What is the Gospel?

Let’s walk back in time for a second.

Picture this:

It’s 26 A.D in Nazareth (Israel). You’ve spent the week as a stonemason and your arms ache from the back-breaking work you do, day in and day out. This Sabbath morning, you’re sitting in the synagogue listening to the men of your small village read from the Holy Scriptures. Suddenly, your ears perk up. This is a scripture that you’ve heard before… but it’s been years. And now with the endless exhaustion that you call your life, the brutality from the Roman empire, and your brother joining the Zealots in their fight against Rome- you just want to survive. You listen as the words ring out from the mouth of Hezekiah, an elderly man that you’ve looked up to your entire life. He is the picture of what you hope to have one day… a solid family… good business… an honor to God. 

His gravelly voice scruffs through the quiet sound of breathing and hushes from mothers to their infants in the alcove.

“‘Behold’…” he clears his voice and continues, “ ‘I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts.’” 

Your breath catches. For some reason… this seems to strike a chord within your heart. One of the poems from the prophet Isiah you had memorized as a child floods your mind. You feel as though the hardness of your life is cracking and light is seeping in. 

How lovely on the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings good news,

Who announces ]peace

And brings good news of happiness,

Who announces salvation,

And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,

They shout joyfully together;

For they will see with their own eyes

When the Lord restores Zion.

 

For some reason… you suddenly have an overwhelming sense of…. Hope. You blink to keep the tears from forming behind your dry and sleep-creased eyes and you suck a breath in. You cannot let your boss sitting a couple rows ahead of you see your emotion. Could it be? Could the return of the King be closer than ever? 

You fake an eye rub but that doesn’t slow down your heart beginning to race. You immediately recall what you heard in the river valley the other day. A man, whose voice was hoarser than old Hezekiah’s blasting a message in the desert. What was he preaching? Something about the Kingdom of Heaven is coming near? Suddenly, you have a desire to walk out of the synagogue to hunt down that crazy guy who supposedly eats insects and wears camel leather to clothe himself. Could it be true? Could the Messiah be on his way? Was this the Good News your nation had been waiting for?

Good News?

The nation of Israel had been waiting for hundreds, even thousands of years for the Anointed One (Messiah) who would come and deliver them. They had been exiled as a nation… thrown into slavery… watched as their temple was demolished and decimated… and yet still- they hoped and prayed for the day when the Messiah would come to save them. That to them- was the Good News.

Here’s the thing… in today’s day and age, we think we’re pretty smart. We laugh and giggle at how our worship and our churches have a leg up on what God wanted for the church. We believe that God is applauding us for our amazing way of ministry and church involvement. But… I think we’ve missed a lot of what Jesus would call the Good News/Gospel. We tend to make it all about ourselves… and it’s cost us dearly in our churches. We’ve lost the majority of the Good News about the reign of the King… and we hardly mention anything about the Kingdom. And repentance? Well… isn’t that a Catholic thing?

Bill Hull and Ben Sobels, in their book, “The Discipleship Gospel” write, 

“Instead of telling the gospel story of God’s kingdom coming through Jesus Christ, we’ve reduced salvation to hearing a truncated gospel with a short, one-time prayer tacked on the end. The gospel we often hear today goes something like this: You have sinned, and sin separates you from God. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. If you believe in Jesus, God will forgive your sins and you will go to heaven when you die. Would you like to believe in Jesus? Great!, let’s pray the sinner’s prayer and you’ll be saved. Boom! Done. Gospel presented. But really? Is that it?”

 

And here you see… we’ve made it all about ourselves. I’ve literally heard that this is what the Gospel is… our way to get to heaven. But dear friends, we’ve missed the main point when we think it’s all about that. Because it’s not about us at all. 

So- really—- what is the Gospel? And where did that strange word “gospel” even come from? 

What is the Gospel?

We find the phrase, “Good News” in the Old Testament first.  But this Good News isn’t just a basic phrase meaning regular good news… like your dog having puppies.  Its meaning lies specifically in the announcement of the reign of a new King. This isn’t your everyday type of good news… this is news that a new King is in town… and he’s come to stay. (See Bible Project’s video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmFPS0f-kzs). 

If you look back at the verses found in the poem in Isaiah, it’s talking about news coming from a messenger (How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…) who’s bringing an announcement of the reign of a new King. 

