Tag Archives: Good News

Once upon a time there was a warehouse filled with cell phones that thought they were calculators.  Their manufacturer had designed them to be phones, but their SIM cards had been damaged.  They were dead but did not realize it.  They had battery power and several working apps so they thought they were “alive.”  One day the manufacturer sent someone to bring them to life.  He came with copies of his own perfect SIM card, offering to replace their damaged cards with his own. Most of the phones thought he was crazy and rejected the offer. But those who allowed him to make the exchange were astonished to discover all the new ways they could operate once they could receive a cell signal.  It was as though they came to life for the first time.

Once upon a time there was a planet filled with dead people who thought they were alive. Because their bodies worked and they could think, they assumed they were experiencing all that life had to offer.  One day, their Creator sent Someone to fix them and bring them to full and abundant life.  Here is what they wrote about Him:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  (John 1:4-5)

Jesus offered to connect them for the first time with the “Life” and “Light” of God’s Holy Spirit, bringing them to full and abundant life in a whole new way.  He would exchange what was damaged in them with His perfection, personally accepting the cost of their damage and allowing them to operate as their Manufacturer intended.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  (John 1:9–13)

 

Plus Nothing

The man was beat up badly for telling people about Jesus.  And then thrown in prison.  You might think he’d have taken a break and used the time to rest up.  But not Paul.  He said:

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 2:1)

Struggling?  The word he used gives us our word for agonizing.  In jail?  Doing what?  Praying.  Not just “Now I lay me down…”  but agonizing over these folks in prayer – people he had never met!  Why?  What was so important that, even though he couldn’t be there personally, he worked hard in prayer for them?

Turns out, the problem was human ideas were creeping into their understanding.  People who loved to be in positions of authority and control over others were teaching them a bunch of nonsense.  Religious nonsense.  It sounded good.  But it was leading them farther and farther away from what they really needed to know.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

Think about the simple but reverent lifestyle and teaching of Jesus.  Compare that simplicity to what the various forms of Christianity have become!  What has changed?  Human ideas have been added, ones that seem good because they sound religious, but which dilute and pollute the essence of what it means to follow Jesus.  Think of the lavish architecture, the costumes, the ritual and the extravagance.  Think of all the rules and regulations that have been layered on the simple message of Jesus.  This distortion in the name of Jesus has been going on from the very earliest days of the church.  Paul couldn’t be there to rail against it, so he agonized in prayer for them.  And he wrote to them:

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:4)

God loves you.  Your sins have separated you from Him.  He wants to forgive you and reconcile you to Himself.  He has paid the penalty for your sin, on your behalf, by the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus.  Stop trying to fix yourself and trust Jesus instead.  Surrender to Him and He will come and live in your soul by His Spirit.  In Him you have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  If you have His life in you, that’s all you need.  Plus nothing.

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Say What?

He knew English from textbooks when he got here as an exchange student, but his first exposure to how English was actually spoken was in my college fraternity house.  It was startling but not surprising, therefore, when he was invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and asked for someone to pass him the @#$%*^ potatoes.  After a moment of shocked silence, the friend’s mother said, “Well, you heard him, pass the @#$%*^ potatoes!”

If you don’t know the slang expressions and idioms, you can easily get the wrong idea.  Why do we say, “What’s up?”  Here is some potential confusion from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

” Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24, NIV)

Huh?  Christ didn’t quite suffer enough?  Paul had to help Him out?  No. Jesus did everything necessary to completely and permanently pay for all the sins of anyone who is willing to accept His gift.  He has prepaid for you to receive complete forgiveness forever.  So why did Paul say there was something lacking in His suffering?  He used a common idiom to say, “I’m glad to do whatever is necessary to help the church, even if it means I will suffer for it like Jesus did.”

Jesus delegated the work of spreading His good news to His followers, who had discovered personally how wonderful it is.  He knew the assignment would come with suffering.  For whatever reason, people frequently get angry when you tell them about Jesus.  Go figure.  That’s why Jesus prayed for His followers, saying:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (John 17:4 – His atoning sacrifice was complete.)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.” (John 17:14 – They would suffer)

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18 – Nevertheless, the plan is for them to tell people about Jesus)

Paul understood these realities, and that followers of Jesus would be witnesses to Him.  His attitude was, “Whatever it takes, I’m glad to do it.”  But it wasn’t that Paul was a masochist.  It was how amazing the message was, and how cool it was to see people catch on.   There is something about Jesus that most people have missed, something mind-blowing!  Knowing that, whatever it takes, even suffering, was worth it.  But what is that nugget?  What part of the message made it so worthwhile?

Stay tuned; we’ll get to that next time.

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

An Old Tool

Old tools fascinate me.  Looking at the areas worn bare from use, I  try to imagine who used it, what he was making.  Sometimes I’m more curious to know what it was used for.  Tool magazines frequently post pictures, asking, does anyone know what this is?

Words are tools. As they are used less, they get left in the toolbox. In time, people may not understand how they were used. Like the word, redemption.  In biblical times, it was not uncommon for someone to sell himself into slavery, to cover a debt.  Someone else, usually a close family member, could pay the slave’s owner a fee to purchase his (or her) freedom. He purchased redemption.  The former slave was now free.

