul.  Many men had been crucified, even a few decent ones, but only one ever came back from the grave and launched an historic movement.  Don’t be ashamed of the power of the cross, but don’t neglect the miracle of Christ’s return from death.  Talk about the opportunity for a fresh start that only Christ can offer us.

You’ll notice that Jesus rarely waded into public controversies like Roman politics or the economics of slavery or the role of men in the synagogue.  He talked about the love of God at every turn in the road.  So I challenge you to go and do likewise:  bring up your faith with friends and co-workers this week.  And I leave you with two guidelines:

  • WWJD: What would Jesus do?
  • KISS: Keep it simple, Saints!

Lift up the Cross!

Defiance!

 

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”  Matthew 10:16

There’s a clarifying moment in Acts 4 when Peter and John are ordered by leaders of the Holy City Regime that they must stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ.  This is more than a command that they must cease and desist from using the name Jesus.  Rather, they must stop teaching his ideas; quit acting under his authority.  Our guys reply, “You can judge for yourselves whether it right for us to obey you rather than God.  But as for us, we cannot possibly stop talking about what we’ve seen and heard.” (4:20-21)  As soon as the dynamic duo are together again with their friends at church, they share the warnings from the powers that be, and then pray that God will grant them all boldness to continue.  Scripture reports that the room is shaken.

Twenty-one centuries later, if we don’t hear about prayer chapels being rocked anymore, maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time since we prayed for boldness.  Rather than digging deep for determination to turn the tide of evil and asking God to sustain us, we have apparently decided to pray for public relations strategies to improve our image.  Somewhere along the way to the Big Tent Church, many of us decided that Jesus is probably still relevant, but his message is so 1980’s!  Nobody is a fan of political correctness or thought police, but who really wants to buck the system? Not us!  So we have packed away hot button words like holiness, judgment, sin, chastity, integrity, sacrifice, and moral purity  because we can’t go around making other people feel bad.  And that “One Way Jesus” routine has to go, in exchange a smiling god with a California tan; a gentle guide who embraces all serious practitioners of any religion.  “In fact, let’s stop talking about faith all together except when we go to church.  Nobody at work wants to hear this stuff anyway!”

In a culture that teaches “No Limits,” the Gospel is a line in the sand that drives trendy people crazy.  There’s only one way: it’s Jesus or a wasted life followed by condemnation.  There is never more than one choice: holiness or ultimate ruin.  There are responsibilities and roles: an affront to all those anything-goes individualists who want only to do their own thing.  There are demands to be met: will we worship the Almighty or will we simply run after our whims and impulses?  The Gospel is too black and white for a colorful generation like this one!  At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

C.S. Lewis once recommended “resistance thinking.”  But long, long before that Jesus Christ taught that we must persevere in the face of opposition.  He forecast that even  family members would turn against us and that persecution and even arrest would follow.  “But whoever remains faithful to the end will be saved.” (John 10:23)  Now there’s an ancient concept: faithful.  It’s so demanding!  It’s so…so Jesus, isn’t it?

There are some other powerful words Christians need to reclaim, and I’m not just talking about chastity, integrity, moral purity, self control, and sacrifice.  We also need to discover the meaning of some Old School words like defiance, subversive, and bold.  Our race for respectability has gained us nothing.  When we finally surrender one “offensive idea,” the intelligentsia always seem to discover another ugly doctrine that must be abandoned next.  What would happen if we stopped apologizing for the Gospel, and began to live it unashamedly?  Few  seem to know at this PC moment, but it seems like an idea whose time has come… again!

Lift up the Cross!

Bless Your Heart

When the Bible speaks about being pure in heart, we tend to think about getting rid of dirty minds.  In biblical terms, however, a pure heart requires far more than clean thinking.  In scripture, your heart is the control center of your life; the place where you make your decisions and turn your purposes into actions.  That means a pure heart denotes the control center of a life that is not riddled and twisted with conflicting purposes and contradictory priorities.  It is best described in Ezekiel 11:19.  “And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart.”  God desires a steadfast heart, an undivided heart, a personal situation room where he sits at the head of the table.

When you understand the meaning of a pure heart, it’s easier to grasp why spiritual warfare is so real and so painful.  We tend to imagine that kind of conflict as being waged by angels in the heavenlies, or by invisible forces.  But in fact, the most commonplace form of spiritual warfare is the skirmish for control of the steel reinforced door to your heart, your control center.  It’s the only place Jesus Christ can really be Lord, but it’s the hardest place in life to surrender.  We can manage a few habits, but Jesus seeks a pure heart.

For most Americans, the heart is a bundle of conflicting purposes and coping mechanisms all battling for control.  We do things that are dangerous and foolish; we commit selfish, unkind acts without even understanding why!  We wonder why life seems out of control.  And the answer is that the heart is about more than personal ambitions; it’s about secret sins, shameful experiences locked away from memory, unthinkable evils perpetrated against us by others when we were children or teens.  All those hidden toxins boil and fester and seep into our decision making- some times when we least expect it.  That’s why giving your life to Christ can seem so intimidating for a moment.  Most of us don’t even recognize all the forces at war in our lives.

The good news is that God can take away your heart of stone and give you a tender heart of flesh.  Learn more about this topic at http://www.providencetoday.org/pages.asp?pageid=24646.  The sermon is called “The Heart that Must be Broken.”

Lift up the Cross!

A Steak Through the Heart

When people ask 21st Century Americans what it means to be a Christian, we typically respond with either methodology or by- products.  We talk about repentance, faith and commitment.  Or we describe the peace and joy that have come into our lives, or brag about having real friends for the first time.  Of course, all that is true.

But whenever I read about Jesus Christ in witnessing situations, he always cuts to the chase and gets supernatural really quick!  He jolted religious Nicodemus when he talked about being born again!  Being a literal kind of guy, Nic at Night wondered, “How am I supposed to get back into my mother’s womb, anyway?”  Sure, he was thrown off balance, but face it: he needed a wake up call!

The Samaritan woman lived a decadent life in a religious community.  She didn’t expect much from religious types because she’d heard it all before.  Then Jesus suggested that if she were to ask, he could give her living water that would quench her thirst forever.  The rich young ruler was more than comfortable with his family’s riches.  He came to Jesus looking for a little adventure; perhaps a chance to hit the road with this famous rabbi and his rugged disciples.  Jesus wasn’t interested in another traveling partner.  He advised, “Sell all your possessions, and give the money to the poor.  Then you will riches in heaven.”  Riches in Heaven?  The young man was so flummoxed that he couldn’t even continue this token conversation.  He walked away, disappointed but more self aware.

I am convinced that people in my generation need more supernatural truth and less conventional wisdom.  They are happy with their friends at work.  They can get a buzz from their beer.  They believe they can sit down by a lake and find true peace.  And all this talk about repenting and trusting  sounds like mumbo jumbo to people who don’t understand that they are souls rather than bodies; that life is full of risks and mysteries.

So I’ve become a lot more intentional in the answers I give about faith and Jesus Christ.  Christianity is about getting a chance to start life over.  It’s about allowing Jesus Christ to take control of my body.  It’s about finding the Gates of Heaven today and walking inside.  Following Jesus is like driving away from a busy McDonald’s and going instead to a first-class steak restaurant.  And after you order everything your heart desire’s, the server comes back and says his boss has covered your check.

When you’re fishing, you have to set the hook before you start reeling.  So I give people a sharp, supernatural line they can really bite into.  And when they reply, “What?  What are you talking about,” I patiently reel them toward the cross.

Lift up the Cross!

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