This same word in the New Testament is the Greek word, “Euangelion” or “Good News” which the NT authors used to combine all of Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom into one word. When the New Testament was translated into English, they translated Good News into the Anglo-Saxon word, Godspell (which means God Tale or God Story). So… Gospel = Good News. 

(FYI: I honestly like Good News better… so I may  stick with that for the most part.)

So… we still haven’t exactly clarified what the Good News is… so I’m gonna give you a quick peek into the overview.

What is the Good News?

Mark 1:14-15 (NASB)- Parenthesis Mine

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel (good news) of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (good news).”

So… Jesus preached the Gospel? I don’t know why… but I’ve missed that for YEARS. How a Bible college-educated, pastor’s wife and church planter missed that… I don’t know. (I’m gonna blame it on my underactive thyroid and gluten fog I was in for the previous 30 some years… LOL!) 

Later in that same passage in verses 16-18, it reads:

As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 

So… Jesus was preaching that the Kingdom of God is NOW… and to repent and believe (put your trust) in this Good News… and then to follow Jesus. 

Later in chapter 8 of Mark, verses  29-31, we read about Jesus and his disciples having a discussion as they walked to some villages near Caesarea Philippi. Jesus begins to ask some questions and then asks the disciples some specific questions. 

And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” And He warned them to tell no one about Him.

And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 

Let me give you some background first: Christ means Messiah… which also means “The Anointed One… who’s anointed? A King.)

But in these verses, Jesus begins to set up his disciples to understand more of what this Good News was (specifically about his death and resurrection.)

The Good News was (and still is):

  • The Kingdom of God is coming (or is here now… more on that in the next blog post…)
  • Jesus is King (or the Christ… or the Messiah…)
  • His Death
  • His Resurrection

And our response? 

  • To Repent
  • To Believe (Or trust in the Good News)
  • To Follow.
So… if this is the Gospel… then it’s not…
  • Forgiveness Only
  • Left (Old and New Gospel)
  • Prosperity Gospel
  • Consumer Gospel
  • Right (Conservative) Gospel
  • American Gospel
  • Social Justice Gospel

All of these gospels may have a part of the Good News correct…. But they are missing so… much… more.  And ultimately… if we make the gospel about us… then it’s not the Good News.

Because the Good News is all about Jesus and the Kingdom.

Boom. Drop mic.

 

What Have You Done?

June 1, 2020
This is not okay. Not even in the slightest.

To begin- let me first say- I don’t know if my voice on this really even matters. I’ve really had to process the last week- even the last couple of month’s… scratch that… the last couple of years, over the last couple of days. And actually, I’m positive I’ve been circling the grieving process.

You see, I am surrounded by a great church and a great community of friends… and to be really honest, when I’m with them (as when I’m with Jesus) I feel like it’s heaven on earth. Literally. There is no dissension… distrust… argumentative nature… opposition… racism… There is only love… grace… and truth. I love that our church family is actually living out the vision statement of our church.

So, when I hear of these obscene, awful, dehumanizing things that have occurred and are continuing to occur across our nation… I am sucked back to the reality that we still live in the fallen world. That the Kingdom is here… but has not fully arrived…  And that although I experience little pieces of heaven on earth that last for days… we are still surrounded by sin and hatred. And it makes me furious.

 

The fact that a man could treat another man this way makes me violently ill. The video footage made me so angry I wanted to jump through the screen and body check the cop. And I’m not usually prone to violence by any means… but the injustice and brutality was disgusting to me.

Callous. Despicable. Vile. Inhuman.

And I think that’s just it. What God created us to be- in His Image (literally meaning in the Hebrew that we are his graven image here on Earth), we keep reducing ourselves to inhumanity through how we treat each other. We keep repeating the same sin over and over. Let’s go back… clear back… shall we?

If we flip our Bibles back to Genesis 4, we see that God wasn’t happy with Cain’s sacrifice. Why? Notice something that I’ve bolded for emphasis.

When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift,  but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

Genesis 4:3-5

Cain only brought some (not the firstfruits, nor the best fruits… just some) of his crops as a gift. And Abel? That nice guy brought the “best portions” of the “firstborn” lambs. He brought the best. And Cain knew it. Jealousy ensued… and developed into anger towards God and hatred toward his brother. God immediately noticed; he still cares for the brother pouting in the corner.

