Gospel-Centrality & the New Year

A new year is symbolic in many ways. It is commonly a time when we look back and reflect on the past year, while also looking ahead in anticipation at the year to come. We make resolutions and set goals; it is a time to refocus, renew, recalibrate. The new year is often bittersweet mixture of shame and thankfulness, regret and hope. Our reflections and anticipations during this time will often set the tone for the months ahead.

There’s something about “newness” that attracts us – whether in regard to a new year, a new job, a new car, a new gadget, a new relationship, etc. With a new thing, there’s always some level of fresh hope (and probably an undercurrent of “THIS will be the thing that really satisfies me!”) But it always goes the same way, doesn’t it? The “new” wears off – the new thing eventually just becomes the thing, and so we move on to the next new thing.

As I have been thinking through that process in my own life, I have been reminded of the centrality of the Gospel.  Most of us are likely familiar with these words from Luke 2:10-11: And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Those verses provide a two-line summary of the Gospel:
1.) The Gospel is good news for the joy of all people.
2.) The Lord – the Creator God of the universe – is the Christ who comes to Earth to save.

While there is much more you can say about the Gospel than this, there is not less. The Gospel is beautiful in its simplicity, majestic in its depth, and completely unique in its purpose. There is no greater truth than the Gospel. God was kind to remind me of the centrality of the Gospel in the form of a question that has tugged at the corners of my heart and mind for the last couple of weeks – Has the “newness” of the Gospel worn off for you?

I find it common within most churches to think of the Gospel as only for non-believers, or to consider the Gospel “kindergarten Christianity.” I often fight in my own heart and mind to keep from considering the Gospel as remedial, something to move past so I can get on to something more interesting. Early in my own process of coming to know Jesus as Savior, I saw the Gospel as something new and beautiful and exiting – but there are plenty of times now when I catch myself treating it as though it were something primarily for other people.

Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” This is a verse we tend to think of in terms of evangelism, and rightly so. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus in terms of sharing it with those who do not know its great truths. However, this verse is just as applicable for Christ-followers. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel in our own daily lives.

What does it look like to be ashamed of the Gospel in such a manner?
I can think of at least two ways:

  • By treating it in thought and action as though it were no longer something we need. The Gospel is not something we come to terms with once, then move on to something greater, deeper, or more useful.
  • By failing to consciously apply the Gospel to our lives every single day. We should daily preach to ourselves the Gospel with the goal of aligning our lives with Christ, to whom the Gospel takes us. The trajectory of our lives should be constant, joyful struggle to align our lives with His by working out the practical applications of the Gospel in every area of thought and action.

Reflecting on Gospel-centrality in a right way will always lead us to the person and work of Jesus. Christ is the whole point of the Gospel – without Him, there is no Gospel. Jesus is the good news that came to earth;  God as a baby who grew into a man, lived a life we should have lived (but could not), died a death we should have died (but could not) to a penalty we should have paid (but could not). To those that believe that as good news, it is the power of God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. This is not a message that gets old.

Has the “newness” of the Gospel worn off for you? Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that the mercies of God are new every day, and I can think of no clearer portrait of the mercies of God that the Gospel. May God grant us the grace to see our need for the Gospel every day and the strength to preach it to ourselves daily. May He keep us from the foolishness of thinking we can ever get past the Gospel. May our daily appropriation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ be a constant reminder that this is not a message that ever gets old.

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Jason VanDorsten is an occasional contributing author to Off the Wire. He thinks there have been far worse church fads than Gospel-_______ statements.

Gospel Labor & Raking Leaves

My church just finished a week-long missions conference. As one might expect from such a conference, there was a repeated appeal for the serious consideration of Jesus’ command regarding sending laborers out into the field (Matthew 9).

With this in mind, Sunday afternoon I sent my two kids out into the field the yard to labor for their father – and by “labor” I mean “rake leaves.” I was struck by several similarities to missions throughout the process. It was like watching a living parable of Gospel-centric labor unfolding before my eyes. Clearly, the analogy is limited, but here are some quick reflections from raking leaves with a 3- and 5-year old.

They went out joyfully. All good laborers should. They were happy to work with their daddy. It is a joy to labor for the Father.

They got tired. And distracted. And discouraged. And impatient. All good laborers will. For them, raking leaves was new and exciting …at first. About halfway through the process of cleaning up the lawn, those kiddos started to poop out, get whiny and wanted to go do something easier and more fun. But their father loved them still and encouraged them to keep at it.

The work was messy. There were times when it seemed my little laborers were making more mess than was there to begin with.  Neatly-raked piles of leaves often became “un-raked.” Arguments broke out from time to time about who was going to do what. Filling bags with leaves one handful at a time was, shall we say …inefficient. Progress was not always evident. Regress often was.

The work was completed. Their partnership with me in raking the lawn was real and legitimate, but the completion of the task did not ultimately rest with them. Even if it was all up to them, they could not have finished. There was simply too much to do for a 3- and 5-year old, and they didn’t have the strength, patience or endurance to do it all. After a couple hours, all they managed to do was rake 2 piles of leaves and fill one bag about 2/3 of the way full. I do not say that to diminish the legitimacy of their work, but to put it in proper perspective. In the end, it was their father who made sure the job got done.

Their father was pleased. As their daddy, it warmed my heart to see my two little ones out there raking their hearts out, even after they got crabby about it, argued, and wasted time, energy, and effort. Let me be honest – the quality of their work was not great. But the fact that they wanted to be out there with me more than made up for that. It was a relational labor where the value – at least, in my eyes as dad – was less in their performance, more in their posture.

Their reward was great. Cheeseburgers and Slurpees. Well done, little laborers.

Do you labor for the joy of being near your Father? Your reward, too, will be great.

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Jason VanDorsten is an occasional contributing author to Off the Wire. He lives just outside of Washington, D.C. and oversees graphics/communications at Reston Bible Church. He still has a lot of leaves to rake out of his yard.

Free Church Database

I came across a free church database system today. You can use it to track your church’s attendance, giving, etc. It actually looks like a it may be decent tool, and the “free” part is particularly good for smaller churches with the need, but not the finances. (My church bought a new database system a couple years ago, and we paid a ridiculous amount of money for something that probably does about the same thing.)

If anybody puts this to use, drop us a comment and let us know if it’s any good – www.churchmetrics.com.

Everybody Loves Free Music

Derek Webb is at it again.

Remember back in ’06 when that dude went off the deep end and just started givin’ away his music? Yup – we got the entire Mockingbird album for as cheap as free. Webb is now involved in a similar gambit, and this time has several other artists along for the ride.

On NoiseTrade.com, you can download Webb’s album The Ringing Bell for free by spamming telling three friends about the site. Or you can “pay what you want” – and let the downloading fun begin.

I found the site a month ago, when Webb’s album was available along with one or two other unknowns. When I checked today, however, it seems the download options have expanded to over 25 artists, including well-known artists like Sandra McCracken, Waterdeep, and Sixpence None the Richer.  Looks like fair trade music is catching on. Take a look.