Category: Jesus (page 1 of 50)

Closer Than You Think

You are familiar with the warning etched into the bottom of the passenger’s side-view mirror on your car: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This authoritative statement is located on the passenger’s side-view mirror, but not the driver’s side. Why?

Your driver’s side-view mirror is just a standard flat-surface mirror. Your eyes are less than 18-inches away from that mirror and there’s hardly any angle. You can see almost everything behind you on that side through that mirror. But a normal mirror doesn’t work on the passenger’s side. The driver’s eyes are at least six feet away from that mirror and the angle is extremely sharp. A flat mirror would only allow you to see a tiny sliver of what is behind you on that side. So those mirrors are convex in shape. To compensate for the increased distance between you and the mirror and the severe angle, the passenger’s side mirror bulges out in the middle and curves away toward the sides to give you a wider view. You can see much more with the wider angle, but it comes at a price. The wider focal point compresses the image so it makes the objects appear to be smaller and farther away than they really are. Hence, the warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you are reminded that what you are seeing on that side is a lot bigger and a lot closer than you think. That’s what the warning is all about. This thing in the mirror is closer than it looks. It will impact you sooner than you think. You need to act on this, and your response is important. Time is short. The gap is small. It’s closer than it appears to be.

There is a similar warning for us  in the Bible. It should probably be heard or read as a comfort.

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” ~Romans 13:11-12

It feels like night. It has for a while. We were told at the end of March that we only needed 15-days. If we shut everything down for 15-days, we can flatten the curve and avoid any real crisis. Fifteen days and we’ll be good.

That was nine months ago. And we’re not good. I’m not good. Are you? I feel like I’m in a fog. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure anybody really knows.

We have a vaccine now, praise the Lord. It seems like a miracle we’ve received the vaccines so quickly and we should be thanking God for this answer to our prayers. But most health officials are saying the darkest days of the pandemic are still ahead. And now a new strain? It feels like nobody knows what to do and nobody knows when it’s going to be over.

Our salvation seems like a smaller thing in the face of all the suffering and loss that surrounds us. The dawn of a new day feels a long way off in the suffocating darkness of the present.

We all have questions as we head into the new year. When will the coronavirus crisis end? How will the vaccines work? Is 2021 going to be better than 2020, or will it just be more of the same? Will handshakes and hugs ever be normalized again? What about my own peace of mind? My own sense of well-being? Lots of questions.

Romans 13 reminds us of what the Bible affirms for us over and over again: that we belong to a God who does his very best work in the dark and his deliverance is always closer than you think.

What we see right now can throw us off. You know, it is possible to focus too much on the coronavirus and develop a distorted view. We can pay too much attention to the experts. We can watch too much news and get sucked into a false narrative. We can scroll through too much Facebook, we can read too many emails and websites, we can easily lose sight. Our salvation can seem much smaller than it really is. And farther away. The presence and power of our God can appear to be smaller and farther away.

We need an authoritative statement on the fronts of all our phones and etched into the bottom of all our screens: God’s presence and power is closer than it appears! God’s rescue is closer than you think!

New life always begins in the dark. A seed in the ground. A baby in the womb. Jesus in the tomb. A church in a pandemic. A Christian in despair. We can believe the night is nearly over and the day is almost here. You can have faith in the middle of your fears. You can be calm and certain through your anxieties. You can experience true life even as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Because we know what the prophet Micah knows: “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” And we know what our Lord has promised: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Which is closer than you think.

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Lord

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~ Psalm 125

God wants you to be more sure of your salvation than you are. You belong to him forever. But we don’t always talk like it.

The way we talk does reveal what’s inside our souls. We say things like, “I hope God just lets me sneak into heaven” or “I’ll be happy just to slide into a little back corner of heaven.” We hear things like this at funerals. “If she’s not going to heaven, none of us has a chance!”

Why? Because she’s so good? Like our salvation is somehow tied to our works?

We don’t believe that. Your salvation has never been tied to what you’re doing or not doing. Your salvation is solidly secured in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus!

You say, “I hope I’m good enough.” You’re not! You say, “I hope I’ve done enough.” You haven’t! Your salvation is in the Lord!

He meant it when he said, “It is finished.” Your deliverance from sins, your rescue from death, your salvation and eternal life — it is finished.  It is done. Not by you, no way. But by God in Christ for you. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us; not after we all became saints.

