Good News Always Travels Fast
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Good news always travels fast. Always. Effortlessly. Energetically. Inevitably. Good news always travels fast.
You do not have to make people tell good news. You do not have to manipulate them to tell. You do not have to devise carefully designed strategies to make them tell. You do not have to create organizations that assign them to tell. They just tell, tell, tell. And news spreads fast. Good news always travels fast.
When we see a movement that claims to be the bearer of good news, but the good news is not traveling fast, you can be sure of one thing. They either do not fully understand the goodness of the news, or they are not effectively telling the goodness of the news. You do not need to examine the organization or re engineer the systems so much as you need to check that organization's understanding of the good news they are telling. Good news always travels fast.
Whether it is sale at Wal-Mart, or underdog hometown team that wins a state championship or hostages that are released or those three words that say it all--its a girl!--good news always travels fast. Effortlessly. Unavoidably. Inevitably, good news always travels fast.
We are not suffering today from a lack of good programs. Good programs are a dime a dozen. The double system is a good system. I have seen it work in a variety of settings with a variety of personalities in cities across the nation. As systems go, it is a good one. But systems are not the critical issue. Systems are marketing strategy. What we need is product. Systems are the label. The message is the content. Good products will beat good marketing with bad products every time.
Occasionally a product comes out of the shoot with all flags waving. Fireworks. Promos. Testimonials. Money. A year later no one is using the product. You cannot fool the public. Eventually, the value of the product will come out. Water finds its own level. It always makes me smile when the opposite happens. An "underground best seller" they call it. What does that mean, underground? It means that the big name publishers missed it. It means that it was not welcomed onto the streets with national book signing tours and major speaking engagements and full page ads. People just bought it and told their friends who told their friends who told their friends. Suddenly, a buzz was created. That is how good news travels.
This is how Roland Allen described the growth of the early church, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. If you have ever read the book you know he is not talking about the incremental expansion of the church. Rather, he is whetting our thirst for what every true believer wants to see: the rapid, spontaneous expansion of the church. This was the prayer of the Apostle Paul "Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. (II Thessalonians 3:1)
We will never see the rapid, spontaneous expansion of the church until we are deeply, profoundly, emotionally impressed by the goodness of the good news. Our problem is not poor methods. Our problem is that we are about half bored with the gospel. It is not all that great of news. Jesus taught that it was possible for two believers to differ greatly in how much they appreciated the good news. "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (Luke 7:47) It raises an interesting question, doesn't it? It almost implies that they way to love God more is to go on a brief but passionate sinning spree. You can spend a lot of money in a short period of time. You can get in deep debt in a short period of time. If that debt were forgiven, you would feel extremely grateful because of the depth of the debt. There is a suggestion in Jesus' teaching that this is the path to deep gratitude. Let us sin that grace--and gratefulness for grace--would abound. This would be a great misunderstanding of Jesus teaching. We are probably already guilty of plenty of sins.
Paul said he was guilty of the worst of sins. "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst." (I Timothy 1:15) What is the worst of sins? The answer is as transforming as it is obvious. What was Paul guilty of? Had he sold drugs to children or molested little girls? He had really lived a pretty good life, hadn't he? Sure, he had bloodied his hands at Stephen's death by giving his assent. But was he really worse than the people who actually hurled the stones? Was the accomplice worse than the criminal? Is this poetic license? Is Paul just being humble? What is going on here?
What did Jesus teach was the worst of sins? What was it that Jesus reserved his most vicious--almost cruel--rebuke for? Who did Jesus blister with scathing, red-hot rebuke? There is only one answer, and it is not selling drugs to children or molesting little girls. In Jesus mind, there was a crime that was far, far worse than that. When you understand the significance of this, you are on you way to profoundly understanding the goodness of the good news.
Jesus' most scathing rebuke was not reserved for the prostitutes or the profane of the violent. It was not reserved for thieves or swindlers or sexual perverts. Jesus' most scathing rebuke was reserved for the religious elite. Jesus painted the good guys bad and turned religious thinking on its head. Jesus taught that the worst of sins is the belief that you are not all that bad.
People who do not think they are all that bad can not be recipients of great grace. They do not need it. Only people who understand they are really dirty will receive the water that washes whiter than snow. Who is happier, the underdog who prevails or the expected victor who triumphs?
We are guilty of never growing out of a game we play as children. As children we play cops and robbers, white hats and black hats, good guys and bad guys. We come to believe that there are two kinds of people in this world: good guys and bad guys. We teach our children to be careful, lest they fall in with the bad crowd. We teach them to not walk down dark streets because their may be a bad person lurking. Not a good person, like one of us, but a bad person--we must be careful of them. We teach them that we and they and people like us and people who live in our neighborhoods and drive our kind of cars and so on are fundamentally different and better than the rest. As long as we believe this, we will never understand the good news. We will forever shut ourselves off from great grace. We will never be all that excited about the good news and the good news will not travel very fast. We cannot take our nation for God until we have a more powerful gospel that what we currently believe.
