Sunday, June 15, 2008

Good News on Father's Day!

So it's Father's Day.  Wes woke me up telling me that he made me breakfast.  He did. It was thoughtful and yummy.  Zoey and Kasey honored me with the love of a six and four year old as they brought me their school crafts that might as well have been Springsteen tickets. Chrisy got me pounds and pounds of my favorite Peet's Coffee. Max wrote these words to me:  "Dad, I love you soooo much.  I am so thankful for the things you do for me like make me eggs and clean the house.  And most of all I love it when you watch movies with me and teach me about music."  I think that last line meant so much to me because to me it meant, "I like YOU just the way you are, I like your interests, and I like to spend time with you."  Good stuff, huh?  But, it's hardly the best news of the day.
This morning in my junior high group at church I focused on the idea of "the Good News" and I essentially asked the kids if they truly believed that God loved them fully right now.  I drew heavily on one of the greatest books I've ever read.  It is called THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL.  It's by Brennan Manning.  I really started thinking about this book again this morning. Something deep within my heart welled up saying, "Doah, my grace is the best gift you will ever receive. Doah, my grace is the best gift you could give to your children. What's more, you've got to tell this Good News to the junior highers!"

The best gift I ever received is recorded in Romans 1:17 and it says this:  
The Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight.  This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.  As the Scriptures says, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life."
Here's a passage about this from Manning's book.  This comes from "Something Is Radically Wrong" which is the first chapter:
I believe the Reformation actually began the day Martin Luther was praying over the meaning of Paul's assertion that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God to us--it shows how faith leads to faith.  In other words, the righteous shall find life through faith (see Romans 1:17).  Like many Christians today, Luther wrestled through the night with this core question: How could the gospel of Christ be truly called "good news" if God is a righteous judge who rewards the good and punishes the evil? Did Jesus really have to come to reveal that terrifying message? How could the revelation of God in Christ Jesus be accurately called "news" since the Old Testament carried the same theme, or for that matter "good" with the threat of punishment hanging like a dark cloud over the valley of history?
"Justification by grace through faith" is the theologian's learned phrase for what Chesterton once called "the furious love of God."  He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change.  He has a single relentless stance toward us:  He loves us.  He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners.  False gods--the gods of human manufacturing--despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do.  But of course, this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands:  Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son.  This is the Good News, the gospel of grace.
My favorite passage may be this:
Here is the revelation bright as the evening star: Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in the squalid choices and failed dreams.  He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen.  Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them--fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the gospel of grace.
In that section Manning is talking about Matthew 9:9-13. You really have to read Matthew 9:9-13 here:
Matthew 9:9-13 (THE MESSAGE)
Passing along, Jesus saw a  man at his work collecting taxes.  His name was Matthew.  Jesus said, "Come along with me."  Matthew stood up and followed him. Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them.  When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers.  "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?"  Jesus overhearing shot back, "Who needs a doctor:  the healthy or the sick?  Go figure out what this Scripture means:  'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."
Here is what Brennan Manning then says about that chunk of the Bible:
This passage should be read, reread, and memorized. Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true.  We think salvation belongs to the proper and pious, to those who stand at a safe distance from the back alleys of existence, clucking their judgments at those who have been soiled by life. In the name of Grace, what has been the verdict of the Christian community on the stained life of Rock Hudson?  To the disclosure that he called a priest to his deathbed, confessed his sins, and cried out God for forgiveness?
I think we all need to reread this line:  Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true.
I want to draw on Luke 23:39-43.  In this section of the Bible Jesus is on the cross and there are two criminals hanging beside him.  One of the criminals mocks Jesus, but the other criminal protested and then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."  Jesus replied, "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise."
So what did that criminal do to get salvation?  It goes back to Romans 1:17.  He just had faith.  He believed. This is what I so badly wanted the junior highers to get today: We don't have to do something or not do something to clean ourselves up and make ourselves presentable to God.  We are presentable now!  He loves us now!
It also goes back to the passage I shared in Matthew 9. Jesus has a place at the table for crooks and riff-raff. And, since I was among the riff-raff, that is indeed Good News! Again, Manning puts it this way:
Through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace.
Do you get that?  I can't do anything to earn God's approval!
So, this is where I am at today.  I do not want to pollute the message found in the gospel of grace.  I do not want to dilute the Good News.

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