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Gospel

What is the Gospel?

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first recorded words are a command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel, when translated from the Greek, literally means “good news” and is obviously an important and central teaching of the Christian faith. But do you know what it is?

For most of my life, I would have answered that question the same way almost anyone else who grew up in the modern Church would have answered it. The gospel is about the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Right?

Let’s examine the scriptures to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Many Gospels?

Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where you will see the word “gospel” accompanied by a descriptor. Some of the examples we see are “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1), “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), and “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Does this mean there are many different gospels? And if there is no descriptor included, how can we know which gospel is being referenced?

In general, our culture has done a good job of proclaiming a gospel of salvation. The problem is that the Bible depicts the gospel as something more than just our own personal salvation, as evidenced above. Yet, we often miss the full gospel because we tend to focus on just one aspect of it. While there is certainly only one gospel, it manifests itself in many different ways.

Perhaps the best question we should ask is, “Which gospel did Jesus preach?”

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God

If we go back again to the first recorded words of Jesus, we see Him speaking about the coming “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). In Matthew 9:35, we also see that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” In Luke 4:43, Jesus even goes so far as to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.”

Have you ever truly noticed that before? Jesus is saying the very purpose He was sent to Earth was to preach the gospel, or the “good news,” of the kingdom of God. But did the focus of the gospel change after Jesus’ death and resurrection? According to Acts 1:3, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to speak about the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul preached the very same gospel. While living for two years in Rome, Acts 28:23 tells us that “from morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”

Paul wasn’t the only apostle preaching this message either. In Acts 8, we’re told that the Apostle Philip “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

What’s interesting is that both the good news (the “gospel”) of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus were preached. This indicates that the message of the gospel and the message of the person of Jesus are not the same message. The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of your salvation, the gospel of peace – these are all the same gospel, because they all point to the same thing: the coming kingdom of God. When Christ comes again, ushering in his Kingdom to begin his millennial reign here on Earth, the good news is that those of us counted among the righteous will be there with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

You can’t remove Jesus from the gospel. Without Him, there is no gospel. But if we only preach a gospel of salvation, then we reduce the gospel to merely a benefit. We may currently understand the gospel in relation to how it affects our lives today, but Jesus wants us to know how the gospel impacts us after we die. Salvation is our entry point into the Kingdom of God, but salvation is only a one time event. The Kingdom of God is forever.

Bride of Christ

The Bride of Christ

Let me paint a picture for you. It’s 10 am at a local coffee shop and the smell is intoxicating as espresso and sweet breakfast treats fill the air. I sit with my bakery indulgences and a warm latte waiting to meet a fellow Christian for the first-time. You see, I agreed to meet with a woman who was interested in learning more about walking with Christ. It wasn’t long before we began sharing snapshots of our lives and testimonies. Everything was off to a good start.

Then, the conversation took an abrupt nosedive as she said one of the most disturbing comments loudly for all the other listeners to hear, “the church is a whore.”  She said this statement without deep sadness, but as if she had determined herself the rightful judge over God’s universal Church. I immediately felt defensive, but I allowed her to continue. She proceeded to vent about the lack of correct Biblical teaching and how the Gospel has become so sugar-coated that we no longer, in her opinion, address sin head on. It took only a few seconds for it to become clear that she was angry! Flabbergasted by her persistence to point a finger at all the Church’s wrongdoings, I finally couldn’t help but say, “I understand your passion to see people live right before God, but remember God sees the Church as His bride and I am pretty sure, flaws and all, that He is madly in love with her.” Yet her comments resonated with me for the entire day.

Her statement, as offensive as it may be, is a bold one that makes my temperature rise. Surely I would never refer to the Bride of Christ in such a way as to call her this outlandish name, but I cannot deny that I and all of the true Christ followers are, for better or worse, unfaithful. In fact, it is in our very nature. While I disagree with the way in which the comment was presented (as I do not believe in bashing God’s places of worship), there is a story in the book of Hosea that could shed some light on her point. In Hosea, each chapter illustrates a comparison between the ever faithful Hosea and his wife (a former prostitute often lured back into adulterous affairs). The prophecy of Hosea centers on God’s unending love towards a sinful Israel. Hosea 1:2 shares God’s agony over the betrayal of Israel,

 “For like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

Hosea was the prophet used by God to communicate these real emotions that he too had felt for his wife. One of my all-time favorite books is actually written about Hosea and is called, “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. This book vividly shows the relationship between Hosea and a fictional character (Angel) – a direct correlation to God’s pursuit of the Church. Can it be that God is constantly taking us back even when we deny Him our love? The answer is ‘yes’ – we are all unfaithful, yet we are still His spotless bride. This is so phenomenal to me that I thought I’d give a visual. If you are married, do you remember the moment before you said “I do?” Perhaps these are not the exact thoughts that were racing through your head, but the moment everything seemed new and wonderful. This is how Jesus sees us. He remembers the joy that He felt when we said “I do” to becoming His. We are not perfect; in fact, God was clear in communicating this through the illustration of Hosea and Israel’s disobedience. However, we cannot pain God by calling ourselves unclean when He has covered us in His righteousness through salvation.  There are two important points I would like to highlight:

We are unfaithful. (Romans 3:23)

If we were perfect, we would not need forgiveness; if we did not need forgiveness, we would not need a Savior. We are an unfaithful people. Don’t believe me, just look at our history, laced with wanderers constantly needing to repent for their sins. We too are these people who go astray, constantly falling short. Hence, the remarkable need for grace.

We are God’s spotless bride. (Revelation 19:7-9)

If you suffer from a constant cycle of guilt, this one is for you. You are God’s bride. He adores you and He sees you as His very own, for better or worse, as long as you remain in Him. Therefore, when referring to God’s Church, we must hold our tongue in bashing it for the sake of anger. We must be careful not to knock those in authority and those who God has called to serve His precious bride, us, the Church.

 

My prayer for you is that you remember God loves you enough to make it a permanent covenant. He did not give Himself because we deserved it, but because He saw us from the beginning of time as His and ‘very good.’ We must honor Him and His Church, always refraining from breaking His heart by lashing out against her. We are His beloved and may we never forget it!

Good Friday

Good Friday: How Love Wins

To any of you who have not purchased what is in my opinion one of the greatest Christian albums of all time, buy yourself this precious gift. The CD is called “Music Inspired By The Story” and it features some of the top Christian artists singing songs from many different Bible characters perspectives. The way in which Nicole Nordman, the lyricist, and Bernie Herms, the composer, express humanity and God’s love in this musical composition is nothing short of an inspired masterpiece. Yes, I am this passionate about it and the dozens of people I have convinced to purchase this album have agreed with me! If you own this CD, you know I am right and please leave a comment as to which is your favorite song (mine changes constantly).

As I shift gears, I personally have been inspired by one of the songs on the CD called “This is How Love Wins.” The words leave me in tears every time. As we approach Good Friday, I’d like to reflect on Jesus’ death through the eyes of a very unlikely man. You see, the word “Cavalry” makes me emotional. For those of you who read these articles each day, you can refer to my “Love at First Sight” article to further understand my connection to, and passion for, the streets I walked in Jerusalem that led to a deeper understanding of God’s great love and the personal song it inspired called, “He Gave Calvary.” This passion is understandable because this is where Jesus began the journey to win us back. We were nothing more than common criminals, thieves, who had robbed God of so much love and repaid Him with constant disobedience.

