Where is Jesus?

Colossians, Ephesians, Jesus, Luke, Mark No Comments »

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“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” ~Colossians 2:9-10

He is Lord over all the nations. He is Lord over all the schools. He is Lord over all the churches. He is Lord over every economic system and every form of government. He is Lord over all. There is nothing that is above him, there is nothing that is not under his authority. Name anything. Name everything! It’s all subject to our ascended King. All rule, all authority, all power, all dominion. The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever! Amen! Hallelujah!

And then I turn on the news. Violence. Death. War. Abused women and children. Racism. Hundreds of thousands of refugees being driven from their homes and nobody wants to take them in. Corrupt governments and politicians. Hunger. Disease.

Where is Jesus?

Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Drought. Wildfire. Tornados. Cancer. Divorce. Crime. Riots. Terrorists.

Where is Jesus?

It doesn’t feel like he’s running anything. It doesn’t look like he’s in charge. The grand spectacle of the ascension — Jesus lifted up to heaven right before the disciples’ eyes to become the sovereign ruler of the universe — seems to mean very little in our real lives today. It doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. If he is, he’s making a huge mess of it.

So, where is Jesus? What does it really mean that he is raised up to heaven and seated at the right hand of God?

“He was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” ~Mark 16:19

Luke says Jesus was taken up into the sky, into the clouds. What does that really mean? Well, when a student moves “up” from tenth grade to eleventh grade, that doesn’t mean the eleventh grade classroom is on the floor above the tenth grade classroom; it might just be down the hall. If a salesman makes the move “up” to manager, he might get a new office on the top floor, but that’s not what that means. When George Jefferson was “movin’ on up,” it was to the East side, not the North. George and Weezy did move into a deluxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi — but that’s not what it means to move “up,” to physically be a few feet farther away from the ground.

When the Bible talks about heaven and earth, it’s not talking about two different locations in the same time and space dimension like Amarillo and Israel or even Houston and Mars. And it’s not talking about a non-physical world versus a physical world. It’s more like two different types of time and space and matter altogether. It’s a parallel world: very, very real and existing in another dimension.

You know, we’ve got a lot of movie makers and writers who are very good at taking us into these parallel worlds and places. But we don’t think that way when we think about Jesus. C. S. Lewis did a great job with the Narnia stories of illustrating how two totally different worlds can relate and interlock. And that’s still the best way, I think, for us to understand it.

Some of the oldest and best church buildings try to illustrate this with the architecture. We’ve kinda got something like that working in our worship center here at Central. We’ve got a soaring ceiling, reaching and stretching far above us. Down on the floor we get a sense of belonging in the room, but we’re not actually physically occupying any of the great space of light and beauty high above us. Our songs and our prayers go up there and occupy this great space above us, but we ourselves cannot physically go there yet.

What that’s supposed to help us understand is that because our Lord is in heaven and seated at the right hand of God, God’s space and ours are not very far away from each other. They’re very different, yes, but they’re close. There’s a relationship, a connection. God’s very real time and space and matter intersects and interlocks with our very real time and space and matter all the time.

The right hand of God is the Bible name for the control center for the universe. Whoever sits there is in charge. It’s like my chair in the living room is the control center for the TV. Sitting down at God’s right hand means Jesus really is totally in charge of everything.

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.” ~Ephesians 1:19-22

I don’t know exactly how it works — nobody does, it’s a mystery. But Jesus right now is totally in charge. He’s the one making all the decisions, turning all the dials: “I will allow this to happen. I will not allow that to happen. I will cause this. I will put a stop to that. I will speak into that. I will be silent about that. I will help Tom Landry, but Jerry Jones is on his own.”

It’s all Jesus. He decides what happens and when. From heaven. “All authority has been given to me,” he says, “in heaven and on earth.”

Peace,

Allan

Open Letter to Donald Trump

Christ & Culture, Church 2 Comments »

Mr. Trump,

I watched with an odd mixture of amusement and dread as you took the stage in New York City Saturday to introduce Mike Pence as your running mate for the 2016 election. That mix of feelings has become standard for me every time you step in front of a microphone — I’m at once entertained as if I’m viewing an old Saturday Night Live skit which becomes more outrageous as the bit goes along and horrified that conditions in the United States and, indeed, in this world that would make your candidacy for president even a remote possibility actually do exist.

I could expound for several pages on the particular things that nauseate me about your run for national office. But the point of this letter is to set the record straight between you and me and every Gospel preacher I know.

