Seeing God’s Plan at the Cross

Christ & Culture, Death, Forgiveness, Jesus, Mark No Comments »

“When the Centurion who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!'” ~Mark 15:39

JesusCrossShadowsWhen we see how Jesus dies, we see very clearly the way God is going to save the world. We see how God is going to transform the world and win the victory.

Politicians are not going to save the world. Platforms and promises are not going to change your country. This country and this world are not going to be won by votes or armies or power or partisanship. Only our God in Christ can save the world — God alone!

And his way is the way of death. His way is the way of suffering and sacrifice and service. His will is to change people and save people, not by force or through threats, not out of anger or with an attitude, but with humility and love and forgiveness and grace. And peace.

This world will change, not when more Christians vote, but when more Christians serve. This country will change, not when Christians get their man or woman in the White House, but when Christian men and women get suffering and sacrifice in their hearts. This world will change, not when the Church is in power, but when the Church is persecuted for righteousness’ sake and suffers for doing good. This country will be changed, not when our enemies are shot and bombed and destroyed, but when our enemies are forgiven and prayed for and loved.

We see clearly only through the lens of the cross.

Jesus blessed those who cursed him; he taught those who ridiculed him; he did not resist those who told lies about him and beat him; he loved those who spit on him; he forgave those who killed him. That’s the “way.” That’s what’s going to save the world.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing Suffering at the Cross

Death, Jesus, Mark No Comments »

“When the Centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.'” ~Mark 15:3

JesusCrossCloudsIf we concentrate on the cross, if we pay attention to how Jesus died, then we will really see the whole thing clearly. The Gospel of Mark makes that point in the way it tells the story. The Centurion proclaims at the end of the story what had been declared by the author in the opening line: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. This Roman soldier recognized it, the life-changing truth was revealed to him, when he saw how Jesus died.

And I think this is helpful.

When you are suffering, it may not always be clear to you why you’re suffering. You may not know the reason you’re suffering. Just like Jesus’ suffering didn’t make sense to his disciples, maybe you can’t figure out why you’re in so much pain.

When you see Jesus on the cross, you can at least know what the reason for your suffering isn’t. When you see how Jesus died, you can at least know what are not reasons for your suffering.

It’s not that God doesn’t love you. He does. Very much. Jesus hung on that cross in agony, but the Father’s love for his Son wasn’t diminished or compromised one bit.

It’s not that God doesn’t have a plan for you. He does. It’s not that God has abandoned you. He hasn’t.

The cross actually shows us God’s presence in suffering and that God is at work and doing marvelous things — eternally significant things! — even in your suffering. Even in the middle of your pain and darkness. Even when your suffering doesn’t make sense.

God is present. He loves you. And he is at work.

Peace,

Allan

Repent and Believe the Gospel

4 Amarillo, Church 2 Comments »

AshWednesdayThis post is mainly for all of us Church of Christ lifers. We know “separate and apart,” we know Acts 2:38, we know “the church is not the building, it’s the people,” we know 728B. We’ve got the stamp on our heels. Three songs and a prayer. “Guide, guard, and direct us.” We know who we are.

And we’re uncomfortable with liturgy.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We come by it naturally. Our movement has traditionally and, largely, uncritically rejected almost all forms of Christian liturgy as symbols of religious excess and tools for clerical abuse. As non-scriptural innovations. As rote formulas and meaningless ritual. Most of us can’t help the way a memorized creed or a written prayer makes us feel. We were raised to believe it wasn’t real, it didn’t come from the heart, unless you made it up on the spot.

Let me invite you to participate in an Ash Wednesday service somewhere today.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the season of repentance and prayer and fasting before Easter. In the early decades of Christianity, this 40-day period was observed by candidates for baptism, which was typically reserved for Easter Sunday. In the third and fourth centuries, people who were separated from the Church because of their sin observed a season of Lent as they were restored to fellowship. Then, over time, the Church recognized that it would be good for all Christians to enter a time of repentance and prayer and fasting. All Christians need to be reminded that repentance is a daily exercise, not a one time event. All Christians need the assurance of the forgiveness and salvation that is promised in the Good News, that was accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

So, I would encourage you to find an Ash Wednesday service somewhere today and go.

It might be a brand new thing for you. It might be a little strange. It might be really beautiful. You might learn something, you might see something, you might hear something or experience something that might really bless you and increase your faith.

The ashes on your forehead are a physical reminder of the Gospel: God created us out of his great love, we have sinned and fallen short of his glory, we are in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation, he forgives us and restores us through Christ Jesus our Lord. The ashes remind us that we are human — we are made of dust and to dust we will return — and that we need God. They also serve as a symbol of sorrow for sin and repentance. And they acknowledge that the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ Jesus surpasses in glory the burnt offerings made by the priests. That’s why when the pastor puts the ashes on your forehead he says, “Repent and believe the Gospel.”

Go find an Ash Wednesday service. Go with a group of people so you can process it together afterward. Ask God to speak to you during that service, to reveal himself to you, to grow your faith in him, and to strengthen the bond you have with all disciples of Christ throughout all Christian denominations. As you leave the assembly in silence, be resolved to remain in the Word, to continually self-reflect, and to be in constant prayer.

