Tuesday, November 17, 2020

What is the Gospel?

I’ve been thinking about this question for the last 24 hours or so. I was chatting with a few students from Montana Bible College last night after basketball and asking them what classes they are currently taking. One student said he was enjoying his evangelism class because, even though he grew up as a pastor’s kid, he wasn’t sure he could have articulated the ‘gospel’ until taking this course.

And it really is a good question, because our answer to that question—what is the gospel?—will drastically impact how we think about God, the world, and our calling as followers of Jesus.

If the gospel is primarily that we are royal screwups who had distanced ourselves from God through our sin and Jesus had to come cover for our mistakes, then God’s going to seem angry, Jesus’ death is going to seem transactional, and our role as Christians is going to be about keeping people out of hell.

If the gospel is primarily about Jesus being a nice person who helped a bunch of people, taught some great messages, and showed us how to live, then God’s going to seem powerless, Jesus’ death and resurrection are going to seem metaphorical, and our role as Christians will be about morality.

If the gospel gets reduced to only talking about what happened on the cross and what will happen when we die, then we lose the historical and cosmic rootedness of our faith and can slip into thinking faith is only about me and my relationship with Jesus.

There are many more examples than this, but the point is that what we believe matters. It plays out in how we live and move and have our being in this world. It affects the way we worship, grow as followers of Jesus, and treat the people around us.

So, I’ve been pondering how I would respond to this question: what is the gospel? What’s the good news that encapsulates who God is, what Jesus did, and how we should respond?

For me, the gospel must tell the whole story of God’s work in the world, must not leave out the problem we’ve caused, must emphasize the love of God that led Jesus to the cross, and must capture the proper response to God’s gift of grace. So, here are a few lines I’ve been mulling over, which I anticipate continuing to work on in the years to come.

The gospel is the good news that, while we have made a mess of God’s perfect plan for creation, God loves us so much that He would come to earth to live, die, and rise again to make things right with the whole world and offer us an abundant life of holistic peace in Christ. Our response to this gracious gift is to partner with God in redeeming the world through loving God, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and helping others start walking in the way of Jesus.

How about you? How would you answer this question, “What is the gospel?”

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Little Acts of Love

The primary Christian calling has always been, still is, and will always be the invitation to love our neighbors. It’s one of the two fundamental things Jesus asks of us and is central to a life of faith.

Now, there are lots of ways to think and talk about who our ‘neighbors’ are. But it seems clear to me that, while we are certainly called to love everyone, this neighborly invitation from Jesus should absolutely be applied to those within our geographical proximity. Yes, we are metaphorical neighbors with our brothers and sisters around the globe, but mostly we’re neighbors with those we rub shoulders with on a regular basis. Maybe it’s the house, apartment, cubicle, or desk next door; or local grocery teller or barista; or the person that always begs at the intersection near our home. The people around us are our neighbors.

But loving our actual, proximal neighbors has become increasingly difficult during this time. Our global pandemic has meant masks and physical distancing, which doesn’t help in our quest for neighborly connection. Plus, this time has meant a plethora of extra responsibilities for so many of us—resulting in an existential exhaustion—where we have little time and energy left to give to others. We’re just trying to survive, without the pressure of reaching out and connecting with new people. 

I get it. I’m there too. It’s easy (and almost justifiable) to abandon this fundamental Christian calling during this time. 

But what if we’re making it too hard? What if we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves and psyching ourselves out of something that shouldn’t be so daunting? What if there were ways we could be sneaky or efficient in how we love our neighbors? 

I’m suggesting that, especially now in this time of pandemic exhaustion, we find ways to love and serve others through things we’re already doing. Where are you already going? What are you already spending your time on? What people are you guaranteed to see each day? And are there little, simple ways that you could love the people you are proximate with in your normal day? 

I was thinking about this as I ate lunch with Larry Baker recently—where he was telling me about baking bread for his neighbors. He likes to bake and he’s already doing it, so he’s chosen to just bake a little extra as a way to bless the people he lives near. Or I was thinking of this as I recently stood in my neighbor’s entryway for the first time ever—drawn together by the fact that my children adore animals and they have a brand new Pug puppy. So we used the opportunity as a chance to get to know our neighbors a little better than we did before.

It doesn’t have to be huge or complicated. Maybe it’s a smile to a stranger or shoveling a little further down the sidewalk or checking in on the elderly woman on the block or a little bigger tip to the waiter than usual. Trust me, I understand the utter exhaustion and desire to withdraw during this time, but let’s look for little, simple ways to know, love, and bless the people God has placed in our lives.