Category: Ephesians (page 1 of 14)

Moving Away From the Tomb

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

The Universal Church

“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed

steepleThe early Church thought of themselves as a worldwide movement through a network of gatherings spread all over Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he called them one group among those “everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — their Lord and ours.”

We are one people — everybody equal, everybody the same — with all Christians everywhere. Universal. One. There are so many wonderful, glorious, Kingdom things happening in and through your church. But it’s so puny compared to what God is doing globally. His Church is growing in every part of the world today except in North America. God is right now today growing his Church; he is today adding to his Church. And we are united together with all of it. One of the reasons we want people to go on short term foreign mission trips and help them pay for it is so they can watch other people following Christ. To see different cultures, different languages, different customs — to see people so different from us worshiping our God and submitting to our crucified and resurrected Lord is profound. The Church of Jesus Christ is a universal Church — all believers for all time in every place forever. One universal Church.

You love your church? Good! I love mine, too! I want you to love your church! But we’re not in competition with anybody (well, except the devil; and he’s already lost). Praise God for our brothers and sisters in the Baptist and Methodist and Presbyterian churches all over our city! Praise God for the Christian churches throughout this country and around the world who are faithfully preaching and teaching and praying and serving and living together in the name and manner of Jesus!

They might have their faults. They might have their shortcomings. They might have their misinterpretations and questionable practices. And so do we! We’ve got ours by the buckets! We’re all in this together!

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” ~Ephesians 4:3-6

And, I know, some of you are pushing back on this. “Don’t talk like there aren’t any boundaries. There have to be some boundaries. You can’t talk like everybody’s in.”

No, of course there are boundaries. If a somebody comes in saying that Jesus is not from God, that Jesus is not divine, he’s out! 1 John 4. If a guy comes in bragging about having sex with his step-mother, he’s out! 1 Corinthians 5. Believe me, the Bible gives us some lines. And we need to pay attention to them. But we don’t need to obsess over it. I mean, myself, if I’m not careful, I can go from zero to Pharisee in 2.9-seconds. But I will not draw any lines of fellowship between Christians that I can’t find in the Bible. I’m too conservative.

You know the disciples see these others casting out demons in Jesus’ name and they run to our Lord with their complaint: “Make them stop, they’re not one of us.” And Jesus responds, “Just because they’re not with you doesn’t mean they’re not with me.” Elsewhere our Lord says he has sheep who are not even from this pen. He says all those sheep will hear his voice and there will be one pen and one shepherd. Drawing those lines is above our pay grade.

When the Church is splintered into different factions, when the Church is divided into different denominations, when we draw lines between us because of our differences instead of tearing down the walls because of everything we have in common in Christ, what we’re saying to the world is that the Church is not holy and it’s not universal. We can no longer in good faith justify or excuse or explain away the sin of the divisions in God’s Church. Going along with the divisions, keeping our distance from other Christians in other churches, contradicts everything we say about one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, and one God over all.

Peace,

Allan

We Believe in the Church

Maybe you’ve noticed that people are leaving the Church. Not just your church, not just your denomination — people are leaving churches all across the board all across this country. The numbers are slow, but they are steady. Church attendance and church membership are on a decline. And the shifting attitude can be summed up like this: “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

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“I love Jesus, but I don’t like the Church.” “I follow Jesus, but I don’t go to Church.” “I don’t go to Church because they’re all sinners, the Church is full of hypocrites” (which is like saying, “I don’t go to the health club because of all the out-of-shape people there). “I serve the Lord every day, but I don’t do Church.” “You can’t organize spirituality.” “Jesus, Yes. Church, No.”

Let me confess right here that I know the Church is a mess. What else could it be? Have you looked at the people who sit by you when you’re there? Yes, the Church is guilty. We’re all guilty of being smug, complacent, self-righteous, racist, misogynist, impersonal, unfeeling, dated, and stuffy — all these things and more.

But Scripture —and the song — says our Lord Jesus purchased the Church of God with his blood. Ephesians says Jesus loves the Church and gave himself up for her. Church is a pretty big deal.

But even “church people” are struggling. All the research and surveys show that the Christian Church and its message do not significantly matter in the lives of its members. Attitudes about sex, marriage, and divorce; ideas about race, poverty, and war; thoughts and actions related to recreation, work, and money — in all areas of life you can’t tell the difference between church members and people who aren’t church members. Lots of people see the Church as really good as long as it gives me personal comfort or meets my needs or confirms what I already think about myself and other people and the world around me. That’s it.

A lot of Christians pretty much ignore the Church as harmless or irrelevant and live their lives like it doesn’t even exist. Christians are increasingly just going through the motions on the inside of Church and, on the outside, the Church is ignored and laughed at for its irrelevance.

