The Gospel informs

tragic-jesus-crucifixion-pamela-johnsonThe first thing that the Gospel does is inform. It tells people who Jesus is, what He did, and why He did it. It conveys the facts.

“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)

As it does so, it addresses any number of things that folk are confused about. Given the amount of trouble in our world, people are surprisingly ignorant of the fact that the mess we’re in is not God’s fault. As we share the Gospel with them, they discover that He is good, and that His intentions towards us are good. They also learn of His plan of salvation, and they learn that it is a free gift already given to them, no strings attached.

imagesAccurately conveyed, the Gospel has been appropriately described as the greatest story ever told. The ability to communicate it precisely, creatively and skilfully, is within reach of everybody. This is thanks to the fact that the Jesus story is a story that the Holy Spirit just loves to help tell. It’s also all been couched in picture-language and story-form, remember. And besides, every good gift, random kindness, or incident of unmerited favour speaks of it. When you understand this, luck and coincidence cease, and are replaced by a serendipity whose architect is Grace.

Right at the centre of it all is Jesus, last Adam, who identified with our humanity in any and every way. Consider the following: Jesus was conceived out of wedlock, and so was effectively born to a single mom. He was adopted and raised by his step-father. His birth was to a relatively poor family, and in a stable. He spent a part of his early childhood in exile, for His were a subjugated and oppressed people. During His relatively short life He experienced significant loss (His cousin John was unjustly executed), and He was consistently misunderstood. He was also misused, the needy extracting from Him without thanks or concern for His well-being. Then, having done nought but good, He was wrongfully accused, unjustly condemned, and brutally executed even though clearly innocent. Alongside injustice of every kind, He endured frenzied and seething hatred, riotousness, imprisonment, mocking, horrific beatings, public humiliation, betrayal, abandonment, deprivation, loneliness, fear and shame. He died destitute, and even tasted separation from God as He became a sin offering.

cross-211989_640During His lifetime Jesus consistently embraced the marginalised, aided the poor, delivered the bound, and healed the sick. He touched lepers, engaged prostitutes and adulteresses, and dined with tax collectors and sinners of all kinds. He held and blessed babies, stepped over cultural divides, and even had time to engage the thief crucified alongside Him.

The five major metaphors of salvation underline all the more the degree to which Jesus identified with humanity in all of its frailty. In the law courts of heaven those who were once guilty are justified; in Christ they are declared not guilty. Through the cross of Christ those who were enslaved to satan, sin and flesh find their freedom. Those once imprisoned are redeemed, ransomed, set free. Jesus was tempted and tested by the devil. Enticed and opposed, He triumphed. The serpent (satan) bruised His heel (the crucifixion), but Jesus crushed his head (total defeat on every front). Christ is the victor in whom any embattled man or woman can find victory. The cross breached every divide. In Christ, God and sinner are reconciled, and because of this reconciliation, every other divide becomes reconcilable. Thanks to the cross even the worst of our enemies might yet be our friends. Furthermore, Jesus taught us that meaning in life is found in the will of God. For this we were created, and to this we are saved. Everyone has purpose, for accidental pregnancies are a reality, but accidental children are not. All of us are the work of His hands.

electrifying-jesus-crucifixion-pamela-johnsonThe oft-overlooked crux of the matter is well illustrated using a sci-fi analogy. Should we finally discover life on another planet – let’s call it Zork – then the best way by far to establish relationships with the Zorkians would be to travel to Zork as a Zorkian. Jesus laid aside the glories of Heaven and became another Adam. Just like us, He came to us, and so we can understand Him, for He understands us. His identification with us even enables us to understand the ways in which He is different from us, for example, His sinlessness and righteousness, because they are in direct contrast with us and ours. And, thanks to His identification with us, He is well able to explain the things of Heaven to us in ways we can understand.

Anything and everything provides a starting point for sharing the Good News of the Gospel. The good things, that reflect His grace, and the bad things, which attract His compassion and mercy. At every point of celebration, we joyfully give thanks to God, from whom all good gifts come. He is willing and able to bless, and not so only for the deserving. A baby born or promotion earned; reason both for words of gratitude or a prayer of thanks. And no matter the adversity, we can sensitively tell of our God, who understands. He is able to comfort, for He identifies.

Herewith something of a postscript thought of exceptional consequence in this day and age: When God tells us that He hates divorce, He makes the statement as a divorcee. The Scriptures are clear that He issued unfaithful, wayward Israel a certificate of divorce, and that He has bound Himself to the bride of Christ, a second wife if you will. His heart towards divorcees is compassion, not judgement; He knows their pain.

cross-666948_960_720The facts about Jesus – who He is, what He did, and why He did it – inform life on earth of the realities of Heaven, no matter the circumstance at the time. The Gospel reveals Jesus. Simple as that!

The power of the Gospel

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation!