We were just like Joe. Who is Joe, you are probably wondering? I am glad you asked! Joe was a kid who was always getting into trouble and from a young age had a bit of a mean streak. He tried hard to please his parents while in elementary school, but after his many attempts to win their love had failed, Joe decided he would capture other people’s attention by being the neighborhood troublemaker. Joe was a small kid who always boasted scuffed up knees and smelt of rotten eggs. By middle school, Joe embraced his evil by causing other people pain in any way he possibly could. He would throw rocks and break windows, bully other children, and disrespect adults. Needless to say, school was mostly spent in detention and the principal’s waiting room. It wasn’t long before Joe’s family split and his now single-mother had to take another job to pay the bills. This resulted in Joe living out his nights home alone. Joe knew he was abandoned, unloved, and a mistake. In fact, deep down he wished he could change who he was, but he had established his identity as a hoodlum and he was committed to be something, even if that something was a no-good teenage boy. As Joe grew up, fathers kept their daughters far from Joe and Joe became increasingly lonely. Joe had no friends, no one who loved him, and he had no education or promise of a future. After dropping out of school his sophomore year, his time was spent drinking, smoking and trying to experience new ‘highs.’ By the time he was nineteen, he was out of juvie and back in jail a year later for car theft. There seemed no hope for Joe. Many years later, Joe found himself on death row for murdering four girls who were all teenagers. No one would be sad to see Joe pay for his sins and no one would ever love Joe. Yet, this is not what happened in Joe’s story next.

Here are some of the words to the song “This is How Love Wins,” will you pretend with me for a moment that this was Joe’s voice singing these words?

My life began like any other man held beneath a mother’s loving gaze
Somewhere between now and then I lost the man I could have been
Took everything that wasn’t mine to take but love believes that it is not too late
Only one of us deserves this cross, a suffering that should belong to me
Deep within this man I hang beside is the place where shame and grace collide
And it’s beautiful agony that He believes it’s not too late for me

This is how love wins, every single time
Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die
This is how love heals, the deepest part of you
Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds
This is what love says, standing at the door
You don’t have to be who you’ve been before
Silenced by His voice, death can’t speak again
This is how love wins

We now see that Joe, this fictional, no-good character, did one remarkable life changing thing – he allowed God’s love in. He surrendered to Jesus and called Him Savior – repenting of all his sins. Joe’s story could have been similar to the nameless thief on the cross who accepted Christ just moments from his last breath and who is now in Heaven with our Lord. Joe could be countless little boys who are growing up right now, unloved, unwanted and yet, they also still have one final hope: redemption through Jesus. Even if you see yourself as a pretty good person, there is probably a part of Joe that is a part of you. We are all sinful, lost, hopeless, people without one truth: Good Friday. Good Friday and Jesus’ decision to embrace Calvary that allowed all the average and horrific Joes, who could never be good enough in their own right, to become royal children of a King. This is how love wins, every single time.

If you need to be freed from guilt and sin, Good Friday makes this possible. It’s a beautiful gift and one where love wins. The following is a Scripture that allows you to change your story. If you are a Joe, the good, bad, or ugly version, I challenge you to allow love in,

“That 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.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”  (Romans 10:9-10)

If this was your fist time truly believing these words, please send us an e-mail so that we can begin to help you on this amazing journey. If you are a believer already, please don’t forget to intentionally seek after other ‘Joes.’ You have truth that they need and Good Friday is a perfect time to start allowing love to win.

Leadership

Outside The Box Leadership

I challenge you to think upon a time when you were in a group of people and someone had an idea that was outside the box. It could be a risk they wanted to take, a new business venture, or just something extremely fun (but outside the ordinary). Think upon that time hard and consider the series of events. What happened? Well, first someone had to have the idea or suggestion to begin with. But then what happened? Likely the group looked around in search of someone who had enough moxy to affirm the idea first.

Let’s look at an example:

A group of teens drive up to the top of a cliff on the California coast. They want to see the view back over the valley, as well the expansive ocean that sits before them. Then, with all the cars parked facing the cliff someone gets an idea and suggests they all go cliff jumping. The chances are pretty good that there would be a long silence followed by one of two things: (1) either someone speaks up saying, “lets do it,” convincing the rest of the group to go ahead with the wild idea or (2) total silence killing the dream before it ever began.

When we think of a leader, we often think of the first person in this scenario – the person who suggested you jump off a cliff. While it might indeed be that they display leadership qualities, albeit misguided for people with a fear of heights, I want to challenge your thinking for a moment. The person displaying just as much, if not more leadership, was the first follower.

Think about this for a moment in Biblical terms:

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee when He called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew. Now, what would have happened if Jesus said “follow me” and no one stepped up and affirmed His call? You see, even Jesus had to have someone be the first follower – someone had to take the risk and lend credence to the mission that Jesus was on.

Now, think about this in your own context. Whether it is at work, school, or in your faith journey, how are you displaying leadership? Do you always have to be the one with the idea or do you ever stand behind someone knowing that collectively you can get more done together? Next time someone has an audacious goal to do something great for the Kingdom of God, I’d challenge you to first evaluate it to make sure it’s Biblical but then stand up and be a “first follower.” You see if you do this, you become the key to that good work gaining momentum. By you affirming it others will join in and when those join in, the masses will start to follow.

In the end, what we are talking about is creating movements through outside the box leadership.

If everyone thought that their ideas were the best, no one would get anywhere in this world. Instead, it’s vital that we have first-followers, people who stand behind someone else’s idea because when they do, the chances are that exponential growth isn’t far behind. So, I ask you, what is more vital for us today? Having more people think that their ultimate leadership is key, or being unique enough to actually stand up as a first, or even second, follower and see the lasting change that can come about as a result.

Have you ever followed a leader and seen your example start something special? If so, tell us your story below in the comments!

Old Testament

Appreciating The Past: Our Personal History and The Old Testament

Although humans are all uniquely designed, we have a commonality which connects us as one people. One of these traits is our unique ability to have had and remember a past. Regardless of what your specific past consists of, the past molds us into who we become. The past teaches us how to correct personal issues, grow from heartache, and reminisce over precious memories. The past is crucial in understanding the future we desire. For some of you, the past if filled with regret; however, I want to give you a hope that can only come from Jesus. Our past has been covered and stamped with a new identity when we enter into a relationship with him. We are all new creatures because of the relationship and His perfect redemption for all of us.

You see, our pasts have been rewritten with grace.

Jesus understood the importance of the past when He first arrived on earth. While still having the unique perceptive of understanding through the divinity of the Trinity, an innocent baby crying for His mother’s embrace lived life one day at a time like a regular human being. Now, let’s look at in Scripture during a time where Jesus was at the peak of His three year ministry assignment – spreading God’s message for humanity and sharing one of his most famous sermons: the Beatitudes. Shortly after delivering words about how God sees things from a heavenly perceptive, He shared this insight:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

While Jesus spoke of radical ideas to traditional people who came from different backgrounds, He was specific in one thing that had to remain enact: the past. Jesus wanted to make certain that He clarified who He was and who He was not. He was not a man who came to compromise the past history of a Jewish nation who had believed in the one true God and followed Old Testament Law. He was the One who came to fulfill the promise of the past and eventually include us Gentiles into a new future. He had come to bring an end to the questions that many had contemplated for centuries and others had just started to ask.

Therefore, without truly understanding the Old Testament today, we are much like a person with amnesia trying to recall something that is missing, without a clue as to where to start.

Regardless of your like or dislike for historical events, I would encourage you to take a deep interest in Biblical history. If you are in a season of passionless faith, opening the Old Testament and seeing God’s hand on a history that affects all Christians is not only fascinating, but necessary.  Unfortunately, Christians often skip over the detailed moments given to us in the stories of the Old Testament. embracing primarily the redemption accounted for in the Gospels. While that is certainly important, think about it – most Christians are introduced to Christ in a New Testament context before learning Biblical history and seeing God as a just ruler and Law maker. Part of this is because we are all in need of a Savior and sometimes the word “God” can seem aloof. Yet, God, in the beginning, was the one who walked in the cool of the day with a young couple named Adam and Eve, establishing a relationship with them. He was never meant to be seen distant, He was always a God who wanted to be with His creation.

Often, we want to take hold of grace before truly understanding the order of a logical God. Yet, we can find so much beauty in the past if only we are willing to explore it.

By seeing all aspects of God, we will no longer be as angered by historical events that seem unfair because we will see that our history is laced with disobedience – a time where we were more than unfair to God, not vice versa. If we truly saw the holistic Word, we would be moved to tears before ever pointing a finger. Therefore, my encouragement to all of you is to make a commitment to understanding history, the Jewish culture, and everything in-between – these are God’s chosen people and we were adapted and graphed into this plan. Today is a perfect day to start discovering your past, in Christ, through falling in love with the God of the Old Testament who has fulfilled everything through the New Testament – an incredible series of events set into motion in the very beginning… all the way back in Genesis.

 

The Church Experience

The Church Experience

Have you ever read about the early church in Acts, then sat through a modern day church service and observed an obvious disconnect? What originally began as a fellowship of believers focused on relational discipleship and spreading the message of the Gospel, seems to have, in many places, evolved over the course of 2000 years into a model of “doing church” for which we have very little biblical basis. Sam Pascoe, a 19th century American scholar, described that transformation like this:

“Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.”

That’s a disconcerting observation on the progression of Christianity throughout history. But from where I’m sitting, his assessment is alarmingly accurate in many cases.

As Christians, how have we watched the church get to this point and somehow acted like nothing is wrong?

Simply put, centuries of church tradition have conditioned us into believing that we’re actively living out the Great Commission by merely sitting in a pew for an hour once a week. We’ve created a “cookie cutter” Christianity by teaching people that salvation comes through praying a prayer and “accepting Jesus into your heart” – a concept you won’t find anywhere in your Bible, no matter which version you read. The “American Dream” has permeated Christian culture to the point where many churches are a better reflection of a Fortune 500 company than the body of Christ.

That last point in particular is a troubling one, and should cause all professing Christians to examine themselves and their church experience. When we plant churches, is it because we want to impact our local communities with the message of the Gospel? Or is because it will enable us to build whatever version of the church we’re most comfortable with? When we make the decision to become part of a church family, is it because we want to live as Disciples of Christ within a community of believers, or is it because we grew up in the church and attending is merely a tradition? Or is it simply because going to church is a more attractive option than our perceived ramification of going to hell instead?

If your experience with today’s church looks anything like the assessment above, the question must then become: What are we going to do about it?

To begin with, we need to recognize that we’ve created a church culture that is ostracizing to unbelievers. Many of today’s churches have essentially created a bubble world within four walls. The focus is placed on the traditional way of “doing” church and utilizing church resources to build a bigger building or buy a better sound system, with the goal of establishing high quality internal programs and creating a church environment that will make people feel comfortable. We’ve created a church culture that is inwardly focused, not outwardly focused. As a result, church growth often does not come from converting the unchurched, but from “church hopping” Christians looking for a comfortable church experience where they feel their needs will be met. And ultimately, isn’t that the problem? While part of any church’s mission is to shepherd their flock, the greater mission is to grow that flock. Instead, we seem to be fostering a generation of believers that is inwardly focused on their own needs, rather than outwardly focused on the lost, and meeting the needs of the widows and orphans of the world.

In reality, the opposite must be true. We need to grow the church outside four walls and take Jesus to the world. Being a Christian is about more than sitting in a pew on Sunday morning. It’s about serving soup to the homeless on Wednesday night. It’s about being a witness in your workplace every day of the week. It’s about making Christianity more than an enterprise, a culture, an institution, a philosophy … it’s about making it a fellowship of believers once again, living life together with one eternal purpose:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20b, ESV)

While I believe deeply in the power of the church, many churches around the world today weaken that power by missing the true purpose of the Church described in the Bible. Once we return to living out that purpose, the disconnect between the modern day church and the early church in Acts will begin to disappear and we will become the true fellowship of disciples that God intended us to be.