The reason we do not endorse candidates for political office is not because we’re afraid of losing our tax exempt status in our congregations. The pastors, preachers, and Christian leaders who are telling you this do not represent me or any pastors, preachers, or Christian leaders I know.

Since right after Christmas, you’ve made it a point in several speeches and interviews to say, if you’re elected president, you will abolish the “Johnson Amendment” that binds tax exempt status for non-profit organizations to silence when it comes to those organizations endorsing candidates for public office.

This past weekend you told the American people you’ve had several meetings with “top evangelical leaders, top Christian leaders,” who are afraid to speak. You particularly quoted “a great, great gentlemen who everybody knows” — refusing to give us his name — as telling you “We live in fear in our churches that we’re going to lose our tax exempt status if we say anything that’s even slightly political.”

Mr. Trump, the reason Christian preachers and pastors don’t endorse political candidates has nothing to do with the threat of losing our tax exempt status. It has, instead, everything to do with our conviction that worldly politics and national political structures and candidates are opposed to both the means and the ends of our Lord Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. We are thoroughly convinced that God through Christ and, amazingly, even through his Church is changing this world and fixing what’s wrong with this planet with love and grace, mercy and forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. We believe Jesus willingly went to the cross to abolish all violence, to tear down all the barriers between people, and to show us the eternal power of selfless sacrifice and service. Why would any Christian preacher of that Good News or any church he’s a part of officially endorse any political candidate running for office within the political structures of this country? None of you stand for any of the things our Lord says are important.

Your vice-presidential partner, Mr. Pence, on Saturday stated emphatically to thunderous applause that he was “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican; in that order!” And then just a few minutes later, in the same speech, he vowed to “hunt down and destroy our enemies,” in complete violation of every other paragraph in the New Testament. If our Lord taught us anything, if the Scriptures say anything at all about Kingdom life, it’s that we are to bless our enemies and do good to those who harm us. To be fair, when you’re working for the national government, you don’t have much choice except to use violence and force to get things accomplished. We understand that. It’s the way the world works. We don’t hold that against you or any other politician. It’s just not the way the Kingdom of God works. It’s not how our Lord has commanded us to live.

We’re not afraid of losing our tax exempt status. It’s just that endorsing one of you would be like a regional manager at Target doing his shopping at WalMart. Endorsing one of you would be a betrayal of all we know to be true about the ways our God is saving his creation. It would undercut our message. Building walls? Killing enemies? Insulting our opponents? Self-promotion? Divisiveness? Name-calling? Seriously, you wouldn’t expect a preacher of God’s Word to endorse any of that, would you? Surely, you know better.

Yes, I know many, many Christians and many churches have bought into the idea that the salvation of this country somehow depends on electing the right politicians. I am saddened by that. They campaign and picket, scream and yell, insult and fight right alongside everybody else for their particular party or platform, all of which is decidedly unchristian behavior. And you’re tapping into that for your own personal and political gain. Of course. I don’t blame you.

As for myself and all Christian preachers and church leaders I know, we don’t buy into your ideas of the power of power to do any real lasting good. Frankly, sir, with all due respect, you’re wrong about power. You say “Christianity is under siege in this country and it’s getting weaker and weaker and weaker.” You say you’re “going to work like hell to get rid of the [Johnson] prohibition and we are going to have the strongest Christian lobby.” You say, “Politically if we (Trump and the Church) use that power, we’re going to start going up, up, up because right now we’re being decimated.” You told us Saturday that regular people walking on the streets have more power than the pastors and “we’ve got to do something about that.”

You say the government has “taken a lot of the power away from the church. I want to give power back to the church because the church has to have more power. Christianity is being chopped; little by little it’s being taken away.”

Really? In response, I’d like to go on the record as stating that no person or organization or force of this world has the capability to remove any power from God’s Church. Give me a break. Again, you misunderstand the way power works. Secondly, I dare say the church does not need you, of all people, to restore power to God’s Church. Thanks, but neither you nor any politician can act as the savior of the Church. We don’t need the state’s power to practice love, to selflessly serve others, to suffer for righteousness’ sake, to pray, to sing, to comfort and heal.

Lastly, allow me to add that for several years now I and a lot of preachers I know have wondered aloud if losing our tax exempt status might actually be the very best thing that could happen to the church in America. If some of the church leaders you’re talking to are genuinely afraid of losing the tax free designation then, God help us, we really are tied to the wrong things. Maybe being forced by the government to pay taxes like everybody else will wake all of us up to the realities that the United States and God’s Church are not only two separate entities, they actually oppose one another and are working in completely different ways for totally different purposes. We would clearly see, finally, that the Church has very little, if anything, in common with the State. Maybe then we would be bold in understanding and practicing the subversive love and sacrifice that changes lives. Maybe then we would be courageous enough to renounce violence and bless our enemies, tear down walls and build bridges, sacrifice and suffer in the name and the manner of Jesus. Maybe then we would once and for all — good grief! — stop displaying the Christian flag in a subservient position to the U.S. flag in our church parking lots and inside God’s sanctuaries.