“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 for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16–17)

1This glorious Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not passive, but active. It works. It does stuff; it accomplishes things. It’s also not just that the Gospel can be powerful when put to appropriate use, for example by powerful preaching or testimony, or when accompanied by confirming signs and wonders. The Gospel is powerful all on its own without any of these very good things attending it. Stand-alone, the Gospel is powerful! It is the power of God for salvation. It’s glorious to partner with, and it certainly makes good use of our gifts and callings, but the Gospel all on its own is able to save, for saving is its purpose, and save it does.

EarthGlobeAfrica.tif.746x600_q85The creation account helps us to understand. God the Father decreed; He spoke by the Living Word, Jesus; Holy Spirit did the work. Will, Word and Works, and there you have it – the Trinity in glorious synergy bringing something out of nothing. Into the dark, formless void that was, Father decreed, and that which was Spoken was accomplished by the Spirit, who was to be found brooding over the project to do all that was willed. In exactly the same way, salvation in Father’s will, through and in Jesus, and by the Spirit. When the Gospel is proclaimed, the Good News and the Spirit work together in creative synergy – Will, Word and Works – their sublime redemptive poetry, joyfully engulfing, loving, and saving, just as choreographed to do before time began.

GerminationJesus Himself made the same point very simply when He described the Gospel as a seed. Fertile seeds are powerful things, containing everything necessary for maturity, including life, thanks to their ingenuity in design. The whole oak is in the acorn. In the same way, the freedom and fullness secured for us in Christ is in the Gospel. Jesus crucified, died, buried and raised – such a tiny seed – yet therein lies every provision and every victory, sufficient for everyone who believes, and in an abundance befitting eternity. Just as fertile seeds can lie dormant for decades before conducive conditions facilitate germination, in the same way the Gospel shared can patiently await its appointed time. Like any seed, harvest depends upon the soil into which it’s sown, but scant harvest on occasion in no way reflects upon the perfection of this seed. On the contrary, just as we’ve witnessed plants of all kinds breaking through paving or rock, the Gospel produces exceedingly abundantly above expectation, again and again, even in the most adverse of circumstances.

Both Jesus and Paul demonstrated their confidence in the power inherent in the Good News in a rather noteworthy way. Both encountered self-appointed ministries whose motives were questionable, and neither sought to put a stop to them. Both knew that the Gospel was well able to look after itself. Good motive or bad, the power of the seed remained unchanged.

picture1This blog post sets up a series of a further ten posts, each expanding on what the Gospel does. It works wonders; awesome wonders. The Gospel bears fruit; plentiful, abundant, lasting fruit. The Gospel does all that the Lord designed it to do. It is ever so worth our while teasing out the richness of the Gospel’s power, so as to better to understand, admire, appropriate and communicate it. The beauty is that the Gospel doesn’t justify or redeem or reconcile or …; it justifies and redeems and reconciles…. Where one stops and another starts is of little consequence, for the colours, flavours and facets (pick the metaphor you most prefer) work off and into one another in magnificent, enriching, enhancing and compounding splendour.

downloadContemplating the Gospel in this way is comparable to gazing into the night sky. It will always be breathtaking, and there will always be more to see. This is the nature of the infinite. Describe what you see in terms of planets, stars or galaxies, whichever you prefer, for magnificent remains magnificent, even when perspective shifts. My prayer is that this exercise in Gospel-gazing will whet your appetite for a lifetime of exploration. Together we will forage on the fringes of the inexhaustible, exploring the limitless bounds of the revelation of our Lord that will keep us captivated for all eternity.

Adapted from the e-book Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever! by Gavin Cox

A broad multi-laned highway

i-80_eastshore_fwyThis is the fifth and final in a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. All five revelations came as one-liners from the Lord. Read about the first four here: Open the windows and doorsPreach the New CovenantDon’t fence the waterholeNo flags.

The fifth one-liner came in ways just as dramatic as the other four. Having settled in my spirit over a period, a visiting ministry sounded it out by giving it to me word for word over dinner, having received it for us as a word from God: “The Lord is building a broad multi-laned highway here”.

Bear in mind that at this time we were going through some significant challenges as a local church. Before all was said and done our list of trials maxresdefaultwould include two church splits, with the second precipitated by relationship-ending ultimatums from the family of churches of which we had always been a part. We were numerically and financially devastated, disorientated and displaced, and focused on little more than survival. With all respect to New Yorkers, we referred to the meltdown as “our 9/11”, and thought about rebuilding as from “ground zero up”. All we had was the foundation of the New Covenant, which is indeed all you need.

Traditional wisdom in that kind of situation was to get back to basics. A metaphor gleaned from the corporate world expresses it well: “Get the right people on the bus”, and “get the right people in the right seats”. In other words, get the vision clear and build your team accurately, playing to strengths. This is sound leadership advice for any performance-orientated environment: Do it, and everyone will know where you’re going, who is who in the zoo, and what needs to be done, by whom, and why. This was how we had done things in the past, and the only way in which we knew how to operate as a leadership. The only problem was that it was not a good fit with our freshly adopted New Covenant paradigm, which was not performance orientated. We’d been through an extreme makeover, and our Christianity was simply no longer about what we needed to do, but about what Jesus had already done!

