Cathedrals and Kingdoms

Our pastor at church this past weekend preached a sermon called “Don’t Go To Church… BE the Church.” I reflected a lot on that yesterday as I watched the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral go up in flames. American Christians are pretty comfortable with the idea that ‘church’ isn’t just a brick building you go to on Sunday’s. We Protestants are especially quick to point out that Jesus called us to focus on making disciples, not building campaigns. We believe in Emmanuel, “God with us”… wherever we may go. Paul tells us that we are all “God’s temple” and that His Spirit dwells always with us (1 Corinthians 3:16). So thanks be to God that His presence doesn’t reside solely in a building, but within us wherever we may be.

So, because we have this glorious truth, and perhaps because we are Americans whose history (or lack of it) leads us to jump right in and fix things, we make statements like this:

“Its too bad the relics didn’t burn.. The RCC uses thes fake relics to exploit people financially and keep them in spiritual bondage. The RCC gives a false gospel which has no hope.”

Justin Peters, Evangelist

I completely agree with his statement, by the way. But I take pause.

I take pause because if watching an 800 year old cathedral go up in flames doesn’t grieve your heart, well, I just don’t know. Something has been lost, and it’s more than just wood and stone.

I spent a good part of my younger years writing about and studying the Great Lady of Paris. Notre Dame was and is an overwhelming experience no matter who you are or what your faith may be. Your ego gets checked at the door as you enter and try and wrap your mind around the grandeur of it all. You feel small, and rightly so. To walk up tiny steps worn down by centuries of worshippers, to touch a cold stone pillar that has survived revolutions, wars, and who knows what… it humbles you.

Last night, when the first photos began to come out, this was what many people saw:

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There it stands. Yes, it’s symbolic. No, it doesn’t solve the enormous problems the Church in France or Europe is facing. As far as true Christianity goes, Notre Dame has been a bit of an empty vessel for many years. But there it stands, amongst actual flames and debris, the cross remains.

Friends, we are created for worship. We don’t worship the earthly material, we worship the One who created it. The fact that men centuries ago could use their God-given minds and talents to build something that would long outlast themselves, is something to be acknowledged. You can argue the point that places like this are prideful and opulent, and we Christians aren’t called to be either. Imagine worshipping in spirit and in truth in such a place. These places are symbolic of the physical presence of Jesus-followers here on earth. Granted, we haven’t always done a bang-up job at ‘being the church’ the way He taught us to, but I don’t fault the architects of beauty for that. I thank them for having the guts and dedication to build something on this earth that gets people to look up and ponder the greatness of their Creator.

So before we start lamenting the sad state of Christianity “over there”… let’s remember that we are not immune to our own cultural traps as well. Here’s a nice little ad for Easter services at an American mega-church:

If Europe is rationalizing it’s church away, we are entertaining the life right out of ours. I’m all for getting people to come to church on Easter, but they need something leave with. People in Europe go out of duty, while many of us go to be entertained. Some idolize old relics while others are Instagramming their professional bunny photos.

If Jesus’ death and resurrection aren’t being preached, what are we really doing?

It’s Holy Week. Although we all may disagree on how to celebrate it, can we pause for a moment and thank God that the cross still stands? Not just in Notre Dame, but in our lives. It stands through everything the world can throw our way. It stands regardless of man’s futile attempts to eradicate it. It stands when we cannot.

Thousands of people across the world are looking at that now iconic photo and saying, “I’m not a religious person… BUT…” Perhaps we need to help them finish that sentence.

We need to BE the church this week and going forward. People need to hear the Good News, see it demonstrated and lived out. The great bells at Notre Dame will ring out again, I’m sure of it. Maybe not this Easter, but eventually. Christians need to understand that the Good News spoken plainly and in love is better than those beautiful bells, or even the Easter Bunny in a helicopter.

So no, I’m not Catholic, but I mourn the loss of beauty that allowed my feeble mind to imagine a glimpse of heaven. At their best, cathedrals and churches are the catalysts that drive us to press in even more to our God.

Buildings matter. Buildings are not ultimate. We need both catacombs and cathedrals. We need churches meeting in homes and schools and movie theaters, to remind us that we are citizens of heaven, and we need structures and stability to remind us that we are connected to generations before us and to come. 
Notre Dame is a remarkable building. France, and the world, should grieve, and should then rebuild. We are right to lament the loss, but we are right also to be reminded of what cannot be lost. Cathedrals can be shaken; the kingdom never can be. 