Removing the prohibition and allowing the churches to have an equal voice in this country’s politics might actually do great harm to the Gospel in America. We would receive power from the wrong sources and be tempted to use power in the wrong ways. Removing the “Johnson Amendment” would actually be a work of the devil, I think. He would love it. Thanks, again, Mr. Trump. Please don’t do the Church any favors.

Again, just to set the record straight, Mr. Trump, the Christian leaders with whom you’re in conversation do not represent me. I’m not afraid and I don’t feel like God’s Church is, or could ever become, powerless because of some worldly government’s policies. I don’t endorse candidates, not because I’m afraid of being forced by the government to pay taxes; I feel like that might actually do God’s Church more good than harm. Christian pastors, preachers, and leaders don’t endorse candidates because, as ordained proclaimers of the Good News, it would be a personal, professional, and spiritual betrayal of the highest order.

Sincerely,

Allan

Resurrection Guarantees Salvation

1 Corinthians, Jesus, Resurrection, Revelation, Romans, Salvation No Comments »

EmptyTombAbstractNew

“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” ~Romans 4:25

We are saved in, by, and through the resurrection of Christ. We would not be justified or forgiven if it weren’t for Jesus’ resurrection.

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless and you are still in your sins.” ~1 Corinthians 15:17

Your perfection, your righteousness, your holiness is in Christ Jesus. If he’s still dead… well… that puts your salvation in question. The resurrection, though, certifies that the bill’s been paid in full. Our sin is taken care of forever. Your sins are taken care of. All your sins are forgiven.

How many of your sins were future sins when Jesus went to the cross? That’s not a trick question. When Jesus died for you, how many of your sins were future sins? All of them! One hundred percent of them! Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he went to the cross. You haven’t surprised him. Jesus doesn’t want a do-over. He knew.

So please get off your self-hate.

“I can’t be a part of the body of Christ, I’m too bad. I can’t ever really be forgiven, I’ve done too much. Christ could never really accept me, it’s been too long.” Get over it! He already knew! And he went. It’s paid for. You don’t owe anything. The altar is closed. There’s no sacrifice you need to lay down. He is risen. And because you are raised with him and transformed by him, you are vindicated and justified and saved. It is finished! It’s done!

Because he lives.

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.

And I don’t know your tomorrow. I don’t know what’s on the horizon for you. But because Jesus is alive, your fears about tomorrow should be gone. Why? Because he has us! He’s alive! We have no enemies! Death is dead, sin is vanquished, we’ve already won!

In Revelation 3, the resurrected Jesus is encouraging his Church. Our Lord Jesus, in his physical, resurrected body is talking to his people when he says, “Here I am. I stand at the door and knock.” He continues to extend the invitation. He is risen and he is still calling.

“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…”

…not with a long list of things you need to do better; not with a critique of how you’ve lived so far; not with a list of dos and don’ts.

“I will come in and eat with you and you with me.”

I will accept you. I will fellowship you. We’ll eat together.

It doesn’t have to be the way it is. You have not out-sinned his grace or his power. Christ Jesus, our Lord, is risen from the dead and he calls you to be raised with him and to enjoy the salvation of your body and soul.

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection Vindicates the Jesus Way

Jesus, Matthew, Resurrection, Romans No Comments »

EmptyTombCaveThe resurrection of Jesus proves that this difficult way we wrote about yesterday is the right way to live. We believe this, yes? We’re committed to it. We know that the more we talk like Jesus and act like Jesus, the more we behave and respond like Jesus, the more naturally we’ll come to consider the needs of others more important than our own. The more we’ll sacrifice for others and serve others and show others unconditional grace and love. This is definitely the only way to live.

But it doesn’t always feel right. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes living like this will get you killed.

Why was Jesus crucified? Not because he was powerful, not because he was violent, not because he was exclusive and judgmental. Our Lord was rejected, he was mocked and beaten, he suffered and was killed, because he loved so unconditionally. Because he was so liberal with his forgiveness. Because he ate with prostitutes and partied with sinners and hugged the lepers. He was killed because he gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, because he worked so hard to tear down the walls that divided people, because he refused to label people, because he never one time did anything in his own interests. The world was offended by the way he lived. And they killed him.

