I have this little gray dog…
When ANY of us come home, this little guy loses his mind with joy! He will wake from a sound sleep, or run in from the back yard, or leave his food bowl… anything at all… to leap up and down as high as he can jump (whether on you or just up in mid-air) to say, at the very top of his doggy joy….
“You’re HOME! FINALLY, you’re BACK! I MISSED you SO much! You were gone FOREVER!… (I counted)…”
And his overwhelming love is so clear and so profound… all the way from his wet black nose to his stub tail wagging faster than the speed of light… that no matter how tough a day it’s been, you just cannot help but smile, put your stuff down, and sit so that he can have a moment or two just to “worship you”… which he insists on doing.
Why is he so happy? Because you WEREN’T here… and now you ARE here! Now, his world is OK again. His life, his house, his security… are all OK again. When you WEREN’T here, he had to watch everything for you and keep it safe. But now you ARE here, so everything is safe, and so is he.
Sometimes, little dogs can preach very well.
I have recently discovered “The Gospel”. That may sound strange, but bear with me a moment.
For all my life… (a significant number of years)... I have “known”, The Gospel. But if you asked me to “articulate” it, I was hard-pressed. I could tell you a lot ABOUT it… but I was never satisfied, the Spirit within was never satisfied, with any articulation I could make of it… any words I could wrap around it.
My most recent “Church Boss/Pastor” got really frustrated with me one day, when he wanted all the Staff to be able to state an “Elevator Gospel”. (That’s a “sales” term, where a salesman, offering a product or service, needs to be able to rattle off the significant benefits and a strong close for sale of their product, if all they had were a 60-second Elevator Ride to present to their customer. All the rest of the staff wrote up a little 1 minute presentation… basically Roman Road tract… and I could not. I wasn’t being smart or defiant… it’s just that “there were no words there for me” when I went inside my heart looking for them. All I found was the question, “What do you need?” That THAT was the essence of the Gospel as I know/present it… “What do you need to be whole? Where do you hurt? Where/What is the Void for Light to fill?” I tried to explain this to him… that any time I “do evangelism”, it’s always different, because it has to depend on where the person is empty… He didn’t understand, and I couldn’t make him understand.) Church Boss/Pastor was frustrated, but just wrote it off to my being “the weird Little Monk”… because I couldn’t prepare my own “canned gospel”. I couldn’t “write the script”. And he… “forgave me”… but he wasn’t happy.
And I wasn’t happy, because he wasn’t. I felt I had disappointed him, or defied him. And it wasn’t defiance. It was simple failure. My hands could simply not find any script I could write or type, and title “The Gospel”. And I checked and rechecked as I tried… and the Spirit was unyielding here. No matter how hard I dug, it was just an empty hole. There were no truthful words there for me to scribe. Not in “my own voice”… which was the essence of this task.
That “surprised'(?) me. I nearly say “worried” or “disappointed” me. I checked for if I were out of order, experiencing some quiet form of “snit” or “attitude” or something, resisting his authority. You know… “who does he think HE is, to assign me such a homework task!”… etc. But no, Spirit was clear… not the case. It was simply that *I*… my hands, my lips, were simply not permitted to do this. And if it gained me censure… oh well.
But it left me with a puzzle across these years. I learned to identify the puzzle as… “I cannot find, or have not found yet, my own ‘Elevator Gospel’.”
Now, perhaps my comment about FINDING my Gospel will make more sense.
“I’ve now FOUND my Elevator Gospel”.
I know why I’d not been able to do it before…
A number of years ago, a young woman with special needs asked to be baptized. There was “resistance” among some staff, because she could not “pass the entrance exam”, and articulate the doctrinal requirements typical and customary for church membership. She had very limited comprehension… she couldn’t pass the customary “Sunday School Knowledge” test. So… powers that be wouldn’t move forward. She spoke to me about it, and I was tasked to do some research and look into this by Church Boss/Pastor… (since I knew some folks in Special Needs Ministry).
One of my mentors, in fact, was a national expert. So I wrote to him, asking… “What does a candidate have to know, to understand and comprehend, as far as doctrine or dogmatic competence… for baptism?” (with reference to a young lady with developmental and cognitive deficits.)
I expected a list of the doctrinal, dogmatic points that defined “minimum competence”…
- Jesus begotten by God the Father
- Born of Virgin Mary
- Messiah, Savior
- Sinless Life
- Condemnation, Crucifixion, Death
- Resurrection by God
- Holy Spirit and Indwelling
You know… “The GOSPEL”, right?
His response to my question blew me away for its simplicity and accuracy!
“Salvation is a person, not a plan or a set of doctrinal statements. Does the individual have capacity to know persons? Does the person have an experience of Jesus as a living presence? Has the person known Jesus’ love for him and responded by loving Jesus in return? That’s it! His grace needs no more than an opportunity.”
I blush to disclose…. I had forgotten this. It’s not “theology”, or “doctrinal competence”… it’s RELATIONSHIP! His response reminded me, ever so gently, that I’d been hanging with the “wrong crowd” for too long. Even to frame the question in the terms I had used, highlighted the wrong thinking habits into which I had slipped.
And there is the same essential insight I came to realize on the morning I discovered My Gospel! Looking into His face, experiencing His love wash over and through me… IS “The Gospel!”… “God holds His children in His Infinite Love. To this end, beyond all imagining, He came… sending His Son as Son of God/Son of Man… entering FULLY into our existence, with all it’s joys, sorrows, frailties, temptations, triumphs, and sufferings… to express fully and engulf us in His Infinite Love Everything… despite our pitiful and piteous needy nothing.”
I knew that this… this “Gospel Thing”… is important. The words… “the Gospel”… are often misapplied and abused, causing wounding, offense, tribalism, and fear.
All too often, this “Good News” is presented as… “You [sir or madam] are a worthless no good piece of evil trash… a sinner… rightly damned and doomed to hell on your own. BUT… right here right now, if you will cry out for rescue by Jesus… He will come and save you from burning forever… IF AND ONLY IF… you surrender and turn over your own worthless and helpless self to His Lordship. THEN He will protect you from the wrath of His Father, who will otherwise send you into the eternal death of hellfire your sins have earned as their just wage!”
So I started to draft a post titled… “The Good News is not Bad News”… trying to focus on the Gospel as a Living Relationship of Infinite Love… as expressed through the Cross and Passion… rather than either a set of doctrinal propositions, or even a “set of books”… worthy as they are… of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.
As I started to work, and dug into scripture a bit, I discovered some amazing things about these two words we use…. “the Gospel”… but those are for another post. This is enough for now.
Let me just build a bridge to a next installment asking this question: