What Is the Gospel?

What is the gospel? We’ve all heard the many different examples listed and been told that it is literally “Good New” to the world. The Good News that Jesus has come to take our place and pay the penalty for our sins, but what does that mean? (It’s even been asked in a book.) I think it’s even become the “hot topic” within Christianity today with more books and conferences than any of us can or should partake in. But that pat answer doesn’t seem to do it justice, and while I never want to minimize the importance of the gospel, I think many of us take it for granted.

  • It it exclusively about “Good News”?
  • Is there multiple ways to express the gospel?
  • Is the gospel just another name for the Bible?
  • Do we have a “hole” in our gospel?
  • Can it be summed up in 6 words?
  • Have we missed the heart of the gospel?
  • Have we made it all about morality and sexuality separated from grace?
  • Is it all of these things? None? Some?

Obviously I can’t deal with all the issues raised about in regard to the gospel, but I think as I’ve read what people have said and are saying about the gospel, we’re missing a huge piece of it. The piece that we’re remembering this week in the church calendar. The biggest piece missing from our discussion about the gospel is the cross. Apart from the cross, the gospel isn’t good news at all. In fact, if the cross is taken completely out of the discussion, the Bible just makes me want to curl up and die.

So many times I’ve heard the gospel message summed up as either a salvation message or a call to “fix” the world by bringing God’s kingdom to earth. And while Jesus did inaugurate a new kingdom, it hasn’t yet reached it’s conclusion. We live in a time period where Christ has ALREADY begun his work in redeeming the world but it has NOT YET reached its final point. There are a number of things that won’t be resolved until Christ comes again to “judge the living and the dead.” We need to learn to be content living within this unresolved tension until Christ returns. No, the gospel can’t be summed up in a list of moral codes or absolutes, but it can be summed up in the cross. The fact that God loved and loves us despite our sin. The fact that God sent His one and only son into the world and “tabernacled” or “made his dwelling” among us. The fact that God has now reconciled us to Him by taking our sins, past, present and future, upon Himself. The fact that He continues to relentlessly pursue us and woo us to Himself.

It doesn’t take me very long to daily be reminded of my sinful state. I’m continually attempting to find ways to build myself up, even if it means tearing others down. What hope could a sinful man like me have? Through the cross, infinite hope.

In his expose of the gospel message, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 lays out the message of the gospel – but then shows us the hope we can have because the cross isn’t the final word – the resurrection is. In today’s culture it’s become commonplace to question the validity of Jesus. Was He really who He said He was? Did he really rise from the dead? Paul takes this to its logical conclusion when he says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Questioning the message of the gospel is in vain because we have it clearly laid out for us in Scripture. No, it can’t be put in a list because it’s how we should live.

BUT

Jesus did leave his disciples, and us, with this command:

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.

I have yet to hear a sermon or read a blog that deals with this part of the great commission. Jesus told his disciples to observe all that He commanded. And Jesus laid out some pretty specific things. Honor your parents, love your neighbors, give to the poor and needy, and be perfect. How much of that list have you broken?

In one of my classes in college we attempted to condense the gospel to 140 characters to find out if we could tweet the gospel. I came to the conclusion that it can’t be done. In order to truly explain the message of the gospel I need to tell you about my life. Yes, the message of the gospel is that Christ has already done the work for us, but the implications for that have changed my entire life. Does your life paint a picture of the gospel, no matter how blurry or broken it is, or does it paint a picture of you? How has the gospel shaped your life today and where would you be without Christ’s work on the cross?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Philippians 1:27

It’s About Faithulness

Last week I started reading the book “Letters to a Young Calvinist”  by James. K.A. Smith because it was on sale for free on Amazon. It’s an interesting book that helps lay a very helpful foundation for someone looking to explore what Calvinism is. He writes each chapter as a letter to someone who used to be a Sunday School student and is beginning to wrestle with the implications of what Scripture says. I’m guessing I’ll finish it this week, but one phrase that stuck out to me was this:

It’s not about purity. (If it were, no church would ever let us in the door.) It’s about faithfulness.

How faithful are you in your pursuit of God? How faithful are you in your involvement in church? A general trend recently seems to be that church is the first thing to be missed on a weekend’s schedule. If there’s a sports tournament or you didn’t sleep well the night before then you might as well spend Sunday recovering. My dad had the rule for me that I was allowed to miss 2 church services for basketball a year – and he’d help me meet that goal by coming to my tournaments and going to a new church with me, and I’m grateful he did.

