Tag Archives: Good News

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Salvation

11 Jun

What happens when we die? Is there a way to know? In this post we are fact-checking phrases about salvation and the afterlife:

  1. We’re all God’s children.
  2. We need people to pray the Sinners’ Prayer.
  3. Jesus wants to live in your heart.
  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. Heaven must have needed another angel.

First, let’s consider the phrase: We’re all God’s children.

When I am writing these posts I have typed the phrase into a Google Image search just to see what results I get.  Sometimes I get a background picture that is useful.  I also often get surprising results.  When I typed the phrase, “We are all God’s Children” into the search bar, I discovered that a lot of people have been quoted as saying it. Dolly Parton.  Supreme Court Justice Brett Cavanaugh.  Politician JC Watts.  I wonder what they mean?

When we say, “We are all God’s children,” who is “we”?  All Christians?  Or all people everywhere? And what do we mean by “children”?  Are we simply talking about the theological principle that God is the creator, and in that sense he is the father of all?

It could be that the person making this statement is not talking at all about salvation and eternal family, but simply about the biblical teaching that all humans are created in the image of God. That is found Genesis 1:26, when God says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.” 

In that sense all humans everywhere are created by God, made in his image, and therefore have equal value.  So there is a real way, and this is not just symbolic, in which we Christians can say that all humans are God’s children.  In God’s eyes we are all equally precious and valuable.  Even ISIS fighters, even child rapists, even your jerk neighbor, arrogant coworker, difficult family member or bully classmate.  Even the person across the your church sanctuary that you have a hard time with.  All are equals in God’s view.

But there is a Christian understanding of the family of God that is unique to Christian theology.  Jesus and his followers taught that there is a family of God that not everyone is a part of. 

In the Old Testament the Israelites were called the Children of God, which we saw in the Deuteronomy series.  Deuteronomy 14:1, for example, says that Israel were “the children of the Lord their God.”  But that was not a label that applied to all people at that time.  Israel had a special relationship with God.  They were in a covenant relationship.

In the New Testament we read that God has entered into a new covenant with the church, and thus God created a new family identity that people can be a part of.  But again, not all humans are automatically a part of this new family.

In John 1:1-14, John uses symbolic language to describe Jesus.  First he calls Jesus “The Word” and then he calls Jesus “The Light.”  Notice what John says in verse 7.  He says that John, and here he is talking about another John, John the Baptist, came to testify concerning this light, so that through the Light “all men might believe.”  That is key.  John is beginning to describe the new family. Clearly God wants all humanity to be a part of it. 

As the discussion continues, John says that the Light gives light to every man.  There again, it is for all humanity.  Every man.  And then in verses 10-11, John tells us that Jesus came into the world, to his own. Who were his own?  They are his original people, the people of Israel, the people with whom God had a covenant, just as we saw in Deuteronomy.  But there is a problem: those people, his family, the Jews, did not receive him, John tells us.  Thus God decided to create a new family, and a new way to become part of the family. 

Look at verses 12-13. John says that though the Jews did not receive Jesus, it is still possible to receive him and believe in him, and become part of his family.  We can become children of God.  Clearly John says that this new family is not about human genetics, or natural childbirth. The Old Covenant was like that.  You were a part of the Old Covenant as a Jew because you were genetically Jewish.  In the New Covenant, anyone can be part of God’s family, anyone can become a child of God, by receiving and believing in Jesus. 

One biblical metaphor for this is adoption.  We can be adopted into God’s family.  I’ve been at three adoption ceremonies over the last few years, and they are amazing.  There is incredible joy when a child becomes part of a family!  I sat in the courtroom three times just weeping with gratefulness.  That is what God has done for us! 

So let me reiterate.  God loves all.  Consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Also consider what Paul taught in 1 Timothy 2:4, that God wants all to be saved.  That 1 Timothy passage is so interesting because of its larger context.  In verse 1 he urges Christians to pray for and give thanksgiving for all people, even for kings and all those in authority.  Who was the king in authority when Paul wrote this?  The emperor Nero, who savagely persecuted Christians.  If you ever think that you can’t stand leaders in our country or other countries, imagine living in a country where the leader butchers Christians.  Pray for him?  Yup, Paul, says, because God desires that all would be saved!  Even those we hate.