Russell Moore

Defeater Beliefs

“I’m a Christian, BUT…”

“Well sure I believe the Bible is true BUT…”

We live in a time and place where fence-sitting could be a national sport. It’s good to be grey, bendy, undefined… unless you have defined yourself in which case, be whatever you want. There’s always some crazy hoopla surrounding “Christian” celebs or pastors who choose to go off into the grey, and rightly so.

There’s a great article, entitled “Gracious Confidence is More Appealing than Angst and Doubt that appeared in the Gospel Coalition and really hits the nail on the head I think. The idea of “defeater” beliefs is fascinating to me because it’s these beliefs are being used to draw people in. I have to say, I’m of the opinion that there’s so much beauty and freedom to be found in true Biblical Christianity, you don’t need to have a “yeah BUT…” excuse at any time. Too many big shots are out there preaching a pathetic version of the Bible because they are afraid of bringing the truth to sinners. How arrogant and prideful we have become when we take the responsibility upon ourselves to impress people with our words and actions. Love everyone, yes, but for heavens sakes give them something to believe in.

“But what happens when there are immediate “defeater” beliefs, such as “Christianity is intolerant because you believe Jesus is the only way” or “Christians believe in hell,” or “Christians discriminate against LGBT people because they don’t perform same-sex marriages”? When we come up against these objections, it’s easy to assume that the way to win hearing is to present the teachings of the Christian faith in the most tortured way possible, almost as if we too are as uncomfortable with our religion’s teaching as they are. We build common ground by acting as if we hold in common an outsider’s aversion to Christianity.

By presenting the image of ourselves as “wrestling” with challenging teachings, we think we come across more human, more vulnerable, and more authentic. We’re convinced we are more winsome when we make it seem as if we’d love for Christianity or the Bible to be different, or we’d love to find a way to interpret these texts differently, but right now, we’re just in the same season of struggle as many people of faith are, as we try to reach the modern world. I believe this approach is fundamentally misguided. There is nothing attractive about people proclaiming the lordship of Jesus who, deep down, resist some of the King’s commands. It’s like saying, “Jesus is Lord, but I don’t like it.”

There’s nothing attractive about inviting people to become part of a community that doesn’t know what it believes, or that is fundamentally uncomfortable with its own teachings. Yet this is the approach that I see among many evangelicals, particularly those of my own generation, who are trying to gain a hearing for the gospel.

I get it. It’s tough to present the beauty of Christianity in a culture in which the plausibility structures are set against you, in a pluralist society that sees all evangelism as intolerant, in an age that sees one’s self-expression (especially sexually) as fundamental to identity. Yes, it’s tough. We can all feel that pressure.

But we do ourselves no favors by backpedaling, by coming up with tortured explanations of why we believe what we believe, or by acting as if our hands are (unfortunately) tied by the biblical text we say is our authority.”

It isn’t authentic to not know what you believe. If we want to share the good news we must first not be ashamed of it, because it is indeed good news. When we act as though Jesus was just messing around when He said A, B or C we are saying our small brain knows better. Here’s a tip: we don’t.

We struggle and we sin, but we don’t totally leave the ranch for other pastures. There’s a truth that anchors us, centers us, and keeps us within the realm of Gods bounty, but when we proclaim to know more and simply bask in our “wrestling” we miss the freedom that Christ died to give us.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15

With gentleness and respect. We respect man more than God Himself when we change His gospel. We may be smart and witty and oh so plugged in to the heartbeat of our culture, but it benefits us nothing if we lose Christ along the way.