“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

Genesis 4:6-7

Sin is Crouching

God was right. If we cannot subdue our hatred… sin controls us. Down to a knee in the neck. Police stations on fire. African-American children needing to hear and obey “The Talk” in the hopes that they won’t be the next victim. Society as a whole being completely distrustful across our races.

But it seems that somehow sin wins… again and again.

One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.”  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.

Genesis 4:8

Even with Cain’s jealousy and murder of Abel, God still cared for him. Which is very hard for most of us to wrap our heads around. There’s no mention of how Adam and Eve reacted. I can only imagine the horror they must have felt when they heard the news. 

Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”

“I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood.  No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear!  You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”

 The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Genesis 4:9-15

 

 

My heart thuds when I listen to God’s words in this passage. Over and over, He keeps pointing Cain back to the fact that his victim was his brother.  Isn’t that what we all are essentially? Family? Tribes? Nations? And Cain’s response is once again- all about him. He’s worried that he’ll be killed by another human. And God still protects his life. God still values and loves Cain, who murdered his own brother.

Why do we keep doing this to each others? These horrific acts against God’s own image? We are supposed to live in the Land of the Free… but the more I know and understand… the more I know it’s untrue. Until the Kingdom fully arrives with Jesus’ return, we will never live in any land of the free. We will never be fully free of any of this sin until we lay down at the feet of Jesus and ask for his forgiveness. Confess all the injustice we are apart of- through affiliation or not. And determine, once and for all to follow after Jesus… every step of the way.

But- still- we must do better. We must love more. We must forgive over and over. We must write these names upon our hearts and speak out. We must stand up for anyone who is being bullied or  terrorized due to the color of their skin. We must stand up for what Jesus asked of us: to love our neighbor and pray for those who persecute us. We must yell from the rooftops that there is no room for racism in our nation nor in the Kingdom. I don’t know how exactly… but I’m going to take a stand today.

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor…

And those who never even made a headline… 

Disloyalty: The Relationship Squasher

Disloyalty: The Relationship Squasher

I stood on the back porch of our small gray bungalow on the street corner of Alexander and Johnson Street, wondering if my twin friends thought I looked any different. Our family had just returned from a year-long sabbatical to Argentina and they were one of my first visitors since arriving home. After being apart for the entirety of our third grade year, they were now tan from swimming at the pool all summer and their blue eyes danced with excitement. We stood exchanging chit-chat while our moms stood nearby catching up. This was when email… text… even long-distance calls were difficult. We had relied on snail mail for our communication… and it would take months sometimes to arrive in Venado Tuerto from the States.

“There’s two new girls that are gonna be in our class this year!” Sarah told me, her face lit up. New people were rare to our small town… so anyone new, was exciting and usually immediately popular. You must realize, I had grown up with 28 of basically the same kids in my class since I was in preschool.

“They’re both from California…” Abbie whispered. And to those of us kids who were born and raised in Nebraska? California was an exotic place… full of Disneyland, Hollywood, surfing and beaches.

Those two California girls were seated at the same table with me that first week in 4th grade. Over the next couple of months, I found myself becoming friends with both of them: one with beach-blond locks and a carefree attitude and another with dark hair, dark eyes and a sweetness I had never seen.

 

But I remember the exact moment I chose to be disloyal to one of them. With all the change of moving back home, realizing that friend loyalties had changed in a year, and moving into the 4th grade (with all its new responsibilities), I made the choice to distance myself from the sweetest girl I’ve ever met. In a mad scramble to stay in the “Cool Girl Group”, I gossiped about that sweet girl and ignored her for the rest of the year. Maybe the next 4 years.

How awful was my heart in those moments? I am acutely aware at how insecure, powerless, and out of control I was: that lanky, skinny girl with green eyes and hair she’d spent an entire year worrying over as she grew out her bangs.

And in my desperate attempt to fit in- I alienated myself from a sweet and lovely girl who continued to show me grace and love, even when I did not.

 

Had my adult-self been able to sit that terrified 4th grade girl down and have a conversation, I wonder how much different my life would have been. Because that dark haired, sweet girl? She became one of my best friends in high school, once I decided I no longer needed to fit in, but began opening my eyes to the people Jesus led me to.

