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.

 

 

Another Kairos Challenge 


Tonight, Matt Pearson laid down a challenge at Kairos. He spoke about how so many North American believers have become inward-focused, as in “What’s in it for me?” and “How will this meet my needs?” He mentioned that the most inwardly-focused believers are usually the most miserable people who are always complaining about something.

I confess that I am one of those people sometimes. I crave comfort and ease at the expense of obedience and faithfulness. I definitely try to avoid any semblance of pain and suffering at all costs.

Jonah was a lot like that. God sent him to Nineveh to warn them of what was coming if they didn’t repent. You’d think after the whole city repented that Jonah would have been pleased, but he was peeved. He thought God’s love should be for the Israelites exclusively– or in other words, people like him. Jonah didn’t like the Assyrians and didn’t think they were worthy of God’s love. Not that any of us feel that way about any particular ethnic groups today, of course.

My takeaway from tonight is that any vision other than seeing God’s love displayed and proclaimed to all the people of all the nations is too small. What matters isn’t what songs we sing in worship or even what kind of songs. What matters isn’t if the church building is traditional or modern (or even if there’s a church building at all).

What matters is that God so loved all the sinners in the world (including you and me) that He sent Jesus to die for us and make true deliverance and salvation possible for anyone who trusts in Him.

That’s what I’ll be pondering and praying over for the next few days. At least I hope so. I don’t want to go back to the comfortable me-centered faith, and God willing, I won’t.

Old Movies and Theology

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I just watched an old movie. Surprise.

I saw Boys Town, a 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. It was definitely a feel-good movie, though it didn’t start out that way. I believe it was based on the true story of the founding of Boys Town.

The point of the movie is that Father Flanagan was trying to help boys who didn’t have mothers or fathers to look after them, who would otherwise end up on the streets and involved in crime. He wanted them to learn how to live as decent citizens and decent human beings.

I think we sometimes are quick to judge those who act differently than we do. Or maybe whose sins are different than ours. It’s very easy to condemn someone who struggles with an addiction or issue that we don’t struggle with.

But maybe what people need isn’t to hear how they’ve messed up and are headed down the wrong path. They probably figured that one out already. Maybe what people need is to know that someone out there knows and cares about them. That maybe, just maybe, they can change.

That’s what the Gospel really is. We like to harp on the sin part sometimes and maybe get a little too much satisfaction from telling people how bad they are, how they’re sinners headed straight to hell. Maybe we need to emphasize that it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we need to point out that God loved the world so much that He gave Jesus so that it wouldn’t have to be  that way.

Jesus didn’t come to tell good people how good they were. He didn’t come to make healthy people feel good about their health. He came for the bad, the messed up, the sick, the broken. Which by the way means all of us.

Before you write off someone else, remember who you used to be. Who you might still have been but for the grace of God. That just might make all the difference in the world. In that person’s world.

 

Ruminations of a Ragamuffin

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“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you (John 15:18-19)

Someone pointed out to me today that verse and then went on to comment on who the people were who hated Jesus. They were not the prostitutes or tax-collectors or the outcasts or the sick. They were not the sinners and scum of the earth. The ones who hated Jesus were the upstanding religious folks. Because He dared to be spiritual but not religious. Because He was scandalous in who He loved and how much He loved. Because of who He hung out (the sinners) with and who He criticized (the religious). They hated Him so much they had Him killed.

If we are living the way Jesus lived and loving people the way Jesus loved people, we will be hated. Not by sinners and outcasts and reprobates, but by church people. When you try to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, the loudest ones to criticize you will be Christians. Maybe because your lifestyle will convict their complacency and lack of compassion.

If I had to be honest, I would say that most of the time I live more like a Pharisee than Jesus. I have my rules that everyone else must follow. I have my smug self-righteousness. I make myself the standard by which I measure everyone else. Thank God, there are moments when I try to look like Jesus and let Him love people through me. Hopefully, the Pharisee in me will decrease and the Jesus in me will increase.

One last thing. If Jesus ministered almost exclusively to the outcasts and downtrodden and saved His harshest comments for the religious holier-than-thou type, why do we do the opposite? Why do we cater to the sanctimonious and shut out the homeless, hopeless and loveless? If I am honest, I am just as needy of Jesus and His grace as anybody.

Jesus, help me love who You love and go to the hurting and broken and needy the way You did. Give me Your heart for the lost world. May I be Jesus to somebody today.