Category: Faith (page 1 of 18)

People of Promise

What we believe about how we are saved matters. What we think saves us matters a great deal. The apostle Paul spends all of Galatians 3 reminding us that we are saved by God’s promise, not by God’s law. And he thinks it matters a lot.

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed…” 3:16

“If the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise…” 3:18

“The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe…” 3:22

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” 3:29

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purposes for us. We are no longer condemned by the law, we’re not threatened by the law; the era of the law is over! The promise is fulfilled and the new age of righteousness and grace and freedom in Christ has begun! We are the people of promise.

God’s promises are not like the promises you and I make and receive every day. This is God. It’s his promise. No fine print, no out clauses, no surprises. God doesn’t make promises with his fingers crossed. He promises to save us, knowing he would have to die to make it happen. And — praise the Lord! — he did!

We are not people of the law. We are a people of promise. And that matters. It matters big time. If we think we’re saved by law or by rules or works or behaving correctly, then we’re going to treat people harshly. We’ll be arrogant and judgmental. We’ll be unbending and unforgiving. We’ll be nervous and unsure and we’ll fight and divide over the weirdest little things. And we’ll turn off a lot of people.

When we know we’re saved by the gracious promises of God, we’ll be a people of mercy and love. We’ll give others the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be flexible and forgiving. We’ll seek to bless other people. We’ll be kind and hospitable. Our words will be encouraging, our actions will be inviting. We’ll be unified by a focus on the really big important things and we’ll inspire a lot of people.

We are not people of the law. We are not people of the rules or people of the regulations or people of the guilt trip or people of the coercion. We are not people of correct interpretations or proper practices. None of those things save us! Those are the things we use in order to gain control. Or to be more prominent. Or better. Or right. Those are the things that divide us and separate us. Those are the things that lead to jealousy and anger and strife and condemnation.

We are free. Free from guilt. Free from condemnation. Free from punishment. We are rescued from the present evil age according to the will of God our Father to whom be glory for ever and ever! Amen!

The Good News today is that your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal life does not depend on rules or regulations or interpretations or practices. Your righteousness rests solely in the unchanging promise of our loving God.

The Bible says no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “yes” in Christ. Every one of God’s promises — all of his blessings, all of his hope and peace and joy, everything God wants for you, everything he created you to be and to have — are available to you if you’ll put your faith in Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism and Faith

Peter and the apostles are announcing, they’re proclaiming in Acts 2, that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus has inaugurated the eternal Kingdom of God. Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah! This holy one you killed but God has now raised to eternal life, this Jesus, is the bringer of God’s salvation for all people and he is now both Lord and Christ!

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!” ~Acts 2:37-38

Forgiveness happens at baptism. So does God’s Holy Spirit taking up residence in your soul. Peter says “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” just like John the Baptist said “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” In both cases, people are being cleansed on the inside and being made holy. People are being prepared for the coming presence of God.

That’s how people are saved: baptism. It’s a critical part of the Christian conversion process. The conversion stories in the New Testament are soaked with baptism. Men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor — they hear the Good News, they believe it, and they’re baptized.

That’s what we believe and practice regarding baptism. We believe that is the biblical view: baptism is the time and place one is united with the crucified and risen Lord and receives eternal forgiveness of all sin and the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit.

But there’s something else we believe about baptism that we don’t talk about as much or as well. We believe it, we just don’t make it clear. So, let me be very, very clear: Baptism only works by faith in what God through Jesus has done and is doing for the sake of the world.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” ~Colossians 2:10-13

God made us alive with Christ and forgave our sins when we were buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God. Baptism is faith — faith is baptism. Baptism is not effectual for salvation because we believe in baptism or because of what we believe about baptism or because of how we believe baptism ought to be practiced. It’s got nothing to do with that. Baptism works through our faith in the work of God in Christ. It’s effectual only by faith. Otherwise, it’s just a quick bath; you’re just getting wet.

Baptism is God’s work, not ours, not yours. God is the One doing everything. It’s got nothing to do with my goodness or correctness or the right words being said or the right amount of water being used or how much or how little I know about what’s going on. Baptism is a divine act of pure grace. And anything that undermines that or adds to it is legalism and denies the Gospel of Christ.

