Monday, March 24, 2008

The Jewel in the Middle

Hello friends,

One of my favorite places to visit is Washington D.C. It is an amazing place. History is all around you. Everywhere you look there are interesting things to see. All of the federal buildings have free tours—the White House, the Pentagon, the FBI Building, the Capitol, etc. Then of course there are the various memorials—the Jefferson, the Lincoln, the WWII, the Vietnam Memorial—all of which are educational and very impressive. But best of all, the Smithsonian Institution complex is there, and all of their museums have free admission. A person could easily spend two weeks in Washington and still not even begin to take in all there is to see and enjoy. I’ve been there three times and hope to go back again someday.

One of my favorite exhibits is located in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It’s their mineralogy and gem collection. They have an incredible collection of stones and minerals, many displayed under “black light” to show their fascinating phosphorescent qualities. But they also have a breathtaking exhibit of jewelry, some of the world’s most famous and beautiful pieces, including the 44.5 carat “Hope Blue Diamond”. They are all displayed in high-security cases, behind shatterproof glass. And there are guards and cameras all around. But they let you get right up close to examine the jewelry.

One thing I have learned—it’s not about the setting but about the stone in the middle. The gold or silver setting is there to draw the eye to the masterpiece in the middle. It is there to enhance the central gem and make it more noticeable. In each case the setting is gorgeous, but it is the jewel in the middle that takes the breath away.

In the same way, the Christian message has a central focus, a precious core, a jewel in the middle. That jewel is the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the heart of the Gospel. It is the keystone of the arch of our faith. It is the central pillar that supports the whole weight of Christian theology. Without the resurrection we would have no hope of Heaven, no Christianity, and certainly no reason to celebrate on Easter. For this reason, critics, atheists, scoffers, and the devil himself have long understood the importance of the resurrection and have done everything possible to attack it, but to no avail. The resurrection of Jesus is an historic fact, witnessed by hundreds of people and described in writing by many. So certain of the veracity of the resurrection were the early Christians that thousands of them chose death rather than recant their faith in the Risen Christ.

The life and teachings of Jesus are amazing. His sinless life of kindness and selfless serving provide us with a beautiful example of how we should live with one another. His teachings inspire us and thrill our souls. The miracles He performed served as signposts to prove that He was exactly who He claimed to be—the Son of God who came to take away the sin of the world. But without the resurrection, all His claims and promises would fall to the ground. He stated repeatedly, and in clear terms, that after being crucified He would rise from the grave on the third day. The disciples heard Him say that. The Jewish religious leaders heard Him say that. The multitudes heard Him say that. If he had failed to rise from the grave, everything else He said could be discounted. It was all on the line on that Easter Sunday morning.

When you stop to think about it, to foretell His own death would not have been that hard, because everyone knew that the Jewish authorities wanted to kill Him. To guess that going to Jerusalem could likely get Him killed didn’t require the services of a fortuneteller. Jesus knew exactly which buttons to push to get Himself killed. However, to predict the exact method of His death and all of the details surrounding it would be statistically impossible. Yet He got every detail 100% correct. It all played out exactly as He said it would.

The physical resurrection of Jesus from the tomb is what makes Christianity unique among all the world’s religions. No other religion makes the unashamed claim that it’s leader rose from the grave—that he was dead, and is now alive again.

Just like with the dunk-tank at the fair, scoffers fling fast-ball potshots at the resurrection of Jesus, hoping to sink the whole body of Christian theology and silence the messengers as well as the message. But praise God, Jesus rose from the tomb on the third day, just as He said. He rose victorious over sin, death, and the grave. The resurrection did happen! Jesus is alive! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Celebrating His Resurrection,

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Back On The Air

Hello friends,

I haven't written for a while because I have been living in the Stone Age. Well... that may be an exaggeration. Let's say I went back in time and have been living in the 1960's. As a result of our office remodel project here at the church we had to rewire the whole system--phones, Internet, network, etc.--the whole shebang. That put us out of touch with the outside world for quite a while. Of course, I still had my cell phone, my only link with civilization for those days. But it was a good reminder of how much we have come to depend on all of these stupid gizmos.

All of that to say that I'm back. My IT friend, Art Bowers, got us all up and running again yesterday. Hurrah! The office project is not completed but at least we now back on the air, as they say in radio.

