The fine print in the gospel

That morning as I was getting ready to face the day, I noticed something on the television.  An ad for “hair club for women” was running.  Photos flew by with before and after shots of women. Most had been afflicted with bare spots or thinning mane and the “after” photos showed them with gloriously full tresses.

Then I saw it.  Down in the corner the small print said, “Results may vary.”

Ahh.  Yes, indeed.  Results may vary.  The old “caveat emptor.”

The ad might as well say “these are not typical,” as advertisers are forced to do by truth-in-advertising laws.

Sadly, in our culture we’re used to such come-ons and slick sales spiels. No one expects the used car salesman to tell you why we should be cautious in buying this particular car.  We’ve learned to turn a suspicious eye toward the seller of the house who cannot quit raving about all its fine points.  What, we wonder, is he not saying?

Which brings up another point…

The fine print of the gospel

Has anyone ever found “fine print” in the Lord’s offer of salvation? Is there anywhere that we are told things such as:

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Those who have trod this ground before and made it sacred

Who has walked this ground before me?

As a teen, I wondered that while working on our Alabama farm.  Walking behind our mule, I would find the occasional arrowhead and once in the same day my brother and I found two tomahawks. I have these rocks today in a cabinet in my living room, the earliest part of my treasured rock collection.

The Creek Indians, we are told, lived in those hills and hollows in North Alabama before President Andrew Jackson ordered the tribes east of the Mississippi River to be removed to Oklahoma. This “trail of tears” constitutes a sad saga in American history.  The teenage boy which I was, was fascinated with thoughts of the native Americans who lived here long before we arrived. (May I recommend a book? A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South by Peter Cozzens.)

Once while giving some Atlanta friends a tour of New Orleans, I asked, “Did you know Abraham Lincoln came to our city?”  They didn’t.

Few people do.

The teacher in me kicked into overdrive.

“Lincoln came to New Orleans twice, once in 1828 when he was 19 and again in 1831, at the age of 22,” I told them.

In those days, people would build flatboats and float down the Mississippi bringing crafts or produce to sell.  On arrival, they would peddle their cargo, then tear up the boat and sell it for firewood.  They would walk around for a couple of days and “see the elephant,” as they called it, then book passage north on a paddle-wheeler.

The first time, Lincoln came as a helper for his boss’ son, and the second time he was in charge.

Professor Richard Campanella of Tulane University wrote Lincoln in New Orleans, published in 2010 by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press.  It’s the best and most complete thing ever written on the subject, I feel confident in saying.  Subtitle: The 1828-1831 flatboat voyages and their place in history.

Now, the book is so dense, with interesting insights and details on every page, that reading it is a slow process.  Campanella even tells us where the flatboat probably docked, where Lincoln and his friend may have stayed, and which slave auction they may have watched.

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One reason I believe so strongly

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel….” (II Timothy 2:8)

Asking thoughtful believers why they are so dadgum confident of the truth of Jesus Christ will result in a hundred different answers.

A pastor friend says for him, it’s the Lord’s resurrection. It’s as historically verifiable as anything in ancient times and perhaps more. And if Jesus rose, then according to His word He’s still alive and how good is that!

To me the scriptures “fit” and just “feel right,” providing a wonderful assurance for this country boy. I recognize the arbitrary and subjective nature of that, but there it is.

Other reasons believers give for their eternal hope range from the archaeological evidence to the miracles they’ve experienced or their grandma’s testimony.

But there’s something else that looms large in my mind, a fact that dominates almost everything else.

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The Other Side of Christmas

The first shoe to drop was in the fields outside Bethlehem. The most-favored angel of all the ages brought the best news ever delivered to a small cluster of shepherds who heard it in stunned silence.

Do not be afraid. For I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be to all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10)

In making this announcement-of-all-announcements, the angel was revealing what God was doing at that moment, Who the babe in the manger actually was, and the purpose for which He had made this momentuous journey.

He came as our Savior.

If I may be allowed to say so, Jesus wasn’t the Savior yet. He came to do the things necessary in order to become our Savior. Salvation is not a do-it-yourself project for us, but in a manner of speaking, it was for Jesus. He came into the world to become our Light, our Pioneer and Trail-blazer, our Sin-bearer, our Propitiation, our Substitute, our Mediator.

Our Savior.

That’s the first part of the story. The second part–the other shoe to drop–is the account of what He did to achieve our salvation.

The New Testament is rife with tributes to Jesus for what He accomplished. From the Epistle to the Hebrews alone, here are some of the glowing testimonials to what He achieved. And He did it for you and me.

Think of what follows as the other side of the Christmas story.

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C. S. Lewis’s Christmas sermon to pagans

Note from Joe: I picked this up off the internet. Am reposting it here because I love it so much and want to preserve it nearby.  Use if you can.

Editor’s Note: In December of 2017 the world got a Christmas present – a lost C.S. Lewis work was recovered.

Stepanie Derrick, a PhD student at the University of Stirling, found the following article doing her research. It comes from The Strand a now-defunct and historically significant publication in the U.K.

We are publishing the piece here to highlight Lewis’ provocative idea that a re-paganization of the West would be useful for the cause of the Gospel.

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Making Jesus proud

When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8)

What Jesus is looking for — was when He walked the dusty roads of Galilee and is today — is faith. Nothing touches His heart like encountering someone who believes in Him and accepts that He is the living Son of God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” we read in Hebrews 11:6. That’s the point.

Four men heard Jesus was in the little house down the road and sprang into action. For days, they had been waiting on this moment. They hurried down to their friend’s house and loaded him onto a pallet. (A pallet could have been something as simple as a quilt.) Each grabbed a corner and they hoisted up their paralyzed colleague and proceeded out the door and down the road. Today, their friend would meet Jesus the Healer.