Wait. But isn’t baptism itself legalistic? If we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, why is baptism necessary? That’s a human work, right? Surely we’re not saved by human works.

Boy, those are all great questions. Thank you for asking them in that way.

Martin Luther, during the Reformation in the 1500s, gave us the language of saved by grace only through faith in Christ only. He taught and preached that human works have nothing to do with our salvation — it’s 100% faith and 0% works. He was so hard-core about that, he wanted to have the book of James struck from the New Testament. But Luther put baptism in the category of faith, not works. He called faith “the beggar’s hand.” It’s how we receive God’s gifts. And baptism is where we do the receiving. Luther put it in his church catechism in 1529:

“As our would-be wise new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in any of us is of any avail but faith. But faith must have something it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. Thus, faith clings to the water and believes that it is baptism in where there is pure salvation and life.”

Baptism is an expression of faith. It’s only effective through faith. In baptism we die and are raised with Christ, through faith. In baptism, we can’t do anything, we don’t accomplish anything or effect anything. In baptism, we receive everything.

Peace,

Allan

The Snare Has Been Broken

“Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”
Psalm 124:6-8

The child of God who wrote this psalm is not singing about some great life, how the Lord has protected them from all trouble. These people go through a ton of trouble: angry mobs, flash floods, traps and snares. They’ve gone through the worst but they still find themselves alive and in one piece. They’re intact. The Lord is on our side. God is our help.

The psalm begins, “Let Israel say!” Everybody is singing. This is a passionate corporate expression of faith. Everybody joins in. This is the corporate reality for God’s people. The psalm is very enthusiastic about this.

And we’re very suspicious about enthusiasm. We’re cynical when somebody’s just a little too excited. Or sure. Advertisers have trained us to be suspicious.

LeBron James is being paid $252-million over six years to be enthusiastic about Sprite. Beyoncé gets $50-million to be excited about Pepsi. When we know these things, we inwardly discount the witness. I think it was Mark Twain — somebody — who said “Sincerity is the key to success; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Maybe it was Woody Allen; I can’t remember. But this is the world we live in. We know that when LeBron and Beyoncé are talking about soda or Matthew McConaughey is pontificating on the merits of driving a Lincoln, their words are written by professional copywriters and their testimony is given in exchange for money.

So when we read the words of Psalm 124, our first reaction might be, “Great poetry! Love the sincerity! Who’s your copywriter? How much did you get paid?”

Psalm 124 is not a commercial that pops up to remind us, “Things go better with God,” or “You’re in good hands with God.” This is not a media campaign to convince us that the Lord is better than all the other gods. It’s not a press release. This is a sincere prayer from honest experience. And it’s credible. Disciples of Christ, people who walk in the way of the Lord and sing this song in all kinds of weather — this psalm fits with their experience.

We’re in the snares all the time. We live on the edge of disaster and doom. Christians are in trouble a lot. And we’ve all been in places where it felt like there was no way out. It’s over. And then, all of a sudden, there is a way out. Suddenly, the snare breaks and you’re out! You’ve escaped! You’re alive and in one piece and you’re still going! It’s unexplainable, but you’re free!

Remember the old Batman television series? At the end of every episode the caped crusaders were trapped and it looked like there was no way out. Robin was hanging upside down over a vat of acid, Batman was tied to a conveyor belt that was pulling him toward a bone saw — it was over. Will they escape? Will they get out? It doesn’t look like it or feel like it. And the narrator wants you to believe it’s hopeless. It’s over. But then next week at the same bat time on the same bat channel, they escape. They’re rescued. They’re delivered. And it always happened so fast you were never quite sure how it happened. But it was always so matter-of-fact.

God’s deliverance is always a surprise, but it’s always certain. God’s rescue is always a miracle, but we always know it’s coming.

“Praise be to the Lord who has not let us be torn by their teeth!” I think God wants us to sing like that as we walk the way of discipleship every day. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”

Peace,

Allan

The Lord is On Our Side

Thank you, Georgia!
If there’s any justice in this broken world, baker mayfieLd will be drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Browns.

