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.

 

 

Out of Control

outofcontrol

Has there ever been a moment in your life when you felt out of control? Like when you stopped and looked around and wondered how in the heck you got there and how you’d ever get out of the mess you’d made?

I think EVERYBODY has felt that way to some degree or other. Kinda like King David, who started out lusting after a neighbor’s wife and ended up with not only adultery but lying and mass murder thrown in. It took a bold prophet named Nathan to get David out of his downward spiral.

You will at some point get yourself into a hot mess. You will wonder how you could have been so STUPID. You may well wonder if escape is even a possibility.

I love what I heard someone say: it’s never too late on this side of heaven to become what you might have been. It’s never too late to become the dream God had when He thought you up and gave you a purpose before anything was made. That gives me hope.

That means that those days that seem wasted, those years that seem lost have really served a purpose– to get you to where you are, with all your life experiences, good and bad, all your successes and failures– to be the person God can use to do what NO ONE else can do, to the calling only YOU can fulfill.

Even if you’re an 80-year old backwoods shepherd like Moses. Or a nobody sitting in a prison like Joseph.

God can take nobodies and confound all those who think they’re somebodies. He uses the lowly and the nothings in the world to shame all those who think they’re hot stuff. That’s my take on 1 Corinthians 1:25-30. Or as one translation puts it:

You can count on this: God’s foolishness will always be wiser than mere human wisdom, and God’s weakness will always be stronger than mere human strength.

Look carefully at your call, brothers and sisters. By human standards, not many of you are deemed to be wise. Not many are considered powerful. Not many of you come from royalty, right? But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. God selected the common and the castoff, whatever lacks status, so He could invalidate the claims of those who think those things are significant. So it makes no sense for any person to boast in God’s presence. Instead, credit God with your new situation: you are united with Jesus the Anointed. He is God’s wisdom for us and more. He is our righteousness and holiness and redemption.”

 

A Beautiful Puritan Prayer

image

“O God of Grace,
Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
and hast imputed his righteousness to my soul,
clothing me with bridegroom’s robe,
decking me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
my best prayers are stained with sin;
my penitential tears are so much impurity;
my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin;
my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
for thou dost always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,
and always returning home as a prodigal,
always saying, Father, forgive me,
and thou art always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
every evening return in it,
go out to the day’s work in it,
be married in it,
be wound in death in it,
stand before the great white throne in it,
enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace.”

From The Valley of Vision – A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
Edited by Arthur Bennett

More Life Lessons from Swing Dancing

image

Tonight, September 7, was the first night of swing dancing back at Otter Church of Christ after a summer at Centennial Park. It was like returning to a place of comfort for me.

I had the beginner part mastered in no time. The intermediate part? Not so much. I needed an encouraging word or two and some dancing partners practiced in the art of showing me grace.

I had fun. And I learned a few lessons in the process:

1) People just need someone to believe in them. All I needed at first was someone to say, “You can do this. We got this.” Even after the fifth straight time of me getting the steps wrong.

2) You don’t have to be an expert to lead or teach someone. You just have to be one step ahead. Even if you’ve only been swing dancing five times in your entire life, you can teach a newbie some steps and help them out with some of their confusion.

3) You never go wrong by showing someone grace. Never.

Life is a lot like that. Sometimes, all you need is a friend who’s been where you are and can help you navigate job losses and relational awkwardness. Someone who can say, “You can get through this. You’re gonna be fine.”

Jesus has been that for me. He’s been through everything I will ever face. Temptation, rejection, loss, being misunderstood– He’s faced it all.

The best part is that He doesn’t just offer empathy. His Spirit lives in me. The power that raised Him from the dead resides in me. His perfect righteousness is now mine.

And Jesus roots for me one better, too. He doesn’t just say, “You can do this,” but “I’m in you giving you the power to do this.”

He doesn’t just root for you. He intercedes for you before the Father day and night. He defends you from any and all accusations from the enemy. He is your Forever Advocate.

Remember, Jesus does grace better than anyone. He invented it. He gives it fresh and new every morning that you wake up and don’t have a cloud of sin-baggage and failures hanging over your head.

Just remember these things and you will be just fine.

DIY Christianity

diy

I am a fan of Do It Yourself. I’m not that handy myself, but I admire those people who are. I just don’t personally think it’s such a good fit when it comes to faith.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a better marriage, better job, better parents, and better health. But that’s not all there is.

At the heart of Christianity isn’t about a better me, but a brand new me. That’s borrowed from a friend of mine who said it better than I just did.

At the heart of Christianity is another five-step program or 12 steps to get a better life. What Jesus calls me to isn’t humanly possible. The faith he calls me to requires a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees. It means laying down my rights and ultimately, my life. It means being perfect as God is perfect.

I believe that Christianity isn’t something I do, but something that’s done in me. The big two-dollar words for that process are sanctification and transformation. It’s what Jesus does in me.

I’m not saying I sit back and do nothing. I bring to the table a willing spirit, a cultivated heart, and an engaged mind. I bring sacrifice and surrender. I bring me.

Until I see that my faith is bigger than me and my well-being, I’m not seeing the big picture, which is God’s glory. The endgame of my faith is God receiving as much glory as possible. Fortunately for me, his glory equals my greatest good. It’s a win-win.

If someone comes up to me claiming to have every aspect of faith and belief figured out, I have to wonder. Even though I may sometimes act like I’ve got my Christianity neatly packaged into tidy little compartments, I really don’t. I’m still figuring it all out.

That’s why we have the Church. It’s a place where we figure it out together. In the end, we can’t live the faith alone, which is why we need each other. We can’t live out the faith out of our own strength, which is why we still need Jesus.

Hopefully, this made as much sense to you as it did in my head when I was typing this all out.

Or, to put it this way, “Did you get all that?”

Bedtime thoughts

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

That’s it. Love God and love others.

But for you to love God, you have to know the reality that God already loves you. For you to love others as yourself, you have to love yourself. Ultimately, you can’t do it. Well, I will only speak for myself here and say that I can’t love God or anybody else, even me, on my own strength. I need Jesus in me, pouring out His agape love, or else I am empty and cold and love-less.

Sometimes, God calls you to love yourself as you love your neighbor. Sometimes, it’s easier to love someone else than to love that person you hang around with every minute of every day. That person who looks back at you in the mirror with accusing eyes that speak of all the impure thoughts, mixed motives, and selfish ambition.

That’s when you and I have to believe what God says about who we are over what we see and think and feel. As a friend of mine told me once, “What you think and feel will lie to you.” But God never will.

God is true. God is love. And God loves you.

And you have all the power of Christ that overcame the grave in you. You have His perfect righteousness that covers your own wretched self-righteous rags of filth.

So be free to love. Love God, love others and love you.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6)

When I think of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, I don’t think of when I would like dessert after a good meal. I don’t even think about when I am late for a meal and how “hungry” I feel. I think of someone who is starving to death and the lengths they will go to get food. To hunger and thirst for righteousness means more than simply wanting to in right standing with God and to please Him; it means that everything in me longs and yearns to see God glorified by my life.

The Message puts it this way: “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”

The question is: How badly do you want God? Not how badly do you want your prayers answered or how badly do you want gifts and blessings from God, but how badly do you long for God Himself? Honestly, I seek after many other things more than I seek after God, including but not limited to approval, attention, a dating life, and spiritual experiences. Is it any wonder that these things, whether I obtain them or not, will leave me empty and hollow? Only God can fill a God-shaped hole in my heart.

The hard part is that if you love and long for God, you will love and long for fellowship and community with His people. If you don’t love and long for His people, you don’t really long for God. Jesus says, If you love me, you will love my church (and that doesn’t mean you will love a building or a campus, it means you will love God’s people). If you are pulling away from God’s people, how can you say you are drawing near to God? I know there are seasons of solitude that God calls us to, but if we have no desire to pray for and support and encourage our brothers and sisters, we really are saying we have no desire for God.

Sometimes, when someone isn’t in a place where they can seek God and God’s people, we can rally around that person and pray God’s healing and restoration for him or her. A friend of mine said sometimes when you can only give 40%, I must be the one to give the 160% to make up the difference.

What does it mean to be filled? It means overflowing beyond your capacity to receive. It means God gives you so much that it runs over in you and spills into the lives of those around you. To be filled means to have life abundantly, or life to the full, that God will give beyond anything we could ever ask or expect or hope. As John Piper says, “God will not give up the glory of being the Giver.”

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.