Moving Away From the Tomb

Ephesians, Ministry, Resurrection, Romans, Salvation No Comments »

I’m struck by the fact that nobody saw Jesus at the empty tomb. Clearly our risen Lord didn’t hang around the cemetery once the Spirit resurrected him back to life. It seems he got out of there as fast as he could. Yet, here are the women, looking for their living Lord among the graves. The angels ask, almost incredulously, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Good question.

Sometimes good faithful Christians can be stuck. We’re dead. Or, at least, we act like we’re dead. Some of us have followed Jesus to Jerusalem. We’ve endured suffering and pain in his name. We’ve carried the cross. Most of us have died on the cross of Christ and, even though we’ve been baptized for the forgiveness of our sins and received the gift of God’s Spirit inside us, we’ve never really been resurrected. Some of us don’t live like we’ve been given the gift of eternal life by the almighty author of life. We live like we’re still dead. We’re still knocking around in the dirt and dark of the grave. And we’re surprised when we have a hard time seeing Jesus. We’re surprised when there’s no experience of Jesus.

The resurrection is not just about heaven someday — it’s about a full life today!

But some of us are still buried in a tomb. We don’t sing. We don’t work. We don’t explore or experiment. We don’t accept challenges or tackle new tasks. We don’t grow. We don’t laugh. Singing and working and exploring and growing and laughing are what you do when you’re alive! If you’re grumpy all the time, you’re not living the resurrection life. If you’re negative all the time, you’re dead.

What are you thinking? God’s going to fix my attitude when I get to heaven?

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ!” ~Ephesians 2:4

“Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life!” ~Romans 6:4

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” ~Romans 8:11

The death and resurrection of Jesus is not just about my sin and Jesus taking my punishment and now everything’s great. We’ve been given eternal life. We share in Christ’s resurrection so we can be holy, royal image-bearers, so we can be ambassadors for Jesus and partners in his Gospel.

But I want to play it safe. Better safe than sorry. I don’t want to take any risks. I don’t want to go out on a limb. I don’t want to change or grow.

Man, you’re living in the dark and cold of the grave! And that’s not really living. Follow Jesus away from the grave and into the warmth and light of his resurrection life!

Once the disciples moved away from the grave, they most certainly did not play anything safe. There was no hiding or sleeping. No stagnation or status quo. They started preaching and teaching. They sold their possessions to give to the poor. They violated city ordinances to proclaim the good news. They took mission trips on broken down boats and prayers. They sang praises in prison chains. They turned the world upside down for the Kingdom of God! That’s resurrection living!

It’s like a wonderfully talented musician on the verge of his own worldwide concert tour. He plays beautifully. He’s awesome. He’ll inspire thousands. But he’s caught up in a terrible crime and is thrown in jail. But, then, by some miracle, the governor declares a general amnesty and the great musician is released! His response is not just, “Whew! Thank goodness I don’t have to go to jail!” It’s, “Now I can play like I was born to play! I can perform like I was created to perform!”

Christians sometimes are too preoccupied with not going to jail.

Listen. If you’re in Christ, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JAIL! So now you can really live!

This is good news, not good advice. This is the Gospel.

Peace,

Allan

Outstanding!

Central Church Family, Ministry No Comments »

Central Church of Christ was named Outstanding School Partner at last night’s Amarillo School District Partners in Education Banquet at the downtown civic center. Of the 26 nominees — churches, rotary clubs, foundations, etc., — Central was recognized as tops for our on-going partnership with Bivins Elementary.

Our children’s minister, Mary McNeill, accepted the award along with Connie Crawford and our daughter, Whitney. Those three are very familiar faces in the hallways of Bivins as they deliver Snack Pak 4 Kids every Thursday. I was more or less forced to join them on the stage last night for the picture. But I made it clear to everyone that these ladies do all the work; I just sit back and applaud.

I’m very proud of Central for what we do with Bivins. Seventy-three percent of the students there are classified as economically disadvantaged. A lot of these kids are in foster homes, domestic violence shelters, and other temporary living conditions. Our church has stepped in every year with thanksgiving dinners, an annual school supplies drive, and summer painting projects. But now our Ignite Initiative is providing Bivins with more than $20,000 worth of equipment and supplies for their music and P.E. departments, desks for special needs students, and updates for their computer lab. Central volunteers are starting to serve next week as crossing guards, lunchroom and playground buddies, and Bivins Bucks store cashiers.

We believe that our God in Christ Jesus is redeeming this whole world. He is actively restoring everything back to its Garden of Eden perfection. And we are honored to partner with our Lord in providing these 550 students and their families with the necessities they need to level the playing field as they make their way in this world. To serve this nearby school in the name and manner of Jesus is our great privilege. To lean into his glorious future and reclaim this part of our city for his glory is a blessing. To be recognized by A.I.S.D. is pretty cool, too.

Peace,

Allan

Seeing the Risen Christ

Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Luke, Resurrection, Salvation No Comments »

There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. There’s a lot to see and experience there. The soldiers saw the angel and experienced great fear. The women saw the stone rolled away and experienced great confusion. Peter and the apostles saw the burial cloths and came away with a lot of questions. There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. But nobody saw Jesus there.

Jesus isn’t there.

I want to see Jesus. I want to experience Jesus. I want to touch Jesus and know Jesus and be in his presence and hear his voice.

You know where that happens? At the table. The disciples do not see or experience Jesus in his resurrection fullness and glory until later that Easter Sunday when they are sharing a meal together. Jesus revealed himself during the meal. He appeared to his followers and spoke to them at the table. That’s where we see our risen Lord.

When we are around the table together with the risen Messiah as our host we experience forgiveness and belonging, unity and sharing, acceptance and fellowship. We see Jesus in the changed lives of the people with us around the table. We Jesus in that there are no walls, no barriers between us and God and us and each other; nothing separates us at the table. We Jesus when we remember that we have forgiven those around the table with us and have been forgiven multiple times by those same people. We see Jesus in the joy reflected in the faces around the table. We experience Christ in relationship with others.

Our salvation from God is not a system. It’s not a theory. And it’s certainly not a five-step plan.

It’s a sacrifice and a meal.

Peace be with you,

Allan

What Jesus Did

Forgiveness, Jesus, Salvation, Sin No Comments »

For the past two thousand years we’ve developed dozens of intricate theories as to why Jesus HAD to suffer and die on the cross to forgive our sins. The ransom theory says Jesus had to die to pay our debt of sin. The substitution theory says I belonged on the cross but Jesus took my place. Propitiation says God’s wrath had to be satisfied so Jesus took the punishment instead of us. The apostle Paul uses legal language and sacrificial imagery and military terms and financial lingo to explain WHY Jesus HAD to die on the cross.

But in the Gospels, in the story itself, it’s not about what Jesus HAD to do; it’s about what Jesus DID.

He died for us.

He died a terrible death.

For us.

What kind of love does our Lord have for us — knowing our sin, knowing our failure, knowing our past and future betrayals — to still willingly die for us?

Remember, Jesus the Christ is God. This is God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. So, God doesn’t inflict pain on someone else to appease his wrath. God is on the cross, absorbing all the pain and violence and evil of the world into himself. He becoming our sin for us. Our God is nothing like the pagan deities who demand the blood of humans for their anger to be satisfied. No, our God becomes human and offers his own blood.

This is how he saves you. This is how he loves you, to the point of absurdity. He loves you all the way to the cross — purposefully, willfully, stubbornly, dying on the cross.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Did Nothing

Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Jesus, Mark, Salvation, Sin No Comments »

Tony Romo finishes his Mavericks career with a losing record and missing the playoffs. He’s still got it.

The lines between what is real and what is fake get blurrier every day. What an insult to every Mavericks player. And what a testimony to how low the bar is now for Cowboys quarterbacks. You don’t have to win a Super Bowl. Shoot, you don’t even have to win a divisional playoff game! Ever! You’re a hero!