After The Resurrection

Did you know today is Ascension Day? Forty days have come and gone since Easter, Jesus has been with His disciples preaching, healing and communicating some of what is coming next. The book of Acts opens up the scene for us explaining that Jesus presented many “infallible proofs” of His resurrection to His disciples (1:3). Pentecost is coming, the promised power of the Holy Spirit will fall on them soon, but first Jesus must ascend back up to the Fathers throne in Heaven. For me, this was always a glossed-over event, nobody seemed able to explain the purpose of it. So, like many Catholics, this is my extent of knowledge on the Ascension:

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(Cue angelic voices singing…) I’m laughing, but really, that’s about it. Honestly, I kind of stopped at the Resurrection excitement and never looked back. So we give a little nod to the fact that Jesus went up on a cloud (?) into heaven (?) and… as Luke records in his gospel “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (24:52). Catholics call today a “day of obligation” which means you’d better get yourself to mass and commemorate the occasion, but that doesn’t help me. I know it’s a good thing, a big deal… but I am wanting to learn more about why that is. I did a little research and found some interesting thoughts from people smarter than myself:

“It’s Jesus’s ascension into the presence of God that gets all that he accomplished “down here” to count for us “up there” with God. Without Jesus’s ascension, there would be no true access to God, no full measure of the Spirit, and no great salvation. The ascension is a link in the chain of salvation as essential as Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. And the ascension has something powerful to say about humanity and the human body:

The ascension is the story of a body moving to heaven. It is not escape from the bodily realm, but the entry of humanity — in all our physical-ness — into heaven, the sphere of God. Far from diminishing the importance of the body, the ascension is the ultimate affirmation of bodily existence. The Son of God himself has a body — not as an historical convenience, but as a permanent presence in heaven. The ascension reminds us that Christianity is not only an historical faith, but a faith of the present and future. Jesus is, right now, in glorified humanity on the throne of the universe, wielding as the God-man “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He is not just our suffering servant who came and died and rose triumphant, but our actively ruling, actively conquering king.” Tim Chester

Actively ruling king. That my friends, makes all the difference in the world. He has returned to the Father, fulfilled every prophecy and promise, and sits at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. He promises He’s coming back for us as well. It’s all very overwhelming if you really think about it. The ascension isn’t some fluffy afterthought, it’s the very completion of what Jesus came to do. They witnessed His death, resurrection and now bodily departure from the earth with a promise that something even more incredible was coming. I can’t even fathom how they must have felt. It makes sense that they were “continually in the temple praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53). They had ten days now to wait for the final gift.

To be continued…

Humility 101

“The world screams “You are enough” and we are desperate to believe it. But being enough is different from being worthy and valuable. We are beautiful people flawed to the core, but deeply worthy of love and of priceless value to our Creator God… every one. Jesus has no favorites. So to say “without You I am nothing” is not to say we have no value. This prayer simply says that by ourselves, we are unable to thrive.” Lisa Whittle

That last sentence hits me so hard… we are unable to thrive on our own apart from God. As much as we may try, (and boy do we try) it goes against everything in our spiritual nature to try and live life on our own. Now our flesh is another story, it wants its moment in the spotlight, to be sure. We try to “be enough” as we strive and wrangle our way to the next thing, and the dust never seems to settle. It’s actually quite alright that we aren’t enough, because that’s the beauty of serving a God who is:

“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” 2 Corinthians 3:5

So we are not, in fact good enough or sufficient. Not on our own, anyways. Believing that our strength or wisdom comes from within is a short trip around the block, we end up right back where we started. The beauty of the Gospel is that it turns us away from our selfish, narrow selves and towards something far more satisfying and larger. It’s not that we don’t have value, in fact we are so important to God that He doesn’t want us wasting our lives on things that leave us empty. Likewise, we don’t ever need to feel bad about not being enough.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1

The story in Mark 9 where Jesus’ disciples struggle through this makes me laugh and cringe all at once:

“They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:33-35

Here they are, in the company of Jesus, traveling the long road with Him as He performs miracles and begins to reveal what is coming next – and they are arguing about which one of them was or would be the greatest. Lord have mercy. Literally.

Who had the best argument I wonder? John? Peter? Judas even? Jesus waits until they enter a house and then asks them “oh, by the way, what was all that arguing about?” Crickets.

I imagine how I am when my boys argue over something so ridiculous it just takes all my energy not to throw up my hands and leave the room. Jesus being Jesus, He sits down and has to explain a few things to them. Humility 101.

He has no favorites. When left to our own devices we are all kind of a selfish mess, wondering about being the greatest or the most (fill in the blank). There’s always someone better, and none of us are sufficient. What a relief that instead of living under condemnation, we can just go all-in with Jesus and thrive where He takes us.

Through abiding, we live. Through humility, we thrive.

