Category: Ephesians (Page 1 of 16)

More Than Prayers for Uvalde

Thoughts and prayers are good. But they are not enough. If all we offer are thoughts and prayers in the wake of yesterday’s horrific slaughter of 19 seven-to-eleven-year-old children and two elementary school teachers in Uvalde, we are right to be criticized for our hypocrisy and have no one to blame but ourselves for turning people off to Christianity.

We have to offer something more than prayers. If all we do is pray, we’re not really Christians.

When we pray to God, we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus. And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body – his representatives, his ambassadors – on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is, “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU are the workers!

I think about the inspiring prayer at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle Paul prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, writes about the Christian’s prayer:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must offer more than prayers.

If I pray that young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

Which brings us to yesterday’s mass shooting, the 27th shooting at a school in the United States this year and the deadliest school shooting in our state. A Uvalde High School student bought two assault rifles on his 18th birthday and murdered 19 second, third, and fourth graders and two teachers inside their classrooms. It is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless that community with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter and his family. But we’re not praying like Christians if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it seems hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. – it’s “our thing.” According to Education Week, there have been 119 school shootings since they started tracking them four years ago. Think about that. A 40-year-old publication dedicated to education matters decided it needed to start keeping a tally on murdered school children. Only in America! There have been 212 mass shootings in this country this year. There are more than 400 million guns in the U.S., with 98% of them in civilian hands, the equivalent of 120 firearms per 100 citizens. One-third of all the civilian guns in the whole world are in the United States. As Lynyrd Skynyrd sang, “Handguns are made for killing; they ain’t no good for nothing else.” And we’ve got more of them here, by a long shot, than anywhere else in the world.

But Christians are a people of peace, not violence. Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Robb Elementary school yesterday and what keeps happening almost every day in this country?

I don’t mean these next two paragraphs as prescription, only for discussion and reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr pointed out last night, more than 90% of Americans favor increased background checks, but 50 senators refuse to bring HB8 to the floor for a vote because “they’re afraid of losing their power.” Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. The NRA convention is in Houston the day after tomorrow. Most of our Texas state-wide office holders will be there and a lot of them are featured speakers.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. Maybe you take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your truck. Maybe you stop posting and re-posting violent and divisive messages and memes on your social media. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Prayers are good. Of course. Always. But Christians must offer more than prayers.

Peace,

Allan

If Not You…

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” ~Hebrews 12:15
As children of God and disciples of Christ Jesus, we demonstrate his grace to the people around us. We make sure all the people we contact every day know the truth about our God because they experience it in us. They encounter his grace in us. They see it and feel it in you.

This is as practical and tangible and as real as the Christian life gets. Whatever you have received from the Lord, you generously pass it on to others.

“Forgive each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” ~Ephesians 4:32
Forgive the person in your life who doesn’t deserve it. Forgive the person who’s never apologized. We’ve got more than enough people out there accusing and condemning. Who’s going to forgive? Christians who, by God’s grace, have been forgiven.

“Accept one another just as Christ accepted you.” ~Romans 15:7
Invite somebody over to your house who is 30 years older or 30 years younger than you. Take somebody to lunch who’s a different race or speaks a different language. Have a conversation with somebody from a different culture than yours and learn something. We’ve got lots of people out there dividing us and categorizing us and drawing lines and excluding others. Who’s going to accept others? Christians who, by God’s grace, have been accepted.

“Love one another as I have loved you.” ~John 15:34
Take a Sonic drink to your grouchy next door neighbor. Say something kind and encouraging to the customer service agent. Compliment the cashier at the gas station. Give up your own rights and give in to the demands of someone else. There’s enough hate out there, there’s enough haters – more than enough. Who’s going to show love? Christians who, by God’s grace, have been eternally loved.

Peace,

Allan

Lavish

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” ~1 John 3:1

Our God does not measure his love to us. He doesn’t weigh it on the scales or scoop it out with a spoon. He doesn’t give us just enough of his love to get us by or just as much of his love as we might deserve. He floods us with his love! We have more of his love than we could ever ask for or imagine! That’s the one thing you can ask God to do that’s just impossible – God, will you love me more? Nope. Can’t. Impossible. He lavishes us with his love.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” ~Ephesians 1:7-8

Our Father lavishes us with his grace. We sing about it. God’s amazing grace. God’s matchless grace. God’s grace that reaches even me!