I’ve dealt with the importance of local church involvement before, but it bears repeating here. Involvement in a church isn’t an option for a Christian. I’ve compared it to Olaf in the movie Frozen who was a snowman dreaming of spending time in summer. We need to commit to a local church in order to encourage others but also so we can be encouraged. This means being faithful to spend time together and share what’s going on in your life.

Far too many people today are focusing on the purity aspect of the church instead of the faithful aspect of the church. I was talking to someone from my church this morning and said that I hope someone with same sex attraction comes to our church – there’s no perfect people in the church. In fact, if you ever hear of a church that says they are perfect and made of perfect people turn the other way and run! They will probably try to get you to drink some kool-aid! The church isn’t a museum to showcase the saints, it’s a hospital to save the broken and dying. And no one is is immune to this sin. We are all in desperate need of regular repentance and reminders of what God has done for us in Jesus.

Can A Conservative Evangelical Millennial Still Have A Voice?

If there’s anything the recent World Vision issue has taught me, is that I am increasingly going to be on the short end of the stick. I am someone who sponsors a child through World Vision and was concerned when they changed their employees stance on same-sex marriage. No, I wasn’t going to abandon the child I sponsored, but I was uneasy about identifying with an organization that I cannot agree with theologically, especially when there are other organizations that do the same thing World Vision does without compromising their beliefs. This issue isn’t simply about marriage, but about the authority of Scripture. Yes, there is room for different interpretations of Scripture, but not for questioning what God has clearly commanded. And despite what many have tried to argue, the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are a sin (not the only sin, mind you, but still a sin).

As these issues begin to become more frequent, I am continually seeing that people don’t want to listen to or agree with me because I am a conservative Evangelical who looks to Scripture as my final authority and look back to church history to help me understand the issues of today. As soon as Scripture begins to be questioned the rest of the Christian worldview falls apart. So what do we do when, as a writer at Desiring God put, the Bible is the controversy?

I know that there are a number of Millennials who are in the same boat as me. After all, the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement is still on the rise among many of the people I talk to. There’s a growing awareness of the need for biblical authority and understanding to help us deal with issues like what happened with World Vision. People are willing to change the message of the Gospel in an attempt to make it more palatable. But the Gospel isn’t palatable. It’s offensive. Jesus said things that got him in a lot of trouble. He said things that were incredibly offensive, like “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Our whole faith hinges upon the brutal execution of an innocent man. This is how God showed his love to the world. By hanging his one and only Son on the cross in our place. How can you soften that blow? How can you being a sinner sound rosy and cheerful? And it’s not a one time event, it’s not saying a sinner’s prayer and having fire insurance, it’s a daily act. I think Luther said it best when he said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

With all this concern that Evangelicals are shooting themselves in the foot by being too controversial, I think it’s necessary to look back at Jesus’ ministry to see just how offensive the Gospel really is. And I hope that drives people away! I’ve been saying for a while that I hope I offend people regularly. Not because of the things I do, but for the sake of the Gospel and Jesus being lived out in my life. I know I’m not always going to take the popular road, or the easy road, but I know that I will do my best to continue to follow the Lord’s leading and guiding in my life as I continue to live as a saved sinner in a sinful and broken world. I eagerly look forward to the day when Jesus will make everything right with the world and there won’t be controversy like this, but until that day, I will continue on.

For another look at this issue, see Trevin Wax’s article on this issue, it’s very helpful.

More Confessions Of A Millennial Evangelical Christian

Last week there was an uproar over a change in stance of the well known company World Vision, who changed their employee agreement form to allow same-sex sex within a same-sex marriage. Just two days later, they reversed their policy and wrote an apology letter to those they had offended. I was thrilled when World Vision changed their stance back, am glad they did so and think it was the right decision. But that also means that instead of getting criticism from the more conservatives, they are now getting criticism from the more liberal “Evangelicals.” Enter Rachel Held Evans.

Rachel burst onto the scene with her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” which I have yet to read (to see why I haven’t read it, read this review from Kathy Keller). Claiming to be an Evangelical Christian, Rachel has been blogging for years and has spoken very strongly against many within the Evangelical movement. I’ve never considered her to be an Evangelical, but just another liberal Christian, and I’ve never heard anyone who I respect who is an Evangelical Christian consider her to be an Evangelical either. She wrote an article for CNN titled ‘How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation,’ that gets to the heart of the issue for me. In the article she says the following:

There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.

