Good

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Growing up is hard – especially when you have to learn to do hard things like tie your shoes! Learning how to properly hold those laces, wrap them around each other, and then pull tight without undoing everything you just did can be frustrating. And the fact that you’re usually doing it in a hurry because it’s “Time to go!” doesn’t make it any easier!

Thankfully, for us modern parents, there are now several time- and sanity-saving ‘shoelace alternatives’. One in particular that we’ve made good use of in our family are ‘elastic laces’ – these bungee-like cords thread through shoes like regular laces, but are easily loosened and tightened with the squeeze of a button.

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This summer, after buying a new pair of sneakers for one of our girls, I sat down to replace the laces. When I did this for the first time a few years ago, I found the process to be intimidating – things need to be measured and cut, the plastic pieces are complicated, and it all involves a very specific order of operations! But, having successfully installed several sets over the years, I thought, “I’m glad I’m so good at this now!”

A few minutes later, though, I realized my confidence was unfounded. After incorrectly measuring the first lace, I made the cut too short and once that cut was made – there was no going back. I had to throw it away and start all over again – what a waste! But I think it was my pride that was cut the shortest.

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As a “church kid” I grew up with a solid understanding of “right” and “wrong” and I seemed to have been born with an inclination to follow the rules. Behavioral standards seemed like common sense to me and I can count on one hand the number of times I was spoken to for even coming close to breaking a rule during my elementary school years!

Religiously, I also considered myself “good”. I believed in God, knew all the Bible stories, had perfect attendance at Sunday School, and was nice to people (although my sisters may beg to differ on that one!). If you had asked me if I had a relationship with God or if I thought I was going to Heaven to be with Him someday, my answer would have been, “Of course! I’m really good at this!”

It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that my eyes were opened to the truth. It was during those years that God so graciously allowed me to see how good I wasn’t. I may have been a “nice” person in my actions, but in my thoughts I was judgmental and mean. I may have been a “rule follower” when the world was watching, but behind closed doors I was allowing selfish desires to rule my choices.

By the spring of my junior year of high school I finally understood the truth of Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” It turned out that in all those years of believing I was “good,” I was doing exactly what the prophet warned God’s people about when he said, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (17:5) With all of my confidence in myself and my “good”ness I was actually turning my heart away from the Lord.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

This truth has always been at the core of our faith, but in our human nature we tend to get things a little twisted up. Those of us who have an easier time obeying certain outward commands tend to think, “I’m good! I’ve got this!”. And even those of us who are on some level aware of our shortcomings still tend to think: “At least I’m trying, right? Isn’t that good enough?”

But if the message you’ve gotten about Christianity is that “good enough” is “good enough,” then you’ve been sold a bill of goods! “Good” isn’t the standard – holiness is – and that’s not something we can ever achieve on our own.

When Jesus came to earth, He didn’t do it to model a “good” life and hope we would try to follow His example. He didn’t do it so He could humbly see what it was like and then return to Heaven to put in a good word for us. He was holy and He gave His holy life as a sacrifice so “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

To “trust in the Lord” by “believ[ing] in Him” is the only way to meet God’s standard. And it’s not just a prayer you prayed the day you first accepted Christ – it’s a present tense, constant, every day and every moment choice!

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Sometimes we look at the Christian life like learning to tie our shoes. We think we’ll just try a few times, figure it out, and then we’ll be “good”, securing our position on God’s good side. But when we put our trust in our our own flesh, we’re actually headed in the other direction altogether.

If someone was to ask you today why you believe you’re spending eternity with God, what would your answer be? That you hope so because you’ve been “good” or that you know so because you’re trusting in Jesus? It’s not too good to be true – it is the truth – and it’s never too late to put your confidence in Him!

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Gospel

When my children grow up and move on to do all the great things I – oh sorry, I mean – God has planned for them, I hope they look back at their time in this family and know one thing is true – that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life!

Unfortunately, as is the case with most families, this absolute truth has a chance of getting lost in the mix of other things we hold dear as parents. For some it may be the importance of a certain sport or team, for others it’s a style of music or career goal, and still others a specific character trait or attitude.

For my kids, though, I worry it may be this: That public toilets are the source of all evil.