How profound then is a “broad multi-laned highway”. What this one-liner did was change leadership’s role from vision generating and casting to facilitating vision. From then on the “vision” for the church no longer lived in the hearts and minds of the leaders, but in the hearts and minds of the people. Everyone was to be encouraged to do the good works prepared by God for them to do. Nothing more; nothing less. These were the vehicles that would populate the highway.

32093299-tropical-fruit-mix-stock-photo-fruit-fruits-vegetablesThis has all been an extraordinary game-changer. We’re as supportive as we know how, and have watched as the Lord thrust our congregation into service. Some have changed jobs. Others have adopted children. A few have started NGOs. A number have volunteered for service in these NGOs, and in other organisations like them. Folk are reaching out to others. They’re caring for immediate and extended family in new ways. There are those that are approaching their jobs, businesses, recreation and art with new eyes. It doesn’t matter what the good work is; the important thing is that it is God-given and done in faith.

This “doing the good works prepared for you to do” is the only significant point of accountability amongst us, and presupposes necessary accountability in character underpinning the outworking. Momentum is gathering all the time, even though we as a leadership have done little to create or sustain it. Congregants are treated as responsible for their own lives, well able to hear God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and appointed for good works in Him. Treating them in this way has made the Gospel to be the self-fulfilling prophecy the Lord crafted it to be. It saves, transforms, enables and deploys.

tmbspnbfClarity about this has simplified church life no end. The preaching encourages folk in the fullness and freedom that is theirs in Christ. They then hear the Lord and get on with it, following the Spirit, with us providing pastoral support, coaching and mentoring as appropriate. “In the church” the children’s ministry runs itself. So does the worship team. There are also some small groups that are by and for the congregation, but these are few. Most of the activity is “out there”.

From a church leadership point of view this “broad multi-laned highway” is something of a two-edged sword. The great positive is that as a leadership you’re living the dream. Congregants take responsibility for their own lives, have their hands full of kingdom business, and are fulfilled in life, call and destiny. The down side is that their time, energy, gifts and resources are directed to the coalface of their endeavors, and there is little left for doing church in traditional ways. On any given Sunday morning (not to mention midweek) a number of the congregation are “out there” doing the good works prepared in advance for them to do, which means that they are not “in here” making church better. The net result is a very fruitful local church that masquerades as a loose and disorganised affair that is not very successful at all. Unless you know what to look for, that is!

13781279-transportation-icons-set-stock-vector-vehicles-icon-truckAnd so it is that a broad multi-laned highway continues to form. On it are vehicles of all descriptions, driven by congregants of all ilks. Some are very committed to us as a local church. Others are pretty much passing through. Some are small single-seater ventures; others veritable buses that need “the right people on the bus” and “the right people in the right seats on the bus” in order to get where they’re going. Each is legitimate in its own right.

It might be helpful, in conclusion, to mention a few of the essential adjustments necessary in our leadership paradigms in order to migrate from “bus” to “highway” thinking.  1. You have to get over your insecurities. Leaders are no longer in control, and personal loyalties no longer factor in the equation. Some members will even get serving in other churches while still considering yours their home. Deal with it. 2. If you want people to be healthy and productive, you have to place a high value on rest. If folk have families and are shouldering careers and ministries, they’re stretched. They are going to take Sundays off quite regularly in order to stay healthy. Get used to it. Attendance measures nothing useful in this environment. 3. As David taught us, those who stay with the bags get the same reward as those on the front lines (I Sam 30:21-25). Sometimes all people can do in life is hang on, and this can be so for an extended period. During these times they appear to contribute nothing. A New Covenant environment does not penalize or prejudice them in any way for a lack of performance. It’s Holy Spirit’s job to get God’s children fruitful. Make peace with it. All of that to say this: Fruit is fruit. In preaching the Gospel we after week, you pay attention to the root. The fruit comes, and is His business, not ours. The Father, not the elders, is the vinedresser.

jesus-walking-on-waterA final thought, and as a friend puts it: This New Covenant is an extraordinary and remarkable thing. It’s like being out of the boat and on the water. It feels insubstantial and transient, fragile and unpredictable. It’s easy to yield to fear and insecurity. Yet no surer foundation can be found, for we stand on the work of Jesus and the promises of God, all of which are infallible. And Jesus is quick to rescue us when our faith fails us. This is not about us. It is all about Him!

