Reality and Fantasy: If we don’t know the difference, we’re in trouble!

In his book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, actor Michael J. Fox points out that some people take far too seriously what they see on the screen:

No matter how fantastic a move’s premise is, there are always a special few who buy in and accept the (craziness) at face value, like the hoverboard (seen in his 1985 movie Back to the Future). I’ve fielded more questions about hoverboards than any other aspect of the trilogy.  Otherwise sane people were convinced that these devices actually existed, especially after (Director) Bob Zemeckis made tongue-in-cheek comments to the press about parent groups preventing toy manufacturers from putting them on the market (this resulted in hundreds of kids calling Mattel, demanding hoverboards for Christmas).  Believe me, if someone had actually devised and manufactured a flying skateboard capable of propelling a surfer on an invisible wave of air, he didn’t let me in on the secret.  It could have spared me from hours of dangling like a flesh-and-blood Pinocchio.  Alternately strapped into every manner of harness, hinged leg brace, and flying apparatus the most sadistic special-effects engineers could devise, my foot stapled to that pink piece of plastic, I spent hours attached to metal cables, swinging from sixty-foot cranes, back and forth across the Courthouse Square set.

People believed those things existed?  Apparently there is no boundary outside which some people will not stray when it comes to gullibility.  If it’s on the big screen, it must be true.  This is a variation of a greater truth: If it’s on the internet, it’s automatically true.

This is where we all roll our eyes.

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Friends of the Cross

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:  whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things.  For our citizenship is in Heaven….  (Philippians 3:17-21).

There is a reason each of the four gospels devotes at least a fourth of its chapters to the final week of Jesus’ life on earth.  His death-burial-resurrection is the heart of the story.

The cross is not just the heart of the story; it is the story!

In Philippians 3, Paul weeps over church members who claim to be authentic and present themselves as leaders and teachers but are actually “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  He does not say specifically what these trouble-makers are doing.  Often, when Scripture is silent on something crucial like that, I suspect it means the Holy Spirit does not want us to camp out on what these offenders did, lest we become too narrow in our focus.  Enemies of the cross of Jesus can be found across Christendom today and their emphasis may be entirely different from the shenanigans of the First Century.

Scholars think that in context, because of Paul’s indictment of them (their god is their belly, etc) these “enemies of the cross” were probably libertines, forerunners of the Gnostics, or Judaizers. Or both.  The first group taught that since they were saved anything they did afterwards did not matter, which brings great shame to the cause of Christ. The second group held that they were saved by their works.  In each case, the result was  to undermine and nullify the work of Jesus on the cross.

After all, if we go right on in the same wickedness and debauchery after being saved as before, what was the point of the cross?  And if we are saved by our good works, why did Jesus go to all the trouble of dying for our sins?

The good-time charlies and the rigid Pharisees are both enemies of the cross and have no place in church leadership.  (Let the church pay attention to this!  Everyone may enter the church without changing their lives; but only the faithful and godly should be given leadership positions.)

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Pastor, let no one rob you of Revelation 3:20!

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any one hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and will sup with him and him with me” (Revelation 3:20).

That verse, with its promise and visual image, has been a mainstay in my evangelistic presentations for as long as I can remember.  But lately, it’s been under attack.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard self-appointed critics insist, “That statement was made to a church! It’s not to be used for evangelism.”  “Jesus is not talking about coming into the sinner’s heart; He’s talking about coming into a cold, complacent church!”  “You’re taking it out of context to use in soulwinning.”   “Careful scholarship would prevent you from misusing this verse.”

A professor of Greek in a well known, conservative seminary calls it scripture twisting to use Revelation 3:20 in evangelism.

And so forth.

We respond….

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Stripping the Christian faith of its hard edges

“Master, are you aware the Pharisees were offended by (what you preached)?”  (Matthew 15:12)

The truth has a way of offending.

Those who preach the Word must keep a sharp edge on their message.