Lord help us let go of the idea that we can ever be ‘enough’ and let us see the greater purpose that You have in using our insufficiency to glorify You. 🙌🏼

The Old Cross and Modern Thought

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“Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.” Charles Spurgeon

“There has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.” AW Tozer, The Old Cross and the New

There’s a noticeable and growing hesitation lately in Christian circles, to take a stand for the truth. A  watering down the true gospel in exchange for something more comfortable and less demanding. Believers are in quite a bind, stuck between a culture that is perpetually offended at the basic beliefs of Christianity and Christians who have tossed aside truth for this “new cross”

Tozer speaks of CONTENT and EMPHASIS. Just think about how this plays out in todays Christian churches or bookstores. The new cross idea makes no demands but as Tozer says “offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better. The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.” 

Yikes.

Read any of the best-selling Christian books lately? Attended any conferences? Is the emphasis on Jesus at all? Our need for Him? Or does it seem like a big bunch of feel good, self-help bumper stickers that tell us to embrace our disastrous selves and love our messy lives?

Life is messy. We are at times, giant disasters. We live in a world given over to sin and selfishness and it gets worse by the day. The answer to all that, the remedy to our sin, is Jesus and what He did for us. It’s not going to be found in this new cross.

My heart breaks to see so many well-intentioned believers (women especially) taken down this dead-end path of almost cult-like adoration for certain books and authors who promote this grey-area discipleship. People want less teaching and more funny stories. Fewer Bible verses, more Bible coloring. Why? Because it’s easier than addressing what’s happening in our hearts or our lives. It’s hip to be a hot mess. While the stories are engaging and often times hilarious, there’s a sense that we all just are supposed to embrace the crappy stuff and hug it out, because this is life. The new cross doesn’t come with much hope.

Jesus said He came to give us LIFE and give it ABUNDANTLY (John 10:10). He never implies the absence of problems, but it does say there’s a way to thrive in spite of them. If you aren’t directing someone to the cross, to Jesus Himself and to the supernatural power of His saving grace and love… where are you directing them to? To themselves? Back to yourself? To your latest book? To the next conference? Those may all be good and useful things, but it’s like feeding a child nothing but candy. Eventually, without any nutrients, they’re going to crash.

Christians following this new cross are heading for a crash. It’s unfulfilling at best, and totally destructive at worst. Tozer writes, “this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. it is false because it is blind. It misses completely the meaning of the cross.”

Content and emphasis. Are we emphasizing staying on good terms with the world? With sin? These are long and winding roads that all lead to a dead end.

Jesus loved without compromising the truth. He taught without modifying the message.  We live in a “sin-mad” world where the truth changes daily. Honestly, I can’t keep up. The new lists of micro-aggressions and trigger-words grow daily. The world’s truth alters constantly. But the Truth with a capital “T” cannot change. That’s why it’s so important for us to feed on more than just candy. Christians must know Jesus for themselves and point others directly to Him. That’s ministry. The fanfare and fluff may be entertaining, but hurting people need Jesus. Period.

“That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it.”

If we want to make a difference, lets start by pointing people to Jesus. We have enough distractions. Someone will always say it better or write it more eloquently. Jesus doesn’t need us to shine Him up or repackage Him. He needs us to be true to the message that has held since time began. That old cross may not be as hip or fashionable these days, but it’s the one that holds the power to transform lives. Rugged and true.

Pure and Bold, Like a Child

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Been on a bit of a writing break, bear with me while I try and get back into the swing of things! I’ll start off today with some classic truth from one of my favorites…

The men Jesus chose as His disciples were not exactly the most mature or qualified people for the job at hand. They came from all different walks of life, had different personalities and temperaments. The Bible tells us that they were both “uneducated and untrained” (Acts 4:13). Simon was a ‘zealot’, Matthew a hated tax collector, Peter was impulsive, none had much understanding of what they were signing up for. It was like Jesus was pulling an entire JV team off the benches and telling them “suit up!”

What did they have then, that made Jesus choose them? Lets look again at the rest of the verse from Acts 4:

“Now when they (the high priests) saw the BOLDNESS of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (v 14). 

They prayed for boldness, asked for wisdom and it changed everything. They may not have been the smartest, but they were teachable. They struggled and messed up, but they overcame.

