Category: Hebrews (page 1 of 9)

Let Us Go To Him

We know this in our heads. We understand the call and the logic to leave our comfort zones, to sacrifice our status and security, to minister to the marginalized and forgotten. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what his followers do. We know all this. But it’s difficult to feel it in our hearts. It’s even more difficult to embody it in our lives. But here’s the truth: Christians live with Christ as outsiders in this world.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

Christians learn how to resist power and influence. Disciples of Christ avoid the centers of wealth and success and learn to feel more at home on the margins. Christians hang out with the outsiders, they become outsiders, they embrace living outside the city gates for the sake of the Kingdom that’s coming.

And I know we’re tempted to grieve the loss of our secure city. The tendency is to be troubled when we see and feel more evidence that the Church in the United States is being shoved to the outside. But the good news is that there’s tons of opportunity here. We’re actually finding ourselves where God has intended us to be all along: outside the gates! Instead of working from a position of power and authority, the Church in the U.S. is being forced now to work like it did in the first three centuries, from a position of weakness and marginal standing.

And we shouldn’t spend too much time and energy attempting to reverse it back. Trying to prop up the Church with power isn’t going to work. It’s time for all Christians in this land to follow Christ outside the gates. Let us go to him outside the camp, to the place of sacrifice and redemption. Let us renounce the world’s ways of power and wealth and be more at home working and ministering among the marginalized outside the camp. Like our Lord Jesus, let us go to and identify with those outside the city gates.

Like minorities. By the very definition of the word in conjunction with the broken ways of this world, minorities, generally speaking, do not experience status anywhere near the same level as others. In this country, because of past history and current structures and a thousand other very complicated factors, African-Americans do not have the same chances. The playing field is not level. In our city, Amarillo, African-Americans make up less than six-percent of the total population. They are marginalized. And there’s a confederate statue in Ellwood Park and there’s a Lee (Robert E.) elementary school in a black neighborhood in North Amarillo and there are confederate flags flying out the backs of pickup trucks from Pullman Road to Soncy. Where are the followers of Jesus?

Slippery slope arguments about erasing history and heritage are missing the point. The question for Christians is, will you identify with the city that’s fading away or with the enduring city that’s coming? Will you go to Jesus, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore? Will you love your neighbor more than you love a flag or a statue? Will you love the African-American men and women of our city and this country more than you love the history and the heritage of the South?

My question for Christians who display that flag is this: If you know how African-Americans read that flag, if you know how that flag makes them feel vulnerable and oppressed, why would you continue to fly it? Why would you insist? Why would you actually fight with your words and your good name for a statue that you know causes others deep pain?

Scripture says be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, people who do not enjoy the same status or success. These are the very people chosen by Christ, remember? Not influential, not of noble birth, weak people, lowly people, despised people, vulnerable and oppressed people. Have we forgotten who we are?

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Let us go to Jesus outside the camp.

Following Jesus means going where Jesus is. Our Lord went outside the city gates to offer the sacrifice of his own blood to make people holy. We follow him outside the camp to also make sacrifices, the sacrifice of praise (v.15), the “fruit of lips that confess his name.”

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” ~Hebrews 13:16

Doing good to others and giving praise to God. Making sure we’re not setting up shop in the wrong city. Going where Jesus is, outside the gates. Where there’s no status, no security. Where it’s dangerous and intimidating and threatening. Where we’ll face certain opposition and accusation and persecution. Where just about all we’ve got is faith, hope, and love.

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More than fifty Amarillo churches are coming together outside the downtown courthouse this Sunday evening for a praise and prayer service to express our Christian unity. “Uniting as One” will be a powerful testimony to our city and to anyone who’s paying attention that disciples of Jesus here are not going to be divided by race, by geography, by national politics, or by anything else this world uses to draw lines and build walls between us. We’re going to cry out to God for healing and for harmony and we’re going to sing to the Lord in spirit and in truth.

James Tudman, the Lead Pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church here in Amarillo, and I are quoted in today’s Amarillo Globe-News story about this city-wide, all-church, interracial, interdenominational worship assembly.

If you’re a Christian in the Texas panhandle, you’re invited to join us. Black, white, Hispanic, young, old, all races, all colors, all ages — bring your friends, bring your lawn chairs and blankets, grab some free parking, and let’s show this city that we really do belong to the Prince of Peace and he’s bigger and stronger than anything that might possibly divide us.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Also Suffered

The preacher of Hebrews ends his sermon by showing Christians a different way to view their position in the world. He tells us to go outside the camp, where Jesus is. He encourages us to bear the same disgrace Jesus did. Why? Because this ain’t our city. We’re living for the city that’s coming.

Earlier in Hebrews 13, he eludes to this radical shift in priorities by reminding us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The stranger, the foreigner, the alien — open your door to them and an angel might walk in! They may look homeless and hungry when you invite them in, but for those who have the conviction or the certainty of things not seen, you’re inviting in the very presence of God!

We’re also told in that same context to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Those in prison, those who are mistreated, some translations say “victims of abuse.” Put yourselves in their shoes. Empathize with them. Act like what’s happening to them is happening to you. Feel it.

This is our calling. Why? Because Jesus also suffered.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

This is our missional mandate. This is the great commission. If Jesus went outside and suffered public abuse to make his sacrifice, then his disciples should be willing to follow him outside to make ours. The question here, and the decision we Christians have to ultimately make, is do you find your identity in the safety and security of Judaism and the pagan temples, or the Empire with its government and military and law, or is your identity grounded in Christ Jesus and the ways of the Lord? It can’t be both. It’s really the choice.

Going where Jesus goes will cost you status and security.

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 and mocked, 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 walls that divided people, because he refused to label people. And the world was offended by the way he lived. The government tried to shut him down, the religious leaders tried to shut him up. In the end, they all decided that Jesus was unpatriotic, that he wasn’t working in the best interest of society’s law and order. And they killed him.

And then he was raised. Romans 1 says Christ Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!” The resurrection and the ascension to the right hand of God validate this Jesus Way as the right way. It’s the eternal way. It’s the only way to live.

So show hospitality to strangers and aliens, show empathy for prisoners and victims of abuse. Share the shame. Bear the disgrace.

Peace,

Allan

Outside the Camp

Preachers are fond of saying Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is not a letter, it’s not written by Paul, and it’s not addressed to Hebrews. I tend to agree. It’s clearly a sermon, not a letter; it doesn’t sound like anything Paul ever wrote, and it’s directed to a church that’s made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

We know this church was enduring some pain. At the end of chapter ten, the author/preacher makes explicit what’s been implied throughout the whole sermon: You’re experiencing some trouble. He reminds this congregation that, so far, they’ve stood their ground in the face of suffering. They’ve been publicly exposed to persecution and insult, they’ve been thrown into prison, some have had their property confiscated. In chapter twelve the author says, yes, you haven’t had to shed any blood yet, but you’re enduring some significant hardship.

See, for Jews, embracing Jesus Christ as the Messiah means leaving the security of Judaism and the temple in Jerusalem. For Greeks, it means leaving the safety of the gods and pagan temples of the national religion. These Christians were feeling isolated and shut out. When it comes to their neighbors and families, to their government and their culture, these Christians were living in danger. They had no status, no security, no nothing.

That’s why a lot of them wanted to quit. A lot of them had stopped coming to the worship gatherings and some of them had stopped confessing that they were Christians. They didn’t like the way it felt. It scared them. The whole sermon of Hebrews from start to finish is about perseverance. Don’t give up. We’re not quitters. Keep running the race. Don’t throw away your confidence or your salvation. Don’t drift away. Hang in there.

Don’t. Give. Up.

It’s easy for Christians to feel like outsiders because the world isolates us and insults us, the culture minimizes and marginalizes us, and the government persecutes and imprisons us. Followers of Jesus have always been on the wrong side of government and culture.

But today in the United States, we Christians resist being pushed to the margins. We don’t quit, we fight!

For the past fifty years, the Church in America¬† has had less and less influence, less and less power, less and less status and standing. The society doesn’t prop us up, the government doesn’t encourage us, and our neighbors don’t care. Christians in this country feel betrayed by the culture, we feel discarded by the powers, and ignored by the masses. The Church is losing its influence and its status in the United States and that’s got a lot of Christians really shook up. So we push back!

Because we like being in control. Being on the margins may be fine for the Church in the Bible, but we’re not going to be shoved out today! The Church in the United States has not intention of being irrelevant to the government or the culture. We’re resisting. You can hear the fear in our conversations, you can feel the anger in our forwarded emails and Facebook posts, you can see the determination in our posture and in our positions. We’re not going there. We like being mainstream and important. We like being the ones in charge. We like making and enforcing the rules. We are not going to be shoved aside and ignored like outsiders. We are Christians!

“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:11-14

Those verses sound really important, don’t they? The language is strange, a little provocative. And it just sounds important, like something we should pay close attention to.

The preacher of Hebrews is giving Christians a different perspective. He’s telling them about a better way to view their place in the world. He calls these Christians to follow Jesus, to go where Jesus goes, to live and die the way Jesus lived and died. The preacher calls them/us to reject the safety and security of the city and go to the place of sacrifice and service outside the gates. Out where Jesus is. Outside the camp.

These four verses have some very important implications for where God’s Church is right now. There is some holy instruction here we dare not ignore. We’ll spend this week in this space — in the middle of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and racial injustice and demonstrations — exploring what it means for disciples of Christ to go outside the camp.

Peace,

Allan

From Scattered to Gathered: Part 3

 

If Sunday morning worship is a beach vacation — it’s real, it’s physical, sand in the toes, sun on the face — and online worship is not; but if coming together on Sundays under social distancing restrictions, mask guidelines, “Rip N Sip” communion kits, and a lot of our church family still quarantining at home is like sticking your finger in a four-year-old jar of sand — it’s just not the same, it’s diminished, not the way we remember, almost a let down — should we even do it?

Let me finally now make a case for it. I’m convinced we can practice the priority and the purpose of our gatherings, while not forgetting what we’ve learned and experienced while we’ve been scattered. And I believe a helpful text is Hebrews 10:19-25.

Since we have confidence, boldness, authorization to enter the very Holy of Holies; since we have the blood of Jesus and the body of Christ that opens up the door for us to come into the very presence of God himself; since we have been given access by our risen and reigning high priest to the very throne room of God — because of all those mind-blowing blessings we share together — let us.

Let us draw near to God in faith. Let us go in, right into his presence. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, that God has promised an eternal gathering someday, a forever community to which we will all ultimately belong together. Let us take care of each other. Let us love, encourage, and support one another. Let us not give up meeting together — for all these reasons. Let us not stop meeting together.

It’s a taste, right? It’s a foretaste of what’s coming. Our Sunday morning assemblies point to the day when all God’s people are gathered together — every tribe, language, people, and nation — in God’s presence with one another around his great banquet feast. Our church gatherings anticipate that, our worship services point to that. It’s a taste. It’s a glimpse. And when we’re all physically together in the presence of God, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Spirit, we actually are really participating in that ultimate promised gathering.

“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men and women, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

The assembly transcends time and space. We’re not meeting at 1401 South Madison in Amarillo, we’re gathering on Mount Zion! We’re in the heavenly Jerusalem! We’re not assembling with 600 people in a church building in Texas, we’re worshiping and eating and drinking with all of God’s saints for all time! That’s the invisible eternal reality!

When God’s people meet together, we meet the future. We get a taste of the future. We experience it. We join it. We get to see what our God is ultimately doing. It’s like receiving the down payment on God’s guarantee.

Church is a communal event. It’s spiritual communion with the Lord through which the divine community engages the redeemed community, where we delight in each other and we witness together to the not-always-seen realities of God’s Kingdom.

Sunday morning worship is Psalm 50 where God says, “Gather to me my consecrated ones.” It’s Leviticus 9 where the entire assembly comes near and stands before the Lord and his glory appears to them all. It’s Jesus saying, “How I long to gather you together.” It’s Ephesians 1 where the Bible says God’s ultimate will is to bring all things in heaven and earth together in Christ.

So what if May 31, or whenever your church gets back together, and the weeks after that are like just sticking your finger in a four-year-old jar of sand. It’s a taste. It’s a glimpse. It’s still a real, physical participation in a glorious, eternal reality with God and each other.

God has been obviously at work during the weirdness of doing church online. You think he might have something special planned for us in the weirdness of May 31?

Let us draw near to God and find out.

Peace,

Allan

Carriers of Hope: Part 2

“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” ~Luke 5:21

There were doubters in that crowded house who watched as four men lowered their paralyzed man on a mat down through the roof into the presence of Jesus. When Jesus forgave the man’s sins, these doubters balked. They double-clutched.

Jesus, knowing what they were thinking, commanded the man to walk and physically healed him right there on the spot. Jesus proves his power to forgive sin when he heals this guy physically. Jesus proves his authority to save the man’s eternal soul when he gives strength to the man’s physical bones. “Get up and walk!” The words and work of Jesus, huh? “Get up and walk!”

The Bible wants us to see that everything God has promised us for the future is already beginning to come true today. The Kingdom has not yet fully come, God’s will is not yet being done on earth just as it is in Heaven. But it has started. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it has started.

And you are a sign. You’re a foretaste of what God is planning to do with the whole universe. Your life of faith and your discipleship, your prayers and your holiness, your love and your hope, as up and down as it is, are some of the ways God is actually making it happen. When Jesus says to you, “Get up and walk!” he’s calling you to practice hope, to live in hope right now today.