But will all be saved?  We hold to the traditional teaching (as found in the EC Articles of Faith) of eternal destiny, that not all will be saved.  But God has loved us enough to make a way to be adopted into his family.  He has made a choice available.  The way to be saved came at the great cost of Jesus’ becoming one of us, giving his life for us.  So God shows us that he desperately wants us to be a part of his family. 

I recently heard a story about a man who grew up Muslim in Europe.  He said that he had a dream where Jesus came to him and called him to follow Jesus.  The man decided to follow Jesus.  You need to know the ramifications of that.  This man’s choice to follow Jesus meant that while he was becoming part of God’s family, he faced being shunned and threatened by his own earthly family.  But he received Jesus, believed in him, and followed Jesus.  He went on to start something like a hundred Christian churches, so that more people could be part of God’s family. 

But not all will choose to be adopted into God’s family.

Therefore, my conclusion about this phrase it that it needs some explaining: We are all God’s children, as he is creator of all, but all humans are not a part of the family of God that is the church. 

We’ve talked about receiving Jesus and believing in him, and that leads us to our next phrase.

What is “The Sinner’s Prayer”?  Some Christians have said that we need people to pray this prayer so that they can become part of God’s family.

I’ve heard it called the ABC prayer:  A – Admit that you are a sinner.  B – Believe that Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty of our sin.  And C – Confess your faith in Jesus.  This is also sometimes connected to verses in Scripture, particularly in the letter to the Romans, called The Roman Road.  The letter A is supported by Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  The letter B is supported by Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  And the letter C is supported by Romans 10:9-10, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

So it sounds good, but is the Sinner’s Prayer in the Bible?  No. 

Wait. No?  How can you say, No, Joel? You just read all those verses from Romans that show it is in the Bible? 

Let me explain.  The ABC Prayer is not in the Bible, and it was created as a way to give people a method for starting a relationship with Jesus.  It is very easy to understand, and thus some have said that it is good for kids.  That very well may be true.  We should not, however, give kids or anyone, a false idea that all God wants them to do is say a prayer.  The Sinner’s Prayer might actually give them the wrong idea, as if God wants us to say certain words. 

So what does God want?  Is there one specific way that people come to follow and believe in Jesus?  No.  People through the ages have come to Christ in so many ways.  That is okay.  In the Bible we see many different ways that people come to believe in and follow God.  There is no one way.

I recently read the story of James Bryan Smith who, after reading a book by CS Lewis, came to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and decided to follow Jesus.  He and his friends started reading the Gospels, and as a result their lives were changing.  Several of their friends also became Christians.

Then Smith met a guy in a college campus ministry who asked Smith if he ever prayed the Sinner’s Prayer.  He said he never heard of it.  The campus minister was aghast, and responded, “Well, then, you are not saved and doomed to hell.”  Smith explained how he had been reading the Gospels, how his life was changing and how he was interacting with Jesus every day. The campus minister said, “Nice story, but if you die tonight, you would go to hell.” 

Smith believed the campus minister, and prayed the prayer, and it seemed to him that this version of the Jesus story was all over the place.  It was a story of “rotten sinners, an angry God, a sacrificial Son, and the constant battle to make it to heaven in the end.”  One day, he says, he came to the realization that he hated being a Christian.  Clearly the Sinner’s Prayer was detrimental to Smith. I would suggest that it has been likewise for many others, misleading them about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus.

So if it is not a Sinner’s Prayer, where can we go in the Bible to guide into understanding what it means to begin a relationship with Jesus?

I would recommend that we look at Jesus, and his approach to the disciples.  Remember how he started his relationship with them?  He said two words: “Follow me.”  That was it.  The concept of “believe in me” was a part of his teaching to the disciples, as we see that especially in the Gospel of John.  The disciples’ true belief in Jesus, however, only came after the resurrection.  Three years of ministry later! 