Romo was speaking for all of us yesterday when he kept saying he was embarrassed.

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How do we move so quickly from praising our Lord to denying him? How do we go so fast from vowing to die for Christ to betraying him? The Gospels tell us that all his followers — those huge crowds that welcomed him with palm branches and shouts of loyalty — abandoned him. They went from shouting “Hosanna!” to shouting “Crucify him!” They went from showering Jesus with praise to driving nails through his hands and feet. From big, green, leafy palm branches to an old wooden cross. The apostles promised their undying allegiance to Jesus at dinner and, then, within an hour or two, maybe less, they abandoned him completely. How does that happen?

Remember the frenzy of Palm Sunday?

At last, God’s anointed King has come! The teacher and miracle-worker from Nazareth is God’s promised Messiah! Jesus will defeat the pagan rulers from Rome! He will establish the true Kingdom of God right here in our land! We’re going to regain our power! We’re going to be in control! Jesus is the Christ and he’s going to take away all our problems and he’s going to make all of us winners! Hosanna!

And there’s shouting and singing and celebration and anticipation. Huge crowds of followers surrounding Jesus on all sides, hailing him as their new king. Jesus rides through the eastern gate into the Holy City, right into the temple precincts, and he does…

…nothing.

He doesn’t do anything.

“Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” ~Mark 11:11

Jesus doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t lead the mob against the Roman garrison. He doesn’t physically confront the powers and authorities that are oppressing the people. He doesn’t even take the steps of the temple to deliver a stirring speech. He looks around for a little bit and then goes back to Bethany. For dinner, I guess.

What a disappointment! What kind of Messiah is this? What sort of Savior?

Yeah, the next day Jesus preaches a sermon in the temple and overturns a few tables to illustrate his point. But he doesn’t raise a finger against the Romans. He doesn’t even raise his voice. In fact, the next day, he tells everybody, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

What?

By Friday, enough of the crowds were disappointed and disenchanted with Jesus, that the priests and teachers of the law were easily able to turn them against him. The apostles — the insiders, the personally-chosen followers of Jesus — promised to never betray him, to never leave his side, to die first. But they’re gone, too.

If you look honestly at that picture, if you pay close attention to the story, you will see yourself. You will see your sin. And it will break your heart.

Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. His lordship doesn’t always provide for us what we think it should provide.

Maybe there’s something broken in your marriage that Jesus hasn’t fixed. Maybe there’s a deep wound in your soul that Jesus hasn’t healed. Maybe there’s something going on in your family, a situation at work, a physical illness or disease, an addiction. Maybe. And being a Christian hasn’t really helped.

Maybe you’re all alone and Jesus hasn’t given you any friends. Maybe it feels like nothing is going right. Jesus doesn’t always provide for us what we think he should.

So, you abandon what Christ teaches, you give up on the way of the Lord, and you do things your own way. In order to gain some control, you leave Jesus, you turn your back, you drift away, or maybe you flat-out deny him.

When you see that, when you see your sin, it’ll break your heart.

I know it can feel like Jesus is doing nothing. And somebody has to do something! Jesus can’t just look around at everything, he can’t just look at my life and my struggles and my problems, and shrug his shoulders and go back to Bethany. For dinner, I guess.

Well, Jesus did do something. He did something that only he could do. He did something to finally and completely and ultimately destroy the effects of sin and death in your life and for the whole world forever.

He died. He died on a cross. On purpose.

Jesus resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem and walked to the cross. He allowed himself to be beaten and tortured. He allowed them to nail his hands and feet to the blood-soaked wood of that cross. He died willingly. He sacrificed himself. He could have called ten thousand angels. But he died alone. For you and me. That’s what Jesus came to do. The Lamb of God who dies to take away the sin of the world.

Peace,

Allan

Surely Not I

Faith, Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Mark No Comments »

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan