30 Seconds On the Gospel

There is no greater force for good in the world than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It changes men from the bones out. It alters what they love and why. It makes men right with God so they can in turn be right with their neighbors. It instills reckless love, unshakeable peace, hope that will spend itself to do good, and wisdom that looks like foolishness to every last scoffer.  The Gospel is the very Good News that God, in Jesus Christ, can make us right with Him and can bring us home. There is no greater message. There is no greater hope. And there is nothing that can produce greater joy.  

The Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the most revolutionary instrument of good to ever grace our world. It can restore and reclaim what (and whom) nothing else can.   

The Gospel is the very good news our world needs, and has needed ever since Eden.  
All our deepest and truest needs can be met in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  


More Than Good Works

The world does not need more mere good works.  

Being a nice man can’t get me eternal life.  Having solid character won’t make me right with my Creator.  It won’t unstain what I’ve stained.  Being a good guy won’t fix me.  

We are in a much deeper hole than common wisdom suggests.  And a much different kind of hole.  Specifically, this hole is a grave.  

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Ephesians 2:1-3

We are born spiritually dead, all of us.  Lovely and human and valuable, but also wicked and spiritually dead.  And so the world needs much more than deeds of kindness.  The Middle Ages had deeds of kindness.  But what they thirsted for was a power that their churches had long obscured, and the Reformation was the rain that fell on that parched ground.  

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’

Romans 1:16-17

The world needs salvation.  It needs regeneration.  It needs people who have been taken as one thing and remade into another.  And since mere good works won’t do, a mere teacher won’t do.  It needs someone who can undo what we have done and who can remake us from the feet up.  

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Colossians 2:9-14

Only God can remake a man.  Only God can kill the worst in him and bring him back something better, and not only better but something altogether different.  Only God can pay a man’s eternal debt, a debt incurred from breaking the best of laws, willfully and daily.  

The world doesn’t need more mere good works.  The world needs the power of God.  It needs a Messiah, a Χριστός.  It needs someone who will do what we cannot, and who can make us what we should be.

The world needs something it cannot offer itself:  A death and a resurrection.  A divine rescue.  It’s a great need.  Impossible, apart from a miracle.  

But thankfully the only thing that can outpace that need is His grace.  

As deep as our grave is, His grace is deeper still.  

We have the Gospel we need.  

But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ —that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Romans 10:8-13

Don’t Take This Personally

No one’s life has ever been made better by taking more things personally. 

With each gesture, each word or tone of voice that I choose to take as an affront to my worth or goodness I make myself a little more miserable and a little more insufferable.  That child who just rolled his eyes at me?  That behavior must be assaulted!  Because, after all, I don’t deserve such attitude (my thought is not that the child must be disciplined because his soul is in danger; I don’t care so much about that right now).  My spouse didn’t respond the way I’d hoped?  I can’t just overlook that!  Are you kidding me?  That’s an attack on my value and seriousness and weight as a person.  

Each and every little slight or difficulty that I opt to take personally is another handful of seeds that I’m sowing that yield awful, deadly weeds as time goes on.  Weeds that choke out contentment and gladness and good humor.  The more I take personally, the more I can expect to see personal bitterness and strained relationships in my life.  

Word to the unwise:  Take yourself a little less seriously.  Choose to overlook even real and intended insults.  And remember that according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve anyone’s respect.  Remember these things.  You’ll be happier and more pleasant to be around.  

Trust me.  I’m writing from less than 24 hours’ distance from doing this in the wrong direction.  Pride and self-importance made me a mean and hardened man for a few hours last night.  It was unpleasant.  

Take yourself less seriously.  Have less grievances.  Your blood pressure and your closest relationships will reflect the change sooner than you might think.  

A humble heart is more than ready to bear good fruit in place of bad weeds.  

I Don’t Want What I Deserve

When it comes to where you’ll spend eternity (and who you’ll spend it with), every man on earth will either get what he deserves or what Christ deserves.

If you want your wages, if you want what you’re owed, then you want the first fistful of earth thrown over your coffin.  If, on the other hand, you want what you don’t deserve, what you could never ever possibly deserve, if you want to be rescued from the fires you started by somebody bigger and better than you, than you’re in for some Good News.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Romans 6:20-23

For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

Romans 4:3-5

The Gospel is that God offers to give sinners what they could never possibly earn.  And so the Gospel is an incredibly joyous proclamation for the desperate and downtrodden.  But I think it’s a tedious afterthought (or outright annoyance) to the morally self-reliant.  To those who know they’re sinners, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is hope.  But to those who don’t, it’s unmoving, even if they pay lip-service to it.

And Romans would warn that second type of person:  Beware of wanting what you deserve.

The other side of that demand isn’t going to be as pretty as you think.

What the World Needs

The world needs unbridled, unfiltered Christianity.  The ancient, remarkable, simple, beautiful Gospel of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.  It’s what’s been sparking revival in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and Latin America.  It’s what brings the world to life and makes the darkness tremble.  This planet needs the sting and salve of the message of repentance from evil deeds and full-bodied trust in Jesus Christ, not merely a winning smile and a pleasant-sounding insinuation that everything’s going to be just fine.  

Packaged, focus-group-tested, man-centered, worldly Christianity, Christianity where we try to be so much like the world that they won’t be bothered or offended, makes Satan laugh and lulls unbelievers faster to sleep as they careen towards God’s eternal judgment.  