Your salvation is not about you. No matter what your feelings tell you, no matter what bad things happen to you, no matter how many times you slip and fall along the path, those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but endures forever.

The cross is not just something God did, it’s who he is. The cross is the essence of God’s being: God in Christ reconciling the world back to himself, personally taking care of everything that might separate you from him. Jesus doesn’t overlook or forget your brokenness and sin, he becomes a part of it. He enters into and participates in your brokenness and sin in order to heal and renew, to bring life and to overcome.

That’s the good news of the Gospel. That’s what we proclaim. And we probably don’t do it enough. I figure if the people in our church are weary or beaten down, if my brothers and sisters at Central are discouraged or tired, maybe it’s because I’m not announcing the Gospel enough. Maybe I’m talking too much about what we do and not enough about what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ.

I don’t believe in once-saved-always-saved. But I also don’t believe in once-saved-barely-saved.

Jude 24 says our God is able to keep you from falling and will present you in his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.

Being a Christian is like living in the security of a mountain fortress in the hills of Jerusalem. All the way safe. All the way secure.

Go Mavs!

Allan

Eyes Off the Hills!

Lots of Christians believe that once they repent and confess Jesus as Lord and begin living in the righteousness of God, nothing bad should ever happen to them again. Christians should not have accidents or arguments with spouses, they should not be misunderstood at work or talked back to by their children. No problems, no pains, no setbacks, no sins, no issues.

Even Christians who don’t believe that sometimes talk like they do. Too blessed to be stressed!

So, when something does go wrong, some Christians don’t handle it very well. Maybe a doubt creeps into your head. Maybe a loneliness moves into your soul. An illness puts you in the hospital or an argument lands you in the doghouse. A misunderstanding leads to anger and pain.  A person walking in the way of faith gets into trouble and starts looking for help.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?” ~Psalm 121:1

What does this person see on the hills? What’s happening on the hills?

The pagan religions were practiced on the hills. That’s where the pagan gods were worshiped. The high places on the hills are where the nations built their altars to Ba’al and erected their shrines to Asherah. People went to the hills to engage in acts of idol worship they believed would ensure their safety or fix whatever is wrong. You worshiped the pagan gods on the hills to enhance the fertility of your livestock and crops. The pagan rituals would keep you safe from invading armies. The religious formulas and good luck charms would make you wealthy and wise. It would protect you from evil.

Where do your eyes go when things get a little shaky? Who do you look to? Where do you put your trust when things go bad? There are all kinds of things we can look to for help besides God. And all those things are idols.

In the Bible, the hills are where the idols are worshiped. Hosea 4:12-13 and Ezekiel 6:13 are two of dozens of biblical references. 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles describe the high places where God’s people set up sacred stones and Asherah poles “on every high hill.” Think about the altars of Ba’al on the hills of Mount Carmel. Think about King Rehoboam who built his altar on the high place at Dan. Think about the hills of Caesarea Philippi where the temples and shrines were built to Pan and Ba’al and Asherah and where they worshiped Roman Emperors and sacred goats.

When you run into trouble or when something goes wrong, you holler help. And if you look to the hills, there it is! All kinds of help! Instant help!

Except for one thing: it doesn’t work. It’s an illusion. Nobody is ever really helped by what’s happening in the hills.

“We will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception.” ~ Jeremiah 3:23

If you think the next election is going to fix things, you’re looking to the hills. If you believe the next scientific breakthrough is going to heal things, you’re eyes are on the hills. If you think your next promotion or pay raise is going to put you over the top and fill the hole in your soul, you’re looking to the hills.

When you look to science, technology, or politics for help, you’re going to be disappointed. When you put your faith in the economy or your family, your education goals or your career plan, you’re going to be let down. When you try to ignore your pain or distract from your troubles with pills or drinks or vacations or sports or some kind of busyness, it just leads to more pain and more trouble.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 121:2

Your help comes from the Lord, not from what’s in the hills. You don’t need any supplemental insurance from what’s going on in the hills. When your loving Father is the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe, you don’t need your safety or security to come from the hills.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil — he will watch over your life.” ~Psalm 121:7

That doesn’t mean you’re never going to stub your toe. No one gets out of this life without the experience of pain. The promise is that no injury or accident, no illness or distress, no tragedy, nothing that can ever happen to you will have evil power over you. Nothing can ever happen to you that can separate you from God’s purpose for you.