Think about it.  Through the three years they followed Jesus, during which time they were doing all the work of ministry: healing, exorcism, preaching, but they still didn’t fully believe.  How do we know this?  Because when the end came, at his arrest in the Garden, what do we see?  Judas betrayed him, Peter, the leader who boldly proclaimed belief just a few hours before, ended up denying him three times, and all the rest ran away in fear.  It was after Jesus’ resurrection when their belief was solidified, and they never turned back, even giving their lives sacrificially to follow him.  What that means is that for the disciples, following Jesus came first, believing in him came second.

We so often have it the other way around.  Smith said this: “The central question of the gospel is not how can I be saved, but who is Jesus?  Your relationship to Jesus unleashes redemptive power.  I hear people say, ‘We need to get people to make a commitment to Jesus.’ My response always is, ‘We need to get people to know Jesus.’  If they come to know Jesus, in his beauty, goodness and truth, they will naturally make a commitment to him.”

We don’t need people to pray the Sinner’s Prayer, we need to get them to learn who Jesus truly is.  Smith again summarizes Jesus’ mission in a way that I find so compelling: “The Christian story is not primarily about how God in Jesus came to rescue sinners from some impending disaster.  It is about God’s work of initiating us into a fellowship and making us true conversation partners with the Father and the Son through the Spirit, and hence with each other.” 

In other words, there are many ways to come to Jesus, and one way is not better than the other.  It could be a Sinner’s Prayer moment in Sunday School. But it could also be through dreams.  For some it is a slow life-long process of parents and churches investing in their kids.

Do we need a specific date that we prayed a prayer?  No.  Do we need specific words of prayer?  No. 

We can place too much emphasis on a prayer, date, event.  But maybe you’re wondering, what about the needed emphasis on evidence of a real relationship?  Jesus once taught, “By your fruit you will know them.”  What he meant was that a real relationship with Jesus will be evidenced by what comes out of our lives.  You know it is an apple tree because it has apples growing out of it.  As Paul said in Galatians 5, walk in the Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit will come out of your life.

What does that mean?  Walk in the Spirit? Well, it relates to the next phrase we are fact-checking.

Turn to Ephesians 3:16-17 and you’ll read Paul say, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

There it is. This phrase is right out of the Bible. But what is this talking about?  Our actual heart?  Our blood pumper? 

No.  The heart is symbol for the center of our will and emotion.

What this means is that Jesus with us.  This idea pops up in many places in Scripture:

John 14:23 – If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Romans 5:5 – And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

But what does this mean?  In what way does Jesus live in us?  It is a strange concept to think about Jesus being in our hearts, so this phrase needs some explaining.

Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 6 that our body is the Temple of Spirit.  In the Old Covenant, the presence of God resided in a physical building, the tabernacle, and then eventually the temple in Jerusalem.  But in the New Covenant, God’s Spirit resides in us. 

God no longer resides in a building! 

Think about that.  God, through his Spirit, wants to live with you!  Amazing, isn’t it.  God created us to have fellowship with him and wants to be so close to us.  He loves us, and went to such great lengths to be with us.  “God with us” means that he wants to make his home with us for the purpose of human flourishing.

It is vital for us, then, to learn to walk in step with the Holy Spirit who lives with us.  How often do you think about the Holy Spirit throughout the day?  What could it look like for you to talk with him, listen to him, allowing him to shape you more and more to look like Jesus when Jesus lived on earth?  It means we must give attention to our lives, our choices, our thoughts.  We must give time to practice developing our relationship with God. 

There are habits and practices that we can add to our lives to grow our relationship with God. I would encourage to search this blog for posts like this one that talk about spiritual practices.

Now we have come to the final phrase we’re fact-checking, and it relates to our relationship with God after death. 

This is expressed so often in the context of grief, such as loss of a loved one.  It sounds like a sweet statement.  But at deeper glance, this one has some concerns.

First of all, it can make God the bad guy for taking a life. “Heaven needed?”  It seems to say that the person who passed away is now serving a higher purpose.  But does God take people out of their earthly existence because they are needed in heaven?   There is no biblical teaching to support this idea, and it is dangerous to depict God that way. 