The world needs us to be willing to be hated.  Not to seek it out, mind you, but simply to be ready to accept when it comes, and then to respond with mercy and forgiveness and more pleading for them to repent and believe.  We are tragically misguided if we thing that if we as Christians were more like Jesus, everyone would love us.  The truth is that if we were far more like Jesus, many people would love us deeply, but many others would be standing right behind them, shouting for Barabbas to be released so they could get on with their crucifixion.  And Satan might be right there with them, snickering at our blood.

But then it wouldn’t be the first time he was shortsighted.  


60 Seconds of Christmas Cheer

I just want to take a second to celebrate and commend Jesus the Savior, whose entering this fractured world we commemorate on Christmas.  

If you feel like a failure, a hopeless or depressed mess of a man or woman, He can be Good News for you.  

If you have bought the lies materialism and worldly success sell, and now feel exhausted or disillusioned or hollow, He can be Good News for you.  

If you’re angry and don’t know why or how to fix it, He can be your way out.  

If you’re addicted to lust and bear all the scars from it, He can rescue you.  

Christmas is, or at least should be, a reminder of the most beautiful message ever given to humanity, one from God to us:  I am offering you redemption.  

One of my favorite parts in A Christmas Carol is when the Ghost of Christmas Past tells Scrooge why he has come to him.  

“Your reclamation.”  

He came for Scrooge’s reclamation.  It’s a beautiful echo of the Gospel of Christ, I think.  God has come to reclaim his people from their wickedness and spiritual death.  He has come to save them from His just wrath for all evil.  He was born as a human to be what they could not be and do what they could not do. 

I commend to you Jesus.  On December 25th, we celebrate His becoming what only an impossibly good God would be willing to become.  

A Sister, Her Loneliness, and Her Treasure

“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  

Mary Magdalene had had seven demons cast out of her. She’d been smiled upon by God, this little woman of hopelessness and sin. Mary had been found. Recovered. And while maybe the Pharisees would sneer at the uneducated carpenter’s son and his lowlife Galilean followers, she adored her Jesus. She obeyed her Jesus. She had no one but her Jesus. She believed He was her only hope, and Israel’s, too. This was the Son of David. The Messiah.  

And then two days ago something happened.  

Mary had watched Him mocked, stripped, and executed. Everyone had spat and jeered and laughed as He hung up in the air and died in front of His mother and a snarling throng of people who hated Him. It had been a spectacle. And now, her Jesus was gone. So she stood outside the tomb that a nice man had bought for His body. Her soul’s hope was fractured, busted all out of joint. The King who’d redeemed her, the Holy One of God she was sure would make the world better, and make her better right along with it, had been humiliated and killed. Her only friend and Lord was now a murdered man.

She had come to anoint the body, because that’s the sort of thing you do when you love somebody from way down in the deep places. But the body wasn’t there. And when they’d seen it was stolen, Peter and John, the men, had run.  

Here’s a thought I think I’ve shared with Mary Magdalene, the sister I haven’t met yet: I’m standing here alone, frustrated, terribly frightened, confused. I have no idea where to go or whom to turn to. Why am I deserted? Why can’t I figure this out? Why am I left here hollow, sad, and ignorant? Why is it so quiet, and why am I alone?

Maybe they stole His body because they were going to deface it and mock it the way the Gibeonites had once done to the dead sons of Saul. Maybe they were just wicked and stupid and cruel, and had thrown Him into an open grave. Scoffers who didn’t understand Him. Who didn’t treasure what she treasured.  

Not even a body to anoint and say goodbye to. And now where could she go? Who would have her? The only Shepherd who’d ever wanted her had been struck down. The religious leaders certainly wouldn’t take her. 

 Maybe the demons wouldn’t even want her, now.  

Alone in a graveyard. Not even Peter and John had stayed.  

But one of the most beautiful sentences of the Bible is coming.  

Mary was alone, like she had been before Jesus. So she wept, because that was all she could do, since there was nothing to anoint. Nothing left but to let sadness be sadness.  

Well, that and to look.  

“She stopped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.'”

My Lord. See, when you’ve been reborn, when your heart’s been cracked open like Mary’s had, you only have one Lord. There’s no one and nothing else for you in this world. Wherever He is, you’ll go. Mary had only one person to turn to.  

And so she turned to Him.  

“When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there.”

She saw Jesus standing there.  

Be with Mary there, by that tomb, for just a minute. Feel the joy she must have had thrumming in her chest once she realized it was Him, her Jesus and her treasure, a few seconds later. Once she realized that the only One who’d ever been able to save her was alive, forever alive. That no one could kill Jesus, though many try. Stand with Mary there for a minute, and look to the same One she did.  

I’ll make you a promise, and I’m not big on making promises. No one will ever stop Jesus. Those demons never get to grip Mary’s mind again, because once the Christ has found you, you have been truly found. Once the Messiah’s freed you, you are free indeed. They can nail Him to a Cross, but they can’t keep Him there; and they can’t unrescue Mary Magdalene. She will be presented to the Father by her Jesus. Because the treasuring thing works both ways, you see. Mary treasured Jesus. And for entirely different reasons and in an infinitely deeper way, Jesus treasured Mary.  

My promise: No one will ever stop Mary’s Jesus. My Jesus. He will do all He set out to do. He will recover all He set out to recover.

No one can stop Mary’s Jesus.   

So turn around. He’s there.