Does the Gospel Impact Your Life? (Six Questions for Every Christian to Ask, #1)

Question #1: Does the Gospel Impact your Life?

Peace be with you! I think everyone wants to hear this statement. The desire for peace comes up again and again when I talk with people about what they are really looking for. I too keep looking for peace in my day.

Peace Be With You

This phrase “Peace be with you” comes from a story in the Gospel of John. It takes place just after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Imagine a room filled with the twelve disciples and some others. They are scared and confused. Their teacher Jesus has been killed horribly. Some carry the guilt of having run away from him. They had been sure God was going to do something through Jesus, but now even that hope was in tatters. They have locked the doors because they are afraid that they too are about to be arrested. There is weeping and prayers of anguish.

Suddenly, Jesus stands in the midst of them and says Peace be with you. When the disciples get over their shock, they are overjoyed. They can’t contain it. What a transformation in the room! Jesus doesn’t just speak peace to them, but he is that peace, himself, in his person. And then he sends them out into the world, saying, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you.” He charges them with bringing that same peace to the world.

The Impact of the Gospel Comes through the Person of Jesus

The peace of Jesus is different. It is a deep and transformative peace that made the disciples able to do things that they would never have imagined possible. This is a powerful peace (“Shalom”) of wholeness and harmony.

Do you want this peace? I ask this question because God’s peace impacts and changes us inside. But this peace of Christ is also part of something bigger than us: God’s plan to bring healing and wholeness to the world. This is what the Scriptures call the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). Another term for this is the Gospel.

The Gospel Transforms

“Gospel” is one of these words that we hear so often that it can lose its force. But the point of the Gospel is that it has profound spiritual power. It has the power to fill your soul and connect you with God.

The Gospel is God speaking to us in a new language: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Jesus, we see God’s love embodied. The Gospel is a message that captivates, calls, challenges, delights, and transforms us.

For the disciple of Christ, the Gospel can’t just be words on a page. It has to be a message that ripples through our lives and changes our hearts. You need to know that you are loved by God more than you can possibly imagine. Does the Gospel impact your life?

This is based on a talk from our 2021 Lenten learning series, Re-boot Your Spiritual Life. You can watch it here:

In Search of the Good Life (Six Questions for Every Christian to Ask: Introduction)

In Search of the Good Life

Discipleship is such a churchy word. Why should we bother with it? Before I tell you why I think it is important, I want to tell you why I became a priest. This story contains what I love about discipleship.

Once upon a time, I was going to be an academic. I know that won’t surprise anyone who knows me, but the reason was that I loved the big questions of life: Who am I? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be a good person? I was in a graduate program in philosophy. My goal was to be a teacher, but for me this was less about sharing knowledge and more about being a life coach. I was after the concept of THE GOOD LIFE, a life lived well. Often the culture will give us a vision of the good life as sipping champagne, driving our Porsche, and not having to work.

But studying philosophy challenged that for me. I found that what we often call the good life is really the pleasant life. Beneath the glittering surface, it is the shallow life. Once one starts to look deeper, one finds that being so self-centered is really destructive. Philosophy’s answer is that if you want to get to your deathbed with no regrets, you need virtues and values such as responsibility and purpose; tempering the appetites; having a mission in the world, and so on. I got such joy out of pursuing these virtues that I wanted to share the good news of a life lived well. Then I met Jesus, and he changed everything. Well, sort of changed everything.

In Search of a Jesus-Shaped Good Life

My excitement and vision were still the same. I still wanted to encourage people to live deeper life, and to build their lives around higher virtues and values. But now all these virtues and values were Jesus-shaped. When I read the Gospels, I found that Jesus was doing this with the people that came to him. They heard his teachings and were profoundly impacted. As they stayed to hear more, they also started to observe how he lived, how he treated other people, how he prayed to God. They became his students, not in the sense of enrolling in a class, but in learning and imitating. They became students of wisdom and life. The fancy word for student is disciple.

When I put my first love of philosophy with my greater love of Jesus, I found that something providential happened. Jesus leads us into the true GOOD LIFE. It is also a life well-lived, but centered now on God and God’s plan for our lives. It is powered not by willpower, but by grace, and ends in a heart of love.

Living Well

This means different things to different people. But when I think of it, I often remember one of the funerals that impacted me the most. It was for a woman whom I had not met. When I started at my first parish as a new priest, she had already been sick with extreme dementia for quite some time. But I got to know her husband well. When she finally died, I led the funeral.

