“Burn, Baby, Burn!!!” Okay, so the preacher never actually said that. He told all of us at church that day if we didn’t admit our sins, beg for forgiveness, and ask Christ into our hearts, we would spend eternity burning in hell. From the twinkle he had in his eye, it sure seemed like he was way too excited about the thought of us burning! And I have to admit, it was effective. That day as a four year old boy, I knew I was a sinner and would burn unless I got some Jesus in my life. So I confessed my sins (which took a long time even though I was only 4!), begged for forgiveness, and asked Christ into my heart. But, I have to wonder if that preacher might have missed the point. For years, I spent my spiritual time preparing for heaven, and by that, I mean preparing for after this life is over; my focus was completely on life after death. That’s when everything would be perfect with no more sin, pain, suffering and death. I was so looking forward to getting outta here. In fact, many times I questioned why God didn’t go ahead and just take me “home” ‘cause that would have been a whole lot easier than messing with this world. It made perfect sense to me with the understanding of the gospel (the good news of Jesus) that I was given as a child. But that is not the whole gospel.
If I were asked to describe the good news of Jesus today, I would use much different terms than I would have 20 years ago. It would probably go something like this:
The Good News about Jesus is that He is for us. Each one of us living on planet earth is frustrated and, to at least some extent, making it up as we go along. We are trying to convince both ourselves and everyone else that we are actually good people and have a good handle on how to live this life. But deep inside ourselves, we know something is desperately wrong. We are missing something that is essential to us being complete. In fact, we are in a search for completeness, but everything that we go searching for leaves us eventually feeling empty. These things that we use to make us “complete” might work for a while, but they cannot fill the void in our souls. We are designed for something more and created to be something so much more. The only thing that will complete us is the thing that is most foreign to our natures: to admit that there is nothing we can do to fill ourselves. We are dependent on someone else to do that for us. We are dependent on someone else to complete us, to make us whole, to give us the essence of life. That person is Jesus. We don’t like this idea because it means we have to surrender control of our lives to someone else, and we love to believe we are in control. We are even happy to just pretend we are in control until we can’t any longer because it has become obvious that we are on a path of self-destruction. We are on a path that is leading to a head on collision with reality, and the results will be the absolute destruction of our souls, leaving us in a place of desolation, isolation, and despondency. BUT (and this is the good news), Jesus hasn’t given up on us. Even though we have rejected Him and His ways repeatedly, even though we have betrayed Him time and again, He loving and passionately pursues us to bring hope. He brings us hope in Himself. He has come to set us free, to give us life! He is for us! He gave His life to make us whole. He gave His life to give us life. And it’s not something we have to wait to experience until life after death. We can experience His life now! He gives our life purpose, meaning, joy and peace, in the midst of all the crap this world is throwing at us. He is our rock and, when we stand on Him, the storms of this world are transformed from hurricanes to afternoon sprinkles. Jesus calls out to each and everyone of us, “Come, follow me! My burden is easy, and my yoke is light.”
The gospel I heard as a child left me praying I had done everything right with my prayer of repentance. The gospel I know today leaves me inspired to become and do everything God has prepared for me to become and do. This gospel gives me life. Everyone needs a place where they can experience the true good news of Jesus.