Three Taverns Church


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Lose Your Favorite Hat

Saturday I drove to Tampa to spend time with a friend at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. I was looking for a distraction from the terrible vision of death I’d had the day before and I certainly found what I was looking for on the casino floor. But I want to share with you something that happened on my drive to Tampa that I found much more enlightening.

I was driving my Miata with the top down, celebrating the summer sun even as thunderstorms threatened the horizon with flashes of lightning and gray sheets of thick rain. I felt free from work, free from responsibility, and very much alive. As my radio was blasting over the wind in the open cabin I was dancing in my seat, entertaining a school bus full of children in front of me who were pantomiming gestures through the rear windows. As I repeated their gestures I could see them laughing hysterically at the crazy guy in the little car behind them. I was in a fine mood and loving life. Within minutes traffic separated us and I waved goodbye with a smile so big it felt foreign and unfamiliar.

Moments later I adjusted myself in my seat and turned my body just a bit to get more comfortable…and my favorite hat, a Florida Gators ball cap I’ve had for years, caught the rushing wind and blew off my head into traffic behind me. Maybe if I’d pulled over immediately I could’ve rescued my hat, a bit worse for wear but nonetheless returned to my rightful possession. But as the distance grew between my moving car and my now certainly-mangled hat, it struck me how oddly I was behaving!

Here I am pursuing spiritual depth and enlightenment, having had a vision of death just the day before, and I am suddenly mourning the loss of a piece of headwear! I thought to myself, “If I struggle with losing a hat, it’s no wonder the idea of death terrifies me!”

Jesus words returned to me, “Do not store up treasures where moths and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal.”

You might rightly consider me silly for being so attached to a hat, but as I continued along my way I spent a good ten minutes thinking about it, about my hesitation to pull over and retrieve it, about how I was clearly so attached to such a mundane object. The Buddha said that suffering comes from “clinging of mind”, and boy was my mind clinging to that hat!

I learned a valuable lesson that I’d like to pass along to you: We can become attached to our possessions quite easily, and often we are blind to the “little things” we cling to because we are so busy congratulating ourselves for not clinging to the “big things”!

I want you to think of a favorite little thing of yours. Maybe it’s a hat, a purse, or a pair of shoes. Maybe it’s a small painting or framed picture. Whatever it is, I’m sure by now your subconscious mind has provided you with an object. When you’re done reading this, I challenge you to seek out that object and place it promptly in the trunk of your car, whereupon you will deliver it to a thrift store or a homeless person as quickly as possible. If it’s not worth giving away, throw it away.

Lose your favorite hat. It’ll do you good!


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Grieving For God

Earlier today I was going to Tweet something along the lines of: “The sad truth is that I don’t tell God I love Him because it’s true; I do it so that I’ll hear it back from Him.”

I realized (again?) today how selfish I am. I may love God somewhere deep in my heart, but most of the time I’m a needy, clingy, co-dependent person who needs to hear God say “I love you” just once, or maybe just once more. My prayers are very sad attempts to manipulate God into saying the words I think I need to hear. I’m a manipulator of the Almighty.

Then tonight, while reading Be Not Afraid: Overcoming The Fear Of Death by Johann Christoph Arnold, I ran across this quote:

“After all, grief is the innate urge to go on loving someone who is no longer there, and to be loved back.”

I thought to myself after reading this, My gosh, that sounds a lot like what I feel all the time! An urge to love a God who doesn’t seem to be there, and to have Him love me back. Being able to label or describe my feelings in this way is helpful. I may be needy or clingy, but maybe I’m also just grieving the loss of God in my life. Or the loss of God as I liked to think of Him: Logical, reasonable, predictable, knowable, with His capital H’s, sitting up on those puffy white clouds, flowing beard, robes, the whole bit.

Reading on:

“And insofar as we hold ourselves back (or allow someone else to hold us back) from bringing this urge to expression, we will remain frustrated, and we will never heal. In other words, grief is the soul’s natural response to loss, and should not be repressed.”

I wonder, how often have I let someone hold me back from grieving for God? Why can’t I mourn the loss of the God I thought was there, the One I used to know but now is gone?

Maybe God will surprise me and show me that the fat old bastard up in the clouds was never Him at all.


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No Preferences: It’s What Jesus Would Do

zen“The Great Way is not difficult
for those not attached to preferences.
When not attached to love or hate,
all is clear and undisguised.
Separate by the smallest amount, however,
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.”

– Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen

imagesHNJKQWYA“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

– Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 6:10, KJV)

“If thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

– Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 22:42, KJV)

Do I need to say more?


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Christianity As Consulting

41041“Each of us learns and uses information in different ways. It is often difficult for managers to accept help and be publicly open to suggestions. Privately they may be strongly affected by our work, and we may never know it. Pressuring clients to feel we have immediately helped them can be a tremendous obstacle to the learning we are trying to promote. If we can stay focused simply on the way we are working with clients, we will avoid compulsively pressuring the client, and the results will take care of themselves.”

Flawless Consulting by Peter Block

I’m reading Flawless Consulting at work (one of the perks of my job — free access to hundreds of electronic and audio books!) and I came across this great quote by Peter Block. It struck me that in addition to great consulting how-to advice, Block’s words are also relevant to the Great Commission. Follow with me line-by-line as I compare this paragraph about consulting to Christian proselytizing!

“Each of us learns and uses information in different ways.”

This is as true of consulting as it is of the Christian walk. How many times have you gone to church with someone who heard a completely different sermon than you did on a given Sunday morning? How often have you rolled your eyes at someone’s ‘revelation’ from a daily devotional, or had your own ‘revelations’ met with dull, blank stares? Each person has their own unique blend of learning styles, and one of the miracles of Scripture is its ability to effectively deliver its message in so many ways to so many people. As with consulting, Christians must be sensitive to the learning and information-processing preferences of their audiences.

“It is often difficult for managers to accept help and be publicly open to suggestions. Privately they may be strongly affected by our work, and we may never know it.”

Let’s be honest: Most people don’t want you to know how much they’re hurting because they perceive pain as weakness. And often the greatest pain in a person’s life lies at the heart of their deepest, darkest secrets. The last thing people want is for someone to publicly call them out and proclaim their sin (and the corresponding cure). Instead, as the Apostle Paul claims in the New Testament, viewing our lives as a living sacrifice is the most effective evangelical tool out there. People are watching us. Do we do what we say others should do? Are we interested in responding to Jesus’ demand for self-sacrifice, or only making others live that way? Have you ever had someone tell you they’ve been silently watching you from the wings, and the way you live your life has influenced the way they live theirs? If so, you know exactly what this quote is talking about.

“Pressuring clients to feel we have immediately helped them can be a tremendous obstacle to the learning we are trying to promote.”

This is the part where people expect others’ lives to change dramatically, even supernaturally, as a result of receiving the Gospel. It’s the stuff that baptism videos are made of! We get a friend to come to church a couple of times, then act shocked when we see them behaving badly Monday morning. The kind of results-oriented pressure some folks place on seekers and newcomers to the faith is all but guaranteed to stunt real life-change in the long run. Do you want God to save peoples’ lives? Good, so do I. Now get out of the way and let Him do His job.

“If we can stay focused simply on the way we are working with clients, we will avoid compulsively pressuring the client, and the results will take care of themselves.”

And this is the part where we’re supposed to love others as we love ourselves. Instead of pressuring people into listening to our sales pitch, we should focus on how we treat other people. Love God, love others, and the rest takes care of itself. You don’t have to worry about winning souls if you focus on the way you work with others; people will naturally respond to your unique method of consulting with them in their lives. Instead of dreading those water-cooler talks with you, people will smile when they see you coming!


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The Kingdom Of God: Election Week Edition

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The kingdom of God. It’s about a here-and-now, and a still-to-come, kingdom. But you can’t divorce the kingdom from God, nor God from His kingdom. You can’t have one without the other.

The kingdom without God is a political or religious organization without the things God values: Love, compassion, and justice. And God without a kingdom is just a paper puppet, a velvet Jesus riding the clouds. God without a kingdom is a no-God, a homeless deity.

Jesus preached the kingdom of God on Earth, not a heavenly palace where fat cherubs feed fruit to contented Christians. Jesus died preaching against the religious and political forces of his time, forces which had lost (or never had) any semblance of justice, any likeness to God. Jesus preached a world where God was the King in His Kingdom of Earth. As followers of Christ and His Way, I think we’re supposed to help God establish His kingdom on Earth.

What would it be like if God really were the King of the earth?

  • There would be no mourning; all would be comforted
  • The world would be run by the meek, not the arrogant or prideful
  • Righteousness would be paramount
  • People would freely give and receive mercy
  • Peace, not war, would be the normal state of affairs

So on the eve of Election Day in America, and with absolutely no political agenda, I want us to pause and think about our right to vote and how we exercise that right. Do we support a government which, like the Roman Empire thousands of years ago, is responsible for injustice at a systemic level? Do we conveniently ignore the parts of our political system which produce injustice? When we vote for someone do we first ask: Is this person prideful, or meek? Do they promote peace, or war? Are they merciful? Do they seek righteousness? Are they a source of mourning, or of comfort?

Don’t be distracted by the little letter next to a candidate’s name; that (D) or (R) means nothing. And I wouldn’t be overly concerned with where the person goes to church, or even if they go to church. Going to church has almost as little to do with the kingdom of God as a candidate’s political party.

Happy voting!


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Good Or God?

FaithHopeLove

Is “good” good because it’s inherently good, or because God says it’s good?

It’s a question C.S. Lewis raises in his book “Reflections On The Psalms”, and I think our answer to this question has significant implications towards the way we see the world and the way we live our lives.

If “good” is only good because God declared it so, it’s possible that what we consider “evil” might instead have been named “good” by God. Instead of extolling the virtues of faith, hope and love, Christians today might laud hate, anger, and selfishness. Perhaps the “holiest” among us would be sociopaths and psychopaths. It’s really not a far stretch to imagine a world like this, if God is the one who declares and defines “good”. This leads to relativistic world views where what is “good” is defined by what we believe “good” to be. It means each system of belief can define for itself what is “good”. It means you can justify hurting people who don’t follow your system of belief because they are against what is “good” according to your worldview (think: ISIS).

On the other hand, if “good” is good because it’s inherently good, then it is good independent (if such a thing were possible) from God. This means that even if there were no God (if such a thing were possible) then those things we consider “good” would still be good. It also means that any “god” or system of belief which espouses anything other than what is inherently “good” must be wrong, but we are not released to attack those who follow such beliefs lest we risk contradicting what is “good” ourselves. If “good” is good regardless of God, then it never changes; it is eternal. Who I believe God to be today will not influence what is “good” if “good” is independent from God.

I think this is why the Bible says things like, “God is love.” It is not possible to separate the Creator from the Created, but if it were, love would be the preeminent virtue of what is “good” in this world. And because love is inherently “good” regardless of which faith system I fall into, God must be love because love is inherently good, and God cannot be “evil”.

If I follow this thought down the rabbit hole a bit further, I see that by affirming the inherent “goodness” of certain things I must simultaneously relinquish my monopoly on God. If “good” is good independent of God, then those people who fall outside my belief system, even those who don’t follow my God (or should we say ‘MY god’), may still be “good”.


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“Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?”

When people ask this question, what I think they mean is: “Why is this bad thing happening to me?”

We don’t stress much when bad things happen to “bad people”, or when good things happen to “good people”. It’s the sense that a bad thing has happened to us (and of course we always “good”) that bothers us so much.

Below are a handful of theories we have on why bad things happen to good people:

  • It gives us a chance to love one another: This isn’t really a reason why bad things happen to good people; it’s really more of a result of the tragedy. God, or the Universe, or whoever doesn’t cause bad things to happen just so we can love one another. But we do get the chance to love one another in the midst of tragedy, and that is a tremendous gift.
  • There are really no “good” people: This theory seeks to strike at the heart of our dilemma by arguing that because there are no “good” people (consistent with Scripture), bad things only ever happen to “bad people”. That may be true, but it sure as hell doesn’t make us feel any better! Even if we agree with Jesus that “no one is good, but God alone”, we still want to know why we have to endure pain and suffering.
  • Everything belongs to God, so we don’t get a say: Another theological argument that fails to address real human pain and suffering (and you wonder why I don’t care about theology!), this theory tries to argue that because God created Creation, everything in Creation is His. Thus the clay (that’s us) has no right to say to the Potter, “What makest thou?” This argument would work great except for a few minor flaws: 1) I’m an American and I always get a say in my self-determination; 2) God created me with free will, so He must want me to have a say; 3) If God didn’t care about human pain and suffering why did He bother to send His Son for us?
  • There is no God: Getting angry at God for the tragedies of life, and denying He exists as a response, is about as mature and thoughtful as my toddler falling and scraping his knee, then popping up and denying the existence of gravity.
  • God isn’t loving, so I don’t want anything to do with Him: This theory is at least more honest than the previous one. People who reject God because of human suffering don’t deny His existence; they just don’t want to be in a relationship with a Being they perceive to be a Tyrant.

I actually love that last theory because it gives me the perfect segue to what I think is the real answer to our question. People shouldn’t want to be in any kind of relationship with the Tyrant who’s responsible for human suffering. The only problem is, his name isn’t Yahweh. It’s Satan.

I believe that bad things happen to good people because of Satan’s treachery in the Garden of Eden and the resulting Fall of Man. Bad things happen to good people because that’s just the way the world is.

What seems to be the Biblical truth: Even though bad things happen to good people because of The Fall, God can and will be glorified in the aftermath.

Whenever I encounter tough questions like the one we’re discussing today, I’m always reassured when I find stories in the Bible of people who struggled with the same question. It makes me feel less of a fool (or at least a unique fool) and it gives me hope that there is hope to be found. In the case of today’s question, one need look no further than the story of Lazarus.

I’m going to zoom right in to John 11:32-44 because I think that’s where the answer to our question lies:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Pause here, because we’re about to hear our “question of the day” from Jesus’ contemporaries. That’s right! We’re going to hear 1st century Palestinian Jews ask each other, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Bam! There it is! When we ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” we already know the answer is, “Because that’s the way the world is.” We’re not kids. We understand natural consequences, life and death, etc. When we ask our question, we’re really asking why God lets bad things happen. Right? If God is really all-knowing and all-powerful and all-present, why doesn’t He stop bad things from happening to good people? And that’s what the Jews surrounding Jesus were asking as well: “This Jesus fellow supposedly opened the eyes of a blind guy. If he’s so great and powerful, why didn’t he stop his friend from dying? Maybe he’s not who we thought he was after all…”

And so our crisis of faith begins.

But the story isn’t over yet, and God isn’t done explaining His side of the story.

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Bam! Again! There it is. Beautiful.
When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Bad things happen to good people because that’s the way the world is. But despite the brokenness of our world God comes to the rescue and repeatedly uses the terrible things that happen as opportunities to heal us so that we can come to know Him and love Him.

Is this easy for us to accept? No. Do we like this answer? Not really. We’d much rather the world be about rainbows and lollipops than rape and murder. But does this answer give us hope? Yes, definitely. The answer, and our only real source of hope, is Jesus.

In the midst of suffering we can have hope because God can use our pain, if we let Him.

What is one thing amazing thing that could come out of your current struggles?


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Dealing With My Church Anger

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I’m angry at the Church. I’m angry at Joel Osteen and TD Jakes for perverting the Gospel, for twisting it into the Health and Wealth movement. I’m angry at churches that give away AR-15’s to attract guests and increase membership. I’m angry with Christians who post one-liners on Facebook that supposedly answer life’s most difficult questions. I’m angry about the fact that Three Taverns Church has failed in its current incarnation. Once again I’ve been rejected; I’ve failed; I wasn’t good enough.

But as my friend Dr. Lawson would say, anger is a secondary emotion. There’s something else going on underneath all my anger, and today during our run I think I encountered it.

I vented my anger while he quietly listened, matching my slow pace. After pausing for a half mile or more while I tried to dig to the “primary emotions” behind my anger, I finally got there: “David, I’m sad because I’m hurting so much over the church, and I want to go home, but there is no home for me to go home to.”

Yes, I’m sad about the Church in all its failings, but my anger stems from a much deeper sadness that I have no safe place to process my pain and rejection. I feel accepted nowhere, and though the Church should be a place that accepts everyone, it’s not the case for me.

What anger have you felt over the last few days? What do you think might be the “primary emotions” driving your anger?


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You Are Good Enough

father-and-son-sunrise

Luke 3:22 – “and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus didn’t need to do a single thing to got God’s approval. And neither do we.

We may feel like our parents are disappointed in us. We may think that we’re not smart enough, sexy enough, or talented enough to earn other peoples’ approval. We probably don’t even approve of ourselves.

And while it may feel like we need to be, do, or have more to make God proud of us, or make him approve of us, that’s just not true. The moment we were born, we had God’s approval. He is proud of us for no other reason than we exist.

Which means we can stop trying to be, do and have more to earn God’s approval.

What would our lives look like if we could all wake up tomorrow and know God is proud of us regardless of what we’ve done? How would it feel to know our Father approves of us? How radically different would our lives be if we stopped trying to impress God with our good deeds, church attendance, tithing or dress code?

I’ll tell you what would happen: We’d be set free to love.

We’d stop being so wrapped up in ourselves that we would start to see the people around us. We’d stop being consumed with our own needs and start being able to fill the needs of others. Not out of obligation. Not because we’d be trying to impress God or make Him like us or be proud of us. Instead, we’d realize how deeply we are loved and we’d want to share that love with everyone we met.


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(Fin)ished

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Do you want Jesus to pay for your sins, or do you want to try to pay for them yourself?

