The Gospel Lens ~ God Is…

In Mark 4:21-34 Jesus told several parables of small things that mattered.  He paid attention to detail. He was attentive. Since Jesus is God and came to reveal the Father, I believe God is attentive.

The scriptures can be searched to see if what I believe about God is supported elsewhere. Indeed, God is shown to be attentive in other ways ~ He notices when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), captures every tear in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), and can number the hairs on my head (Luke 12:7).

Because God is attentive, in the gospel story I am seen and known.  If I am seen and known, I don’t have to search for relationships to fulfill my need to be understood. I already am understood. Because of that I am able to approach relationships from a stable and firm foundation, already filled, and able to allow others to be themselves. Because God is attentive, I don’t have to clamor for attention when I feel small. I don’t have to make a big splash for God to notice.  This peace and security is available to me because Jesus lived as a man and showed me what God is like, and because He restored my relationship with God.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

That’s the gospel.

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Some Notes on Gospel Application

Studying the Bible searching for the gospel message and with a goal of getting to know Jesus is a whole different mindset than studying to learn information, instruction or correction. The questions I ask when studying to know Jesus are:

  1. What is God like? “God is…”
  2. What did Jesus do to show me what God is like? “In the Bible reading Jesus….”
  3. Who does that say I am? “In the gospel story I am…”
  4. How does this affect how I live? “Because God is …, then I… “

It’s always a good idea to submit your conclusions to a comparison of other scripture and to share with allies ~ other people who are also searching to know Jesus. In this way you can make sure you didn’t pull some far-out-there idea out of the depths of your brain rather than listening to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will only speak truth concerning God and will not contradict Himself. So the ideas we come upon when studying to know Jesus will broaden and deepen our understanding, but will not contradict what He has already revealed.

Notice the power of my conclusions when they are based on what I have learned about God and who I am in Christ. That’s a picture of my being made whole because of what Jesus did for me. That’s the result of faith in God’s relational consistency towards me.

Imagine that instead of relying on what Jesus had accomplished to change my heart, I had simply said, “I need to be more at peace and feel more secure in my relationships.” While peace and security are healthy, if I am trying hard to act that way because that’s what I believe I must do, my success relies entirely on my own strength and I am the hero… if I succeed.  It’s nothing but self-talk and positive thinking at best ~ even if I got my advice from the Bible.  It’s self-righteousness. It’s not the gospel.

The Bible contains doctrinal proof, standards for moral living and lessons and instruction of various kinds. The text above could have been studied asking the questions of “what does it all mean? What am I supposed to do based on what I read? Where is the lesson? Is there a doctrine hiding in this?” And those answers are all in there.  But that doesn’t save me. That doesn’t give me a new heart. Information can’t save. Jesus saves.

In the list of should’s, must’s and have to’s there is condemnation, a heavy burden and death of the soul. In the gospel of Jesus, there is restoration, a light burden, and eternal life.

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Studying  with the primary purpose of finding information reminds me of John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  I challenge you to read the scriptures looking for the testimony of Jesus. And see how He changes your life.

 

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Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

Squirrel!

A friend of mine expresses significant disgust with greedy squirrels getting into her bird feeders. In order to deter those crafty critters, she has taught a couple of her dogs to chase them on command.  She also happens to be a bit of a tease and will at times open the door and yell, “Squirrel!” just to get the dogs outside. They’ll run out the door full speed ahead in search of that allusive rodent.

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A few years ago I attended a Beth Moore study series about Esther. There were many good lessons worth reviewing in that series, but one stands out in my mind very clearly.  Beth described how we sometimes fix ourselves on a goal, certain we are doing as our Master commands.  We are like a dog on point, fixated on the squirrel.  God at times picks us up by life circumstances and turn us around to point us toward the goal He desires for us, toward our true destiny.

May we hear our Master speaking and make the turns required when He calls us. His plans will always be much more eternally filling for us than our own could ever be.