Camping Out in the Gospels

After several years of reading through the Bible in different translations, I decided to swerve off the well-trodden path and do something a little different. I’m reading through the Gospels in 2018.

I’m using the NIV Harmony of the Gospels, which instead of presenting each Gospel separately, puts parallel passages side by side and puts the story in narrative order. For example, the birth narrative starts with Luke’s introduction, John’s description of Jesus as the eternal Word of God, the genealogies of Jesus, the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John the Baptist, and so forth.

I’m looking forward to rediscovering Jesus, free of all the political baggage that has been placed on Him from both the right and the left, conservatives and liberals alike. I have a feeling that Jesus said something at some point that both sides would deem offensive.

I want to fully embrace Jesus as both 100% man and 100% God (and not 50-50). I want to know Emmanuel, God with us. My plan is to read through the Gospels as many times as I can this year and let Scripture speak for itself.

If you’re interested in the book I’m using, you can pick up a copy here:



Peter, Peter, Peter II: The Sequel

“The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing right there among them, there was nothing the council could say. So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.

‘What should we do with these men?’ they asked each other. ‘We can’t deny that they have performed a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.’ So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, ‘Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard'” (Acts 4:13-20, NLT).

I wrote something a while back about how Peter always gets a bad rap for taking his eyes of Jesus while he’s walking on the water and sinking. People point out how Jesus had to rescue him and rebuke him for his lack of faith.

Yet Peter remains one of the only two people in history to ever walk on water, with the other being Jesus Himself. At least Peter got out of the boat. The other 11 stayed behind.

Peter had a long history of good intentions mixed with some bad execution. I personally can relate to that quite well. He’s the one who made the profession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, only to turn around and try to rebuke the Messiah later in the same conversation.

What I love about Peter is that he never quit. Even after so many embarrassing failures and foot-in-mouth incidents, he kept going. Eventually, he kept his zeal and enthusiasm, but added some wisdom to it.

That same apostle who denied Jesus three times is the same one who preached the Pentecost sermon that saw 3,000 saved. He’s the one who stated that he wouldn’t (and couldn’t) stop talking about how Jesus changed his life. They could beat him, stone him, jail him, and even kill him, but nothing would deter him from sharing the Gospel.

That same apostle ended up (according to tradition) being crucified upside down for his faith because he felt he was unworthy to be killed in the same manner as his Lord. He kept his word and was faithful even unto death.

What made the difference? What made people sit up and take notice when he opened his mouth to proclaim the gospel? It was the time spent with Jesus.

I’m thankful that God still uses people like Peter. God isn’t looking for the best-looking or the most gifted or the most gregarious. What he wants are people who are available and surrendered. He can use the least and the lowliest.

What He wants is you and me.


The Church as a Refuge

I’ve been thinking lately about the whole refugee crisis. I’ve also been putting some thought into what my pastor said about the church being a refuge. Who better than to show hope to refugees than people whom the Bible calls aliens and strangers in this world who await a coming Kingdom?

The body of believers should be a place where people can go to escape from the fallout from the lies that society tells people about finding inner peace and fulfillment through outward change.

It should be where people go to find God and find the hope of salvation offered in the person of Jesus Christ, not more condemnation for lifestyle choices. It should be where spiritual transformation happens and not mere behavior modification.

I noticed today that when Jesus talked to the woman at the well, He didn’t force her to change her lifestyle before He offered the living water to her. He didn’t make her go end her relationship with the man she was living with who was not her husband.

He simply offered her a gift that would change her life forever if she took it. After all, it’s the Gospel that changes people. It’s what changes peoples’ hearts, which in turn leads to changed lives.

The Church has been guilty of putting up barriers between people and the Gospel almost from the very beginning. The people who need Jesus and the Gospel most are often the ones who feel the least welcome inside our doors.

The Gospel is for everyone. Thus, the Church is for everyone.


Grace Given Vs. Grace Received

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us” (Anne Lamott).

During the homeward commute, I thought I’d play the Good Samaritan and let the car beside me merge in front of me. Little did I know that the next three cars behind that car would take advantage of my generosity.

For a brief moment, I was upset. I was livid. I mean, how dare they? All of us good and faithful drivers have been patiently waiting in line while these others felt they could rush past us and force their way in at the last possible moment.

There’s no way they deserve to merge in front of me.

Then it was like God spoke to me. I don’t claim to hear the audible voice of God and I’m not claiming I had a prophetic word, but I had the strongest impression that God said, “You know that you’ve deserved far less and received far more than these people have.”

The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus came for the undeserving– the hell-deserving– and instead of giving them what they (and I ) deserved, He lavished them (and me) with exactly what they didn’t deserve but needed most. Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness.

That’s why I don’t buy into karma. I don’t go around bragging about other people getting what’s coming to them because I know where I’d be if I ever got what I truly had coming to me. It wouldn’t be pretty.

