Flip a coin

8408TwoFaceAs a fan of the Batman movie franchise, I'm reminded of one of my favorite villains, Two-Face.  Originally a moral hero and combatant of crime, Harvey Dent suffered a horrible fate when half of his face was burned off.  As a result, he was not only left with a badly scarred face, but a loss of sanity as his mental instability caused him to waver between good and evil. In an effort to settle his indecision, he carried a coin in his pocket that was scratched on one side, and pristine on the other from which all of his decisions, good and bad, derived.  Whenever a situation presented itself, he would flip the coin.  If it landed on the marred side, he would commit the crime, and if it landed on the shiny side, he would refrain from the offense.   Interestingly, the fate of the coin flip did not have any affect on the very character of Two-face.  No matter which side came up, he was still a demented threat to society because it takes only one crime to make a man a criminal regardless of all the right decisions he makes along the way.

The natural man faces a similar dilemma in the pursuit of goodness. Likewise, he carries a coin defined by the two sides of legalism and moralism.  The legalistic side is scarred perhaps because his soul has been crushed not only by its excess of human requirement, but also an accompanying attitude that enjoys it!  Although he is already naturally blinded to the glory of Christ, he is tragically driven deeper into darkness by the venomous spirit of legalism.  Superstition seems to be his disposition as the "things he wears" and the "places he goes" equate to the broken mirrors and black cats of divine acceptance.

By grace alone, he will wake up and escape from this satanic philosophy, but in an unwitting attempt to run and never look back, the moralistic side of the coin inevitably appears which is usually preceded by a season of liberation.  Indeed, in his desire to be freed from legalism, he goes to great lengths to decontaminate himself as he engages in the activities once considered iillegal.  One thing is for sure, he has no intention of going back to the dark side of the coin again!  Eventually at the end of short-lived freedom he will be entranced by the allure of the shiny side of the coin.  It's moralistic identity assures a kinder and gentler human striving. It doesn't focus as much on impermissible action but rather on pragmatic action.  It preaches the need to reach his human potential as opposed to a lingering of human failures.  This philosophy often proceeds (behind the guise of Christianity) with a technique for goodness, but ultimately it is proved to be mere human endeavor and the result is not unlike that of legalism! Why?  Because moralism and legalism are just different sides of the same coin!  Legalism promises acceptance through rule-keeping while moralism promises self-improvement through pragmatism.  Both in stark contrast to biblical Christianity, legalism views the Bible as a rule book while moralism uses the Bible as a handbook. However, the damning effect is not attributed to either side of the coin, but to the coin itself! For no matter where the coin lands after it is cast, the exertion is innately human, and until then it remains deep-seated in the pocket of human raiment. 

Conversely, the Gospel is a completely different coin where divine revelation is rendered from both sides.  First there is the revelation of our spiritual non-existence that is the sheer human inability to achieve divine goodness. By it, we are informed of our corrupted nature with which we have no chance apart from grace to cause our own existence.   Just as an infant cannot bring about the cause of his own conception, we are not the cause of our own spiritual birth!   The other side of the coin affords us a glimpse of the Glory of Christ displayed predominately on the Cross.  Together, the two sides illumined by the Holy Spirit give us true spiritual sight!  When you begin to really "see" the glory of Christ against the backdrop of the ruined human soul the Gospel increases in focus, igniting faith, and leads to genuine goodness! 

One Thing

One of my favorite movie characters by the name of Curly from the movie "City Slickers" with his Marlboro Man finger skyward pointed asks Mitch Robbins "do you know what the secret to life is?" to which Mitch replies, "your finger"?  "One thing" Curly exclaims! "You stick to that and everything else don’t mean ****!" 

Although I’m sorry to allude to such a crude movie quote to make my point about the gospel, I’m not sorry to say that the church has "one thing" to stick to!  Once we do, everything else…well…never mind.

I admit it.  I fell into the trap years ago.  In order that I might rebel against the spirit of legalism, I nearly threw the baby out with the bathwater.  The water of fundamentalism as I experienced it was a horrible stench.  Even the lost world came to this conclusion well before the very church that bathed in it.  Once the church at large started to smell herself, she went to great lengths to clean herself up.  (therein lies the problem) 

"The world won’t hear the gospel because of our pride and our attitudes" we rightly recognized.  So we pursued solutions instead of God.  We tried techniques and methods, instead of a prostrate position before Christ.  We blamed our fundamentalist, legalistic preachers instead of standing up and taking responsibility ourselves.   We abandoned the pastor-shepherd for the Administrative CEO/Manager.  In hope that we might not be as offensive as the ones before us, we took the offense out of the message.  To compensate for arrogance from the pulpit, we painted God as sin-tolerant.  Instead of proclaiming the gospel that tells us we won’t get any better, we supplanted it with a message on how to be a better you. (morality) 

Instead of telling the world that there is "none righteous, none that seeks after God", we informed them that they were "seekers".  Instead of preaching the relevant gospel we sought the counsel of the ones we called seekers and served up messages they find relevant.  Instead of equipping Christians with the Gospel so they can evangelize the world in which they live, we are preaching morality so they can actually have NO effect on the world in which they live. 