God’s forgiveness is over the top. It’s not that you’re forgiven of some of your sins or you’re forgiven of most of your sins or all the little sins or every sin except that one sin. It’s not that you’re forgiven if you do this one thing or keep these sets of rules or say this particular creed. In Jesus Christ, God’s forgiveness is total and complete and forever! In Jesus, every single one of your sins – all of ’em, name ’em! – are all gone forever. They are removed from you as far as the east is from the west. They are hurled to the bottom of the sea, never to be dredged up again. God doesn’t put your sins up on the top shelf in the corner of a dark closet just so he can pull them out and hold them against you at the worst possible time. God’s forgiveness is lavish and complete.

Lavish love. Limitless grace. Inexhaustible forgiveness. Unmerited favor. Eternal glory. Our God is passionate about you and me. And he holds nothing back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m not writing anything here today about the Mavericks. I don’t want to jinx it.

Peace,

Allan

A Preaching Event

I am so grateful to my brothers and sisters at St. John Baptist Church for the way they love me and honor me and make Carrie-Anne and me feel right at home and an important part of their fellowship. Anthony Harris, the powerful pastor at this faithful church, invited me to preach in their pulpit yesterday and it was an absolute thrill! Anthony and I have become great friends and partners in the Gospel together over the past year or so. He is a tremendous encourager and a bearer of God’s image to me. And I was so humbled and, frankly, excited, to preach in their church. I’ve never preached in an African-American church before – it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

You can watch the whole church service on St. John’s Facebook page (the service begins at the 10:30 mark, the sermon starts at the 37:25 mark). But it won’t do justice to the energy and the love and the unity we all experienced together yesterday.

Delivering a sermon in a Black church really is a “preaching event.” And, I must admit, it took me a few minutes to adjust. There’s a timing and a groove, it’s a back and forth, there’s a call and response – the sermon truly is a congregational event. Everybody participates!

First, Anthony arranged for Stephanie Michaels to sing “Because He Lives” right before the sermon (at the 31:05 mark). Goodness gracious! The mighty force of her voice, the conviction in her heart, the compelling connection she makes with every person in the room – whoa! Anthony calls himself my friend, but he cursed me by making me follow her. As I made my way to the pulpit and waited for the piano to finish playing…

…the piano didn’t stop playing. I waited. And waited. I smiled. And then I realized Isaac was not going to stop playing the piano until I started speaking. He’ll fade out once I start speaking over him. And that’s the way it was for the next 30-minutes. I needed to stop after every other sentence as the church responded to what I was saying. I had to learn on the fly how to acknowledge the church as they clapped and shouted “Hallelujah!” while I was in the middle of a thought. I quickly discovered there is no such thing as a rhetorical question during a sermon in a Black church – the church answers out loud! I also realized that if I don’t get a handle on this, it’s going to be a 90-minute sermon!

My brothers and sisters at St. John Baptist come to church expecting to hear a word from the Lord. They’re geared up for it, anticipating it. God is going to speak through this servant in front of us and we want to listen to him and be moved. It’s not just a head thing at St John Baptist, the Sunday sermon is a heart thing, too. The sermon contains facts and truth, but it’s just as full of emotion and feeling. The congregation was preaching the sermon with me, finishing my sentences when I quoted Scripture, answering my questions when I dared to ask them, speculating out loud during open-ended paragraphs, discovering with me the points I was trying to make – I waited on them a couple of times and they slowed down when they got ahead of me a couple of times – exalting in them and praising God the whole time. And it was an absolute blast!

It was thrilling! Completely thrilling! And exhausting. I loved every minute of it, but I’m not sure I could do that Sunday after Sunday, week in and week out.

I am so grateful to my godly, big-picture, Kingdom-view elders here at Central for allowing me – no, encouraging me! – to preach in other churches like this. My shepherds know that anytime our churches can put aside our denominational differences, our racial differences, our puny little insignificant differences, and come together in the presence of God, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to do anything, it’s a big deal. It is so important that people see this and know that it’s happening and experience it for themselves. If we believe Ephesians 2, that Christ died on the cross to destroy the barriers that separate us from God and us from each other, we’d better be all about it. What happened at St. John Baptist yesterday matters. It was a Kingdom of God moment. And I want to be in on more of those kinds of moments.

