Category: John (page 1 of 23)

The Power of God to Save

The Israelites are cornered. Trapped. They’re in a cul-de-sac, a bottle neck of disaster — the Red Sea on one side, the desert mountains on the other side, and the mighty forces of the Egyptian army barrelling down on top of them. They’re dead.

And our God shows his power over nature and history to split the sea right down the middle so two million of his people can pass through on dry ground. Israel saw the conquered Egyptians lying dead on the shore. They had proof. Their enemies were vanquished and powerless to ever do them any more harm. The escape is complete. Salvation is secure. And when they saw the great power displayed by the Lord, they put their trust in him, they swear their allegiance to him. And their lives are shaped by their utter dependence on the one who saves them.

That’s our story, too. That’s who we are. That’s the point of the Exodus story.

The point is not “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). We’ll miss the whole point of this grand theological message if we reduce it down to some moral lesson like “Be faithful in a tight fix” or “Don’t be afraid in tough times, just be still and let God take care of you.” No, that’s not what this story is about. It’s so much bigger than that.

The story of the crossing of the Red Sea is not to tell us what to do. It’s to tell us how to think. This story is intended to shape our worldview. This story informs and motivates the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, the way we see and experience every person and place and thing and idea we encounter.

The Exodus is not a pep talk. The Exodus is our god moving his people from one kind of existence to another. It’s an understanding that God is your God because he’s acted in your life to deliver you. You get the idea when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

When you go through the waters of salvation, you leave all your old stories behind. You see your enemies on the shore, your old enemies of sin and death and sickness and addiction and pain — all those things are eternally defeated in the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

That is the Gospel: The power of God to save! The power of God to save two million Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea and the power of God to save you and everybody else in the whole world. The power is his. And he uses it to save.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Part Two

Near the end of the fourth Gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his gathered followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I am sending you to do the things I’ve done in the ways I’ve done them. I’m commissioning you to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. I’m charging you to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And, with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We do not have the abilities on our own to do what Jesus did in the ways he did them. Church is the Body of Christ — the real, tangible, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood  presence of Jesus in the world. That’s the call. That’s the charge. That’s the point of the Church, our mission.

But how? We can’t.

He knows. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit transforms our inabilities. God’s Spirit teaches us things we could never come up with on our own. The Bible says we can’t even make the Christian confession — Jesus is Lord! — except by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our inabilities and provides the gifts and the powers to do things we could never do by ourselves.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” ~Mark 13:11

No one naturally loves his enemies. No one naturally turns the other cheek. Nobody naturally lays down his rights or would rather be wronged than to fight for what is hers. Jesus says those are exactly the kinds of things that separate Christians from just good people. Those are the things that are required if we are to be his Church. And the Holy Spirit infuses us with the abilities and the power to do it. The Spirit forms in us the character traits we need to live like our Lord. He gives us strength so we can follow the way of the weakness. He gives us power so we can take care of the helpless. He gives us peace so we can endure the hostility.

If being a Christian is just about being a good citizen and giving to charities and not cussing too much — you don’t need the Holy Spirit for that. This is about following Jesus. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without the fellowship of the Spirit who transforms our inabilities and provides us the power to live like people without the Holy Spirit don’t. Can’t.

And it takes time. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening and other times it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. It’s hard to measure. It’s difficult to track. God doesn’t send us quarterly reports. But we  know his Spirit is working on us. Changing us. Transforming us. We know that we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness in ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Loving your neighbor is different from just being a good guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not the same as the peace of having your mortgage paid off. Turning the other cheek is not even in the same universe as self defense or protecting what’s yours. Doing justice is more than forwarding a Facebook petition. Showing mercy is more than sponsoring a co-worker in a 5K.

The fellowship of the Spirit is where our abilities are transformed together and how the Kingdom of God is made real in a broken and dying world.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: First Part

“I will ask the Father, and he will give y’all another Counselor to be with y’all forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But y’all will know him, for he lives with y’all and will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all as orphans; I will come to y’all. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but y’all will see me. Because I live, y’all also will live. On that day y’all will realize that I am in my Father, and y’all are in me, and I am in y’all.” ~John 14:16-20

Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God near us. That’s Jesus. Our Father takes that one dramatic step further with his Holy Spirit. God in us. God inside us.

The pronouns used by Jesus are plural, not singular. This is communal. It’s corporate. The Holy Spirit binds us together in a shared fellowship. Together.