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Before I go on, let me say that I am so thankful for the existence of the “public restroom”. As adults, we may have the ability to ‘hold it’ until we get home, but with little ones, that’s not always possible – and definitely not a risk any parent wants to take! With the advent of your first potty-trained child, you become acutely aware of the location of the restrooms in places you frequent.

However, there are times when the risk of having to deal with wet clothes or a smelly car seem overshadowed by the much greater risk of allowing your small child to sit where who-knows-who’s germ-covered-self has also sat or where some poorly-aimed-squatter has also attempted to avoid who-knows-who’s germs! YUCK!

In our family, it’s near-gospel truth that public toilets are to be avoided at all cost. And if you can’t possibly hold it, you must abide by the following rules:

  1. The seat must be wiped first (even if it doesn’t “look” dirty)
  2. If there’s a seat cover available, you must use it (it may not help, but it makes your Mommy feel better!)
  3. Absolutely NO hands on the toilet seat (even if you think you’re falling in)
  4. Flush with your foot (Yes, I understand this may require an extraordinary feat of balance)
  5. Even if you “didn’t touch anything” your hands must be washed (the air in there is surely just as filthy!)
  6. If you so much as think about touching that door handle with your bare hand on the way out, you will be washing those hands all over again!

No matter how slight the risks of being exposed to dangerous bacteria or contracting a virus may be, this is a life-or-death situation and if my rules aren’t followed, watch out, because a mommy-freak-out is on the way!

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When Jesus used the word we translate as “gospel”* in His teaching, He was speaking of the “glad tidings” or “good news” of “the kingdom” (see Matthew 4:23, 9:35 & 24:14). In Luke 4:18, He explains why this news was so “good”:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed”

The message of this “good news” became reality when Jesus Himself laid down His life to become a victorious once-for-all sacrifice, restoring whoever would simply believe in Him to a right relationship with God – the source of all true help, healing, and freedom. Now that’s good news!

In 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul reminds his readers, “of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved”. After Christ’s death and resurrection, the term “gospel” took on a different meaning – rather than just being “good news,” it came to specifically refer to the message of salvation through Christ.

Around the middle of the second century A.D., though, another shift happened, as idioms of “gospel truth” and “take as gospel” came about.** Because the “gospel” message of Christ’s death and resurrection was the central and absolute truth of Christianity, “gospel” began to mean “something regarded as true and implicitly believed” or “a doctrine regarded as of prime importance”.***

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, one of his goals was to clear up some confusion about the gospel. With all of the mixed messages they were getting, He wanted to make sure they understood what was truly at the core of their faith:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

As believers today, we have to be careful about the “gospel truth” we are preaching. We may not be a pastor giving messages from a stage, but our words and actions are constantly communicating what is “of first importance” to us. Are we messengers of the “good news” or is something else being given equal (or even greater) emphasis?

We live in a messy world where it can be easy to live in fear, while consequently (and even unintentionally) elevating the “gospels” of ‘safety’ or ‘morality’ or even ‘tolerance’ and ‘justice’ to “first importance”. It’s not that those things aren’t important or layed out clearly in Scripture, it’s just that it’s way too easy to set up blanket rules and zealous absolutes that distract from the core message of Jesus.

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In all of my fretting and freaking about taking my girls to public restrooms, I’ve created a monster. My youngest has developed a magnetic attraction to public toilets – especially port-a-potties! My elevation of the importance of this issue has only drawn my curious, limit-pushing child toward it – accomplishing the exact opposite of my goal.

It’s great to have passion and then to take a stand on those matters we’re passionate about, but when we allow those matters overshadow the most important Matter, there’s a chance we’re missing out. Instead of spreading the message of the best news ever, we may be inadvertently sending people in the other direction. Or even worse – drawing them to ourselves, but never giving them the true “reason for the hope that is in [us]”. (1 Peter 3:15)

We don’t have to be intimidated or antagonized by the mess around us because there’s GREAT news! Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, loves to change people’s hearts and lives (and, oh yeah, He’s really good at it!) True help, healing, and freedom are found in Christ alone.

*https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2098
https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2097&t=KJV
**http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/take+as+gospel
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/gospel+truth
***http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gospel

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