I once heard a story I’d like to share with you. The story is about a very wealthy man at the turn of the twentieth century. He had started his own company, which had grown significantly over the years. He was a multi-millionaire back when a million bucks was a big deal. As often happens with successful people, he was interviewed by a local newspaper to discover his secret to success. When asked how he had grown his business so effectively and become rich, this is what he said:

“Have you seen my herd of antelope? It’s one of the rarest animals in the world. This particular species is only found in a small region in Kenya. For years hunters had traveled across the globe to try to find them for their hides and antlers, but the animals are so rare and elusive that most men returned home empty-handed. I heard about the animals and knew immediately that I wanted them for myself. So I came up with a plan to capture them.

“I traveled to the region of Kenya where they lived and set up a base camp many miles away so they wouldn’t feel threatened by my presence. One night I traveled to a field, put some of their favorite food on the ground, and placed a single fence post in the ground nearby. I watched from a distance as the herd came into the field, ate the food, and left. A few nights later I repeated the process: I left some of their favorite food in the middle of the field and placed a second fence post. The herd returned that night and once again ate the food I’d left.

“This process went on for many weeks. Every third or fourth night I would come to the field, place food in the center, and add another post. Once all my posts were in place I started adding fence slats, a few every night. After many weeks I had a large enclosure built with only a gap where a gate should be. I’d built the enclosure so slowly the antelope hadn’t noticed the fence being built around them. On the last night I returned to the nearly-completed enclosure and placed the food as I always had. I hid in the trees and this time, when the herd came into the enclosure to eat the food, I rushed in and put a gate in place to trap them inside. I had captured one of the rarest and most elusive animals in the world!

“I tell you this story because you can trap men the same way I trapped these animals. If you provide them safety and security, if you provide them a steady stream of income so they can provide for themselves and their families, they will do anything for you including giving their working lives to you. You can build an empire on the backs of men this way.”

This is an approach to Christianity we see all too often.

Churches and Christian leaders entice us with a little bit of grace and hope, just enough to get us coming back week after week. All the while we ignore the fence being built up around us, until it’s too late.

Until one Sunday we wake up and realize that while our priests and pastors were tempting us with grace and hope, they were building up a fence of religion around us. A fence built out of rules, laws, commandments, obligations, responsibilities, tithing, serving, volunteering, obedience, Christian disciplines, good behavior, church attendance, and theology.

We feel safe and secure with this fence of religion built around us. We like being surrounded by religion. We have check lists. We think we understand everything there is to understand about God. We hate gray areas and ambiguity, we hate feeling uncertain and off-balance, so we come to love our religious fences. The fences make us feel like we are in control. Like we’re God. But we’re not God. We’re never in control. We’re only trapped in our ideas, our obligations, our theology.

This is what Jesus came to destroy.

Jesus came to tear down the Jewish fence of religion and re-establish a relationship between God and man. A relationship built on love, not a fence of obligations and expectations.

Consider two passages:

“And by (God’s) will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10,14, ESV)

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, ESV)

The sacrifice of Jesus body ‘sanctifies’, or frees from sin, once and for all.

“Teleo” is the Greek word used in John 19:30 that translates as “It is finished.” Christ satisfied God’s justice by dying to pay for our sins. These sins can never be punished again. That would violate God’s justice. Your sins can only be punished once, either through a substitute or by yourself.

Said another way, if you believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah, then He gladly takes the punishment for your sins. If you reject Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah, you’re on your own to pay for your sins, which requires your life.

But we have to believe Jesus is the Son of God. Otherwise Jesus was just some guy, some sinner like you and me, who died on a Roman cross. That’s not enough to take away all sin forever. Which means you and I still need to find a way to deal with our sin.

This is where we come up with the “law” according to Christians. We’re trying to find ways to eliminate our sin on our own, according to our good works, church attendance, worship, tithing, dress code, beliefs, Bible study, etc.

Will you turn to a religion, any religion, to follow their rules and “earn” your salvation?

Or will you try to ignore Jesus, pretend “sin” isn’t real, pretend that you’re a “good person” (or at least ‘good enough’), or hope “the Universe” is going to accept you the way you are? That sounds like an awfully anxious way to live. How will you ever know if you’re “good enough”?

Maybe we’ve forgotten that the “gospel” of Jesus Christ is supposed to be the “good news” of Jesus Christ. Not good news that we can trade in being Jews for being Catholics or Southern Baptists or Mormons or whatever. The “good news” of Christ is supposed to be just that: Good news that we are free from sin and the Law.

Good news in recognizing that Jesus paid for sin, once for all, so we can stop trying to pay for it ourselves.

Good news that I can love God free from resentment over a debt I can’t pay.

Good news that I can love my neighbor and myself because we’re not just sinful scumbags.

Good news that we can choose who gets to pay for our sin: Us or Jesus.

But it is our choice to make.