I have my plate full today, trying to finish things up for our Resurrection Celebration Service tomorrow morning, so I don't have time to write much. But I do want to wish you a blessed Easter. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith and theology. It is the doctrine upon which every other doctrine hangs. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we have no hope. If He had merely died and stayed in the ground there would be no Christianity. And the apostle Paul says that we would be of all men the most to be pitied because we have believed in a lie. However, Christ is raised, the tomb is empty, and Jesus is alive! Praise God, Jesus did exactly what He said He would do--on the third day He rose victorious over death and the grave. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

In one of the emails that had piled up in my inbox file I just found something that impressed me and moved me to tears. We have just passed the 5-year milepost in our war in Iraq, and we still have many of our courageous young men and women over there trying to give that country a chance at freedom. My crazy friend, Princess Carolyn, sent me this link to a video made by a soldier in Iraq. It is definitely worth watching, and maybe even passing on to some friend, to remind them not to forget to pray for the thousands who have not yet come home. I wish you a blessed and joy-filled Resurrection Sunday. JESUS IS ALIVE!

Crazy about Easter,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wisdom beyond his years

Hi friends,

Psalm 8:2 says, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of Thine enemies" (KJV). This verse has given rise to the expression, "Out of the mouths of babes..." The following audio clip is very interesting. Some of you may have already heard it, but it is worth a second listen. Logan, the boy speaking in the clip, is a 13 year-old farm kid who lives on a ranch in a very small town in Nebraska. Logan listens to Christian radio station 89.3FM, KSBJ, which broadcasts from Houston, TX. Logan phoned in to the radio station one night to talk to Pastor Mike on his call-in show. The boy was distraught because he'd had to euthanize a calf that he really cared for. From that painful experience he drew some conclusions about life and about God that reveal wisdom beyond his years.

I found it amazing that this little guy could have such insight into the nature of God. In Matthew 18:2-3 Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

I hope I never get too "smart," too "wise," or too "spiritual" to learn from children.

Crazy about kids,

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

And now for something different...

Hi friends,

Do you remember the Monty Python show? Or perhaps a better question would be, "Will you admit to ever having watched Monty Python?" Anyway, on that show you would often hear them say, "...And now for something different." The whole show was pretty different, come to think of it. It was certainly an acquired taste.

All that to say that today I am including something different. Here are two clips that made me laugh. The first audio clip is genuine; the second obviously isn't. One is blond for sure; I have my suspicions about the other. And don't send me nasty emails about being meanspirited toward blonds. It's a joke, for crying out loud!

Actual 911 Call...

BlondStar Emergency Call

Crazy as a loon, but a happy loon

Friday, March 7, 2008

Christianity LITE

Hello friends,

For the past few Sundays I've been preaching a series on the life of Samuel, one of my all-time favorite heroes from the Bible. The last time he made a personal appearance is recorded in I Samuel 28 when God allowed him to be brought back from Paradise to pronounce imminent judgment on King Saul for his rebellion and disobedience.

But that got me to thinking. What if the apostle Paul could come back from Heaven for just a few days to walk around and check out our 2008 world? What would he say about the state of Christendom, especially in this country? I think that he would be totally blown away by the number of people who claim to be Christians yet bear no resemblance to Christ. I think he would marvel at the insipid shallowness of the preaching in many so-called Christian churches. I think he would be very offended by all the people wearing crosses around their necks and from their earlobes while they go out and live like the devil. I think he would be confused and troubled by the Christianity Lite that we have come to accept and expect.

Coke Lite. It looks the same, smells the same, weighs the same, but lacks authenticity--nasty stuff. Bud Lite. It has the same color, it's called beer, but it is defined exactly by what it lacks--calories. Christianity Lite. It has the trapping of Christianity, some of the teachings, but it is not the real thing. Rather, it is a cheap knockoff, a counterfeit, a carefully devised substitute.

Paul, in I Timothy 4 warns us: "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth."

Then in II Timothy 3 Paul elaborates even more on what it will be like in the last days: "But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these."

"Holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power." That is Christianity Lite, and we are swimming in it. It is Christianity without the cross, original sin, Satan, blood, hell, eternal damnation, guilt, etc. - you know, all the stuff that makes people feel queasy. It is a kinder, gentler, more user-friendly brand of Christianity that offends almost no one. EXCEPT OF COURSE FOR JESUS, AND ANYBODY WHO HAS EVER READ HIS BIBLE!