When her four children got up and spoke about their mom, it was the most moving testimony about a human being that I have ever heard. She had not lived publicly in the limelight. Instead, she focused on her family and volunteer work. But the love and grace she had given to her family and friends was remarkable. As I sat there, I remember thinking that if my children spoke like that about me when I died, then I would have lived well. I would have led a good life. So I prayed to God that I would be the person my children could speak about like that.

Becoming that person is not quick or easy. It is made up of small decisions and actions over the course of years, and the process is what we call discipleship. My invitation to you is also to strive to be the person that God has made you to be. Be a disciple.

Fasting for Lent

How do you observe Lent?

In the Anglican church, it is common to hear someone ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” The answers are a mixture of giving something up and taking on something new. You often hear things like:

“I am giving up chocolate for Lent.”

or “I am cutting back on alcohol.”

or “I am going to read the Bible more.”

or “I am going to volunteer at the soup kitchen.”

The question often arises, why do we fast and take on disciplines for Lent? Is there something earth shattering about giving up chocolate? The answer is no. So why do it? Here are four simple but profound reasons.

Fasting for Obedience

1) The first reason is that Jesus asks us to do these things (see Matthew 6:1-18). It is about obedience. Of course, he doesn’t specifically ask for chocolate. That is not the point. Rather, it is part of a three-fold challenge from Jesus that gives focus to Lent. It is traditionally listed as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

These are meant to be serious practices, but not legalistic ones. Jesus wants us to pray because prayer is the language of our relationship with God. It is how we grow closer to God. Jesus wants us to fast because fasting allows us to find freedom from unhealthy habits. And Jesus wants us to give alms because it is an expression of care and compassion for people in need, and we need to practice doing that. Giving up chocolate or alcohol or whatever is an expression of fasting and doing without, not for its own sake, but for education and healing.

Learning through Fasting for Lent

2) Fasting is partly about learning. I don’t mean about facts, but about deep inner truths. It helps us realize that many people live in poverty and will never have what we are struggling to do without. We grow in humility as we see that we can do with less than we think we need, and that we have resources that can be used to help others.

In the book of Isaiah, fasting is closely connected with justice. The prophet criticizes those who fast and do other religious rituals, while simultaneously perpetuating injustice. He writes, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry…?” (Isaiah 48: 6-7a). Part of the purpose of fasting is to help us develop a heart of compassion, which leads to generosity of spirit.

Fasting for Reflection and Growth

3) Fasting for Lent also teaches us something important about our inner life: we need heart healing. This is Jesus’ main goal. He calls us to fast because he wants us to grow deeper in maturity. The problem is that we have many unhealthy habits and attachments in our lives. For instance, let’s say I fast from all sugar during Lent. It doesn’t seem big. But the reality is that I would find that hard. I am used to quite a bit of sugar in my diet. Therefore, when I find it hard, I need to ask myself, why? What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about what I serve?

Now let’s imagine that it is so hard that I find myself getting irritated at my kids or wife. Again, I need to really think about this. What is it within me that is struggling? This should be easy: just stop eating sugar. But why don’t I have the patience and strength?

In truth, it is not easy. And this is the point. We don’t mature and grow unless we push beyond what is comfortable. If everything is comfortable, we stagnate. Giving up chocolate or alcohol–or whatever–amounts to putting controlled spiritual and emotional stress on our lives. This is partly so that we can push through it. But the real reason is that it gives us a glimpse into our souls and shows us we need healing.

Fasting for Lent for Healing

4) Healing is the point. God is nothing but love, and looks with compassion on our struggles. God wants to heal our souls, and this doesn’t happen quickly. The New Testament doesn’t distinguish heart, soul and mind in the same way we do. They are a whole, and inside are a mixture of positive and negative emotions, impulses and drives. There is compassion, hospitality, courage, love, and a host of other good stuff. There is also anger, fear, lust, unhealthy hungers, violence, prejudices, and a host of other bad stuff. They are all mixed up together.

Part of the Good News is that Christ came to bring healing and wholeness to human beings. He brings grace, mercy, and love to transform our hard hearts into soft hearts. This is neither a simple nor a quick process.

We tend to hide our hurt, pain, and negative emotions. But if we bring them into the gentle light of Christ with honesty and humility, he will heal them over time. Sometimes we need to do this soul work with another person guiding us, be it a spiritual mentor or a psychologist.

Fasting for Lent helps us to find the areas of hardness in our hearts by surfacing what needs the most healing. The next step is to pray for God to heal those places. Spend time in prayer for your inner being. God wants to birth within you a new creation. This is the deeper meaning of fasting.

