That’s the Gospel

“”The One we preach is not Christ-in-a-vacuum, nor a mystical Christ unrelated to the real world, nor even only the Jesus of ancient history, but rather the contemporary Christ who once lived and died, and now lives to meet human need in all its variety today. To encounter Christ is to touch reality and experience transcendence. He gives us a sense of self-worth or personal significance, because he assures us of God’s love for us. He sets us free from guilt because he died for us, from the prison of our own self-centredness by the power of his resurrection, and from paralysing fear because he reigns, all the principalities and powers of evil having been put under his feet. He gives meaning to marriage and home, work and leisure, personhood and citizenship. He introduces us into his new community, the new humanity he is creating. He challenges us to go out into some segment of the world which does not acknowledge him, there to give ourselves in witness and service for him. He promises us that history is neither meaningless nor endless, for one day he will return to terminate it, to destroy death and to usher in the new universe of righteousness and peace” (John Stott).

First, the gospel is bad news. We’re all messed-up sinners in dire need of redemption. Then it is good news. God took on human form and became one of us to rescue us from our sin and ourselves. Then it is the best news ever. We not only get the penalty for all those sins paid for, but we get the blessings and benefits of Christ plus eternal life.

For it to be the true gospel, it has to tell the whole story. Not just the pretty or politically correct parts. It needs all of it. Any other gospel is really no gospel at all with no hope and no redemption.

After all, it’s the true gospel alone that still brings salvation.



Jesus Sees You

Tonight at Kairos, Mike Glenn talked about wee little Zaccheus and how he climbed up a wee little sycamore tree to see Jesus. Or maybe for Jesus to see him.

How many of us long to be seen and noticed by others? How many yearn for someone to say, “I see you. I see your struggles and victories, scars and joys. You are not invisible.”

Jesus saw Zaccheus. Not as the tax-collector who cheated people for extra profits, but as a broken man needing to be noticed. As someone who was lost and needed finding.

Jesus sees you. He doesn’t see your job title (or lack of one). He doesn’t see your impressive resume of mistakes and fiascos. He sees you.

He sees a broken person who’s tried every kind of piece to fill in the gap. He sees someone who holds the weight of the world on his mind and on his shoulders. He sees someone who yearns for love but doesn’t quite know how to ask for it.

He sees you.

Best of all, He sees the best possible you, the you that not even you can see. It’s the you that God always meant for you to be, your absolute best self when you look most like Jesus and feel most alive.

Jesus asked Zaccheus to come down out of his tree. He didn’t demand it. He didn’t force Zaccheus down. He asked.

If Zaccheus had refused Jesus’ offer, Jesus probably would have moved on and Zaccheus would have missed out on what he was looking for.

Sometimes, it takes you climbing down out of your tree, your self-imposed barrier to everything that’s hurt you and made you feel like less. Sometimes, you have to walk away from everything that’s comfortable to follow Jesus.

But it’s always worth it. Because Jesus not only knows and sees the real you, He will tell you who you really are. He will show you. And He will transform you.

That’s great news for all the Zaccheuses out there. Including me.


Long Journey Home

“We cannot find God without God. We cannot reach God without God. We cannot satisfy God without God- which is another way of saying that all our seeking will fall short unless God starts and finishes the search. The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but His descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in His grace” (Os Guinness, Long Journey Home).

That’s it.

It’s not that I found Jesus. As one pastor I know always puts it, it’s not Jesus who was lost. I was. Jesus found me.

It may sound like semantics to you, but I think it’s important to know the difference.

Salvation is all God. It’s not like I was smart enough to figure it out or brave enough to seek it out. If God hadn’t sought me out first, I never would have sought Him in the first place.

That’s humbling. I can take no credit whatsoever for my being saved. It is all of grace.

That’s also good news. It means that if it’s not up to human efforts or human goodness, then anyone can find it (or better yet, anyone can be found). There’s no such thing as too lost, too far gone, too out of reach for God.

That helps when you’re praying for a son or a daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father who seems hopelessly unreachable. It helps when you have a friend who seems bent on self-destructing and won’t let you help.

There are countless stories of those whom the world had basically given up on that God saved. The best example is the Apostle Paul. Maybe the next one will be someone you love. Maybe the next one will be you.


The Cut-Out Bin


“Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, The Message).

As I mentioned a few posts ago, one of my favorite things to do back in the day, i.e. the 80’s, was to browse the cutout bins at the local record store. For me, that primarily was Camelot Music in the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis, Tennessee.

You could always pick out those CDs earmarked for discount by the telltale slash on near the CD label. My understanding is that record labels designated albums that didn’t sell very well to be moved to the cutout bin. Usually, you’d find a lot of unknown artists or the “sophomore slump” albums by those one-hit wonder bands or a failed comeback attempt. Every now and then, you might find a diamond in the rough that deserved better than being relegated to the cutout bin.