But what about the rest of the phrase?  Do humans turn into angels when we die?  What is the biblical teaching on angels?

Angels are super popular in our culture.  Hebrews 1:14 gives maybe the best description: “they are ministering spirits sent to serve those (us) who inherit salvation.”  Throughout the Bible, angels are messengers.  Psalm 91:11 is where we get the idea of angels protecting humans.  Psalm 34:7 is another similar reference.  But I would strongly caution us to avoid the idea of individual guardian angels, as if we have an angel assigned specifically to us.  The psalms are poetic, and that means they use symbolic or figurative language that should not be interpreted as teaching scientific fact.

In my opinion, this is not a major point of theology, and as a result, it is one that I do not hold with a tight grip.  The angelic realm is just too mysterious in biblical teaching, I think, for us to be certain of much.  So please know I don’t mean to come across as dogmatic.

So back to the phrase we are fact-checking.  It raises another question: what does happen when we die?

Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christians who die will be given new bodies.  But those new spiritual bodies are not the same as angels.  Quite frankly we don’t precisely how a human spiritual body might differ from an angelic body.  What we do know is that angels and humans are different creations. 

Humans who die and are given new spiritual bodies, however, are still humans. 

My conclusion is that the phrase “heaven must have needed another angel” is not true, if the person saying the phrase means that humans transform into angels.  If the person saying the phrase means “angel” in the symbolic sense, though, referring to humans who are in heaven, then that is totally in keeping with biblical teaching.

I think that a better question to consider is: What should we say when people are experiencing grief?

The reality is that in moments of grief, when we don’t know what to say, but we think we have to say something, what comes out can be word vomit.  In those moments we can utter really bad theology.  What we should do is say nothing and just hug them and express our love and concerns. 

I recently heard an interview of the man who has handled settlements for many of our national tragedies.  After 9/11, he was responsible to divvy out money to families that had lost loved ones.  As he met with families, one time he tried to express empathy, and said “I know what you are going through.”  The family looked back at him across the desk, and said, “You have no idea what we’re going through.”  He never said that again.

Our hearts are in the right place when we are counseling people in their time of grief, and we so desperately want to make it better.  But we need to use self-control and not just let words out.  Also when you are the one grieving, and people say ridiculous stuff to you, I know it is hard in that moment of pain, but we can be gracious to them, and remember that they are just trying to help. 

Remember that grief takes time, and is unique to each situation. So when it comes to salvation and the afterlife, we can praise God that he has made a way for us to be in his family.  Let us be a people that warmly, graciously invite people to get to know Jesus.

What in the world is Christian “outreach”?

12 Aug

It has been a few years, but for a long time every fall Faith Church held a Harvest Bazaar.  Before that it was called a Christmas Bazaar.  Many people in our congregation would cook up a storm in their kitchens, creating delicacies for the bake shop.  Others would staff the snack shop, making amazing chicken soup.  Still others would be hard at work crafting and donating and volunteering and we would have numerous rooms in our church building filled with items that people could buy as Christmas gifts.  And buy they did!  We would often raise $2500 or more from the Bazaar.  But why would we do this?  It was a lot of work!

Our congregation initiated the Bazaar decades ago as a fundraiser to pay off the debt we owed on our building.  Eventually we did pay off the debt.  I still remember the mortgage burning ceremony.  We have had memorable experiences with fire in our sanctuary, such as when the Advent wreath caught fire!  But I’m talking about the time when we had paid off the mortgage to the most recent expansion to the building, and we celebrating by burning the mortgage documents in a bowl during a worship service.

Though the mortgage was paid off, we kept having the Bazaar for a number of years.  Now we decided that the proceeds of the Bazaar would be directed to the Building Fund and to support missionaries.  Both good causes.  And yet there was discussion about whether or not we should keep having the Bazaar.  Was its purpose completed?  People had numerous points of view, both pros and cons.  It took a lot of work, and people were getting burned out.  So we eventually slowed down our pace to holding the Bazaar every other year.  The last time we held a Bazaar was three or four years ago, and we have no plans for another.