Love Builds Up

1 Corinthians 1:13 - Love Builds Up

At first glance, this week’s Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 8:1-13) doesn’t seem to be relevant to us in the 21st Century. Paul is counselling the church in Corinth as they deal with a divisive issue.

An Ancient Conflict

Paul is wading into a conversation about whether Christians can, in good faith, eat meat that has been used ritually in pagan ceremonies. This is not a burning issue for us. But we can still glean a principle that is important for every generation to grasp. (And on a side note, this is often how Scripture works. It might speak to an ancient conflict, but there is always a more generalized spiritual principle that we can discover.)

The principle that Paul gives us in this conversation is that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks to Christians who feel that they have a greater level of spiritual enlightenment than others in the church.

The issue is that the “enlightened” people know they can eat this meat with a clear conscience, so they look down on people who are hesitating in fear of spiritual contamination. They see themselves as the strong and the others as the weak.

While we don’t worry too much about this problem these days, the principle continues to come up in other ways. We still have people who feel that they are more spiritual than others. They have achieved a ‘higher level’ of spiritual experience and maturity. And in fact, some may indeed be more spiritually mature. In the example of the situation in Paul’s time, he actually agrees with the ‘strong.’ Clear knowledge and understanding is important. It is better to be knowledgeable than not.

Love Builds Up and Knowledge Takes Second Place

However, there is a problem with knowledge. Overemphasizing its importance often leads to pride, superiority, and power. In turn, these develop unequal and broken relationships. For Paul, knowledge is not the ultimate good. That place always belongs to love. Later in the letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us, “If I…can fathom all mysteries and have all knowledge… but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Does this mean that knowledge is unimportant? Of course not. We are called to study and learn and grow. This is an essential aspect of discipleship. But it never replaces the central importance of love in the Christian faith.

In fact, all knowledge should lead ultimately to love.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 35: Jesus Calls His Disciples

Episode 34: Jesus Calls the First Disciples
Episode 35: Jesus Calls the First Disciples

Mark 1:14-20 begins with Jesus entering the region of Galilee, already proclaiming the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. As he walks along the shore, he sees four young fishermen and calls them to follow him. Immediately, they leave their nets and their father to join Jesus on the adventure of faith. When Jesus calls his disciples, he also gives us insight into what it means for us to strive to follow Jesus 2000 years later.

Join us around the virtual table as we talk about calling, discipleship, and what repentance really involves.

Heaven and the Kingdom of God

Mark 1:15

In this coming Sunday’s gospel reading, we see the heart of Jesus’ message. What is he telling us? What is Jesus’ spiritual message for us and for the world? This is important to know because it is at the center of what Christianity is all about. So what was the message? In Mark chapter 1, we hear Jesus preaching, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The kingdom of God is at the heart of his message. Jesus assumed that his contemporaries would hear this as the best news ever! He believed that they would be excited at this proclamation.

However, as modern readers, we don’t hear it the same way. The idea of the kingdom of God probably doesn’t mean as much to us. Or if it does, we often think that it means heaven after we die. But Jesus meant it to be much bigger than that.

Heaven isn’t the whole story

What we call Heaven is only one tiny part of what Jesus is talking about: that all of the promises and prophesies in the Old Testament are all now coming true. People in ancient Israel had been waiting and praying for this moment for centuries. God had promised to come himself and be the king. The Creator would come and set things right, rescue Israel from all her enemies, and finally create a kingdom of righteousness marked by peace, justice and love. In fact, at the time of Jesus, there was a revolutionary slogan that said, “No King but God.”

Jesus says the time is fulfilled. All of these ancient prophesies are coming true. But as he continues to preach and heal and teach, it becomes clear that Jesus is doing something different. The heart of the Gospel is that God is becoming king and setting the world to rights in and through Jesus. And the way to enter the Kingdom of God is to commit to Jesus, believing and trusting in him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus also taught that the Kingdom would come in stages. His public ministry was the first stage, then there was his death and resurrection, then the era of the church proclaiming the good news throughout the world. And at last, there will be a final consummation of all things.

The Vision of the Kingdom of God

This is important to each of us because, as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we are a part of the Kingdom of God. As Jesus taught, this kingdom is not a political reality, but a spiritual reality and a vision of transformed hearts and relationships.

No one is forgotten in the Kingdom of God. All are beloved and have dignity. It is a relationship with God that lasts long into eternity. It is about the world as it was always created to be, and you get to be a part of that. The Kingdom of God is as large as the whole universe, yet fully present within your own heart. In the Gospel on Sunday, we read about Jesus proclaiming the good news and issuing an invitation. Every day is a day to say yes.