That’s the Lord’s Prayer. That’s the expectation. “Deliver us from evil.” That prayer is answered for you every day. Sometimes several times a day.

Take your eyes off the hills and place them directly on the God of Heaven and Earth who says, “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world!”

Peace,

Allan

Hope of the World

We noticed yesterday that uniting as one is the prayer of our Lord. Today, I want us to recognize that all Christians living and worshiping and serving together as one united people is also the hope of the world. It’s the only thing that will work.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

That the world may believe. That the world will know. That the world will turn to Christ. That the world will change. May they be one so the world will see it and believe. May they brought to complete unity so the world will see and experience how to love, not hate; how to forgive, not condemn; how to meet the needs of others, not stake out their own claims and rights; how to live in the peace of Christ, not in the violence of this world; how to live in harmony with those who are different, not in conflict and strife.

Jesus does not say, May they worship correctly so the world will believe. It’s not, May they structure their church leadership in such a way that the world will know. It’s not, May they memorize the right verses, pray the right prayers, vote the right party, read the right books, or advocate for the right laws. God’s people uniting as one is the only hope of the world.

I’ve heard people say, “Stop preaching unity and start preaching doctrine.” I’ve got news for you: Christian unity is doctrine! Uniting as one is the prayer of our Lord and it’s the only hope for this world.

What’s going to change the racial division and strife? What’s going to slow down all the violence and death? What’s going to stop all the selfishness and sin that has plunged the world into so much peril and despair?

I’m convinced that God’s Church uniting as one is the only hope. Not better laws or deeper science or faster technology or all of us simply trying harder. It’s been proven for centuries now that none of that works! Any positive lasting change in our world must begin with and go through our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. The Body of Christ. That’s the only way.

This is not just Jesus’ prayer and his plan, this is our mission. As disciples of Jesus, this is our calling.

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” ~John 17:18

Jesus was sent into this world by the Father to show everybody who God is and what God is all about. He said it himself, If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. So Jesus comes here and he loves unconditionally. He is liberal with his forgiveness. He gives everybody the benefit of the doubt. He worked so hard to tear down the walls that divide people. He refused to label people. He stood with the powerless against the powerful. And he ate meals with everybody.

People from different countries, people with different social standings, people with darker or lighter skin, people who differed from Jesus’ group politically — he went into their homes and he met them in public and he ate and drank with all of them.

And God’s people committing to thinking and acting and living that way in the world is the only hope for fixing what’s destroying our society today. It’s the only hope.

But we can’t just talk about it. We have to live it. It’s got to be real or nobody will buy it. And it’s got to be us, the Church, or nothing will really change. Who else will do it? It has to be us!

We’re the ones who believe that every man, woman, and child on this planet is created by God in his holy image. We’re the ones who know so well our God’s heart for the oppressed. We’re the ones who obey our God’s command to love our neighbors. We’re the ones who trust that God is working right now to bring all people of every tribe, language, color, and tongue together around the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This is the solution given to us by our God. This is the vivid picture that makes it real. This is the bold call for what’s needed. This is the vision that can invigorate our imaginations and our witness in a world that’s groaning for what God’s Church has to give.

The time is right now. The opportunity is right here. And it’s not going to be easy. The racial division among Christians and the racial injustice in this country is territory our Enemy has held for a long, long time. And he’s not going to give it up to a bunch of Christians like us without a fight.

But our faith is in God through our risen and reigning Lord Jesus. And our trust is in his promise that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit flows through us to equip and encourage, to embolden and to heal, when we’re together. When we’re united as one. THEN the world will believe. May that day begin this day.

Peace,

Allan

Prayer of Our Lord

It’s striking to me that in the very last recorded conversation between Jesus and his Father in the Gospel of John, just hours before his hands and feet would be nailed to the tree, Jesus is talking about our unity as his followers. These are some of the very last words of our Lord. And they carry so much weight.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

This prayer of Jesus is very familiar to us. Maybe a bit too familiar, like maybe we’ve heard it so often and read it so much and NOT made it the priority that Christ does, we’ve NOT pursued it and practiced it or been willing to die for it like Christ is. Maybe it’s lost its punch. Verse ten has really jumped out at me the past couple of weeks. Maybe the message of verse ten can revive the punch in our Lord’s prayer.