You can't take the cross out of Christianity and expect to have anything left. The cross is central in the story of redemption because sin is central in human history. We are all sinners by nature and by choice and are all racing headlong toward Hell's Canyon, and I'm not talking about the one out east of here. Sin carries consequences and God knew that the cross was necessary if any of us was ever to have a chance to avoid the inevitable destruction we were all headed toward.

But the cross is not pretty—it is an instrument of death. Half the Hollywood actors and starlets along with millions of other people wear it as jewelry as though it were an amulet, a good luck charm. But think about it... why don't we wear little miniature golden gallows, or electric chairs, or gas chambers? The cross was never meant to be a decoration, especially for lukewarm Lite Christians.

I love the following words by A. W. Tozer. He says it so beautifully.

The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the Gospel (A.W. Tozer).

Most of us in this country have been marinating in Christianity Lite for so long that we aren't really sure what the real thing would look like. I'm talking about the kind of Christianity that rocked the 1st Century, that changed whole cities by the power of the Gospel, that raised people off their sick beds, that caused prostitutes and IRS agents to fall to their knees in repentance before God, that made the demons cringe when Spirit-filled Christians walked by. I'm really sick of Christianity Lite--in me, in you, in our churches, in all of us. I hope I live long enough to see this city rocked by the real thing.

Tired of the fake, crazy for the real thing,

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Win, Lose, or Draw

Hello fight fans,

Many of you know that our second son, Chris "The Professor" Wilson is a professional mixed martial arts fighter. (For more information about him check out the link on this page to his website.)

This past Saturday night, March 1st, he fought arguably the toughest opponent of his career up until now. He went up against Jon Fitch, a highly publicized welterweight fighter (170 lbs.), in UFC 82, "Pride of a Champion." The fight was on pay-per-view and was broadcast all around the world. Chris fought very well and the fight went the distance, which meant that the winner had to be determined by the judges. Contrary to our opinion of how it should have turned out, the judges awarded the fight to Jon Fitch.

That night we had a house full of friends and relatives all glued to the wide-screen TV set, eating Papa Murphy's Pizza and shouting like crazed lunatics. I bit the bullet and ordered the pay-per-view feed in High Definition for $54.95. Now you know I'm crazy! We felt every blow landed, all the way from Columbus, Ohio.

As you can imagine, we were hoping that Chris would win the bout. It would have been great for his career and a fun upset because he was clearly considered the underdog. Chris took the fight at short notice because the UFC promoters were having trouble finding anyone else who had the nerve to meet Fitch in the ring. Chris' name is not yet well-known to fans east of the Rockies, but we knew that this fight would change all that, win, lose, or draw. We knew that no matter how the fight turned out his name would suddenly be known by millions of people around the world because of the wide television coverage of this competition. And that is exactly what happened.

Chris flew back home to Portland on Sunday afternoon. I called him up about 6PM, and he was feeling discouraged about the outcome of the fight. He really wanted to win it and was disappointed with his own performance. Like many of us, he struggles with perfectionist tendencies and is often his own worst critic. I tried to encourage and let him know that he had done a great job, and that we were all very proud of his performance, his courage, and his sportsmanship. I think it helped a little.

Today as I was thinking about Chris and my other two kids, Jonathan and Simoni, I got to thinking about the fact that in my mind all three of them are champions, win, lose, or draw. My love and appreciation for them is not based on whether or not they achieve "success" according to the world's measuring stick. Their value to me is not based on image or performance, but upon relationship. They are my kids and I love them dearly--win, lose, or draw.

That's how God feels about His kids too. He loves us unconditionally. He wants us to win in life's battles and He has given us the tools we need to do that, but His love toward us is not affected by how many bouts we win or lose.

Every child of God has played the prodigal at one time or another and has brought tears to the Father's eyes. I certainly have. Moreover, I occasionally brought tears to the eyes of my parents. Yet their love for me never wavered. My three children have all caused me some anxious moments and gray hairs, but when I look at them my dad smile starts deep down inside me and makes its way clear up to my face, because in my book they are winners--win, lose, or draw. They are my kids and I love them.

God's love is like that too. He is not an angry Father, always looking at His children's imperfections, filth, and failures. Instead, He sees us as clean and perfect and complete in Christ. He smiles when He looks at His kids. I hope that thought brightens your day, lifts your chin, and quickens your step.

Crazy, still crazy