The Hope Canteen Podcast, Episode 28: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

Podcast 28 Wise & Foolish Bridesmaids
Episode 28: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids

Jesus tells this parable about ten bridesmaids who fall asleep waiting for the wedding procession to arrive. This picks up a number of themes in Jesus’ teaching, and reflects Old Testament meditations on staying awake, being alert, and persevering in Christ. Join us around the virtual table as we talk about Matthew 25: 1-13.

What insights do you take from this parable? Please join the conversation! Add your reflections in the comments below.

Book Study: Surprise the World! — Sent by Jesus

Surprise the World! -- SENT

In this series, we are looking at Michael Frost’s book, Surprise the World!, with its challenge to live surprising lives. He uses the acronym B.E.L.L.S. to describe what this might look like. In previous reflections, we looked at the first four letters, which stand for BLESS, EAT, LISTEN, and LEARN. Today, we are looking at the fifth and final habit: SENT by Jesus.

This last habit is different from the other four. It is not so much about doing something as it is growing into an identity, which is to see yourself as one who is sent by Jesus. Who we are affects how we live. At the beginning of the Christian movement, all of the disciples were sent out to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. They understood that, while every Christian was not called to be an Evangelist, every Christian was meant to be an ambassador for Christ.

Over time, “missionary” came to refer to a select group of people who traveled to foreign countries as Evangelists to proclaim the good news of Christ. And that is important and necessary work. But back home, where most everyone was Christian, there didn’t seem to be much need of ambassadors for Christ. That was someone else’s job that happened somewhere else.

Called and Sent by Jesus

Part of the Missional movement is to help people reclaim their identity as being called and sent by Christ. Michael Frost invites us to take time during the week to claim this identity by reflecting on it by journaling. Even if we don’t journal, we might take some time to look over the week and see where we have been able “to alert others to the universal reign of God through Christ.”

He reminds us again that this is not about being an Evangelist. Not everyone has that gifting. Rather, by living this life of blessing, eating, listening, and learning, we are offering through our lives a glimpse of God’s love in action. Our lives point to the Kingdom of God when we live according to its values. Here are four of them:

1. Reconciliation

At the heart of our Christian faith is the great reconciliation between God and humanity through the cross of Christ. This greater reconciliation becomes the foundation for reconciliation to grow “between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, black and white and Asian and Hispanic, and so on.” The act of reconciliation is a core expression of God’s reign and rule. We announce and demonstrate God’s Kingdom through reconciliation.

This is why reconciliation between Indigenous and settler people has been so central to our mission in the Anglican Church of Canada over the last several decades. But we are also called to reconciliation in our own lives. We are called to allow God’s healing to infiltrate relationships where they are broken by anger, hurt, and unforgiveness.

2. Justice

In our baptismal vows, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,” as we respond, “I will with God’s help.” The church at its best has always looked for ways to help the marginal or disadvantaged. Christian greats such as William Wilberforce, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon led campaigns for the betterment of society. More recently, people like John Stott, Martin Luther King Jr., and Desmond Tutu have engaged deeply in causes around poverty and racism. When we work for justice, we work for the Kingdom of God.

3. Beauty

Beauty is a central pointer to the Kingdom of God. We can feel the presence of God deeply on a mountaintop or in a beautiful cathedral. Where do you experience beauty? Is it through a piece of music that deeply touches your soul, or the well-ordered cells under a microscope? How do we create beauty? How do we spend time encouraging beauty or experiencing it?

4. Wholeness

Jesus didn’t just talk about the Kingdom of God. As he worked to heal broken people, he showed us how much God wants wholeness for a hurting world. Some professionals—nurses, doctors, mental health professionals, and so on—are dedicated to wholeness in various ways. But everyone can further wholeness through acts of encouragement, blessing, and healing for people who are struggling. This is the deeper meaning of blessing others (missional habit #1). It might look like a listening ear, but it is also a sign of God’s love for that person THROUGH you.

Frost encourages us not just to do all of these things, but also to take the time to reflect on them. Reflecting on our experiences brings greater depth. We gain insight when we examine how we felt about a certain experience. We learn about ourselves by taking the time to discern how God is operating in our lives. Spend some time reflecting and identify where you have been acting for the Kingdom. This action will help you to see more opportunities as they arrive. Own your identity: God has called you and sent you.

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. We encourage you to support your local independent bookstore.)