Kyle and I are settling into a new church in our new community. I tell you this, in part, to update those in our Andover church family, who may have noticed our absence and wondered. It’s been a while since we’ve worshipped with you, and here’s why. We knew it was a possibility all along. Commuting the 40-ish minutes from our new home to our old campus wasn’t terrible. It might have worked. But I will also admit, when I resigned from my church-staff position in September, it was in part to free us up to explore our options. And then, when Kyle ended up for several weeks on IV-antibiotics, post hip surgery infection, and we had to be close enough to home for me to doctor him every mid-morning, including Sundays, it sped the process. So here we are, months laters, making it official. New Hope Church, where the Sunday morning greeting, often, is “Welcome home,” and we do indeed, feel ourselves home.
Much like our previous Constance Free Church, the news at New Hope is GOOD. (Hope-filled, even.) And this matters. Earlier this week, Kyle and I discussed in detail, trying to put a finger on just what it is—the mission and the message of what we most appreciate when it comes to church. And it’s this. Whether you are brand new to faith, or been-there-and-done-that for so many years, what you are seeing and hearing and experiencing in the community we call church, is Gospel Good News. Let me explain…
There is a version of “gospel” that isn’t good news at all. Which also means it isn’t “gospel” at all, because the word in Greek (euangelion) literally means “good news” or “good telling.” Here is a sample of the not-such-good-news you may have heard a time or two:
You are a sinner. The majority of the people around you are going to hell. You will need to repent of your sins, over and over again, for the rest of your life, because Jesus forgives you. And also, keep on trying harder. And tell others to do the same.
Super good. Or not?
Of course, not. And if you’ve heard a version of this message (which I’ll admit I may have exaggerated to make my point), most likely it’s made you feel a bit like how in the world could I ever, and maybe I should just give up…
But what if the message sounded more like this?
God, because of his unfathomable love, sent his son to rescue the world. When Jesus died on the cross, and he rose from the dead, he made the impossible possible. Jesus conquered the devil—and he defeated sin—making it possible for people to love and follow God in a brand new way. Now, through the power of his Holy Spirit, we can live and love like Jesus.
I’ve been writing this book. (Switching gears from thoughts of church, to the thoughts consuming most of my weekdays.) The title of my original draft was a somewhat cryptic phrase (The Covenant Story) which held a whole lot of meaning for me, but would have no doubt sounded rather boring to the rest of y’all. So. Inspired by a really great song released in early 2020, my new working title is He Is For You. Good news, I hope, right out of the gate.
The storyline for my book is totally borrowed. It is the Bible’s story, in a nutshell, retold. (My subtitle: The Story We Enter. Which I do, weaving my own narrative throughout.) From Genesis to Revelation I follow a theme, based on a Hebrew word: hesed. Which is love—but bigger. It is the too-good-to-be-true love of God, expressed in his Name (mentioned recently in a previous post):
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6)
Specifically, the phrase “steadfast love” is the Hebrew hesed, a word used hundreds of times throughout the “Old Testament” in reference to God’s absolute faithfulness to his love. Basically—God cannot stop loving. The story in a nutshell. (I’m telling you, this news is good.)
As the story unfolds, God invites people to join him in his big plan to spread his love (often called his blessing) to the ends of the earth. Now. Admittedly. This might be the part of the story where the “bad news people” tend to get their content. Because (short version) when God invites people to join him in his big plan, they mess up. A lot. Like epic proportions. It’s bad. Believe me. But this only serves to magnify the very fact that God’s love is HUGE and it literally cannot give up. Ever. Now, if you’re familiar with the story you might recall instances when it looked like God gave up temporarily, which usually resulted in the enemies of God’s people getting the upper hand. And you may recall several books of the Bible, written by prophets, whose messages do sound a bit like God is mad. But. If you read them closely, you will find out God is angry, yes, but he is angry because his people (especially the people who are supposed to be super religious) fail to carry out his mission to spread his love and blessing.
And God means business when it comes to love.
So fast-forward. One dark night there are shepherds out in a field, totally oblivious to what’s about to happen, when suddenly the sky lights up with angelic beings and one of the angels looks at these guys (and maybe gals) who are no doubt freaking out, and tells them, “Fear not. I bring good news.”
And the good news, of course, is Jesus. God’s son, come to save the day.
Jesus had come to save God’s mission.
Jesus was all of God’s steadfast, never-quitting love, in a human body. And Jesus was so determined to save the mission (which, remember, was to use people to spread God’s love) that he willing let himself be killed by the religious people who didn’t understand the mission. In so doing, he conquered the ultimate enemy (called the devil, or satan), defeating sin, and then he surprised everyone by coming back to life, and going back to heaven, and sending his Holy Spirit, whose job it would be (don’t miss this) to transform ordinary people into extraordinary love.
Or, as I like to say to kids when I’m sharing this story: Jesus does for us what we could never do for ourselves.
That’s Good News. As in. Gospel. A very good telling of a very good story.
And the heart of the mission of a very good church.