I discovered a section in McKay’s today that I will probably need to investigate further. It’s the “very scratched” section. It’s a good deal because 1) you can fix most CD scratches with 70% or stronger rubbing alcohol and/or toothpaste, 2) most of the CDs in that section are barely scratched, and 3) even if you wind up with a dud, you still haven’t lost much more than $1.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 1:26, God didn’t choose the top 40s of the world. He chose those of us stuck in the cutout bin. He selected those overlooked by everybody else, those whose best days seemed behind them, those who don’t look like much or don’t seem to possess anything special. He chose you and me.

That’s something worth celebrating. That’s something worth remembering on those days when you don’t feel like your life means much or that you don’t matter.

That also begs a question. If that’s who God chose, who am I to treat people any differently? Who am I to be elitist and snobbish when God condescended Himself and met the lowest of us at our most desperate point of need? Who am I to ever denigrate anybody else (or even me) when God proved His love by sending Jesus to die for all of us?

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.


A Hump Day Psalm

“Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship,
    and punctuate it with Hallelujahs:
Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers;
    give glory, you sons of Jacob;
    adore him, you daughters of Israel.
He has never let you down,
    never looked the other way
    when you were being kicked around.
He has never wandered off to do his own thing;
    he has been right there, listening.

Here in this great gathering for worship
    I have discovered this praise-life.
And I’ll do what I promised right here
    in front of the God-worshipers.
Down-and-outers sit at God’s table
    and eat their fill.
Everyone on the hunt for God
    is here, praising him.
“Live it up, from head to toe.
    Don’t ever quit!”

From the four corners of the earth
    people are coming to their senses,
    are running back to God.
Long-lost families
    are falling on their faces before him.
God has taken charge;
    from now on he has the last word.

All the power-mongers are before him
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together

Our children and their children
    will get in on this
As the word is passed along
    from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
    will hear the good news—
    that God does what he says” (Psalm 22)

I posted this Psalm (translated by Mr. Eugene Peterson in The Message) on my Facebook about a year ago. It still speaks to me so I thought I’d post it again here. I don’t really need to add any commentary to it; it speaks for itself, or rather God still speaks through it.

On a side note, I wonder if the good folks also known as All Sons and Daughters got the idea for their song All the Poor and Powerless from this particular translation of Psalm 22. Just wondering.

Lessons from The Bishop’s Wife


I wonder how many of us are already overwhelmed by the prospect of buying all those Christmas gifts. Maybe you’re stressing about what to give that certain person who is so hard to buy for. Or maybe you don’t know how you’ll manage to find the time to buy and wrap all those presents and still manage to get everything else done.

I think I have an idea.

Maybe the gift you really need to be concerned about is the main gift you’ll ever give. As the main character in the movie The Bishop’s Wife says, “We’ve remembered everybody except one — that child born in a manger so long ago.” What will we give Him?

Talk about hard to buy for! This child, Jesus, already owns it all. The cattle on a thousand hills? Already got it. All the gold in Fort Knox? Already His.

So what can you give Jesus this year?

Maybe the best present you can give is to be present to Jesus. Maybe the best gift you can give is you. Not your time or your money or your best intentions, but you.

In other words, what Jesus wants more than anything from you this Christmas is your surrendered heart. What He desires is every part of you– the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it.

The good news is that no matter how badly you’ve screwed your life up, Jesus still wants it. No matter how much of a mess you’ve made of you, Jesus still wants you, just as you are right now. Not as you could be, but as you are in this very moment.

The better news (or maybe even the best news of all) is that Jesus takes you as you are but refuses to leave you that way. He promised to help you become every bit of who He made you to be. And it’s never too late in this lifetime to be all that God made you to be.

So that’s one less present you have to worry about, right?

Not All the News Out There is Bad

Sometimes, when you read the headlines, you get the sense that everything is going wrong and we’re all headed to hell in a very large handbasket. You sometimes get the feeling that all the news out there is depressing and bad with no redemption anywhere in sight.

But I ran across this little news story just now and it gave me hope.

It’s bittersweet and a bit sad but also a bit hopeful as well. It shows that people can be decent to each other and that even animals can be kind. I won’t add any more to spoil it.

Of course, not all the news is gloomy and bad. The Gospel, which literally means good news, says otherwise. The Gospel is the best news ever shared because it gives us hope. It gives me hope.

It says that no matter how bad my present may seem, the future will be much better. God has guaranteed it. The Gospel says that the ultimate and final victory has already been won and the ultimate Good Guys are the victors. It may not seem like it right now, but God’s promises are as good as done.

In fact, what God promises is so sure that we can speak of it as if it were already accomplished. We can speak of the future in past tense because it’s that certain. That’s what I love about the Gospel.

Here’s my take on the Gospel. You and I were born messed up and diagnosed with a terminal case of sin. We’ve rebelled against God and messed up our own lives as well as the lives around us. But God wouldn’t let it end that way.

He became one of us and lived among us and showed us how it’s done. He lived the perfect life. Not only that, but He died in our place, taking the punishment we deserved and offering a free and full life of abundance that we don’t deserve. Life that is rich and full and that lasts forever.

That’s the good news of the Gospel. And I think that’s good news.