Thank you to Anthony and Tonya and Isaac and Stephanie and Jasmine and Ed and Trina and all the glorious saints at that important church on 14th Street. I thank God for your faithful witness in our community and for your sacrificial service in the Kingdom of our Lord. I spent all day yesterday relishing the sweet fellowship and Christian unity we experienced together. And I’ll spend a lifetime in gratitude to God.

Peace,

Allan

Ultimate Forgiveness

Sin is the ultimate issue, and God deals with it ultimately and immediately. He takes care of your sin decisively and effectively. It’s not like getting rid of a virus by receiving a shot and taking some pills and hoping you get well in a few days. It’s not like getting rid of mice in the attic by setting up some traps and putting out some poison and hoping you eliminate most of the rodents by the end of the month. And it’s not like dealing with gangrene in your leg: We’re going to amputate, it’s really going to hurt, you’re going to have a severe limp the rest of your life, but, hey, the sin’s all gone!

No, God deals with your sin by forgiving it. And it’s gone.

“In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” ~Ephesians 1:7

When God through Christ forgives your sins, they are gone. They’re not a factor anymore. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions. In Isaiah 43, God says, “I’m the one. It’s me. I blot out your transgressions for my sake and remember your sins no more.”

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression? You will have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” ~Micah 7:18-19

Your sins are forgiven by God through Christ and you are completely released from the burdens of guilt, shame, and fear. You are also released from any requirement to make some kind of restitution. We are notorious in the Church for forcing people to pay for their sins. And it’s done a lot of damage. We’ve made up rules about who can remarry and who can’t, who can be ordained as an elder or preacher and who can’t, who can serve as deacons or on committees and who can’t. We’ve told people what they can do or can’t do based on past sins that we proclaim have all been forgiven. And we’ve punished people who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay those prices. No! Jesus Christ is the only one who pays the price! Jesus Christ makes restitution for all the sins of humanity at the cross! Jesus has paid it all! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Your sins are forgiven. Completely. Ultimately. By God’s love and grace and by the blood of our Lord Jesus, you are saved. Completely. Ultimately.

Peace,

Allan

Lost

I’m publishing a series of posts here this week on Ruth chapter four: Lost, Redeemed, and Confident. I pray this short series will be a blessing to you.

In the opening verses of Ruth 4 we learn that Naomi has lost her land. We didn’t know this before, but now we do. Naomi has lost her land. It’s been mortgaged. The bank or somebody else owns her property. It appears that Naomi’s late husband sold the rights to the land before they moved to Moab. Naomi is a poor widow and has no way to repurchase the property herself but, under Israel’s law, she can transfer the obligation to her nearest relative and he can buy it back. He can redeem the property and place it back into the family’s possession.

The way this works is spelled out in Leviticus 25. The closest living relative can buy back any property that used to belong in the family but had been sold out of financial necessity. If it was the only way out of a bad economic situation, a person could sell the rights to his land, knowing that a near relative could always buy it back. That’s what is happening here. Naomi and her husband had gotten into some trouble during the famine and had made a terrible decision. They gave up their land.

They had probably been forced into it by the awful situation they were in. They probably felt like they didn’t have a choice. Whether they sold it on their own terms to get out of a jam or to help pay for their relocation to Moab, or whether it was taken from them against their will, the bottom line is that Naomi has lost her land. She gave it up.

Even though she is back in Bethlehem, she doesn’t really have a home. There’s no way for her family name to continue. In this context, it’s not just the property at stake, it’s Naomi’s name, it’s her honor, it’s her worth in the community. This is a terrible thing that’s happened. Her property has been mortgaged, her land has been lost, and she is powerless to buy it back.

I don’t know what you have lost. I don’t know in your life what has been taken away from you. I don’t know what terrible foolish choices you’ve made in the past or what maybe you’ve been forced into doing when you didn’t really have an option. But somewhere along the way, maybe you gave up your innocence. You gave up your righteousness. You gave up a relationship. You lost it. And you can’t get it back. Your good name. Your honor. Your worth in the community. Your place with your family or in God’s Church. You lost it. Maybe you feel like you’ve mortgaged your future. Maybe it was stolen from you. But you’ve lost any opportunity to be truly happy and whole and at peace. And maybe you feel powerless to get it back.

You need to be redeemed. That’s what Naomi and Ruth need. They need to be redeemed by a redeemer.

“As for you, 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 in transgression – it is by grace you have been saved!” ~Ephesians 2:1-5

Peace,

Allan

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