Ground Zero of Our Faith – by Greg Albrecht

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Friend and Partner Letter from May 2018

These first century A.D. Christ-followers lived in a port city, surrounded by promiscuity and permissiveness. They seemed anything but one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28) as they debated and endlessly argued some rather minor, inconsequential issues while losing sight of the BIG PICTURE altogether. Some appeared proud of tolerating incestuous sexual sin within their fellowship. 

The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to this “wild bunch” of Christians in Corinth, addressing many specific problems and issues while relentlessly insisting on the BIG PICTURE of the cross of Christ. At the beginning of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says:

You’ll remember, friends, that when I first came to you to let you in on God’s master stroke, I didn’t try to impress you with polished words and the latest philosophy. I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is, then Jesus and what he did – Jesus crucified. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, The Message Bible).

At the end of this impassioned letter, Paul again calls the attention of his spiritual brothers and sisters to the importance of concentrating on and being centered in Jesus Christ and his cross:  The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried;

that he was raised from death on the third day… 

– 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, The Message Bible 

Far from being an obscure point of doctrine, the cross of Christ is ground zero of our faith. All of the teachings of Jesus are best understood and illuminated by his cross. The crucifixion of Jesus is a priority – a defining part of his identity, and for that matter, a foundational building block for all of us, as Christ-followers. The cross of Christ is an essential part of his identity – it is the heart and core of the gospel. 

  • The cross crushes the tyranny of attempting to please God on the basis of law while simultaneously and tenaciously insisting that the lavish grace of God is the ground of our being. 
  • The cross shocks and startles us with the mercy and forgiveness of God while convicting us of the perfect justice of God for one and all.  
  • The cross stands as a forever memorial that God understands and intimately knows our suffering and our shame. 
  • The cross of Jesus Christ, rather than the stone tablets of Sinai, is the ultimate spiritual script written by the finger of God, revealed, translated, published and proclaimed for the whole world, in and through Jesus, the rock of our salvation.
  • The cross is the love of God enshrined, his love letter to you and me and the whole world (John 3:16) lifting up Jesus and thus drawing all humanity to himself (John 12:32). 

It may sound simple to keep our focus on the cross of Christ, but that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Remember? It was during the “Last Supper” (Luke 22:24-30) as Jesus clearly pointed the way forward from the Passover lamb of the old covenant to himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), when the discussion disintegrated into a huge free for-all as the disciples argued about which of them would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom.

Later on, that same evening (see Luke 22:39-46), only hours from the time when he gave himself sacrificially on his cross, Jesus asked his disciples to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus finished praying, with such passion that his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground

 (Luke 22:44), he came back to the place he had left his disciples only to find them sleeping. 

When Christian missionaries from Europe preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in North America, Native Americans could not understand how and why the powerful and technologically advanced European civilization could worship a man who died on a cross. The natural inclination for every human is to be confused and perplexed with the seemingly upside-down message of the cross of Christ

To the human mind, God should be powerful, and never vulnerable. He should be strong and impervious to human limitations. God should be hearty and healthy – not weak and fragile. God, as humans perceive him, apart from the gospel, should control and rule and dictate and demand, not submit and serve. 

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Paul’s message to the Corinthian Christ-followers (with their addictive behaviors, pride, squabbling and a myriad of other spiritual dysfunctions) is so very relevant to our Christ-less religious world today. Religious wars based on pride and claims of spiritual superiority remind us that at the foot of Jesus’ cross the soldiers divided up his clothes by casting lots (Luke 23:34), oblivious of the cosmic, earth-shaking and eternal significance of the drama playing out a few feet above their heads. 

Denominations, churches and congregations throughout Christendom seem similarly oblivious of the central, unifying and amazing significance of the cross of Christ even as they jockey for position – self-promoting by ostensibly using Jesus’ clothing and name to gain more “market share.” 

In a never-ending battle of the Christ-less A-B-C’s (Attendance, Buildings and Cash), religious authorities twist themselves into pretzels with all kinds of competing truth claims. They take pride in how long their brand name has existed – their faithfulness to creeds and dogmas – and they promise God’s special blessings to those who participate in their rituals and ceremonies. 

Christ-less religion is singularly focused on its own growth and its own desire to perpetuate its own institutional legacy, often completely missing the unifying, powerful message of the cross of Christ. Christ-less religion obsesses about wafers or crackers, leavened or unleavened, wine or grape juice, the physical authority performing baptism and how much water must be used – so preoccupied with its dogmas, processions and its holy days that it forgets the holy ground at the foot of the cross of Christ. 

Institutionalized, Christ-less religion, in love with its own traditions, teachings, history and heritage more than the people it purports to serve, is actually hanging mill stones around the necks of the little people who are searching for God (Matthew 18:6). 

As we look to Jesus, as we set our hearts on things above (Colossians 3:1), as we gaze on his cross as he is lifted up before us, we are reminded of his message – his invitation (forgive my paraphrase and interpretation of his message):

Accept, embrace, believe and trust in my love. Don’t get bogged down in trying to please me with a lot of religious stuff – “throw off everything that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1) and run with patience the race I set before you. Creeds and rituals and ceremonies can confuse and take you away from following me. Religious buildings have no special significance. Follow me. Don’t allow yourselves to become “bewitched” (Galatians 3:1) by religious piedpipers, no matter how impressive they may seem. 

My dear friends – my spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ – thank God he allows you and me to serve him, and as we do let us not become bedazzled and mesmerized by superstition or religion – don’t be deceived by religious pomp and circumstance – don’t be seduced by the fool’s gold or the costume jewelry of Christ-less religion – the real treasure is Jesus. 

My dear friends and spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I love and appreciate so dearly – I leave you with the last verses of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, as translated by Eugene Peterson, in The Message Bible:

Our Master Jesus has his arms wide open for you. And I love you all in the Messiah, in Jesus. – 1 Corinthians 16:23-24 (The Message)

Greg Albrecht

Letters to My Friends

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