 

The Choice

C’mon. You’ve been there.

In that moment, when you make the choice to abandon all loyalty to something or someone and pick something new. It could be as simple as a skincare line, brand of chips or deciding to attend a different church. But, you cannot deny at least at some point, you’ve been disloyal.. to someone… or something.

Now, it could be that at some point, these things are not worthy of our loyalty. I mean, a chip brand… really? Unless, your grandpa used to work for them, or it’s your family’s company, I get it. But, when we choose to be disloyal to things that truly matter, we can lose out on a crazy amount of good. And I’m not talking about chip brands here. I’m talking about deciding to walk away from a person. A family. A job. A church. A responsibility. A calling. You name it. When it comes to relationships of any kind, disloyalty does no service for you.

It may seem to temporarily fix the problem. You can go YEARS without noticing any hurt or angst for yourself personally. But, it will catch up. Just like it did my freshman summer, when I looked around, and realized that there was one person who had consistently been kind to me. A sweet, dark-haired girl who continued to reach out and ask me to hang out to watch a movie or go shopping. I had missed out on years of friendship with this girl. Thankfully, we have the type of friendship that I can call her at the drop of a hat, and we pick up right where we left off.

 

The Connection of Faith and Loyalty

“So, what’s the problem with disloyalty, Meg?” you may be asking. I mean, we do live in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with the next best thing. I am guilty of not being loyal to skincare lines. I give them a month, tops. If I’m not seeing results or the cost is crazy high, I move on to something else.

When the thoughts began forming in my mind regarding disloyalty, I looked up synonyms on it. Because, surely, there’s a cooler word than disloyalty that I can use to title this thing with- right?

The words that stared back at me hit me like a ton of bricks.

  • Infidelity
  • Fickleness
  • Betrayal
  • Unfaithfulness

Ouch. Disloyalty is similar or the same as these words? And when I went to scripture to see where disloyalty was mentioned… it wasn’t much better.

Psalm 78:8

They would not be like their ancestors- a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.

If we look closer at this verse, there is so much wisdom to be found. Notice how loyalty and faithfulness are almost succinct with each other. And the behavior that accompanies that disloyalty and unfaithfulness? Stubbornness and rebelliousness. If we pretend to have faithfulness to our God, but then choose to be disloyal to relationships around us? What does that make us?

Hypocrites. Yikes!

 

Because when it comes to relationships, disloyalty does more harm than good. Disloyalty halts your ability to grow or mature. You will never have to look that person in the eye and own up to your portion of the problem. You won’t have to ask for forgiveness or allow the offender try to apologize to you. When you choose disloyalty, you are choosing to alienate yourself from a possible relationship. And in a world where we are so disconnected, especially now, why would we choose that? Why choose loyalty when disloyalty is so much easier?

Why? Because loyalty means staying with it, no matter how hard… how dire it seems… no matter how frustrating. But what do you gain? Commitment. Deepened appreciation. Thankfulness. And trust begins to build. (More on that to come…)

John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Here’s that thing about love and relationships again… and its pretty intense. Now, maybe your brain is going in circles with all I’m trying to connect for you. I mean, asking for you to lay down your life for your friends? Yep. Intense.

 

But here’s the real predicament.

How can you learn forgiveness, if you choose to walk away from every relationship the minute that they show their imperfections? How can you learn to give grace to those we come in contact with, if we avoid every possible chance of conflict?

When it comes to disloyalty, we may be missing out on a grander plan. There may be things that we are not maturing in. Could it be that if we were to choose loyalty to those relationships… that job… that responsibility… that church… that family… that we may gain so much more?

We can never fully mature if we cannot truly love others, forgive and give grace to those we live life with on a daily basis.

So, how do we push past disloyalty and move into loyalty?

It’s pretty simple actually. Just choose to be loyal. Stick with it. Push through. It comes down to endurance and patience. Now, that may sound simple… but it’s far from easy. Choosing loyalty means you may have to get some abuse from those who don’t understand loyalty. It means that instead of looking out for you, you’re looking out for others. It means that you may have a tougher life while you navigate awkward conversations and begin to look conflict square in the eye.