That’s why I’m such a huge fan of mercy and grace. I don’t get what I really deserve and I get what I don’t deserve.

I believe that if we’ve received so much grace, we should be the first to show it not to those who deserve it, but those like we once were (and still are at times) who deserve it least but need it most.

That means those with different political ideology than yours. It means people that irritate you and get on your nerves. It means bad drivers who don’t know how to merge.

Ultimately, it means forgiving yourself when you let yourself down, remembering that God has already forgiven you.



Still the Same

“You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message” (Colossians 1:21-23, The Message).

It’s the same Gospel message that still saves anyone who comes to God in faith.

It’s the same Gospel message that saved a wretch like me.

It’s the same Gospel message that has the power to transform and liberate.

It’s still the same.

The Ultimate Fairy Tale

“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name….That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.” (Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale).

Perhaps that’s why so many of us are still drawn to fairy tales after all these years.


Some Positives for your Post-Election Weekend


In case you missed it, there was an election this past Tuesday. A few people showed up. Some are elated at the result, while some are ready to jump off the nearest bridge or building they can find.

I thought I’d share a few positives on this Saturday evening because everyone probably needs a little more positivity in their lives at this point (regardless of whether your candidate won or not).

  1. Finding almost the entire series of one of your favorite sitcoms at Goodwill (in my case, it was the BBC sitcom As Time Goes By).
  2. A day with perfect fall weather.
  3. Hot chocolate on said day with perfect fall weather.
  4. Waking up in the morning.
  5. Not being dead.
  6. Pets that love you no matter what.
  7. Random acts of kindness all around us.
  8. The hope of the Gospel that still saves people like you and me.
  9. Time traveling back into the past via the Turner Classic Movie Channel and their old movies.
  10. A good mystery novel and a piping hot cup of tea.
  11. Just a piping hot cup of tea.
  12. Sleeping under the covers under a ceiling fan, even in the dead of winter.
  13. Those 50% off Criterion movie sales at Barnes and Noble.
  14. That feeling after you take your socks off.
  15. Sleeping in on Saturday mornings.
  16. Seeing your life as an adventure and living it that way.

Take as many of these as you like and leave the rest. Not everyone will agree with me on everything on the list (like those weird people who only like weather that is ridiculously hot and humid).

I’ve heard and found to be true that you pretty often find what you’re looking for, so if you only look for the negative and depressing, you’ll very often find it. The same goes for positive and uplifting. So maybe turn off the news and go outside for a change.

That’s all.


My Deepest Awareness

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, ‘A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.’

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, ‘If we but turn to God,’ said St. Augustine, ‘that itself is a gift of God.’

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out).

Occasionally, I like to bring in special guest writers. By that, I mean that I am too tired (and/or lazy) to do my own writing and I quote from a writer who expresses my own thoughts better than I ever could ( with the lone exception about having an incredible capacity for beer, which I do not). This is why I named by blog The Ragamuffin Gospel.

The Fasting and the Feast

“When the fast, the death, the sacrifice of the gospel is omitted from the Christian life, then it isn’t Christian at all. Not only that its boring. If I just want to feel good or get self-help, I’ll buy a $12 book from Borders and join a gym. The church the Bible described is exciting and adventurous and wrought with sacrifice. It costs believers everything and they still came. It was good news to the poor and stumped its enemies. The church was patterned after a Savior who had no place to lay his head and voluntarily died a brutal death, even knowing we would reduce the gospel to a self-serving personal improvement program where people were encouraged to make a truce with their Maker and stop sinning and join the church, when in fact the gospel does not call for a truce but a complete surrender.
Jesus said the kingdom was like a treasure hidden in a field, and once someone truly finds it, he will happily sell everything he owns to possess that field. a perfect description of the fasting and the feast. It will cost everything, but it is a treasure and an unfathomable joy. This is the balance of the kingdom; to live we must die, to be lifted we bow, to gain we must lose. There is no alternative definition, no path of least resistance, no treasure in the field without the sacrifice of everything else” (Jen Hatmaker, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Access).

So I finished reading the book 7. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s tired of the same old same old and is looking for something fresh and different. It’s for those who are weary of the prevalence of consumeristic Christianity that has overtaken much of America’s churches, along with a definite trend toward style over substance.

Most of what passes for the gospel these days is either some form of sin management, self-help program, or a variation of the “I’m okay, you’re okay, everyone’s okay.” The Apostle Paul said very clearly more than once that even if he or an angel should proclaim any other kind of gospel other than the gospel of Jesus as presented and expounded upon in the writings of Paul, let him (or her) be condemned.

I was convicted in several areas about my own excesses and my bouts of self-centeredness in opposition to serving others. We in this country have the means to alleviate a lot of the world’s suffering, but we choose rather to spend on lavish buildings   with the latest technologies and comforts. In other words, we’d rather spend it on ourselves.

So I’m telling you to run to your local bookstore (or your local laptop and your local amazon website) to get this book. You will not regret it.


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.