No flags

flagpole-49506_640“No flags.” Another one-liner from the Lord, and this one as pithy as they come. As usual, I knew exactly what He meant. Since gaining numerical significance, the people of God have always carried tribal overtones within their unity. Jacob’s sons became the heads of twelve tribes, each with distinctives in character and calling. Benjamin, Levi, Judah – these are names with a great deal of meaning to anyone who has a handle on Old Testament history.

But problems arise when unity begins to fracture along these tribal lines. It is but a small step in the heart from Benjamin, Levi and Judah to “I’m of Apollos”, “I’m of Cephas”, and “I’m of Paul”. As Paul pointed out to the fragmented community in Corinth, we’re actually all of Christ, and this polarising stuff is counterproductive. The lesson is this: while we cannot avoid having distinctives, these should not define us. Christ alone does that. Some of our distinctives are primal, like skin colour and gender; others are nuanced, like doctrine and calling. No matter which, our carnal tendency is to quantify and categorise, define and delineate, and then associate and/or disassociate accordingly. The result is Christ divided; a house that crumbles. A fundamental error repeated over and over again.

So, no flags! No flags marking our allegiance to any faction of the church above another. And no flag calling for allegiance to this part of the church above another. Autonomous, inter-dependent local church – nothing more; nothing less – under the responsible government of it’s Biblically appointed eldership, and relationally connected to the important trans-local gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Nothing could be simpler or clearer.

b9317967944z-1_20150704151929_000_gohb8pva9-1-0Yet walking in this has been challenging in the utmost. The reason is not that other church leaders don’t understand or disagree with the position. Rather, it’s regarded as some sort of lofty idealism. Consequently, the Lord’s church is so divided along the lines of it’s respective distinctives, that it has often become the purveyor of a its respective brand of Christianity, more so than of the Gospel. Just gather with other leaders. The first question typically goes to who you’re “under”. For me this question raises something of a red flag (excuse the pun), because you soon discover that you’re welcome everywhere on a superficial level, but nowhere on a significant level. Unless of course you subscribe to the finer points of the distinctives of the brand in question.

To state this is to state the obvious: The New Testament church was one congregation, many apostles; not one apostle with his many congregations. Again, to state the obvious: Paul’s reference to some who he had raised up as sons was descriptive, not prescriptive. If the shoe fits, wear it, but let’s not insist that everyone dons our preferred brogues. All that does is corrupts and weakens the gene pool by incestuous inbreeding. Why should everyone we invest in undergo some sort of DNA transfusion in order to become just like us?

The flag issue ultimately addresses ownership. It is my strong conviction that the church, and by that I mean the local church, belongs to Christ. The Scriptures are clear on local church structures – elders and deacons; with elements of episcopal, presbyterian and congregational approaches, dependent on context. Any structures that emerge between these autonomous local churches and the glorious eternal church are man-engineered. They may facilitate health and mission, but they arise out of pragmatism (us) rather than Perfection (Him). Let’s hold onto them lightly. And when they begin to define us in ways that supersede our identity in Christ, let’s jettison them in haste.

Every local church has distinctives. These is nothing wrong with that. But so strong is our need to define ourselves by association that even a flagless local church runs the risk of becoming part of some no-flag movement, where flaglessness becomes the defining characteristic, and where like good teenagers, we all non-conform together in identical ways. See above, and count us out.

downloadOne last thought, and I include it simply because I encounter it so often. My resistance to defining alignment within the wider body of Christ is not because I’m hurt, bent and buckled. It seems there are those who resist relationships of depth and accountability because they are wounded, and it is true that living rogue doesn’t produce much by the way of good fruit. But I’m not rogue. Neither are many others who share these convictions. And we are walking in, and healthily desirous of, trans-local relationships of depth and accountability. We’re just not prepared to become card-carrying movement members, for doing so would have us perpetuating an exclusivity and elitism that needs to be flushed out from amongst the people of God, and not reinforced and entrenched.

imagesSo it is that the proverbial flagpole rises high above the roof of the building in which our local church gathers on Sunday mornings. Around us, any number of believers, and more commonly leaders, eye its vacant tip with considerable perplexity, and at times more than a little disdain. We know this because they agitate about it, and subtly raise the matter with us again and again; and at times not so subtly. But long may it so remain, and soon may those whom it bothers come to see that it really is OK. For a flagless flagpole does not default to a Jolly Roger (the skull-and-crossbones, and pirates ahoy!), or half-mast (another failed church and perhaps a building for sale). If it defaults anywhere, it’s to a white flag, and this part of the body of Christ unwilling to be at war with the rest of itself.

Don’t fence the waterhole

“Why are your standards higher than mine?”