At one point there was a suggestion made in favor of continuing the Bazaar saying that the Bazaar was an outreach.  How was it an outreach?  Well, didn’t it bring people from the community into our building?  It did.  That is true.  Probably hundreds of people in the community would stop in, look over items, eat food, and buy stuff.  But just because they came into the building could we say that qualifies as outreach?

We’ve heard this before about the Youth Chicken BBQ we hold every spring.  People say that not only does the BBQ raise money for our youth group, it also has an outreach element to it.  We’ve heard this about pretty much anything we do that brings people into the building.  By holding an event or program for which they walk through the doors of the church building, it is reasoned, we are reaching out to them.  We have done this quite a bit over the years:  Ballroom Dance Classes, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Concerts, Breakfasts and now most recently Summer Lunch Club.

In our recent history this approach is how we have thought about outreach.  Is that outreach?  What should outreach be?  And before we can answer those questions, should we not ask the questions behind the question?  Why do we do outreach?  Should we do outreach at all?  We should have solid reasons for why or how we do outreach before we start outreach.  But do we have solid reasons?

Join us at Faith Church this Sunday August 14 as we seek to answer these questions.

Is there only bad news and a broken world?

3 Apr

broken worldHearing the bad news coming out of Kenya these past few days has been a sobering reality about our world.  I know that there is tragedy and evil like that pretty much every day of every week, but this one hit home because we have close friends who are missionaries in Kenya, and my son and I are preparing to join a team of 15 from Faith Church going to Kenya this summer.

I’ll admit, probably because of our unprecedented access to every part of the globe, I can get jaded about the bad news.  How many times can you get totally upset over a mass shooting before you start to get numb?  We call it growing a thick skin.

Some people, rightly though, say that we shouldn’t be surprised by the evil and tragedy out there in the world today.  They say that it is a fallen world, and that bad news is part and parcel of a fallen world. I tend to agree, but, man, can that come across callous.

I am paying closer attention to the news in Kenya, and I’m feeling it more emotionally because it is personal.  Thankfully my friends in Kenya live in a different part of the country and are safe.  But so many in Kenya are struggling today, so many are experiencing profound loss with this very bad news.

And that feels completely contradictory to the task I have in this blog post.  My aim is to introduce an Easter sermon.

I would much rather be introducing an Easter sermon after hearing wonderful news about how Christians in the world did something incredible because of the hope they have in Jesus.  Instead today we are hearing about Christians who were killed for being Christians.

I suspect that my consternation over this introduction is at least in part stemming from my vantage point of Christianity as the largest of the world religions.  But the original Easter story happened to a group of people that were the furthest thing a world religion.

Let me explain with a new word I learned this week: Triduum.  Ever heard that before?  It refers to the three days leading up to a feast, in this case Easter.  The Holy Triduum, or the three days leading up to Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  As I was preparing for worship this week, it struck me how awful those three days must have been for those first followers of Jesus, and of course for Jesus too.

On Palm Sunday they are marching triumphantly into the city.  The crowds declare him King.  These are bold moves.  You don’t walk through the current king’s front door proclaiming that you are the new king, and you certainly don’t do it without a massive army.  Jesus came not riding on a warhorse, but on a peaceful donkey.

Who knows?  Maybe the Romans were laughing their heads off at that scene.  They probably didn’t feel threatened at all.  If they wanted to, they could have stopped the events of Palm Sunday immediately and ruthlessly.  Physically speaking they had no reason to be threatened by this supposed Jewish King.

Turns out it wasn’t the Romans, but the Jewish leaders who felt threatened.  They had been dogging Jesus for months and now things came to a head.  The joy and victory of Palm Sunday turned to a betrayal and arrest on the first day of the Triduum, Maundy Thursday.  Jesus’ disciple Peter whips out a sword to fight, thinking this is the moment. You gotta love Peter’s passion, making the first strike, cutting off a dude’s ear.  But when Jesus heals the guy, putting the ear back, you have to think that Peter was shell-shocked.

Hours later he denies Jesus three times.  All of Jesus’ 11 remaining inner circle run away, except John.  If Jesus was arrested, they were probably thinking, there could easily be a bounty on their heads too.