I think one of the main problems is that we don’t have a robust theology of the Church. We think the Church is where the theology is packaged. We think church is where religious people with religious things in common go to get their religious stuff. Church is just a place to get your spiritual needs met.

No! Church is theology! Thinking right about the Church is directly tied to thinking right about God.

From the Day of Pentecost right up until this hour Christians have always believed in the Church. That line about the Church in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed — I believe in the holy, universal church, the communion of saints — comes from a baptismal confession from the middle of the second century. Only a few years later, it was being recited together by all Christians every time they assembled. A belief in the Church has always belonged right in the middle of our theology. Just like we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; just like we believe in the dead, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; just like we believe in the forgiveness of sins and the second coming; we believe in what God is doing in and through his Church.

The Church is an utterly indispensable part of what God is up to in the world. Followers of Jesus have never believed anything less.

The Church can’t be treated like an optional extra. It’s not like ordering a side salad to go with your steak: I can take it or leave it, it just depends on what mood I’m in. The Church is the family of God, the called-out people of the Messiah, the baptized, sanctified, Spirit-indwelled, disciples of Jesus who become something together they can never be as individuals. Y’all are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. Our identity in Christ cannot be understood outside our membership in his Church. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. To him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!

This week in this space, I want to take a look at the three descriptors in that line about the Church in the Apostles’ Creed. These three words/phrases give us a great outline to point us to what the Bible says about the Church and what Christians have always believed. These three words/phrases — holy, universal/catholic, communion of saints — will give us a better Church theology.

Peace,

Allan

Where is Jesus? Part Three

BandAidRedPlease keep my darling wife Carrie-Anne in your thoughts and prayers for the next few days. She’s having surgery this afternoon to repair a fairly significant hole in a sinus passage. The surgery is only supposed to take about an hour and a half, but everybody’s telling us the eight days after are going to be horrible. As you’re probably aware, Carrie-Anne has the best looking nose in our family, and we don’t want anything to happen to it.

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RightHandSaints2

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” ~Colossians 3:1

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 2:6

It’s a well known and well rehearsed spiritual reality that by our baptisms we all participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We are united with Christ, we are one with him and share in his death and resurrection. But the Scriptures are clear that we also share in his ascension. We reign over the world with Christ both now and, ultimately, when he returns, in the future forever. We’re co-regents, co-rulers with Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear about what this means and what it doesn’t mean. Reigning with Christ does not mean that Christians are supposed to take over the world and start passing laws and trying to push the way we live on others by power or threat or force. Reigning with Christ does not mean telling everybody what to do. Christians have tried that. Christians are still trying that. And it’s always led to disaster.

Reigning and ruling with Christ means the Church — empowered by the presence of Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit — enters the world vulnerable and suffering, praising and praying, sacrificing and serving. The Church lives in the world as misunderstood and misjudged by humanity, saved and vindicated and raised by God. Like Jesus. Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

Man, that’s a good sentence right there. I’m going to write it again. Maybe you should tweet it right now: Why would we ever believe we can reign with Christ if we’re not going to reign like Christ?

RightHandWeReignWe like the idea of Jesus being with us everywhere, even inside us. Jesus is present with us because of his Holy Spirit. He dwells in and with his Church. But the One who is present with us and living inside us by his Spirit is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who rules with all power and authority from a position over us, directing us, rebuking us, encouraging us, teaching us. So, yes, in a very real sense we do reign with Christ today in the heavenly realms, but only in the ways he directs — with Jesus, in the name and manner of Jesus.

We are a kingdom of priests, or kings and priests, it depends on how it’s translated. Either way, it means we participate in the reign of God like Jesus. We have important roles to play, we have Christ-ordained jobs to perform with our Lord as he brings his Kingdom rule to earth just as it is in heaven. But we don’t fight what’s wrong in the world with the power of the sword, we use the power of love. We don’t threaten or condemn anyone; like our Lord, we suffer and we serve everyone. We’re priests, so we intercede, we pray, we bring the world to God, we lift up people to God. We cannot bring in the Kingdom of God, but we can witness to it. We can’t create the Kingdom of God, but we can set up signs and tell stories. We can’t build the Kingdom of God, but we can live it with humility and faith — turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, forgiving others, giving up our freedoms and rights, loving our enemies, and praying for the people who want to do us harm.

Jesus is bringing his eternal rule to this world in ways this world does not understand. 1 Timothy 6 says it’ll happen in God’s own time. He is with us, yes. We reign with him, oh yeah. But he is our Lord. And for us to use methods that are contrary to Jesus’ methods is to reject him as Lord and to try to establish a rival kingdom.

Peace,

Allan

Where is Jesus?

RightHandControl

“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

Resurrection Initiates Transformation

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

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