I have a long, rich history of one-liners from the Lord. They are inevitably paradigm shifting, and often come as questions to which I somehow know the (wrong) answer. In other words, they always cut to the quick of a matter in an instant. This one was no different. I had grown sufficiently in insight into the realities of the New Covenant to know exactly what He was alluding to.

david-bucklow-landscape-fenced-windmill-303278Membership of our church required submitting to a process described as Basic Foundations. It was a series of weekly gatherings for prospective members, including a camp-style weekend away, which had a clearly defined exit point. That exit point included baptism in water and baptism in the Holy Spirit. In other words, speaking in tongues was a requirement for membership. It also included clarity regarding the doctrine, vision, values and ethos of the church. That in turn required prospective members to be in a small group, be signed up to serve in one department or another, and to be faithful in attendance at the worship service. It involved subscribing to a ten-percent-of-gross financial commitment with offerings over and above, although we never policed this in any way. Participation in the prayer meeting was also preferable. With this list of criteria in place, and with both parties considering the fit good, the prospective member moved into membership via a public affirmation of covenant, which was an extra-biblical pledge which we had gleaned from Moravian and Wesleyan traditions.

That’s what it took to be a member of our church. Jesus’ church required considerably less: Believe! Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and because of Christ alone. The thief on the cross had no problem achieving full, eternal membership in Jesus’ church. He’d have had no chance with us.

What followed was the dismantling of our formal membership roll. At the time it felt like a radical step; now it seems the most natural thought process in the world. What an accurate Gospel does is turn the volume down on the local church, it’s demands and distinctives, and the volume up on the universal, eternal, catholic church, where all who are in Christ belong to Him and to one another. The local church, we now understand, is simply a manifestation in time and space of that glorious church universal.

I had long defended our rigid membership rituals by arguing for the need for like-mindedness in vision and values, and by insisting that any leadership serious about giving account to God for their flock would need clarity regarding who was in and who was not. I now see that it was a means of manipulation and control, fundamentally divisive in the context of the broader church, and a keystone of our practice of exclusivity. If the windows and the doors of the house were to be open, then elaborate membership procedures would have to cease.

imagesThe Lord reassured our hearts by encouraging us to not fence the waterhole. Fences, after all, keep things out and keep things in; it just depends on which side of them you’re on. Our intention was to become more a game reserve and less a typical farming operation. He made it clear that the sheep were His, not ours. He taught us that as His under-shepherds, we elders remained accountable to Him for oversight of the corporate expression, while not being responsible for managing the freedoms of the individual sheep. Slowly our paradigms moved towards free-ranging, and we were able to open our hands and release our membership into following Him. By the way, they’re so much more secure now, because their security is in Him, and no longer in the church they attend.

To change the analogy yet reiterate the point: It is my conviction that should a Martian beam down into our parking lot and ask any church member, “who is your shepherd?”, the answer should be “Jesus”. Change the question and ask them to identify the leaders of the church, and they should point to the elders. This is no semantic difference; it is foundational to how we understand the local church. The people of God belong to Jesus. He is their shepherd and they are by definition Spirit-led. Leaders have no right to make church or personal loyalties a point of accountability. Our role is to help them discern and obey the will of God. Nothing more; nothing less. And then to be grateful for the degree to which that has them faithful to the local church.

This in turn has enormous implications for the funding and otherwise resourcing of local churches. Things must be done differently. This is not only possible; it is preferable. Thinking in this way has rendered me bi-vocational, and has positioned us to preach the Gospel of God’s unconditional love without strings attached. There is simply no mechanism in place to embroil anyone in our brand. Those who settle amongst us do so because the Lord Himself settles them. That thief on the cross would fit in amongst us just fine now. Week after week we enjoy gathering at the well of Living Water, celebrating Jesus and all that He has done, and watching His people gather to drink, just as we would enjoy an evening at the waterhole in the game reserve, watching His magnificent creation draw near to be refreshed and replenished.

You’re welcome, any Sunday morning, 09h30.

Preach the New Covenant

“Preach the New Covenant”, said Jesus. This one-liner reverberated through my being with absolute authority and audible-voice clarity, answering what had been the cry of my heart for many months.

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It was a one-liner I didn’t see coming. I knew that I had to open the windows and doors of the church to the many, but what I didn’t know was that I was in for Extreme Makeover: Belief System Edition. (For the backstory in more detail, click here).

What followed was as extended period under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit in a special and unusual way. It sounds arrogant to claim as Paul did that I received the Gospel from the Lord, but that’s exactly what happened. Amidst very difficult times in ministry and local church, the Spirit opened the Scriptures to me in a fresh way, and it was as if I was “born again” again. The parallel discovery was the degree to which my belief system had been a mixture of Old and New Covenants, of Law and Grace.