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“If the Lord had not been on our side — let Israel say —
If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us,
when their anger flared against us,
they would have swallowed us alive;
the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters would have swept us away.
Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken, and we have escaped!
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”
~Psalm 124

Angry mobs and flash floods and fatal traps. As disciples of Christ, we are always surrounded by danger, always facing threat, under constant attack by those with different views, overwhelmed by a flood of cultural elitism, trapped by society’s cynics and skeptics and compromisers who demand our Christianity be a private thing we keep between us and God. That’s where we live. And you know it.

We put our faith on the line every day. We have never seen God. We live in a world where almost everything can be seen and studied and weighed and measured and explained and subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control. But we insist on making the center of our lives a God we can’t see our touch. That’s a risky way to live.

We put our hope on the line every day. We don’t know anything about the future. We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen between now and when we wake up in the morning — we’re not guaranteed we’re going to wake up in the morning! We don’t know our future. Sickness, pain, rejection, loss, death — we don’t know. Still, despite our total ignorance about the future, we say God will accomplish his will and nothing can ever separate us from his love and promises. That’s a dangerous way to live.

We put our love on the line every day. There’s nothing we’re less good at than love. We’re much better at competition than love. We’re better at responding by instinct and ambition and selfishness than trying to figure out how to love people. We’re trained to get our own way. Our culture — the whole world! — rewards us for trying to get our own way. Yet, we make the decision every day to put aside what we do best and try to do what we’re not very good at: loving other people. And we open ourselves wide open to hurt and frustration and rejection and failure. That’s not an easy way to live.

We live on the edge. Every day as Christians we walk a tightrope on the edge of disaster and defeat. We live on the edge of the flood, surrounded by angry men and sharp teeth and deadly traps. That’s where we all live.

But Psalm 124 is not about the hazards, it’s about the help.

The hazardous work of following Jesus and walking in the way of the Lord is the setting, it’s not the subject. The subject is the help of the Lord.

The TV show Cheers was not about the bar. It was about Sam and Diane, Norm and his wife, Cliff and his mother, and Coach and Woody. The TV show Friends was not about the coffee shop. It was about six good-looking, young, lazy, spoiled rotten, single people. Central Perk was the setting, not the main point.

Our walk with the Lord takes place in a hazardous setting. But that’s not the focus. It’s not the subject. The main point is that the Lord is on our side. God is our help. That’s the reality of our situation.

God’s deliverance is always a surprise, but it’s always certain. God’s rescue is always a miracle, but we always know it’s coming.

You can look up into the sky and see a billion stars or beautiful clouds or an inspiring sunrise. And, if you’re a Christian, it can easily lead to praising God. “Thank you, Lord, it’s beautiful.” A brand new baby can be born into your family, perfectly healthy, perfectly wonderful. “Thank you, God, this is so good.” A stable job? A loving family? “Thank you, Father, I’m so blessed.”

Psalm 124 looks the other direction. It looks into the troubles, the trauma, the conflicts. It acknowledges the problems, it points out the dangers and loss. And it sees that God is on our side. God is our help. God is always with us and God always saves us.

We declare our words of faith in an unbelieving world. We sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy. We live our joy among people who don’t understand us or encourage us. But that’s the setting of our lives, not the subject. The main subject is God and God’s salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You may be lost in the darkness of sin and doubt, but you’re going to be found in the light of Christ. You may be trapped behind the bars of despair, but very soon those gates are going to swing open wide. You may be drowning in a sea of bitterness and conflict, but tomorrow you will be lifted up to dry ground.

Our God is rich in mercy and strong to save. His help shapes our days and his deliverance defines our lives. Praise be to the Lord!

Peace,

Allan

Paying the Price

Being a disciple of Jesus is costly.

Sometimes we pay financially. There are jobs Christians will not do. There are deals Christians won’t make, promotions they never get, strategies they can’t use.

Sometimes the cost of following Jesus is social. Sometimes a family will bail on a new Christian convert. You mention the Lord Jesus more than twice at a party and you might not be invited back. There are entertainment and pastimes disciples of Jesus won’t be a part of.

Sometimes it’s an intellectual or emotional price. It’s a whole lot more demanding mentally and emotionally figuring out how to love your enemies than it is trying to get even. Being different from the culture, always swimming upstream, takes a toll. the cross is the heaviest piece of furniture to move, and Christians are called to pick it up and carry it every day.