Imagine how that felt, waking, the next morning to suddenly remember that everything that happens next is now a choice, not a command.  More profound for someone born into slavery, who had never known freedom. Such a person might not have realized he had been in bondage, nor the full implications of now being free.

When Jesus taught about how He could redeem us, some asked Him:

…“We … have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
     Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.   So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  –  (John 8:33 excerpt-36)

Perhaps the word, redemption, has suffered disuse because most of us, like Jesus’ listeners, don’t truly understand our condition of slavery.  But even those who were born into slavery can be redeemed, set free, and given a full and permanent place in God’s family.  If The Son sets us free, which He freely does for all who will trust Him, we have redemption, we are free indeed. 

Freed slaves eventually get it; they notice.  They rub their formerly bound wrists, look around in astonishment and gulp in fresh draughts of freedom.  Life is more than better, it begins!  Which is why Paul was so excited to say:

” …  For He (God, through Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
–  (Colossians 1:13-14)

Sometimes, when I learn how an old tool was used, I discover it works better than anything more recently made.  The word, redemption, is one of those.

You are Invited

You have been invited by God.  Doesn’t matter what family or faith you have come from.  Makes no difference what trouble you have fallen into, or how unworthy you feel.  You are invited, which means you cannot buy a ticket or use any good works to bribe your way in.  God says, “Y’all come!”

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. …Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live….” (Isaiah 55:1 & 3a)

Jesus renewed that invitation:

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37-38)

Notice the lack of fine print.  “All you” are invited.  “Whoever is thirsty” is on the guest list.  Jesus does not say, if you are good enough, or, if you were born into the right family or faith.  He does not discriminate between liberal and conservative, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, or any racial lines.  He says,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

The invitation is for way more than rest:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

And, you are invited.  We humans use a four-letter word to exclude one another, the word “them.”  God and Jesus use a four-letter word to include us all, the word “come.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Ransom

Why would teenage girls leave freedom and join up with ISIS?  Why would they willingly give themselves to a group that enslaves and abuses women?  Somebody must have lied to them, told them they would be better off, that their lives would matter, that they would be fulfilled.  Who knows what else?  And they bought it.  They believed the lies.

Suppose they get to Syria and pledge themselves to ISIS: what comes next?  Nothing good.  So, what would happen if these girls realize they’ve made a mistake and want to go back to Mom and Dad?  Almost certainly, ISIS would say, “No, we own you now; your lives belong to us.”   What if the girls have babies?  Those babies would be born into captivity and would belong to ISIS, too.   And what if Mom and Dad wanted to buy their daughter back – how much would ISIS demand in exchange for just one of their lives?  I’m not sure another life would be enough.

This modern day scenario works as a parable to explain how we humans have rebelled, bought into lies, run away from “Home” and have become enslaved and owned by Satan.  He holds us hostage, separated from God and destined for death.

Psalm 49 sums up our predicament:

“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him— the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enoughthat he should live on forever and not see decay.” (Psalm 49:7-9)

He says, there is no way any of us could pay enough to escape death and attain eternal life.  None of us could pay for anyone else, either.  Nevertheless, this same psalmist was inspired to know this:

“But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.” (Psalm 49:15)

No man can pay enough so God will do it; He will redeem me.  God gave that writer a peek and a hint of the most amazing good news!  God will pay the ransom and it will be enough.  As revealed to the prophet, Hosea, God said:

“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death…” (Hosea 13:14a)

Jesus explained that His coming crucifixion would fulfill the promise of God:

“… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:28b)

You can be set free.  You can return to your real “Home.”  You can escape death.  Here is the deal:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Becoming Fruit

By the time anyone noticed, she had been underwater for way too long. They hauled her out and laid her out on the dock, her body a dark purple color, her eyes lifeless. I watched as a med student kneeled over her and began CPR. When she took her first breath, when the color of her body began to chameleon back to its normal hue, when she came back to life, the process seemed miraculous. I’ve been present as each of my two children were born and took their first breath. This was like that, except that in her case, no one expected she would ever breathe again. I’m guessing, if anyone ever asks that young girl about the best gift she ever received, she would say it was the gift of life itself.

We are so used to being alive we actually take life for granted. It is all we’ve ever known. We also take spiritual death as the norm. It is all we have ever known. Spiritual death is the condition of being disconnected from the Spirit of God. Designed and created to be filled with God’s Spirit, we have been cut off since Adam’s Fall. Since we are born in this condition, we initially don’t notice anything wrong. It’s like being born blind and not discovering until later on that we were supposed to be able to see. But eventually we do sense a problem. We sense that something is missing. What’s missing is real, full life, the life of the Spirit in us. We cannot fix it, anymore than anyone could perform CPR on themselves. Spiritually speaking, we are as dead as that girl laid out on the dock.

But check out this amazing good news:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:17-18

We gasp for spiritual breath in many ways, often with no real understanding that what we seek is life itself. God, the Giver of every good and perfect gift reaches down through eternity and offers to give us “birth,” birth into eternal, spiritual life. How so? Through His Son, Jesus, the One Who is the “Word of Truth.” Those who accept this gift by faith, become like the first harvest of fruit in the orchard, the first tomatoes on the vine, the first grain in the field. The difference between fruit and the plant on which it grows is that there is continuing life in the fruit. So too with those who have been given the eternal life of God’s Spirit through their faith in Jesus.