Nothing will be off the cuff. It will all be carefully scripted. And maybe, just maybe, by God’s grace and the power of his Spirit, it might be exactly what you need.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing Christ at the Cross

Death, Jesus, Mark No Comments »

We’re just beginning an adult Bible class study of the Gospel of Mark here at Central and I’m helping tie all of those short little stories together by preaching through some of the big picture themes in the second gospel. Because the book is so short and Mark appears to be so intentional about it, these big themes are really easy to spot and a lot of fun to follow.

One of those themes is the idea of truly “seeing” Jesus.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, nobody really “sees” Jesus. They don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t get it. They ask dumb questions, they make poor decisions. Jesus seems to be perplexed as to why they’re so slow to “see.”EyeChartBlurry

“Do you still not see or understand?” (8:17)
“Do you have eyes but fail to see?” (8:18)
“Do you still not understand? (8:21)
“Do you see anything?” (8:23)
“You will see the Kingdom of God come with power.” (9:1)
“What do you want me to do for you?” “I want to see.” (10:51)
“Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see.” (15:32)
“Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.” (15:36)

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last… And the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.'” (15:37-39)

Everything becomes clear at Calvary. It’s not blurry at the cross. This centurion — of all people! — this pagan, Roman, idol-worshiping, bacon-loving, Gentile sees the Son when he sees how he dies. Seeing the Kingdom of God come with power is about what happens at the cross.

It’s about pain and suffering, sacrifice and service. It’s about the ultimate giving of one’s life for the sake of others. At the cross, God in Christ turns everything completely upside down. The “way” does not lead to a throne of gold in the middle of the temple in the middle of the holy city. The “way” leads to a wooden cross in a rock quarry outside the city gates. That’s where Jesus is really seen.

We need to pay attention to how we project our own vision onto Jesus. A lot of the times we want to ignore or even change Jesus to fit our own ideas and preferences, especially when it comes to suffering and sacrifice. I can’t look at Jesus and say I like his healings and his love, but I don’t want the ridicule and rejection. I’ll take his wisdom and his compassion, but I don’t want his pain and suffering. I’ll take a large helping of his resurrection, but hold the death. I’d like to participate in Jesus’ power, but not his cross.

If Jesus really is the Christ, then he demands to be followed and obeyed. He’s not asking for us to make little adjustments to our lives or minor changes to our world. He expects a complete overhaul!

Jesus is not offering self-fulfillment or self-improvement or even uplifting spiritual experiences. He offers a cross. He doesn’t tell you to try the cross on for size to see if it fits. He doesn’t ask for volunteers to carry a cross to earn extra credit. The cross is for all of us. We can survey the wondrous cross, we can kneel at the cross, we can love the old rugged cross ’til the cows come home, but the call is to carry the cross. To live the cross.

I’ve heard most of my life that Jesus died so I don’t have to. That’s wrong. I’m learning that Jesus died to show me how to. Jesus shows me how to embrace suffering and rejection, how to understand sacrifice and death as God’s holy will for all of us. But we have to look at the cross. If we concentrate on the cross, we’ll be able to see everything clearly.

Peace,

Allan

Manning’s Ring

Central Church Family, NFL No Comments »

PeytonManningSB50It must be really weird to have every reporter on every network and satellite TV station and every columnist in every American newspaper calling for your retirement, even speaking of your retirement as if it’s a foregone conclusion, as if doing anything other than retiring would be an act of sheer lunacy. It must be strange to win a Super Bowl, to achieve the highest pinnacle of your profession, and before the confetti all hits the ground to hear your own co-workers speak publicly on national television as if you’ve already moved on. It must be odd to read your own obituary.

Yes, in my head I believe Peyton Manning should probably retire from the NFL. Old age (he’s 39?!!?), neck surgeries, and the accumulated football mileage are compelling reasons on their own. Add to that list the fact that he just won his second Super Bowl trophy, that he has now become only the twelfth quarterback in history to win multiple Super Bowls, and the first and only to do it with two different franchises, and it’s a no-brainer.

Retire.

But doesn’t it seem strange to talk about it as if it’s already happened? To talk about it while he’s standing right there beside you? It’s almost like we want to get rid of him. “He won the Super Bowl! Great! He deserves to go out that way! It’s perfect for him to end his career this way!”

“He doesn’t have the arm strength he once did. He can’t move like he used to. He was the lowest rated quarterback in the NFL during the regular season. He can’t make the plays anymore. He needs to retire and, now that he’s won the Super Bowl, he can do it with dignity.”

Yeah, maybe.

I wonder if Peyton doesn’t just feel weird about everyone assuming his retirement, I wonder if he resents it.

What if Manning meets with his doctors in a few weeks and they tell him he’s completely healed? What if he has a really good couple of months here — physically, emotionally, psychologically? What if he believes in his heart he can study the film and tweak some mechanics and work extra hard and start for some team in the NFL next year that’s just one good quarterback away from competing for the Super Bowl? If he put in the time and did the work and some team wanted him to start for them, would we be opposed to that? Would it take away from Peyton’s dignity? What if he believed in the team in Denver and loved his teammates in Denver and wanted to practice the all-for-one team philosophy he’s talked and walked during his entire career and agreed to backup and mentor Osweiler or whoever else they bring in to start? Would we like him any less? Would that mean he had less dignity?