The typical “liberal” church in modern America has no problem offending traditionalists.  What it cannot do–will not dare do, not for all the world!–is to go against the conventional wisdom of the day.  If the culture decides a thing is wrong, the accommodating church finds a way to adapt its doctrine and practices to the prevailing whims.  And so we have churches that call themselves Christian and Bible-believing ignoring or twisting Scripture in order to justify abortions, euthanasia, legalization of drugs, and the LGBTQ agenda, while erasing from their beliefs and practices anything having to do with the necessity of being born again, the role of the blood of Christ in our salvation, or the reality of hell.

What’s going on here?

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How to be all things to all people

I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.  –I Corinthians 9:22

Imagine someone saying, “I’ve decided to become all things to all people.”  You would wonder if they had a) lost their minds or b) chosen a shortcut to losing same.

That’s quite an assignment Paul gave himself.  He would, he informs us, become…

–as a Jew in order to reach the Jews.

–as under the Law in order to reach those living under the Law.

–as without the Law that he might win those who are without the Law

–as weak, that he might win the weak

And finally, as though to throw the net over the entire lost population, he says, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.”

How does he do that, we wonder.  Is the effective Christian worker to be schizophrenic, parceling himself out to this group and that group with the intention of winning them to Jesus?  And how does that work?

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Was Jesus God? Or God, Junior? Is the Trinity a made-up doctrine?

“The Word was God…..The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).

“No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22.)

Try explaining God.

We’ll wait.  Let us know when you’re ready.

Oh, when you’re done with that, tell us how Jesus is both fully man and fully God.  And how God is One, but He’s also Father, Son, and Spirit.

If you decide to punt–and simply dismiss the entire discussion as man’s futile attempt to define an unknowable God–then the discussion ends there.  God’s people who love the Word and believe it want to understand how it all fits together, what each piece is saying about our Lord, and thus to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Peter 3:18).

We never go wrong trying to understand God’s Word.  And the best commentary on the Word of God is the rest of the Word of God.

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Jesus and only Jesus. Why is that so difficult?

Only Jesus.

–No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there.  John 3:13.  How clear is that?  He is the One who knows.

–No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus.  John 14:6.  How clear is that?  He is our Mediator.

–No one can know God unless Jesus reveals Him to them.  Matthew 11:27.  How clear is that?  He is the Revealer.

–There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Only Jesus.  Acts 4:12.  How clear is that?  He is our Savior.

–Jesus said He was given authority over all mankind.  John 3:35; 13:3; 17:2 and Matthew 28:18.  How clear is that?  He is Lord.

Here’s an outline that sums it up for me. 

It got me out of bed in the middle of the night recently.  Use it if you can and if the Lord leads…

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If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you wrote it, thank several.

Teachers. God bless ’em.

It’s the most demanding occupation on the planet, certainly the most rewarding, and unquestionably the most underpaid.

Teachers have a great role model in our Savior.

A quick Bible study.  The Lord Jesus is not called the Master Teacher without cause.  Take one chapter of the gospels, Mark 8, selected completely at random.  Note the questions the Lord asks…

v. 5 “How many loaves do you have?”

v. 12 “Why does this generation seek for a sign?”

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Expectations all out of kilter

The curse of modern Christianity is that we expect–

–little of the Lord

–too much of the church

–and nothing of ourselves

And because we expect LITTLE FROM THE LORD, we are powerless, prayerless, weak, ineffective, and defeated.

Because we expect TOO MUCH FROM THE CHURCH we are frustrated, demanding, self-centered, and end up church-hopping or pastor-terminating.

Because we expect NOTHING FROM OURSELVES, we are lazy and spoiled, passive and shallow, and get offended when asked to do anything outside our comfort zone.

Luke 7:18-35 deals with expectations in three areas: What we expect of Jesus, what we expect of the preacher, and what we expect of ourselves.

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The surprises of the prodigal

“A certain man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’  And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, where he squandered his estate with loose living….” (Luke 15:11ff.)

The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is iconic. That means it is typical, well-known, an accurate depiction of a thousand things about this life.  Understand that story and you know a great deal about how life works and what God does.

If you knew nothing more about God than how He is depicted in this parable, you would love him with all your heart.

You and I are represented by the foolish, younger son.

That son, the subject of a few million sermons and the inspiration of almost as many conversions, received a lot of surprises in this story…

One. He was surprised that the father granted his selfish request. Some lessons we just have to learn for ourselves, and the Father was a good teacher.

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