1345804-inlineMy Extreme Makeover: Belief System Edition can be likened to a theological world tour, with numerous significant stopovers. I spent time in Romans 8:1, discovering that every aspect of my life was condemnation-ridden. My self-speak, my marriage, parenting, relationships, preaching and ministry all oozed condemnation, disqualification, and the demand for increased effort. From there it was across to Hebrews 4 and the discovery that salvation is rest from one’s own work and complete reliance on the work of another. This was quite a revelation for a permanently exhausted individual living and laboring in a burnout-conducive culture. Then came the visit to Security, where I discovered that most of us Christians are desperately and unnecessarily insecure. There were also notable stopovers in Peace and Joy, which are gifts accompanying salvation. Time was also well spent in New Nature (just like Jesus), in Holy Spirit (an indwelling Helper who will never leave us, and is an enabler in righteousness), and in Bible (an account of seven covenants, only one of which applies). Through it all I discovered that Jesus is God’s message (and perfect theology), that God is Good (and only good), and that God has made up His mind about us in Christ. If I had to identify a single highlight, it would have to be what I now regard as my favourite passage of Scripture: “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). Our justification is absolute, and we who are in Christ are therefore irrevocably righteous!

the-gospel-changes-everythingYears on, I continue to grow in the revelation and application of the New Covenant, but it is no exaggeration to say that everything has changed: My understanding of the Lord, salvation, myself, others, our world and His church. Every Sunday, I now enjoy the privilege of proclaiming a salvation that is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. This puts salvation within reach of everyone, and recognises that the grace that saves is the grace that sustains, empowers, and sanctifies. What was a Churchianity has become Christianity. It really is all about Him after all!

Following on has been progressively unfolding revelation of what it means to serve, lead and govern the local church from within New Covenant paradigms. Again, the Gospel has changed everything. What was at times a manipulative, controlling, stressful and exhausting environment has become one of peace, joy, freedom and fullness. The New Covenant is literally so much Good News as to be out of this world. Day by day we enter into greater measures of the benefits of this New Covenant, in which we have been included in Christ Jesus. And to top it all, no one is excluded. The windows and doors of the house are open, and the beauty of the local church accessible to all. The Gospel is for the whosoever will, and so it is with His church. What grace. What mercy. What goodness. What kindness. What love. Praise be to our God!

Open the windows and doors

This is the first of a series of posts documenting the paradigm-altering revelation that has fashioned my understanding of the local church, and of the Gospel that shapes her. We are a very long way from where we once were, and the story is certainly worth the telling.

s-l400In fact, I write for three reasons. Firstly, to remember. Recall and reflection are helpful in keeping the main thing as the main thing. Secondly, to reiterate. Telling of the Lord’s dealings will help those connected to us in some way to understand where we’re coming from. And thirdly, I write to record. To provide a backstory for those who do and will benefit from our pioneering. So, here goes.

The most profound of all the paradigm-shifters was a God-encounter a decade or so ago. It took place during a time of corporate worship. In a moment I was caught up into an open vision. The experience was dramatic to say the least. I have no idea how long it lasted, but understand how Paul could be unsure as to whether he remained in his body or not. The vision was all-consuming, and not conscious of any other reality as it unfolded.

In the vision I was putting the finishing touches to the housework in a typical domestic home. The Lord was present, and it was unmistakably clear that the home I was tending represented the local church. The Lord commended me on the way in which I had kept His house. I felt so proud. After all, my labour in ministry was for Him, and this was a “well done, good and faithful servant” moment.

He followed up with a simple question, “Why are the curtains closed?” As happens in encounter, I knew, and responded accordingly. “Lord, the windows and curtains are closed because of where your house is built.” I moved to a window and opened the curtain, revealing that His house was built on a rubbish dump. The windows and curtains were kept closed because of the rotten smell and to hide repulsive view. Point made, I let the curtain fall back into place.

The Lord’s response was gentle. “Gavin, the problem is not with where my house is built; the problem is with your perspective. Open the curtain.” I drew the curtain aside and was overwhelmed by what I saw. Gone was the rubbish dump, replaced by a dense sea of people. People of all races, cultures, ages, shapes and sizes – an innumerable multitude incomprehensibly vast!  As I attempted to absorb what I saw, the Lord said, “Gavin, I want you to open the windows and doors of my house. My house is for them also!”

I was completely undone by the implications of it all. In a moment the Lord had adjusted my perspective of humanity to align with His, and had set into motion what would become a total rebuilding of my now-shattered belief system. I wept and wept and wept. Just as suddenly as it had begun, so the encounter ended, and I found myself on the floor, sobbing my heart out. The repentance precipitated within was overwhelming, and it rendered me so raw that many months passed before I could talk about it without dissolving in tears.

The encounter bestowed a fresh mandate: Open the windows and doors of the church! Not knowing why they were closed meant having no clue as to where to begin in remedying the situation. All I knew was that they were indeed closed, and that something was profoundly amiss as this was so. Unwittingly, instantaneously, I’d gone from being zealously committed to Christianity as I knew it, to being deeply challenged to the core. It compelled me to question anything and everything. Those around me could see that I’d been with the Lord, and all agreed that opening the windows and the doors was a great idea (after all, we all want more church members), but few seemed willing or able to grasp that there was something fundamentally wrong. What I later came to understand is that open windows and doors have nothing to do with church membership, but everything to do with the very foundations of our faith and practice. My fresh mandate would call for shifts of seismic proportions, and a great shaking was at hand.