The stats say Manning didn’t have a great game last night. His numbers are a little less than average. They’re probably the worst numbers of any Super Bowl winning quarterback in the past thirty years, if not in all of Super Bowl history (I’d have to look up Trent Dilfer). His passes seemed to float. I’m not sure he ever threw deep. Didn’t Denver go a dozen drives in a row without a first down? So we say, “Peyton obviously doesn’t have it anymore. It’s good that they won the Super Bowl so now he can retire.”

Wait. How do you measure what Peyton Manning brings to that Broncos locker room, what he brings to the huddle, what his experience and his football brilliance bring to the field immediately before and immediately after every snap? I’m not making an argument for Denver to sign Manning as their starting quarterback for next year. But I am thinking we probably should all take a deep breath and tap the brakes a little bit on his riding off into the sunset. Slow down. What’s the rush? Are we that eager to lose Manning so we can replace him with more Cam Newtons? Why are we in such a hurry to trade Manning for a Manziel or Kaepernick or Bradford? Can we just enjoy what we witnessed last night for a week or two first?

It was fitting. It was good. It was unexpected and, in a football kind of way, strangely poetic. Manning’s gracious and self-deprecating responses to every question last night should be savored. His hard work and dedication to being the best version of himself for his teammates in the biggest game of their lives should be appreciated. The standup way he speaks well of others, the way he doles out credit to everyone around him, the gratitude he expresses at every turn, should be noted and celebrated.

Yes, Manning is probably going to announce his retirement in the next couple of months. But, why is everybody in such a hurry?

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SuperBowl2016Congratulations to Perri Harper, the winner of our Jars/Jericho Bible Class Super Bowl Sweepstakes. Perri chose/guessed correctly on 29 of the 50 proposition bets all of us considered before kickoff. The contest gives just as much weight to knowing if Lady Gaga will wear short sleeves or long sleeves while singing the national anthem and whether the first commercial after the second half kickoff will be for Doritos or beer as it does to knowing if a two-point conversion will be attempted and who will be the leading rusher. Perri becomes the first female to take home the Bentley Trophy, where it will probably sit on a shelf next to Perri and Clay’s Central New Members of the Year Award from 2014. For the record, Connor Landon finished with 27 points while his brother Braden and Bruce Tidmore tied for third with 26.

Peace,

Allan

Eager to Do What is Good

Faith, Grace, Hebrews, Luke, Titus No Comments »

ServantSongsSeriesThere are several places in the gospels where Jesus tells us to fear God. But in those same paragraphs, in that same context each time, Jesus reminds us that we are worth so much more to God than what we might think. We are worth more than the sparrows he tenderly protects. We’re worth more to him than all of nature for which he so faithfully provides. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus says, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

We live in the grace of God, in the grace of his faithful promises. We live in his love. We’ve been given everything he has. What could possibly hold us back? How could I ever be content with just sitting on the bench? I can’t. Much is demanded of someone living in God’s grace.

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” ~Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace teaches us how to live. And it’s not like everybody else. It’s different. Much more is demanded.

God’s grace does not call you to lay in front of the TV at night. The Spirit is not stirring you to take a big family vacation this summer. Christ’s love is not compelling you to spend this weekend cleaning out the garage (that’s your wife!). Now, none of those things are wrong. But please notice that we’re very quick to prioritize and rationalize our hobbies and our entertainment, but we’re very slow to embrace the high demands of life in the grace of God.

When you live in God’s matchless grace, you don’t just walk through practice and show up for the games. And you’re certainly not just sitting on the bench. God’s gifts compel you to do. God’s grace motivates you to act. To move. To give. to sacrifice. To be active and out there in the middle of it more and more and more each day, not less. You do not get into the Hebrew 11 Faith Ring of Honor by sitting on the couch. Or on your pew.

By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham obeyed and went. By faith Abraham offered Isaac. By faith Moses left Egypt. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea. By faith Rahab welcomed the spies.

And don’t tell me, “Yeah, but I’m not Abraham” or “I’m not Moses.” Because you are. The heroes in the Bible are just like you. They’re exactly like you. A mess of noble intentions and horrible choices. Terribly inconsistent. A fluid cocktail of loyalty and rebellion. A patchwork quilt of ultimate highs and miserable lows. Those people in Hebrews 11 show us lots of good and lots of bad. Just like you. And me. But our God has always chosen to do his greatest work through people just like you and me.

James says Elijah was a man just like us. And he was! He was just as capable of whining and pouting as he was of boldly standing up to 450 murderous prophets of Ba’al. Same with Peter and Jacob, John and Joshua, Mary and Ruth.

When you’re gifted by God’s blessings and protected by God’s grace, it’s never about doing everything exactly right as much as it is about doing something. In God’s grace, you don’t hold back or sit out because you might mess something up or get something wrong. The key is not success. The key is faithfulness.

Peace,

Allan