Jesus calls Zacchaeus a beloved son of Abraham and Zacchaeus goes from stealing people’s money to giving his money away. Jesus drives the demons away from the naked guy in the tombs and that guy goes back and tells his whole family how the Lord has changed his life. Jesus had one face-to-face conversation with the woman at the well and she goes from the town sleaze to the town evangelist — she converts her whole village! Jesus forgives Peter and the betrayer becomes the pillar of God’s universal Church.

Christian hope doesn’t mean escaping from the world someday when you die; it means ministering to the world today while you live. Hope is a way of life, right now, that blesses everybody in your world. You have that hope. It’s been given to you by our risen Lord Jesus and you carry it with you everywhere you go. You are a carrier of hope.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” ~1 Peter 1:3-9

Coronavirus messes everything up. But it cannot touch the inheritance God in Christ is keeping for you in Heaven!

If your future is not secured and guaranteed by God in Christ, then you are going to be overly anxious. You’re either going to be stuck in a paralyzing fear or running blind trying to gain control. You’ll be focused on your own safety and security, your own possessions and lifestyle. And you’ll wind up carrying something besides hope.

It’s anxiety and worry and fear. If that’s what you’re carrying, you’ll infect others with it. And if there’s anything more contagious right now than COVID-19, it’s fear!

Fear is the opposite of faith. And I think it’s OK to be afraid. It’s human nature. It’s going to happen. It’s OK to acknowledge that fear is in the car with you. But you can’t let it drive! It’s in the backseat, where it belongs. Hush! Sit back! Be quiet! You don’t let it drive! If we let our fears and anxieties drive, we’re going to lose our identity, we’ll forget who we are, and who we represent and why we’ve been saved.

We are a people of hope. We’ve been born into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus and we carry this hope with us always, into every setting and into everything that comes our way. This hope gives us patience. This hope gives us confidence. This hope fuels our perseverance. This hope guarantees us that God is at work in the broken present to bring about our glorious future. This hope allows us to listen without judging, to pray without ceasing, and to love without limits.

Yes, Coronavirus is in the air. Yes, our culture is anxious. Yes, people are afraid. The schools are closed, the economy’s in a nose-dive, I’m on information overload and overkill, and I’m preaching to an empty room in our church building. But I’m telling you, our God is doing something good with all this bad. We know this! We know that God is at work even now in the middle of this mess to bring about what’s best for you and for us, what’s best for his entire creation, and what’s best for his everlasting Kingdom!

“So let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” ~Hebrews 10:23

Peace,

Allan

You Can’t Beat the Devil

The stuff we’ve been talking about here for the past two posts are things you’re going to be dealing with at some level for most of your life. The seeds of doubt, the questions about your own worth and salvation, the lack of assurance — you can’t defeat the devil. But Jesus defeats the devil for you. That’s the really good news: Jesus is your Savior and he defeats the devil for you.

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work!” ~1 John 3:8

Look at how Jesus does this during that face-to-face in the desert. Jesus counters the devil from his solid position as God’s beloved Son and he uses the blessings and the promises of Scripture to defeat the devil for you.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8. I live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. I live and thrive on who God says I am, not in who you say I am. I believe what God says about me, not what you’re saying about me.

Then Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6. Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Don’t question my identity in God. If he says he loves me and that I belong to him and that he’s well pleased with me, don’t you doubt that for a second.

Then Jesus says, “Away from me! I’m done with this! There’s only one God, the One who loves me and accepts me, the One whose image I share!”

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” ~Hebrews 4:15-16

We don’t just have the Word of the Lord, we also have the Lord of the Word. We don’t just have the book, as beautiful and as powerful as it is, we also have Jesus, the Holy Son of God himself.

Jesus is the One who crushes the head of the serpent. He’s the Savior lifted up on the stake, the One we look to for healing from the viper’s bites. He’s the One who throws the dragon into the fiery abyss.

Jesus Christ is not just a good man who shows us how to live. He’s also not just a King who destroys all evil in one mighty stroke. Evil is all around us, it’s inside us, we’re all infected. If Jesus came here to destroy all evil on the spot, he would have ended all of us, too. No, Jesus is a King who came to a cross.

Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave vindicates God’s blessing and validates God’s promises and destroys forever the work of the devil and his lies. Jesus tells us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.” And Jesus is the One who delivers.

If Jesus is who he says he is, you should believe him when he says who you are. What he says about you is true. What he’s placed in you is true. He wants you to view yourself and understand yourself, not through your past or even your present, but through his promise.

“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true — even in his Son Jesus Christ.” ~1 John 5:19-20

Peace,

Allan

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