“All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine.”

All those who belong to God belong to Christ and all those who belong to Christ belong to God, which means all those who confess Jesus as Lord — “all who will believe in me” — all belong to each other. We’re not promoting Christian unity here, we’re practicing it. Christian unity is not something we chase or pursue, it’s not something we must generate or create; it’s already the reality! Christian unity is the gift we’ve all been given by God in Christ.

Scripture tells us we all form one body, that this is the way it is in Christ.

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12:13, 18, 27

We don’t try hard to be a part of the body. We don’t do our best to share in the blessings of belonging to God’s one universal and united people. No! Listen to the Bible! You. It’s plural, actually, so, you all. Y’all ARE the body of Christ. So act like it.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

Because of our fallen, sinful nature as humans and because of the broken systems and structures of the fallen, sinful world, we don’t see each other enough. We don’t listen enough to each other’s stories. We don’t know each other well enough to practice and live this unity that’s already there if we’ll just pay attention to it. If we’ll just look each other in the eye. If we’ll really listen to each other well. If we’ll commit to loving all believers in Jesus as the brothers and sisters in Christ they are.

“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~Romans 12:5

What does it mean for all Christians to belong to each other? It means we love each other. We forgive each other. We help carry each other’s burdens. We look out for each other and take care of each other. It means offering grace to people we’d rather punch in the throat. It means standing alongside those whose politics we might detest.

This is what Jesus prayed. This is who Jesus is. The way Jesus lived his life, the things he taught and the stories he told — he erase all the labels we attach to others. He obliterated the ways we draw lines and build walls between us and others. He lived and taught the complete unity of all God’s people.

When you see the hungry and thirsty — listen to the words of Jesus — when you see the alien, the naked and the sick, when you see the prisoner, you’re looking at me.

The Samaritan? Yeah, he’s your neighbor. That’s right, the guy who doesn’t look like you, his skin’s a different color than yours, he lives in a different part of the city, he doesn’t smell like you, he doesn’t vote like you, he believes and practices his Christianity a little differently than you — he’s yours. You are responsible for each other.

Jesus completely turned upside down the whole economy of the way the world operates. The first are last! The poor are blessed! The oppressed are kings! We love our enemies and pray for those who treat us wrong! Why would we ever stand by and ignore or go along with the world’s status quo when our Lord Jesus prayed that it would all be changed?

Each member belongs to all the others. All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine. Taking care of each other. Uniting as one. That’s the prayer of our Lord. It’s what he asked for the night before he died.

Peace,

Allan

We Need a Prayer

We need a clear solution for what’s wrong in our broken world. We need a vivid picture to make it real. We need a bold call for what’s necessary. We need the courage for what’s demanded. We need a vision for what’s really possible.

We need hope. We need a prayer.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

Uniting as One is the prayer of our Lord and the hope of the world.

This is God’s goal and our destination. This is at the core of God’s covenant promise that his people would live and serve and worship together in joy and peace. It’s at the heart of who we are as followers of his Son, that we are all one together. It’s the very reason Jesus died on the cross, to destroy all the barriers that divide his people.

It doesn’t need biblical explanation as much as it needs fearless proclamation. We don’t need to read it and believe it as much as we need to preach it and practice it. Uniting as One brings glory to Christ and it testifies to the truth about Jesus and his claims. It validates who Jesus is as the Son of God and the eternal and reigning Prince of Peace.

This is the solution given to us by God. This is the vivid picture that makes it real. This is the bold call for what’s needed. This is the vision that can invigorate our imaginations and our witness in a world that’s groaning for what God’s Church has to give. Uniting as One is the prayer of our Lord and the hope of the world.

The time is right now. The opportunity is right here. And it’s not going to be easy. The racial division among Christians and the racial injustice in this country is territory our Enemy has had for a long, long time and he’s not going to give it up to a bunch of Christians like us without a fight.

But our faith is in God through our risen and coming Lord Jesus. And our trust is in his promise that the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit flows through us to equip and encourage and embolden and heal us when we’re together. When we’re united as one. Then the whole world will believe. May that day start right now.

Peace,

Allan

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