My Favorite Gospel


“The synagogue attendant gave Him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus unrolled it to the place where Isaiah had written these words:

The Spirit of the Lord the Eternal One is on Me.
Why? Because the Eternal designated Me
to be His representative to the poor, to preach good news to them.
He sent Me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free,
and to tell the blind that they can now see.
He sent Me to liberate those held down by oppression.
In short, the Spirit is upon Me to proclaim that now is the time;
this is the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.[a]

Jesus rolled up the scroll and returned it to the synagogue attendant. Then He sat down, as a teacher would do, and all in the synagogue focused their attention on Jesus, waiting for Him to speak. He told them that these words from the Hebrew Scriptures were being fulfilled then and there, in their hearing” (Luke 4:17-21).

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what my favorite gospel was. It had something to do with my personality type. I said my favorite was Luke, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why other than pointing out the way Luke notices and writes down all the little details.

I think I know why now.

I’m in a class at my church where we’re reading through a Gospel each week and this past week, I read Luke. Well, actually, the past two days. I’m a bit of a procrastinator.

More than any of the Gospel writers, Luke is a champion of the disenfranchised and the outcast. He’s the only one to mention the lowly shepherds who were chosen by God to be the first evangelists and missionaries for the newborn Christ.

He points out that Joseph and Mary couldn’t afford a lamb so they brought two turtle-doves instead.

He’s the only one to include the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the hero is a despised outcast, as well as pointing out that the Good News is for all peoples everywhere. For people like me. For people like you.

That’s why I love the Gospel of Luke.

PS They’re all really, really good. I recommend reading one (or all of them) at some point very soon.

For All the Phonies in the World

Let me ask you something. Just between you and me (and the world wide web). Do you ever feel like a phony?

Do you ever hear yourself giving Sunday School answers to real life questions? Do you ever feel that you’re praying what you think God wants to hear instead of what’s really in your heart? Do you ever lie awake at night wondering what would happen if the people around you knew what you were really thinking? What you were really like?

There’s good news that sounds like bad news at first. God knows. God knows it all. He knows all the faux-prayers and the religious jargon you talk sometimes. He knows what you do and what you think when no one’s watching. That seems like bad news until you get to the clincher. He loves you anyway.

He loves you at your phoniest. He loves you at your meanest. He loves you at your darkest moments in the middle of the night. He looks at you and doesn’t see phony. He looks at you and sees Jesus and what Jesus did in your place. He sees the perfect life Jesus lived instead of your own very imperfect existence.

Best of all, God sees you for who you will be instead of who you are. He sees what He designed you to be. He promised to not stop working on you until you’re 100% real and complete.

In the meantime, it’s okay to be real and honest and admit you have made a mess of your life. It’s okay to confess you don’t have all the answers, or even all the questions. It’s really not about how much you know or how well you act but how much you are loved.

I raise my glass and toast to all the phonies who are stepping forward to take off the mask and be honest about themselves. I drink to all the pretenders who just got real. I salute all of you who are letting down the walls on what God is doing in your life so others can see grace at work and how love can transform a person. That’s where the freedom is. That’s where I want to be. I hope you do, too.

My two cents on spiritual warfare

A group of guys and I have been watching a DVD series on spiritual warfare by Chip Ingram called The Invisible War (and yes, that was a shameless plug). It got me thinking about the mindset of so many American believers (including me) regarding the whole topic of spiritual warfare. Plainly put, either most of us don’t believe there is an war going on with an enemy that is constantly seeking our destruction. If we believe, we sure don’t live like it much of the time. Again, me included.

The war is real. The enemy is real. In this world, we are not tourists on vacation, or passengers on some kind of luxury cruise, but soldiers engaged in battle. Our ignorance of the battle and our enemy can only do us harm. We need to wake up to realize that we are under attack. But here’s the best part.

The battle is already won. Chip Ingram said, “As believers in Christ, we don’t fight FOR victory. We fight FROM victory.” That’s the good news (which is why it’s called the gospel!). But there is still a battle.

We fight back by putting on the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. We should pray these on every morning and pray these for each other on a daily basis. We should pray with eyes wide open to the spiritual realm, asking God to give us eyes to see the battle around us like the Elijah prayed for his servant when they were surrounded by the Syrian army. We should pray for discernment and wisdom. Most of all, we should pray at all times to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-controlled, taking every thought captive and submitting them to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

We must fight together. If you are fighting the enemy on your own, apart from other believers, you may succeed for a season, but you will ultimately grow weary and faint. You will stumble and fall. You need other believers praying God’s protection over you, encouraging you and keeping you honest.

We fight ultimately with one weapon– LOVE. Not as a feeling, but as a decisive act of the will. We fight by showing that Calvary’s love is stronger than hate and that love overcomes anything. Chip Ingram said, “Love is giving to another person what they need the most when they deserve it least.” Love is doing whatever you can, even to your own detriment, for the good of the beloved. It means dying to yourself and your rights and own ideas about how the world should work.

So live with eyes wide open, hands raised, side by side with your brothers and sisters in Christ. And remember that the battle is already won and that we have overcome!

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.