These good guys/bad guys game develop into a firmly entrenched paradigm that stays with us in adulthood. We believe that we are good people. Drug dealers and prostitutes and serial killers and child molesters and those people over there are bad people. We want to build nice neighborhoods in the suburbs where all the good people can live together, away from the hubbub and risk of the bad people.
Often this good guy/bad guy has ethnic or socio-economic overtones. If we are white and wealthy we think white and wealthy is good. Dark and poor is bad. If we believe this, we too have become the worst of sinners. It is doubtful whether grace can reach us if we go much further. Remember the essence of the gospel: red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight. We learned it as children, but we have forgotten.
As long as we believe there are two kinds of people in this world, we will never understand the good news. What is more, we find ourselves standing where the Pharisees stood--believing we are fundamentally different than sinners. Jesus taught otherwise.
The message of the cross is that we are all sinners. There are no good people and bad people. Jesus smashes the good guy/bad guy paradigm. He hangs on the cross and screams that we are all have a disease that only his blood can cure. We were all cut from the same bolt of cloth. We are all made of the same stuff. We are all capable of the worst of sins. The worst of sins, you recall, is believing you are somehow better than this.
I will never forget the night the Holy Spirit taught me this. I had come to church on a Sunday evening after a particularly ugly fight with my wife. We had gone through a long period of dark days and things were really getting bad between us. I was playing keyboard that night, along with an ensemble of other musicians. The young lady playing guitar caught my attention. We exchanged some pleasantries and laughed a little. She asked me to tune her guitar. The knight in shining armor gladly obliged. It was nice to know that someone thought I could do something for them. Our hands touched incidentally as we exchanged the guitar. She smiled and said thanks. I watched her as I stood behind her and played, gently moving her shapely form. I was even aware of the irony of the moment--leading people in worship on the stage and enjoying the very private sin of lust.
I knew that night that I could not resist. I was powerless. Given enough pain and they right opportunity and a willing accomplice and just the right combination of beauty and flatter and I was sunk. It would be like trying to stop the sand from blowing in a spring dust storm out west. It can't be done. Certain things can't be stopped.
I want to be quick to point out that nothing happened that night. I want to point this out quickly because I want you to believe that I am a good guy. I want you to believe about me that I am not one of those people that fell into an affair. I want you to believe that I am better than that. I want you to believe that I am different from that. I want you to believe a lie.
I am not different than that. I am not better than that. (Can I take off the gloves?) Neither are you. You and I are both capable of the worst of sins. We are all cut from the same bolt of cloth. There are not good buys and bad guys. Only bad guys that God loves.
One of the errors in our theology is the equating of bad with condemned and good with acceptable. The gospel turns that around. We are not accepted because we are good, but in spite of the fact that we are bad. We will never understand grace until we understand this. The good news will never be very good until we understand this. Goodness and acceptance do not run together. God loves sinners, yes, really bad sinners, of whom I am the worst.
When we understand this, we are free to let our dark side in the light where it can be healed. We can stop pretending. We can stop having secrets. We don't need to tell everyone, but we desperately need to tell someone our secrets. As long as we hold up the facade that I am a good person, quite different from those bad people and am accepted because I am a good person I will never get well. What is going on in the darkness must come into the light. All kinds of gross things grow in dark places. Have you looked under your refrigerator lately? There may be a smell originating there that is filling the house. It must come out into the light so it can be clean.
This is a point of theology that most evangelicals do not understand. Catholics are much closer to the truth than evangelicals on this one. James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." Question: What healing is promised to the person who confesses their sin only to God and never to another human being? Answer: none. No healing is promised to the person who confesses his sin privately to God but never to another human being. Forgiveness, yes (1 John 1:9). Healing, no. Forgiveness has to do with the past. We are forgiven past debts. Healing has to do with the ability to function in the future. Unless we confess our sins to a priest, we will never be healed. The reformation said that Catholics got it wrong because we are all priests. We thought the reformers said we didn't need to confess our sins to anybody. We were wrong, and this subtle mistake cost us our understanding of the good news. We thought we could get healing by confessing our sins only to God and never to another human being. It isn't in the contract. The instructions read otherwise.
Our souls desperately need for someone to hear us out. We need to tell our secrets. We need to get it all out of the closet--not in public--but before a priest. We need a friend to represent God to us. We need a friend that we can tell about our depression, our lust, our greed and our hatred. We need someone who will perform the role of a priest for us. We need someone who will represent God to us. We need someone before whom we can be honest. We need someone to hear us out and say to us, "You sins are forgiven. You are accepted in God's sight. Everything you have done, thought about, and wanted to do has not diminished God's love for you one little bit."
Until we hear this, we will always wonder. We will always wonder if we are really accepted. We put on our good selves and related to each other through our masks. There is not bad in itself. We do not have to tell all to everyone. We only need one priest, two at the most.
When we tell our stories and someone represents God to us and is our priest and says, "Your sins are forgiven," we will know the joy of the good news. Still, one thing more is needed. We need to understand the goal. What is the point of Christianity, anyway. It is not enough to understand what we were saved from, we need to understand what we were saved for.
Many people think the whole point of Christianity is clean living. These people will never spontaneously, enthusiastically, uncontrollably tell the good news. They have misunderstood the good news and will never tell it with joy.
The gospel is not about making people who are ethical. If it were, Jesus would have praised the Pharisees instead of chiding them. He would have held them up as shining examples for all the world to see. We look at the Pharisees through the lens of 2000 years of bad press. Let us never forget, no one ever got clean living right any better than the Pharisees. Whatever else we think about the Pharisees, let us never forget that they were masters of the clean life. Jesus taught us clean living is not the point.
Don't hear me saying that clean living is not important. It is quite different to say that clean living is not the point and clean living is not important. Clean living is very important. It is a necessary prerequisite to the where we want to go. But, it is not the destination; it is only the path.
How confused we are about these things. We think that sin is the fun stuff that God wants to keep us from. If we keep from sin, we have won the game. We have proven ourselves to be good people, not one of the bad guys. We now can be accepted by God because God loves good people. How wrong we are. Oh, how wrong we are. No wonder the good news is not so exciting to us. Who would get excited about telling about that? Better methods will never fix this kind of theology. We need a better theology. The kind found in the Bible.
The point of Christianity is not obedience; it is enjoying God. Paul said it this way, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4) No other command is scripture is repeated in this fashion. The Psalmist offered the most outrageous promise as a reward to the person who enjoyed God. "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalms 37:4) Hear what the Psalmist is saying: if you will delight yourself in the Lord, he will hand you his credit card and say, "No limit. Spend to your heart's content. I will pay the bill."
The puritans understood. In one of the most famous statements of the essence of Christianity they wrote, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." That is the goal, to enjoy God. One of this century's best writers said it this way "It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can."(1)
Our problem is not that we go too hard after pleasure. Our problem is that we settle for too little. God would give us a magnificent banqueting table, we were content to eat leftovers in the corner. John Piper says it so well:(2)
The irony of the human condition is that God has put us within sight of the Himalayas of His glory in Jesus Christ, but we have chosen to pull down the shades of our chalet and show slides of Buck Hill--even in church. We are content to go on making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.
The goal of the gospel is not to make us obedient, it is to cause us to enjoy God. The point is not to make us better slaves, it is to make us friends. (John 15:15) Friends serve each other, to be sure, but they are not fundamentally there to serve. We have friends to enjoy, not to serve.
God is always more concerned with the inside than the outside. He is not so concerned with our behavior as he is our heart. If our hearts are right, behavior will take care of itself. The goal of Christianity is to create people whose hearts enjoy God.
Love is a response from the whole of me to the fullness of God. It includes emotion. God wants us to feel a certain way. The process of Saintmaking is never complete when we live right, but not do not feel right. You cannot be obedient to the command to "Rejoice in the Lord," and ignore feelings. The Pharisees lived right, but did not feel right. Jesus reserved his most scathing rebuke for people who behaved well and felt poorly. Too often, churches are guilty of producing Christians that merely live right. What a travesty! We do this because we do not understand the process of Saintmaking. That is the subject of the next chapter. When we understand the nature of the good news, the nature of the people that God is trying to create, and the environment necessary to create these kind of people, then we will be ready to apply methods that harness the power of the gospel.
1. How has this study made a difference in your life so far?
2. How has this study made a difference in your church so far?
3. What things from this study are you still meaning to get around to?
4. There was a lot in this chapter. What shocked you the most?
5. Do you agree with the premise that good news always travels fast?
6. What are some things we misunderstand about the good news?
7. Have any of you had an experience, similar to Josh's when the Holy Spirit taught you that you were the worst of sinners?
8. What is so awful about the sin of the Pharisees?
9. How can we help "good" people see that they are sinners?
10. Why is it important and necessary that people understand this?
11. Who do you have in your life that you can be perfectly open and honest with? Who is your priest that you can confess your sins before?
12. How does it feel for someone to tell you, "Your sins are forgiven"?
13. What does Josh mean when he says the goal of the Christian life is not clean living?
14. What are some of the biblical and theological supports for the importance of enjoying God?
15. How many of the people who will hear you preach this Sunday enjoy God?
16. How can we help people to come to enjoy God?
17. When did Christianity stop being a burden to you and become something you enjoyed?
18. Do you agree with the statement, "Our problem is not that we go too hard after pleasure. Our problem is that we settle for too little."?
19. How important is emotion--feeling right--to Christian living?
20. Let's preview the next chapter, where we will talk about Saintmaking. Briefly outline the process God uses to turn sinners into saints.
1. C.S. Lewis, from A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, p. 190.
2. John Piper, Desiring God, p. 83