Evangelicals insist that they are simply fighting to preserve “biblical marriage,” but if this were actually about “biblical marriage,” then we would also be discussing the charity’s policy around divorce.

But we’re not.

As I grieved with my (mostly 20- and 30-something) readers over this ugly and embarrassing situation, I heard a similar refrain over and over again: “I don’t think I’m an evangelical anymore. I want to follow Jesus, but I can’t be a part of this.”

I feel the same way.

Whether it’s over the denial of evolutionary science, continued opposition to gender equality in the church, an unhealthy alliance between religion and politics or the obsession with opposing gay marriage, evangelicalism is losing a generation to the culture wars.

First, I’m not sure where she can accuse Evangelicals about not dealing with divorce. Divorce is something that has become commonplace in our culture, but the Evangelicals that I know and read have never supported divorce in any way shape or form. In fact, I’ve read the opposite from all of them! (See these articles here and here) And most of the ones I read take an even more stringent stance toward divorce than I do. But that also doesn’t take away from the fact that same-sex sex is a sin. It isn’t something exclusively taught in the Old Testament, and it isn’t progressive like slavery.

Secondly, this paints Evangelicals in the worst possible light. Rachel accuses us of denying evolutionary science, opposing gender equality, aligning religion and politics and an obsession with opposing gay marriage, none of which I see to be true. In fact, I know many Evangelicals who support evolutionary science (Tim Keller), who also support gender equality (but that doesn’t mean that men and women should have all the same roles in the church) and most Evangelicals I talks to try to keep their politics separated from their religion. I don’t see who Rachel is trying to paint in this bad light.

And finally, I’m glad that Rachel feels she can no longer identify herself as an Evangelical. It’s been clear to me as I’ve read more of the things she’s put out that she has never been an Evangelical, but is more like Brian McLaren, who are trying to claim association with Evangelicals while still belittling and continually ostracizing themselves from the Evangelical community. Yes, the Evangelical community is broad and includes differences of opinion on many issues, but to deny the role of Scripture as the sole authority is a train wreck. As soon as Scripture is questioned, people tend to take a liberal approach to Christianity, and it needs to be realigned.

This push back to the Evangelicals seems to be what the Emergent church of the early 2000s morphed in to. I’m looking forward to the day when we can all focus on Scripture together, using it as our sole authority and living that out. This doesn’t mean we hate those who are sinners, but welcome them in to the church, love them, and point them to Christ. This means we all are going to need to give up our sins and be willing to admit when we are wrong as we all stumble toward maturity.

Book I’m Most Looking Forward to This Summer

In the midst of my life I often look back at how God has brought me through many experiences and difficulties to the point I am today. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a PK (pastor’s kid) who has now become a P (pastor), hopefully someday having my own PKs. Growing up as a PK can be incredibly difficult. It doesn’t often feel like you can have your own identity outside of the church or your parents (particularly your pastor father). And I had the double hit of always being told I look and sound like my dad. I’ve even been told today that my laugh sounds exactly like my dad’s. Even at school I was immediately identified as “the Jesus freak.” I look back on my times and thankfully didn’t feel a ton of pressure from people inside the church, but at the same time it’s always there. I remember at one point in the midst of a season of huge rebellion against God and my dad stumbling across the phrase in 1 Timothy 3 “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,” and realized that my dad’s job had the potential to be lost because of me. That’s a lot of responsibility for a 17 year old to manage! Were my parents at fault because of the choices I’d made? Not completely, it was my own sin that I take full credit for, but it still reflected poorly on my parents.

As I’ve transitioned from life as a PK to life as a P there have been some things I’ve had to work through with my dad, and there were some very difficult years of transition as we both had to figure out how to relate to each other, as father and son, as brothers in Christ, and now as co-laborers in the same denomination. When I was looking for jobs in ministry after college the one denomination I didn’t want to be in was the EFCA, because everyone in that denomination knows my dad. God has a funny way of answering our prayer requests, because I ended up in an EFCA church.

This leads me to a book coming out in July by Barnabas Piper (yes, John Piper’s son) who also grew up as a PK titled ‘The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.‘ I’m very excited to read this and see some of what Barnabas has to say about growing up as a PK, and not just a PK, but the PK of a very well known P. This isn’t an issue that’s easy for everyone to deal with, and it doesn’t necessarily come naturally for PKs to struggle with their faith and who they are in Christ. I hope and pray that I can help my kids someday work through their faith in a Christ honoring way.

I’ll be posting a review about the book as soon as I can get my hands on it, but until then, will enjoy the discussions that take place between Barnabas and Stephen Altrogge.

Why Dudes Don’t Sing

One of the perpetual problems I’ve heard about in multiple churches is that the men won’t sing. I’m grateful at the church I serve that overall, the men do join in the singing, and we have some men that sing VERY loudly (you know who you are!). Yet the question has often been asked, why don’t the men sing? Why is it so hard to get men involved in church? I’ve heard that men aren’t emotional and too many of the songs we sing are too “lovey-dovey” for men to feel comfortable singing. I’ve even heard a comedian say “let me sing about Jesus watching the game with me.”

The problem with this is that it doesn’t allow men to stand up and be the men we’re called to be. Men are supposed to be leading their families and this includes in the way their family sings and worships God together. Men are supposed to be emotional beings (no, that doesn’t mean we cry at every movie we watch, but that doesn’t mean we should be afraid to cry). I worry that many men today attempt to put on a tough guy facade or a hipster/too-cool-for-this vibe that doesn’t allow them to worship God with all they are and all they have.

Throughout my life I’ve had to work through how I can worship God with my whole being, including my body, voice and mind. This past week at church we sang Chris Tomlin’s song “Lay Me Down” which has the line “with my hands, lifted high.” As I introduced the song, I told the congregation it was their opportunity to raise their hands, and most people did and seemed to enjoy it. I know there were some people that REALLY didn’t like it, but they haven’t talked to me yet! It is a joy to sing praises to God in a place where people can be free to express themselves with their bodies! Dancing isn’t just a mark of women, David, whose life movie would probably look something like the movie 300, danced like a mad man! I hope and pray we continue to have more men like David who are willing to show physical displays of worship to God including: raising your hands, dancing, kneeling, bowing, standing in awe, singing and many more. What are some ways you’ve encouraged people to be more engaged at the church you attend?

Finding God in the Dark

I first heard of Ted Kluck when I was in college and was trying to figure out where my theology was and how it fit within the framework of my friends, many of whom were big fans of Rob Bell. Ted was the co-author of the book ‘Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be‘ that was incredibly helpful for me as I processed what the Bible said and how I should live that out. He later came and spoke at my college and I discovered he lived on the same wing as my Hall Director. My world since that time has only gotten smaller.

This leads us to today, where earlier this week I got and read a new book which Ted Kluck co-authored with Ronnie Martin (you may know him better from his days as the band Joy Electric) titled ‘Finding God in the Dark‘ that I wish would’ve been around for me to read in college. The book deals with the personal stories of both Ronnie and Ted as they both faced difficult personal situations and began questioning God’s care for them in the midst of tragedy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve questioned the goodness of God in my life when I’ve faced difficult circumstances. Ronnie’s intro to the book says, “For many of us, doubt and unbelief can be subtle poisons that gradually inoculate us over time from seeing the evidence of God’s grace working steadily in our families, jobs, relationships, and futures.”

The book is primarily just both authors telling the difficulties they had and the process they went through to find God at the end of the journey, and the hope they have that He will continue to provide for them. It is a good reminder for us as we seek God’s will in our lives. I enjoyed hearing perspectives of those who are a little older than me and have wrestled with some of the same questions I’ve wrestled with.

The book is helpful for reading if you’ve ever had times of personal doubt or struggle. It’s a good reminder of David’s thought in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” How can we trust God when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death? This book is a good reminder that He is faithful, and always will be. This book is a very quick read and worth the time that it takes to wrestle with God’s faithfulness.

It all stems from a fundamental disbelief that God is as good as He says He is. We can affirm it in our minds and say it with our mouths, but until it penetrates our hearts it will never transform our lives.

-Ronnie Martin

 

The Purpose of Art

I recently wrote an article defending Lecrae and his attempts to reach the world with the message of the Gospel. Since that time, I was shown another article defending Lecrae on rapzilla. (HT: Andrew) And then I found another article today on The Gospel Coalition asking the question ‘Must Art be Evangelistic to be Christian?‘ written by Alex Medina – one of Lecrae’s producers. Quoting Sho Baraka, Alex writes:

The problem is that we have created a theological truth from cultural and systematic preferences. So now hip hop is an office in the church and not a vocation or art. We first must start here before we can move forward. It’s something we’ve all been guilty of implying in one way or another.

This is the problem many Christians face as we attempt to interact with the culture we live in. People are always asking how far is too far? At what point is it too much like the world and not enough like Christ? We shouldn’t try to make music and art something only done in the church-but should be able to use music and art in general as a way to point people to the cross either directly or indirectly. My college president always told us “All truth is God’s truth” and I would go on to say that anything beautiful is designed by God and God made it good. Yes, it has been warped by the fall and distorted by sin, but God still created us in his image to bear his likeness and be like him in the way we create. How can we better push people to make art to the glory of God? Be encouraging them to continue to work on their craft as they become better and better at deflecting the glory to God.

New CD for Church

One of the most played CDs for me recently has been the new album by Vertical Church Band titled ‘The Rock Won’t Move.‘ If you attend my church you’ll recognize some of the songs as new ones we’ve started singing this year.

The album opens with a very catchy tune called ‘Found In You’ that starts with everyone singing “Oh” and slowly building until everyone is joining in the singing “We’re reaching out, to welcome you God.” This is a great song that could be used as a welcome song at church.

The next song is my least favorite song on the album, which I found interesting because it seems that a lot of other people really like it called ‘I’m Going Free (Jailbreak).’ I’m not planning on doing it at church.

The following two songs are the best on the album both lyrically and musically. We’ve done both of them at church during our sermon series on the church. The first is the title track ‘The Rock Won’t Move’ which talks about God being our rock that won’t move. Despite everything else shaking around us God’s Word and love endures. The second song is ‘Worthy, Worthy’ that is similar in content to ‘Revelation Song.’ The verses tell how God’s ways are so much higher than ours and that we will never be able to comprehend and builds to the chorus which says,

Holy holy is the Lord God almighty
Worthy worthy is Your name
All of heaven joins the universe ever crying
Worthy worthy is Your name

It’s very easy to sing and is a wonderful description of who God is.

I’m planning to do the next song ‘I Will Follow’ at some point in the future as well. This song addresses our need to press in to God in both the good times and the bad “I believe and I will follow You.” This song thematically is similar to the classic ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ where we are reminded to praise God no matter what comes our way.

The rest of the songs on the CD are potentials for us to do in the future, but aren’t as strong as the previous ones I’ve mentioned. This CD is worth sticking on repeat in your car and adding to your repertoire of songs your congregation sings at church. Have you found any other CDs recently that have been great congregational songs?

The New Hymnal

With the current technology we have, it has made music much more accessible to a larger group of people. By simply buying a computer and an audio interface you can record your own songs and upload them online for the world to hear and listen to. With an ever increasing amount of songs being published, how can you let people know what you listen to? And as this applies to a church, how can a congregation know what songs we sing?

Previous generations had these books compiled called hymnals. Within the hymnal was the collection of songs the congregation would sing. You could walk into a church and know many of the songs because they used the same hymnal that you were used to. People could even take one of these hymnals home to learn the music themselves or sing them with their families. This was one of the things my parents did with me as I was growing up, and as I became more competent with piano I even got to lead some of the songs we sang together. These hymnals worked really well when people knew how to read music and could hammer out the song on piano, but my experience with my generation is that many of them can’t read sheet music. Even those who can play guitar or drums do it by chords instead of sheet music so a hymnal wouldn’t work for them.

We now have access to thousands of songs at the click of a button. Services like iTunes, Amazon Music, Pandora and Spotify have made it easier to find any kind of music you like. And as the number of people with smartphones grows, the potential for people to access this overabundance of music grows. So how can people listen to the songs your church sings and get to know them well enough to teach them to their kids? One idea I’ve implemented is what I’m calling my new hymnal: a Spotify playlist. Spotify is a free service that allows you to access thousands of songs. I’ve created a playlist and posted it to our church website. One of the reasons I chose Spotify is because it’s easy to add or remove songs even after you’ve published a link to your playlist.

I got to go to a different church than I attend during Christmas break and of all the songs we sung, I knew 1. With all the music that is being released regularly it’s often hard to move from church to church and quickly pick up the songs they sing. I’m hoping this playlist will allow more people to know the songs before they even walk through our doors.

Does anyone else have any ideas on how you can teach your congregation new songs or the current repertoire of songs you do sing?

To see my playlist see my previous post.

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

-Deuteronomy 6:7

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