What followed at first was many, many months of unsettled vagary. I sought to pursue my mandate by encouraging evangelism and nudging things towards seeker-sensitivity and community involvement. Yet I knew, even as I did so, that I was completely missing the point. Then, suddenly, another encounter. This one was nothing like the previous one. This time it was a single sentence that reverberated through my being with such clarity that had anyone been with me, I’m sure they would have heard it also. It was the definitive answer to my persistent “how, Lord?” “Preach the New Covenant”, said Jesus.

 

Good News

downloadThe Gospel is news. It’s news about Jesus – about who He is, what He did, and why He did it.

His story goes right back to before the beginning, when He partnered with the other members of the Godhead in formulating their creative and redemptive plans, agreeing on their respective roles. He was then so successful in His mission that its impact is comprehensively retroactive and will be never-ending. The cross spans time and space, for by it God was reconciling all things to Himself – things on earth, and things in heaven.

Throughout the ages, this story has been told by those who saw, heard and experienced it unfold and develop. It is so well attested to all along the way that it comes to us as eye-witness news, with many of those witnesses having been martyred for their unwillingness to waver in testimony. Yet, in contemplating its enormous scope, let’s not imagine that the Gospel story is a complicated one, for this is not so. The poignant facts are all to be found condensed within the life of a single individual, Jesus Christ. The Gospel is short and simple, easily remembered, and easily told. Even little children can understand it.

imagesWhen this news – Jesus crucified, died, buried and raised – first broke on the streets of Jerusalem on Pentecost morning a little more than two millennia ago, it did so empowered by the Spirit, and immediately went viral. The believing community of a hundred and twenty soon gained three thousand more, and from there it snowballed. Confirmed by miracles, signs and wonders through the centuries, today the worldwide community of believers numbers hundreds of millions, and the forward momentum of this message gives no indication whatsoever of slowing down.

Wherever the news about Jesus has gone, it’s been just as controversial as Jesus Himself was. This has been a good thing, for it means that this news has been interrogated and tested every step of the way. The first major think-tank – and there have been many since – took place as the key role-players in the believing community gathered at what we today refer to as the Council of Jerusalem. This was necessary because the news was leaping across ethnic divides, and they wanted to make sure that everyone was getting the facts, and not some culturally distorted version of the facts. This Council was presided over by James, the half-brother of Jesus. Like him, many of those present had seen first-hand what Jesus had done, and heard what Jesus had said with their own ears. This gathering therefore constituted the ideal forum for crystallising the Gospel, paring it down to its essentials. What was then viral is now global, and those early leaders served us well, as did many others through the years. Much has happened, but the facts remain, and today the Gospel is as clear as it has ever been. What we learn through it all is that truth remains true, and ceaseless attention simply polishes the diamond all the more. The news, as proclaimed by Peter on the streets of Jerusalem, is the news we herald today.

download (1)Jesus lived the sinless life no descendant of Adam could. Every one of Adam’s line is a sinner, due sin’s wages, but sinless Jesus received these on our behalf. He died for our sins. Three days later, God raised Him from the dead, thereby vindicating His claims, and establishing His vicarious death as redemption for sinners for all time. All who believe this, in so doing appropriate His substitution personally, and thereby enter into a glorious exchange – their sin for His righteousness. All of it, for all of it! He received what sinners deserve, and in believing, sinners become saints as they enter into all that He deserves. The Gospel believed is salvation received, and it is by faith alone that men and women are put right with God. The Holy Spirit makes them alive and anew. In the moment of faith, those who believe are instantly transported from darkness to light, from death to life, and from being in first Adam to being in Christ (last Adam). God Himself, who made this possible for them, does it to them. We believe; He works! This is the Gospel!


Best News Ever 3D

From Why the Gospel is the Best News Ever! Available for download from a broad selection of e-book platforms. Click on the image to go to the book’s page and select the version that best suits you.

 

 

The Gospel (by Ross Penniall)

The Gospel is more than just scandalous. It’s an offense to almost every culture, and will continue to be so for many centuries to come. But say what you must, it is incredibly good news to the people who have come to the end of themselves.

John wrote what is arguably the most famous verse in the Bible: John 3:16. It is so because it captures the heart of the Author, and His love letter, in one easy-to-understand sentence. It doesn’t need a professor to interpret it or a scholar to to unpack its truth. It’s simple: God loved. Jesus came. Men believe. Eternal life is given. John expresses the ease with which one is rescued from eternal condemnation: Believe in God’s one and only Son.

But that should cause one to stop and ask: What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What exactly are we to believe about Jesus that will grant the gift of eternal life to the one who believes?

Allow me to answer these all-important questions for you …

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GOD

Many don’t like the idea, But God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present. He gives and sustains life,  and without Him nothing would exist. He is righteous and holy, perfect in every way. He exists outside of time. He sees all, and knows everything about everyone. Like it or not, He is Lord of all, including us.