And for a couple of days it looked like the world was right and the Jesus Way was wrong. The world’s way was the right way to live and this opposite Jesus Way? Ha! He’s dead! He’s not the Son of God, he’s hanging on a tree! He’s cursed by God! He’s not the promised Messiah, he’s no representative of God to tell us how to live! Duh! He’s dead!

“Christ Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!” ~Romans 1:3-4

The resurrection vindicates the Jesus Way. God bringing a dead Jesus back to life proves that the Jesus Way is the right way. It validates the Jesus Way as the eternal way, the only way to live.

When Jesus says when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn your other cheek to him, too, he doesn’t say, “Then that person will stop hitting you.” Turning the other cheek may actually get you punched a couple more times; it might put you in the hospital. When Jesus says forgive others unconditionally, he doesn’t say, “Then that person will stop sinning against you.” That person may betray you and hurt you up to 469 more times! When Jesus do not resist an evil person doing you harm, he doesn’t say, “Then that person will become nice.” Not resisting might get you killed.

No, our Lord says turn the other cheek, forgive without limits, walk the extra mile, give up your coat, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you because that’s the way of our Father in heaven. The resurrection proves that it’s the right way to live, that it’s our calling. That’s the reason we exist — to live this very difficult, counter-cultural, other-worldly way and to be raised, to be vindicated in the end by the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Peace,

Allan

Resurrection Initiates Transformation

Colossians, Ephesians, Resurrection No Comments »

EmptyTombArtWhen you read the New Testament, when you hear the apostles’ sermons and read the apostles’ writings, the cornerstone of what they wrote and taught was not our own resurrections, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What’s in the Bible about resurrection certainly includes the hope of heaven, but it doesn’t start there. The center of gravity in the New Testament is in the actual event of the resurrection of Christ as the dawning of a new age. It’s not a conclusion. It’s not “Jesus is alive so he really is the Son of God, so we win, end of story.” It’s a new beginning. It’s not a pretty bow tied on to the end of a story back then; the empty tomb is a doorway into a brand new adventure right now today.

When the first Christians proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s resurrection, it wasn’t, “Hey, guess what happened last Sunday! Our good friend Jesus of Nazareth who got a raw deal at his trial came back to life after his horrible crucifixion. He’s alive! Isn’t God nice?”

No! The resurrection means a new age has begun. And we participate in it right now. There’s no waiting!

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God has raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” ~Ephesians 2:4-6

We are already raised right now today! We are already new creation right now today! The resurrection of Jesus means everything for our future with God beyond the grave. But it doesn’t mean any less for our present with God right now today.

For starters, the resurrection initiates our transformation. Our Lord’s resurrection and our participation in that resurrection with him changes us. We’re changed right now today by the resurrection.

“You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live… but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead.” ~Ephesians 2:1-5

We are made alive in the resurrection of Jesus. We are no longer slaves to sin. You don’t have to sin anymore! The resurrection fuels your transformation. The resurrection starts your becoming like Christ.

Think about Jesus’ disciples. The resurrection empowered them, it changed them from frightened, scared, confused, selfish, power-grabbers into bold, courageous, imposing, sacrificial, servant-minded, self-denying witnesses who turned the whole world upside down! To be raised with Christ today is to be changed into the image of Christ today. It’s to live in the name and manner of Jesus for his salvation purposes.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things… Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry… You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self… As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” ~Colossians 3:1-14

The resurrection compels us toward thinking and acting and speaking and looking more and more like Jesus, less and less like the world. Becoming like Christ, living the resurrected life in Christ, is right now today.

Peace,

Allan

Every Single Drop

Christ & Culture, Death, Faith, Promise, Salvation, Sin No Comments »

DallasPray

 

Someday every single tear drop that’s shed and every single drop of blood that’s spilled will be answered for. Either by the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ or by the fires of hell, someday every single drop will be accounted for. And made right. None of this goes unnoticed by our Father — none of the madness, none of the sadness. Every single drop will, in the end, serve his loving purposes and result in his eternal praise.

In the meantime, his children pray. Disciples of the Lord Jesus pray for peace. We behave like our Messiah. We wait and we obey. We shed tears of grief and we join in mourning the brokenness of our God’s world and the sinfulness that afflicts his people.

In this day when we Americans seem to be the most dangerous people in the world, in this season when we in the United States seem to be losing our collective minds, the only real comfort comes in knowing that someday every single tear drop and every single drop of blood will be counted.

Peace,

Allan