Does our music need new wine skins?  Yes!  Must we know our culture in order to reach them!  Yes! Do we need to better communicate the gospel so that it is accessible (understandable) to the un-churched?  Yes!  Should we keep an open mind to technological advances as they relate to improved communication of the message?  Yes! Are any of these things the gospel?  NO!

Do our pastors love people or the culture?  Where is their passion?  Is it invested in their careers as Pastor/CEO,  or is it invested in the scripture, in Christ! 

Let me leave you with the words from a sermon by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  As a church, we must get back to our God sanctioned role as proclaimers of the Gospel.  We need to proclaim "One Thing".  All other messages of morals and principles are powerless.

Blessings, Rob

"Our only message to those who are in the world is to repent and to believe the gospel! Nothing else. There is no hope for the world outside Christ, none whatsoever! There is no improvement predicted or prophesied for the world, none whatsoever! There is no greater error or heresy than to think it is the business of Christian preaching  to improve the world somewhat!  It’s a denial of the gospel!  The idea that it is the business of the church to recommend Christian principles to the world and plead with it and ask to put it into practice. To send messages to statesmen and ask them to put it into practice, I say is a denial of this. The only message of the gospel to the world is to tell it to repent because it’s under the wrath of God and unless it repents it’s lost eternally!  There is no message I say but repent and believe! The world that is without Christ is entirely without hope!

Good News is Good Food

I confess, I eat too much fast food.  You know you eat out too much when you refer to your meals as numbers.  What can I say? I love a good Whataburger, medium fries, and large coke!  In spite of my lunchtime vice, I still prefer a home-cooked meal!  During football season we eat at home on most Sundays.  My wife will put in a roast with potatoes in the oven, smothered in tomato sauce and spices, and as soon as we get home from church I can already smell it before I open the front door! 

Like most people, I love food! After all, it’s my primary source of life sustenance along with air and water.   I even love a good deli sandwich with fresh smoked ham!  However, the meat has to be fresh because I am  paranoid when it comes to ham or any other meat in the fridge.  I always smell it before I blindly put in on a slice of bread and chow down.  Why?  Because one time I took a bite of a spoiled ham sandwich, and it didn’t even make it past my tongue!  The sandwich retreated the other direction before it had the chance to invade my stomach with it’s bacterial poison!

All this talk of food reminds of 3 gospels:  The Fast-food gospel, the Spoiled Ham gospel, and the home-cooked gospel. 

Allow me to start with the Spoiled Ham Gospel.  I want to start here, because this was my first introduction to any kind of gospel.  Having grown up in a legalistic church environment, I was subjected to many repulsive gospel presentations.  Now, that’s not to say I didn’t hear the gospel growing up at all.  It’s just that the great majority of presentations were what Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls "appeals to the will".  An appeal to the will sermon is when the preacher attempts to "get you saved" by telling you to do certain things while refraining from doing certain things.  It is classic life-crushing legalism.  It is not a Biblical gospel, it’s Pharisaical at best.  There’s just enough truth to keep you hooked, and more than enough lies to crush your spirit. If you spend 20 years immersed in the spoiled ham gospel as I was, you know that it takes at least that long to shake your soul of its asbestos!  The Biblical gospel eradicates this poison with the truth that I am, by nature, unacceptable to God because of my sin, but it doesn’t leave me to die in my sin, it offers the solution which is the perfect atonement of Christ!  The Biblical gospel leaves me with no doubt that there is nothing to do on my part. The spoiled ham gospel will say you can’t earn salvation yet demands that you try anyway! Depressing. I’ve come to realize that you can’t reach people with a gospel that harps on behavior.  Ideally it sounds wonderful, but realistically it’s spiritually impossible!

One might wonder why people who are brought up this way don’t immediately escape from it.   Why not spit it out like spoiled meat?  I contend that if someone has never tasted fresh deli ham, they are unaware of it’s taint.   What makes spoiled meat so repulsive is the knowledge one has that this is not the way it is supposed to taste.  Having grown up in fundamentalism, I didn’t realize completely what the gospel was because I was rarely presented a gospel message that was complete in itself. A complete gospel will serve two purposes, revealing our soul to ourselves, and revealing God to our souls!  If the message we hear doesn’t accomplish this it’s not really good news in the long run.

Then there is the Fast-Food Gospel.  I like fast-food because, well, it’s fast!   Today, I was amazed at how fast I walked out of a
local sandwich shop as the sub was literally wrapped and ready
before I signed my debit card receipt!  You know what else?  Fast-food tastes good!  Fast food is
fast, convenient, and delicious! I like it because it satisfies an
immediate hunger. Consumers by nature love immediate results.  This is why we gravitate so closely to the Fast-food gospel.  This gospel is the basic knee-jerk reaction to the Spoiled Ham Gospel.  I suspect that those who preach this message probably came from the same background I did.  They understood the first gospel as a life-crushing proposition, so they responded with something more palatable.  In order not to offend unbelievers, they devised a gospel that was no longer offensive.  The problem here is that the Bible tells us that the gospel is offensive to the lost. (Jeremiah 6:10)  It offends primarily because it leaves us with nothing to do and that drives us crazy!  It offends because it asks us to receive grace and simply be grateful.   That really is good news, but human nature doesn’t think so!

This gospel is being served in our modern day evangelical church.  It is sometimes linked to prosperity with claims that God wants to make you rich if you’ll only be more faithful.  But it’s not limited to financial prosperity.  Ironically, even those who denounce this gospel end up preaching the same gospel anyway.  Except this time it’s not wealth, but well-being.  Instead of emphasizing the object of faith (Christ’s work on the Cross), it is the individual’s faith that is exemplified!  There’s little mentioned about the characteristics of a divine grace which extends itself to undeserving sinners who will never seek after God (although they’re referred to as "seekers" which is a less offensive replacement).  This gospel tastes good, but it is dangerous to the soul!  In McDonald’s like fashion, it is mass produced for a consumer audience.  Powered by this marketing engine, it is presented in the form of "being a better you" which can be equated with desirable goals such as being a better parent, spouse, and manager of money.  Of course, these are all things we should desire and Christians should seek to glorify God in these ordained positions of father/mother, husband/wife, and steward.  However, being a better you is not our essential spiritual need.  Our biggest need is not improved behavior in various areas of life!  Our biggest need rests in our souls and only God truly knows its condition. It is our own depravity that keeps us from seeing the true condition of our souls!  This is why we need the Gospel!  There is nothing inherently evil about fast food, but the realization will arrive some day that all of these years of gorging fries and quarter pounders produced an undesirable effect to your physical health.  The same is true of a fast-food gospel.  You will come to a realization that despite all of the good, "Christianizing" information you received over the years, that something is still amiss!  It is something in the depths of your soul! A Fast-food gospel will provide no lasting nourishment for your soul.  That’s not to say that it won’t satisfy your short term hunger.  That’s not to say it won’t taste great! But just as Jesus scolded the religious right of his day by pointing out to them that they spend all their time cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside smells wretched, that’s exactly what certain gospel presentations do.  They work on the outside of the vessel, and leave the inside totally unchanged!   So in an attempt to counter the legalistic tendencies of the spoiled meat gospel, the fast-food gospel has introduced a new form of legalism.  Both gospels appeal to the self and crowd out the gospel of grace!

Finally, there’s the Home-Cooked Gospel.  Home cooked meals just taste better, and even the unhealthiest ones are better for you than the average fast food meal or at least seems like it.  It’s certainly better than a spoiled ham sandwich. A meal like this is fulfilling because you realize the preparation involved.  There’s the carefully selected ingredients, the right mix of spices, and slow cooked in the oven at just the right temperature for the exact amount of time.  Finally, you sit down at the table surrounded by family and friends as you share your lives for this brief period of dining pleasure! 

The Home-cooked Gospel is the only message that satisfies the soul.  It doesn’t strong arm you into impossible expectations and it doesn’t promise a life without suffering.  As a matter of fact, the home-cooked gospel promises that there will be suffering in this life.  ‘But doesn’t Christian life promise peace and joy‘ you ask?  Yes, but it is peace and joy for your soul, not your flesh.  This is where prosperity gospel is so dangerous.  It confuses the state of the soul with the desires of the flesh.  The Apostle Paul knew the difference! This is why he was able to sing praises to God while in prison.  This is why "to live is Christ, to die is gain" was his sustaining mantra!  No one realized the gospel as strongly as Paul.  The self-acclaimed chiefest of sinners knew exactly what the gospel was in its fulness, and exactly how deep it went to raise him up to his new life! 

We as ministers of the Gospel have a simple but important responsibility.  We are commanded to preach the gospel.  There is faith involved in doing this simple task.  The faith is in the Word of God and it’s claim of power.  The faith is in the Holy Spirit to convict and penetrate hearts.  There’s no need to spin it, take the edge of it, or make it more relevant.  The gospel is relevant all by itself.  More than anything, I desire for people to receive Christ, but it has to happen by his prescribed way of gospel preaching and the work of the Holy Spirit! 

As individuals, we must focus on the fact that God has done all of the necessary work and we have but one response.  We are to receive it!  No morality to achieve, no work to do, nothing more.  He’s prepared the meal and has invited us to sit at his table and eat!