Ain’t That Good News!

I’ve got a home up in that kingdom, yeah, yeah!

I’ve got a home up in that kingdom, yeah, yeah!

Lay down this world

Shoulder up my cross

Take it home to my Jesus

Ain’t that…good news!

The first time I heard that song was at a convocation service as a kid.

Reading the last few verses in the book of Mark recently brought the words back to mind.  To me, they fit so well with Jesus’ last words to His disciples before ascending to heaven:

“Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15, 16.

Jesus commissioned His 11 friends to take the good news to the entire world.  What is the good news?  Quite simply, it’s the cross.  But more than just the cross, it’s the news of what Jesus did on the cross, the news that a Savior was born, lived, died, and rose again. It’s the story of everything it took (and will take) to reunite us with God, from Genesis right down to Revelation.  It’s the news that we have a home in His kingdom.  It’s hope.

The gospel, the good news, is for all of us.  It is applicable no matter what your station in life, no matter what your story or where you come from.  It has power.  The power is Jesus.

He changes lives.

He is love.  He takes you, wherever you are, whatever you’re like and He transforms your life.  The gospel is new life in Jesus.

The gospel according to Mark 16 requires two things of us: believe and be baptized.

You may have heard the idea that all you need to do is believe and you’re set; no change of life is necessary.  Jesus knows we’re sinners, so just believe, do what you want, and ask forgiveness.  This idea mixes a truth with a lie.  Jesus does accept us as we are.  But He doesn’t leave us as we are.  He knows we have no power to change ourselves.  So He changes us.

When Jesus asks us to believe, He’s asking us to accept all that has been revealed about Him in His word.

This belief is not a weak, empty, thing.

It’s powerful!

We believe He is who He said He is, and that we can trust His compassionate leading in our lives.

He transforms us through our faith in Him.  Not by forcing us to now do the right things.  Instead, He gets to the root of our issues: He deals with our hearts.  He deals with our desires and feelings, and helps us see the world and our daily situations as they really are.  He shows us His way, and asks us to trust Him.  And most importantly, He grants us the freedom to choose to follow His way or our own.

The second thing the gospel requires of us is baptism.  What is baptism?  Read through Romans (especially chapter 6) and you’ll quickly find that it symbolizes death and resurrection in the Water of life.  You go down into the water (Jesus is the water of life), and you’re buried.  The old you dies to sin, just as Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  Then you are raised up out of the water.  The new you is raised to life, inhabiting the same body as the old.  But this you is alive to Christ.

In other words, when opportunity for sin arises, the new you is no longer a slave to those sins.  Instead, your first thought is to your Savior, because you’re alive to Him now.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that after baptism, no one ever sins again.  The baptism ceremony is symbolic of what God is doing in your life.  He’s bringing you to the place where those temptations you struggled with before are no longer enslaving you.  You may as well be dead where they are concerned, because they just don’t have power over you the way they used to.  Whereas before, you would have mindlessly followed them without any struggle, it now requires a conscious thought process and choice to give in to them.  Because you are alive to Christ, you think of His desires, His will, His way first, not your own.

But don’t miss a key point in this symbol: immersion in water.  Jesus is the water of life.  The death of the old me, and the resurrection of the new me only happens when I’m immersed in the Water of life.

For someone like me, this is exciting news!  I was baptized when I was ten years old.  I made the choice that I wanted to follow my Savior with my whole life, and I was baptized.  That was a long time ago.  I don’t have to tell you that a lot has happened in my life since then, and unfortunately, I haven’t always lived up to my commitment to Jesus.  But there’s still hope.  It’s not a three-strikes-you’re-out thing with Jesus.  I can still turn back to Him and start over.

Spiritually, baptism is a daily occurrence.  As I daily immerse myself in Jesus through spending time in His word and talking to Him, the old me dies when it would rear its ugly head, and the new me lives to honor the One I love.

This is all the gospel requires of us: to believe it and to be transformed by immersion in the One it speaks of, until the old person is dead and the new person is raised up in Christ.  That’s all.  Yet it encompasses everything.

This is what Jesus came to give us.  This is His message for the world.

New life in Him.

Now ain’t that good news!

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Listening With Armor On

I had sort of an epiphany a few weeks ago as I sat in church.  It was completely unrelated to the speaker’s message, but it was extremely important for me.  In case you haven’t caught on yet, I’m very interested in balanced Christianity.  There are extremes in nearly every issue, and I believe very strongly that a Christian must be wary of falling into extremes, since they’re usually not in agreement with God’s word.

Anyway, here was the epiphany: as I sat in church, it suddenly hit me that no matter who is speaking, I’m supposed to listen to everyone with my spiritual armor on.

What, you may ask, does it mean to listen with armor on?  I’ll tell you.  It basically means listening with a mindset of checking everything you hear against the Word of God, the Bible, before accepting or rejecting it.  It’s like filtering everything through the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6:14-18:

“Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

That was it.  That was the epiphany.  Such a simple thing that I guess I’ve always known, but never given real, conscious thought.  The Bible says, “Test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NLT)

No matter who speaks, writes, or leads, I shouldn’t drink in their every word without first making sure it’s in agreement with God’s word.  If it lines up with that, then great: I can incorporate it into my life.  If not, then I should respectfully leave it and move on.  After all, Jesus comes first.  He’s the One I’m living my life for.  He’s the One who gave His life to save me.  He’s the only One who actually knows what’s best.  Why not check everything with Him before accepting or rejecting it?

I don’t know about you, but I find that freeing.  I’m not obligated to accept everything that’s said, no matter how persuasively stated.  I don’t have to live my life by every word of a human.  I have a standard I can look to, and when a human goes against that standard or adds to it, I can respectfully refuse to follow him or her, and remain on the path my Redeemer laid out in His word.

That’s what listening with armor on means to me.  What do you think?