And Christians pay the price politically. There are appointments Christians will never be considered for. There are powers Christians refuse to use, lords they refuse to serve, and compromises they refuse to make.

Commitment to the faith carries a cost — we know that. But Christians are not always willing to pay that cost. The price can seem too high in some circumstances. Or maybe we just get tired of paying it every single day. Most of the time, though, what chips away at our confidence and erodes our strength is a loss of hope. We keep paying the price and making the sacrifices, but nothing changes. The problems don’t get fixed, the powers against us still seem to be in control, and none of the issues go away.

It’s a struggle.

We grow weary and lose heart. We get tired of serving other people. Tired of trying to keep the church going. Tired of being different and pointed at and whispered about. We get tired of trying not to sin, tired of reading the Bible, tired of praying. Tired of battling our own cravings and addictions. Christians grow weary of walking the walk.

And Christians who are tired and losing hope don’t usually do something dramatic. They don’t become atheists, they don’t join a witches coven, they don’t start suddenly rooting for the Red Sox. They just give up. They just quit.

The sermon in Hebrews is addressed to Christians on the verge of quitting. The preacher in Hebrews is concerned about people who stop coming to church. He’s worried about people who pour their lives into the collection plate but never receive the blessing. He’s concerned about people who have all the scars, but none of the hope.

I want to spend the rest of this week looking at some really encouraging words from Hebrews 12 that speak directly to those who are losing hope in the midst of terrible pains and hardship. Tomorrow, Hebrews 12:5-9, our suffering has meaning. Friday, Hebrews 12:10-11, the gain is worth the pain. And then Saturday, Hebrews 12:12-13, healing comes in the running.

In the meantime: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful people, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” ~Hebrews 12:2-3

Peace,

Allan

Pay Careful Attention

“We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away.” ~Hebrews 2:1

We’re struggling against boredom and a waning interest in things associated with church. We’ve lost our fire, we’ve plateaued. Maybe we’re drifting.

I think this can be deceptively subtle for Christians who were born and raised in the Church. I wasn’t born on a church pew, but my parents got me there as fast as they could. A lot of us have been in God’s Church for a long, long time. And I think it’s easy for us to drift. I’ve already done the work. I’ve already been saved. I’ve been doing this my whole life.

It’s really easy to think we can just take the pressure off. We can let other people do the praying and the thinking and the ministry. We can just go along for the ride. We can just go with the flow. We can just drift. Or we can think we already know it all and spend most of our time telling other people what to do and never spend a moment sincerely examining ourselves. We’re drifting.

One of the problems is that we live in a world of all signposts and no destination. The world is changing; everything’s shaking; and the culture says you’ve got to get off the path you’re on and do something different. We’re more and more mobile and less and less stable when it comes to extended families and where we live and where we worship.

And we are consumers. We’re constantly shopping for new material goods and for new experiences. And that can easily add up to drifting, just kind of floating around from one thing to another. We look for better preachers and better churches. We chase after practical books and helpful videos. We fall in with the shallow stuff at Mardell or fall for the power stuff on Fox News. We line up with science or we sell our souls to technology. We sprinkle on some new age and sample some Eastern philosophy. The spiritual reference points keep shifting as we attempt to navigate the chaos of our lives and the uncertainty of this world. And it’s all distractions! If we’re not careful, we’ll wind up making a bad trade like Esau: we’ll trade our salvation connection to Christ for the affirmation and acceptance of the culture. Of the “I want it all” attitude can turn into “I’m overwhelmed and paralyzed in the face of it all!” We can wind up being overcome in a cloud of meaninglessness or powerlessness. Shrouded in the mist. Hemmed in by the fog. Drifting.

It’s hard for us to see the truth. It’s hard to see the present, much less eternity. We can’t see it. But we can hear it.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3

God has spoken to us by his Son! And God is still speaking to us by his Son! Like a clarion blast sounding through the thick fog, God’s Word pierces the gloom, cuts through the mist, to announce what we can’t yet see but what we can certainly trust. God’s Word assures us that even though we’re being killed all day long, we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. We can’t see it yet. But we can hear it. And the preacher of Hebrews wants us to hear it.

“We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” ~Hebrews 2:1

Peace,

Allan

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