But the reward of loyalty? It could mean you will find:

  • a friend for life
  • a safe place within your family to rest in
  • a relationship that stands the test of time and hardship
  • a job that you can grow and learn in
  • a church family that will stand beside you in love, no matter what
  • a calling that leads you to unimaginable joy

On top of that, you may find:

  • commitment in your marriage
  • true appreciation in your workplace
  • genuine thankfulness from your family and friends
  • others who trust you

I mean, if these things don’t excite you… then don’t choose loyalty. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

What’s the Deal with Context?

I remember it vividly. A well-known and loved professor screaming at the top of his lungs, “CONTEXT IS KING!” At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. I felt out of the loop, like he had this private club that I didn't have the key to. But the more I learn...

What’s the Deal with Context?

I remember it vividly. A well-known and loved professor screaming at the top of his lungs, “CONTEXT IS KING!” At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. I felt out of the loop, like he had this private club that I didn’t have the key to. But the more I learn and study God’s Word, the more I understand the great importance of reading your Bible and understanding its surrounding context.

Let’s do something fun- shall we?

I know we’ve all heard this verse quoted… and it’s a doozy. 

Matthew 19:26 reads, “And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

OOOO-kaaaay. I’m gonna just throw this out there. People overuse this verse and MISUSE this verse so much. I’ve heard people use this in relation to jobs, gaining wealth (so ironic as you’ll see), getting pregnant, and buying the house they want. 

I’m gonna be really firm here: You cannot take a verse out of its context. CANNOT. If you do- you will add an application to it that was never intended. 

Yiihhhhhiiikkkes. 

Bob Utley said in his article, Intro to Revelation, “The author’s intent, not literalness, is the key to proper understanding of the Bible.” As I mentioned in a previous post, the author’s intended meaning is everything!

If we look directly to the verses before this, we realize quite a few things. Right before this, a rich young man had come to Jesus asking what he must to to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him whether he had followed the commandments, and then asked him to sell all his possessions and follow him. The young man left, saddened, because he was very wealthy. His wealth held him back from following Jesus. I often wonder if this man ever regretted that decision. But I digress…

It was then that Jesus turned to his disciples. This is what he said to them.

“Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”  (Matthew 19:23-25)

 

And this… THIS… is when Jesus made our famous saying. This is where we’ve taken a verse and used to make it seem as though God is at our every bidding. We use this verse so that when we think we REALLY WANT SOMETHING, God will make it possible.

And that’s an absolutely incorrect interpretation of the scripture if we look at the Author’s Intended Meaning. If you read this passage in its entirety- you will realize that Jesus meant that God can do whatever He wants. So hard to hear. But that’s what the author is narrating here. The key in this passage is the question that the disciples ask Jesus IMMEDIATELY before the verse we are talking about. 

“Then who can be saved?”

There’s hope in our original verse now. But not what we’ve misused for so many years…. Jesus is basically reaffirming that if it were up to man- we would never gain eternal life- but with God, he can save us and give us eternal life. When we look at the literal meaning of this verse in light of the surrounding verses, the way to apply this verse is now more limiting (because we realize it has nothing to do with us… and everything to do with God.)

Before you apply anything from the Bible to your life, you must first understand the 

Author’s Intended Meaning (A.I.M.). (Find what that is here.) Without it- you will be applying the Bible INCORRECTLY to your life. And missing out on a huge factor: TRUTH.

When you first try and interpret a verse from the Bible to your life, make sure you know what the context of that verse is. Look at the surrounding verses to help you (don’t just pull that lone verse out by itself.) Next, read the rest of the chapter to determine if your understanding is correct. If the verse is at the end of the chapter, read on to the next chapter as well. Take a glance at the chapters before and after the chapter that your verse is located (make sure the theme that you are understanding doesn’t contradict the theme from the surrounding chapters.) Finally, take a gander at the theme of the entire book as a whole. Does your verse still make sense in light of the book’s theme? (You can find this in some Bibles in the Introduction of the book instead of reading the ENTIRE book just to discover the theme.)

 

Once you’ve looked at these things, it’s less likely that you will be taking a verse out of context. When you understand the context, you’ll be closer to understanding the author’s intent, the audience and the message the passage is trying to get across.

 

There is more to context… historical and culture context, literary and genre context, grammatical context, etc. But those are for another day.

And remember…

Context is King! (Welcome to the Club!)