Jesus passes the night in a dungeon, and now we’re at day two of the Triduum, Good Friday.  He has been and still is being beaten repeatedly.  He is brought to trial on trumped up charges, and the politicians get involved.  They really don’t know what to do with him as he hasn’t actually done anything wrong, but the pesky Jewish leaders are calling for his death.  So the Roman leader Pilate gives Jesus another beating and sends him to be killed.

And they crucify him.

John alone, of all the disciples, and some of the women, are the only ones at the foot of the cross.  And Jesus dies.  Imagine that.  Three years of ministry.  In the toilet.  One of the Jewish establishment guys who is a secret follower of Jesus takes his body and buries it in a tomb.  He is given an honorable burial, but it sure seems like waste.  Could this one who was supposedly king material just be another in long line of failed upstart Jewish freedom fighters?

That takes us to the final day of the Triduum, Holy Saturday.  A day of waiting, confusion.  He had told them he would rise after three days.  I wonder what those disciples were thinking.  Did they have any idea what “rise after three days meant?”  I also wonder if they were ticked off at Peter.  I wonder if they even knew he had denied Jesus.  Did Peter tell them?  He wasn’t one to keep quiet.  I can hear them arguing, debating wondering what in the world they should do next.  Clearly they decided to stay in the city, maybe just because it was Passover and that’s  what you did.  Maybe they actually weren’t decided on what they should do.  Maybe they were too torn apart to know how to think.

Their world was broken.  The events of those three days had ripped it to shreds.  Our world can feel very broken like that.  Events of the past days leave us confused and frustrated, just like the disciples.

What do we do?

Is there no good news?

The Triduum will eventually finish.  And there will be a new day.  If you’re not part of church, we’d love for you to be our guest at Faith Church on that new day, this Sunday, Easter, as we search for some good news.

On shouting a Christmas message that can get you killed – Luke 2:1-20

24 Dec

2014-12-24 Advent Art Panels - close

It’s Christmas Eve!  My younger kids (age 9 and 11) are charged with excitement, begging to open just one gift, or at least put them under the tree.  They cannot contain themselves.  At Faith Church we’re looking forward to a wonderful time of worship tonight.  We’ve had artists from our congregation creating art to illustrate the four weeks of Advent, and tonight we celebrate as more people from the congregation will add artistry through voice and the spoken word.  Like my kids, ours will be a church like so many others today, filled with joy and light and excitement!

On that first Christmas there was another group that couldn’t contain themselves.

The Shepherds.

After hearing glorious news of the birth of the king, they rush into town to verify the message.  Finding it true, they cannot keep their mouths shut, as they start telling everyone what just happened.  The shepherds are positively beaming. It might be the middle of the night when they finally return to their sheep, still shaking their heads at the once in a life-time experience they’ve just had. And they are praising God!

Joy to the World the Lord has come.

I imagine their joy eventually wore off. That was a big night. But things get back to normal pretty quick. Sheep to watch, sheep to feed, sheep to shear, sheep to sell. Real life. What pays the bills. And that baby isn’t heard from again. I wonder if any of them were still alive 30 years later, when his time had come?  Did they remember?  Hearing stories of an up-and-coming teacher and miracle-worker and how some people were speculating that he was the Messiah, might one of them added up the years and realized this was the baby, now a young man?

I wonder how long they told the story of that one glorious night?

I wonder if life got in the way. I wonder if they started to doubt. I wonder if people started to make fun of them, say they were hallucinating, dreaming, and that babies are a dime a dozen. “Where is this king now?” people might say. “The Romans are quite solidly in power. Shut-up, shepherds. We don’t want to hear about the angels anymore.”

And maybe they did shut-up.

Have you?

We make a big deal out of Christmas every year because it is a big deal.

When that baby was born, and those angels blazed in the night sky, and the shepherds’ hearts were bursting, it was because it IS a big, big deal. There is hope, there is a savior! God wants to have peace with humanity! That’s incredible news for those of us walking in darkness.

But have we become quiet about this?

Have the years gone by, the job that requires too many hours, the busy family, the house, the lawn…in my case these last few weeks, the wood stove, the fridge, signing up for new health care…

Life.