MAN

We are unholy. We are unable to save ourselves, even though many don’t even believe there is an actual afterlife. We are rebels to the core. We are lost in our sins. We are worshipers of ourselves and live to please ourselves. We are unable to please Him or know Him. We don’t desire Him on any level. We are lost. Our destination is damnation. And truth is, that’s a just sentence, and we are in desperate need of a savior.

Side note: A good doctor doesn’t just give a sick man medicine. A good doctor whips out the x-rays. He displays pictures of the disease. He doesn’t hold back. He calls a spade a spade and gives the sick man a blunt, open and honest diagnosis of how bad it really is, to the point that the sick man is virtually begging for the remedy. One of the reasons why men don’t desire God’s remedy (Jesus) is because they aren’t aware of how sick they really are.

REMEDY

Jesus is God’s remedy for a sick and dying world. He came to seek and save the lost. Jesus paid the penalty for every lost man’s sin, and this for all time. He died for me and He died for you! He took the full brunt of God’s wrath at sin upon Himself. He reconciled God to the world. On the cross, He who knew no sin became sin, so that through Him many would become righteousness. He is the only way to God. He is the only remedy for a lost and dying world.

RESPONSE

God is holy. I am unholy. I need saving. Jesus made it possible for me to be saved. That’s the message. The invitation is simple: BELIEVE! Church attendance is not a prerequisite. Neither is obeying the commandments or praying every day. “Quit smoking!” “Stop using foul language!” “Stop watching Internet porn!” “All good advice, but not the Good News. Jesus is the Good News. He lived the life we couldn’t live. He died the death we all deserved to die. He then gives us a salvation we could never earn. Grace is given to those who don’t deserve it. That’s you and me, my friend! And so, man’s response is so simple: just believe. Unwrap the gift and say thanks.

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That’s why the Gospel is an affront to just about every culture. Lost men don’t like to be told they are sustained by a loving Creator even if they don’t know or acknowledge it. Lost men don’t like the idea of being told that they are not good enough, no matter how hard they try. Lost men don’t like the idea of being told that they need help. Even those who believe in a God up there somewhere don’t always like the idea that Jesus is the only way to Him. And having crossed that bridge, the thought that we owe no debt or payment in return is scandal all the more. It sounds too good to be true. But it is so good because it is true!

I will never stop enjoying these truths. In fact, we’ve only scratched the surface in understanding how glorious the Gospel really is.


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A guest post for SMGN by Ross Penniall – lover of Jesus, lover of life, and lover of SoMuchGoodNews.

 

Quintessential phariseeism

Spiritual-arrogance-ahead-signJesus described quintessential phariseeism as He spoke out against self-righteousness in the most direct of ways, as recorded in Matthew 23. An exhaustive exegesis of the chapter would render a more comprehensive version, but His seven pithy “woe to you” statements give us the essentials in synopsis.

  1. Legalism is an exercise in unbelief, excluding people from a salvation that is by grace alone through faith alone.
  2. Legalism is zealous for its brand, and demands conformity to itself rather than true discipleship.
  3. Legalism consumes itself with technicalities at the expense of truth.
  4. Legalism majors on minors and neglects matters of first importance.
  5. Legalism deals in externals and ignores the matters of the heart.
  6. Legalism nurtures hypocrisy as it concerns itself more with appearances than realities.
  7. Legalism results in delusional denial of its own dismal inadequacy.

Do the exercise yourself and you might phrase things a little differently, but you’ll inevitably reach the same conclusions. Call it what you will – self-righteousness; phariseeism; legalism; dead religion; fundamentalism; self-effort – our best attempts are in such contradiction to the heart of God as to be futile exercises in unrighteousness all. Little wonder that Isaiah described them as filthy rags (literally used menstrual cloths) and Paul as dung (literally excrement).

humilityThe caution to all of us is that self-righteous people don’t recognise themselves as self-righteous. They measure themselves by themselves, and make good grades. It requires an intervention of the Lord to break the delusion. Hence my prayer is that any pride we take in our own particular version of Christianity may so come to appall us that we can never boast in it ever again. Without Jesus we are nothing, even if we’re able to so craft a veneer that we fool even ourselves, and perhaps only ourselves at that. It is by grace that we have been saved, through faith, and not of ourselves. We have nothing to boast about or place confidence in, other than Him. Our church, our obedience, our gifts and callings – these all count for nought! His church, His obedience, His perfect and finished work – these are everything!

Nothing is more freeing than discovering that Jesus counts for everything, and that everything else counts for nothing. This big idea is what ushers us into an authenticity of faith which is secure, peaceful, joyful and loving. It has nothing to prove and nothing to strive for. It is content, not contentious, and gifts salvation to everyone, irrespective of circumstance.