At the house, they ran into a problem. The place was packed out. People were stuffed into the doorways and hanging out the windows. No one made any move toward opening a way into the house for them.

No problem.

The four, still bearing their burden of love, walked around the side of the house and up the outside stairs to the roof. (In that part of the world, people built their homes so on hot nights, they could sleep outside for coolness and atop the house for safety.) They laid the man down and commenced to tearing into the roof. (These were not large houses and the roofs were less complicated than ours today.)

We can only imagine how the folks inside felt when parts of the ceiling began falling on them. Did they laugh when they realized what was happening? Someone on top must have called, “Hey, someone in there — give us a hand.” As they lowered the pallet into the room, men on the floor steadied the paralytic with their hands and gently laid him on the floor.

By now, the crowd had moved back and the four friends entered by the front door.

Great moment, now. All eyes are on Jesus. What will He do?

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Pastor, what makes your sermon Christian?

“Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them…. Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him…” (Acts 8:5,35).

Two sermons stand out in my mind as possibly the worst I have ever heard.

(And to those who ask about the worst sermons I personally have ever preached, there have been so many, it’s hard to choose!)

One sermon was interesting and easy to follow.  The other was a self-centered rant I found completely offensive.

The first was delivered by an interim pastor, a professor at the local Christian college. The subject was friendship.

The second was delivered by a young celebrity-type pastor who started that church eight years previously and it now ran in the thousands.  We were at one of their multiple locations watching him on a large screen. His subject? I’ve long forgotten.

Both sermons were helpful in some ways. Neither was biblical.  Both were delivered by gifted communicators; neither mentioned Jesus.  Neither message had even a passing acquaintance with the gospel.

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Pulling rank: What some pastors do which Jesus never did

Standing with a group of pastors, chatting and fellowshipping and shooting the (sacred) bull, someone came out with this:

“I told him I’m the pastor of the church, that God sent me here as the overseer, and if he doesn’t like it, he can find another church.”

That brought nods of approval, even from a couple who knew they would never have the gumption to say such a thing. Even if they feel it.

But that pastor is wrong.

Dead wrong.

If anyone on earth had the right to pull rank on other people, it was our Lord Himself.

Yet, He never did.

Now, God the Father didn’t seem to mind doing it.  Throughout the Old Testament the Almighty give commands and instructions to His people, then frequently added reminders that “I am the Lord!”  The idea being that “I have a right to say this, I have the authority to back it up, and you disobey at your own peril.”

Take the fascinating 19th chapter of Leviticus, the source of our Lord’s favorite “second greatest commandment” about loving your neighbor as yourself.  That chapter, thirty-seven verses long, contains numerous commands about treatment of foreigners, the poor, the vulnerable. Throughout, sixteen times we find God saying “I am the Lord.”

But the Lord Jesus did not pull rank on people.

When the religious big-shots grew rebellious over His abuse of the Sabbath as they saw it, Jesus reasoned with them: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath? to save a life? or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9) Make them think.

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What the Roman world was like when the Gospel came

Robert Harris is the best historical novelist on the scene today. He puts you in the time period.  You come away knowing those people.  Everything he writes is so readable.

Conspirata is a sequel to Harris’ novel Imperium, which chronicles the rise of Cicero in ancient Rome.  He sticks to the facts and to the actual speeches of Cicero as much as possible, which is what make this so valuable.  You feel you know these people afterwards.

Conspirata  tells of Cicero’s consulship in which he ruled over the Roman Empire for a brief period, his work as a senator, and his brilliance as a lawyer and orator.  It’s impossible to recommend this novel too highly; I loved it.

I was struck by the conditions in Rome at the time the story begins, which is 63 B.C. This was the most civilized and progressive society known to western man at the time.  We still speak of “the glory that was Rome.”  It was glorious, but only to a point and dependent on the strata of society you occupied.  Not everyone had it good.

Into this world, Jesus Christ was born. Into this culture the gospel came.  To these people, God sent a Savior.

Here is an excerpt. As you read it, ask yourself, “Man, did these people ever need a Savior?”

Such was the state of the city on the eve of Cicero’s consulship–a vortex of hunger, rumor, and anxiety, of crippled veterans and bankrupt farmers begging at every corner; of roistering bands of drunken young men terrorizing shopkeepers; of women from good families openly prostituting themselves outside the taverns; of sudden conflagrations, violent tempests….and scavenging dogs; of fanatics, soothsayers, beggars, fights. (p. 7)

And that’s only one paragraph!

Superstition pervaded every aspect of life. When the Senate convened, before any business was enacted, priests performed rituals to determine “the auguries,” or supernatural signs.  Flights of birds or lightning flashes were interpreted as warnings or encouragements.

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The two sides of death and why we don’t fear it any longer

God’s faithful no longer fear death as much as we used to.

Ever since our Lord Jesus went to the cross and pulled its fangs, descended into grave and recovered the keys, then rose from the tomb as the first fruits of eternal life, the poor ogre has lost his threat.

He still growls but all his rantings are just so much bumping his gums.

Maybe we ought to pity death.

Like a honeybee that has lost its stinger but is still flying around scaring people, death can no longer do any kind of significant damage to all who are in Jesus Christ.

No more fear, Christian. It’s all gone.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (I Cor. 15:55)

Hebrews 2:14 puts this in an unforgettable way: He Himself partook of (flesh and blood) that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to bondage all their lives.

Defeat the devil, deliver the hostages.

Big task. Great victory. Huge celebration–one that’s still going on.

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