Has life gotten in the way? Has life shut us up?

If we feel the burden of life, then we need these boisterous Christmas celebrations. We need Advent. We need to cry our eyes out because our great God has shown us grace and mercy and peace in Jesus. And we need our hearts to be filled.

And we need our tongues loosed to tell the good news. Those humble shepherds’ tongues were loosed.

60 years after these events, Luke wasn’t afraid to directly challenge Rome by telling the story. He wrote it in a book. It was the kind of story that could get you killed!  A new king’s birth that trumped the current king? Sitting kings don’t always take kindly the news that a contender to the throne has been born.  They like to kill off the competition.  Right after Jesus’ birth, word got to the local king, Herod, and he responded in an infant genocide that caused Joseph and Mary to flee with Jesus to Egypt.  Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth presents a bold message to the world leader in Rome, the Caesar.  Take a look at this thought-provoking article that shows how Luke’s courageous message could have gotten him killed!  Because his heart was filled to overflowing and his tongue (or pen) was loosed, and he told the story of God’s peace for all, there is a Savior for all, and he welcomes everyone to his Kingdom!

When was the last time you were so jacked up about something you just couldn’t keep quiet about it?

When was the last time you experienced something so amazing, so incredible you just wanted to tell everyone about it?

When was the last time you got good news and you started lighting up Facebook about it, thumbing out text messages to your family and friends?

That’s what Christmas is all about. Let’s not just keep the carols in our churches tonight. What could it look like for you to spread Christmas joy, hope, love, grace and mercy to the people in your life?

Have Christians forgotten the Gospel?

12 Sep

Christians talk a lot about the Gospel.

As they should.  The Gospel is the foundation of our faith.  But what if Christians have forgotten about the Gospel?

This post is written to Christians, but I would be very interested to hear what those who are not Christians would think of it as well.  Maybe those of you who are not Christians actually have a better perspective on Christians than we do about ourselves.  So if you are not a Christian, what do you think?  Do you think that Christians have forgotten the Gospel?  Perhaps you have rubbed shoulders with Christians in your neighborhood, or at your kids’ soccer game, or at work.  By their actions would you say they have forgotten the Gospel?

dont-forget-post-it-noteTo answer that, it would be good to know what the word Gospel actually refers to.  It doesn’t originally come from the Bible, believe it or not.  Some of the writers of the New Testament took a word that was common in Greco-Roman society and used that word to describe the story of Jesus.  That word was Euangelion, which by looking at it bears a striking resemblance to Evangelical.  It was Euangelion that came first.  Euangelion referred to a proclaiming of good news, and one of the most notable occurrences of Euangelion was to celebrate when a new Caesar would take power in Rome.  We can see, then, why the writers of the New Testament would use Euangelion to describe the proclamation of the good news of Jesus, the person they claimed was the true Lord.  But were they right?  What is the content of this Good News about Jesus?  How could those early Christians say that a peasant from a relatively unimportant corner of the Roman Empire was truly Lord?  The Roman Empire dispensed with Jesus easily.  How is that Good News?

In our next section of 1st Corinthians, 15:1-11, Paul talks about this Gospel, this Good News.  In fact he specifically wants to remind the Christians in the church of Corinth about that Good News.  It seems they had forgotten it.  They certainly weren’t acting like they remembered it.

Now some words to the Christians reading this post?  Do you remember the content of the Good News?  If you have a couple minutes to describe it, what would you say?  Without looking at 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, how about doing a little self-test, and write out the message of Good News in your own words.  Then click on the link for 1st Corinthians 15:1-11 and see how closely your description matches Paul’s.  But that is just the content side.  While the Good News is most certainly comprised of a particular content to be agreed with and believed, action is also part and parcel of Good News.  It must be lived out.  As you’ll read in this passage, Paul says that the Corinthians had not only received and believed it, but they staked their lives on it.  Yet, they were making a reputation for themselves, and it was not a good one.  Perhaps they had forgotten the message of Good News.  Perhaps they needed a reminder.

Maybe we need one too.