“they were made like lions to meet any difficulty. They were made to stand any test, and these men that failed before the crucifixion, when the power of God fell upon them in the upper room, they came out in front of all those people who were gathered together and accused them of crucifying the Lord. They were bold. What made them so? I will tell you. Purity is bold. Take, for instance, a little child. It will gaze straight into your eyes for as long as you like, without winking once. The more pure, the more bold; and I tell you, God wants to bring us into that divine purity of heart and life – that holy boldness. Not self-righteousness; put a pure, holy, divine appointment by One Who will come in and live with you, defying the powers of satan, and standing you in a place of victory – overcoming the world” (Smith Wigglesworth, On Prayer, Powers, and Miracles)

Think on it – the more pure we are in our thinking, the more bold we are able to be in our actions. If I believe something to be true, I act accordingly. Simple, childlike faith in the One who says what He means and means what He says. “If you abide in My Word you are truly My disciples” (John 8:31). If we submit to His words, take them at face value and apply them… mountains will move.

The disciples didn’t become like lions on account of their natural abilities. In spite of all their shortcomings, they simply set their hearts to keep walking with Jesus. When our hearts are single-minded and focused on following Him, it doesn’t really matter if we fall or fail. A child learns to walk by falling. Eventually the things that once tripped us up have no power over us and we move on. Purity of heart makes us bold; we can believe what He says, proclaim it, and not fret about all the outcomes.

I’ll end on one more quote from Wigglesworth that sums it up;

“The scriptures do not tell two stories. They tell the truth. The power of God can remodel you. Pure in mind, heart and actions – pure right through.”

You don’t need to be a natural born anything to be a disciple – all He asks is for an open heart submitted to Him. He will purify and simplify everything until we are exactly who He created us to be!

 

They Walked With Him No More

“Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”  From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” John 6:60,66

Jesus had been doing some huge things in this chapter – healing diseases, walking on water, multiplying loaves and fish… and the crowds were pressing in. They couldn’t get enough. They were  asking, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?” (John 6:30). They saw miracles, had their fill of food and were ready for more.

But then Jesus started speaking some truth. He pointed out that there were spiritual things more important than physical – that He was the spiritual food and drink they needed, the very bread of life sent from heaven to save them. (v. 35-40). The Jews put much emphasis on the outside, physical form, so this was hard for them to take in. Feathers were ruffled.

Jesus knew there were those among the crowd who did not believe and would never believe. He spoke the truth perfectly. But still, “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (v. 66). Instead of running after them or becoming softer in His message, He turned to His remaining twelve and asked, “Do you also want to go away?” (v.66).

Ouch. Of course Jesus wasn’t trying to turn anyone away, but He most certainly wasn’t going to compromise any truth to make them stay.

We can present the gospel as beautifully and articulately as humanly possible, and people will still reject it. If Jesus Himself had people turn and walk away, we certainly should never be surprised by it. I imagine His face as they left, as He watched them go. He knew of course there was unbelief among them, but I think there still must have been great sadness in His eyes.

I imagine a crowd turning and leaving en masse when they became confused and offended. One person raises an objection, a fist in the air, and suddenly they all like sheep are “quarreling among themselves” (v 52) almost willfully misunderstanding His words. They too easily walk away from the man whom earlier they had been chasing down. It’s too hard, too unfamiliar for them. They go back to what they knew before.

Now think on the remaining twelve. He turns and asks “Well, what about you? Do you want to leave too?” He isn’t trying to polish His words or rephrase His message. He’s getting up and opening the door for anyone who may be ready to bolt.

Maybe the disciples were frozen. They had been given pieces of the puzzle, but it wasn’t complete yet. They didn’t fully understand what was to come. Jesus knew however, what was to come. If they couldn’t handle this situation, they certainly wouldn’t be able to stand by Him in the days to come.

But then something very encouraging happens. Simon Peter boldly chimes in and answers his Lord. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (v. 68)

Where would they go? Back to the legalism of the Jews? To the idolatry of serving other gods? To rejection of any religion?

Simon Peter chose to believe. Jesus had chosen him and now he was choosing Jesus right back.

When the crowds are turning their backs and walking away, Jesus turns to us and asks “And what about you?”

He leaves it entirely up to us. It’s both a beautiful and tragic thing.

“Let us be eager to leave what is familiar for what is true.” Francis Chan