Thirty years ago, a sociologist named Robert Bellah wrote an influential book called Habits of the Heart. He documented what he described as an American phenomenon: ontological individualism. It’s this belief, he says, is unique to us in the United States: an individual is his or her own source of meaning. Nobody can tell me what to do. Nobody can teach me anything I can’t learn on my own. I don’t need anybody. I don’t depend on anybody. The whole thing is about me. That’s a very American mindset. Bellah says most Americans barely have the vocabulary, much less the desire, to express commitment or passion for anything other than themselves.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not for individuals. It transcends our identities and surpasses our abilities as individuals. It’s a group thing. It’s the fellowship of the Spirit.

Jesus says, “I will not leave y’all as orphans.” That’s family language. By the Holy Spirit, he says, “I will come to y’all.” Family. Community.

“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.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

When we talk about the work of the Spirit, we usually focus on the Spirit’s relation to the individual Christian. We talk about how the Spirit is active in a person’s life or how a woman or man uses particular Holy Spirit gifts. According to Jesus, though, our emphasis should be on the Spirit’s corporate work. We should pay more attention to the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in and through the Church.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in y’all, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to y’all’s mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in y’all.” ~Romans 8:11

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in y’all?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

The Church is a community where no one reaches his full spiritual potential and no one fulfills her true spiritual calling apart from the group. Each member of the fellowship contributes something special to the group so that all together the Holy Spirit does so much more for the Kingdom than any of us could do by ourselves. The Church attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ together.

“To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” ~1 Corinthians 12:7

Some religions teach that meditating or praying in solitude is the highest form of spirituality. But that is not Christianity. The fellowship of the Spirit is not about private Christian growth or individual spiritual formation. What the Spirit gives us is intended for serving the common good, the whole fellowship together.

The Spirit is the one who brings us together. And when we’re together, bound to one another by the Spirit of God, the Church is bigger than we think. It transcends our individual abilities. It’s better than we can see, it’s wider and deeper, it’s richer and longer-lasting and farther-reaching. It’s more than our physical senses can begin to detect. It’s holy.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our down payment of what’s coming. The fellowship of the Spirit is a taste of everything that’s going to be revealed. The Holy Spirit promises us together that, yes, God will act. Yes, God will speak. God will save. God will fulfill. Our God will live with us and in us forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: Part Two

It’s not just a metaphor. It’s very real. As the Body of Christ, the Church is the physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus in this world. Paul says, “I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live; Christ lives in me!” Jesus Christ lives with and in and through his Church. Jesus and the Church are the same. You can’t have Jesus without his body. You can’t know Jesus without recognizing his body. You can’t be in relationship with Jesus and have nothing to do with his body.

That’s the way Jesus sees it. That’s how he talks about it. That’s how he’s always viewed it. Jesus is the Church; the Church is Jesus.

Saul’s on the road to Damascus when Jesus appears and blinds him with his light. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s thinking, “I’m not persecuting you. I’m beating up these lousy Christians who are blaspheming Scripture.” No, in the eyes of Jesus, you mess with the Church, you’re messing with Jesus himself.

It was always this way.

“He who listens to you, listens to me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who rejects you, rejects me.” (Luke 10:16)
“He who receives you, receives me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Jesus authorizes the Church as his body on earth to do all the things he did.

“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near!'” (Luke 10:9)

On that last night he tells his gathered followers, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12)

And we do, right? We heal the sick and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. And we turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Why? Jesus says so you can be like me. So you can become sons and daughters of your Father in heaven. So you can reveal me.

When we forgive the ones who sin against us, people see Jesus. When we’d rather be wronged than to fight for our rights, people see Jesus. When we sacrifice and serve, when we consider the needs of others more important than our own, people will meet the Lord Jesus in us.

And the world will treat us just like it treated Jesus. Paul says he carries in his own body the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be revealed, so that Jesus’ life may be revealed in our (plural) mortal body (singular).

So, as the Body of Christ, we always side with the oppressed, never the oppressors. We always stand with the minorities, we always take care of the refugees, we always look out for the weak. We never discriminate, never judge, and never use force. We always give, always forgive, and always show love.

Jesus is the Church and the Church is Jesus. We must do the things Jesus did in the ways Jesus did them. If anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: First Part

In the beginning, in the dark and the chaos, God spoke powerful words and created the heavens and the earth. From the top of a smoking and shaking mountain in the desert, God spoke powerful words and raised up a holy nation. Through his mighty prophets in Israel and Judah, our God spoke powerful words of forgiveness and mercy, commitment and comfort, truth and grace. But God’s words were not enough. Words are never enough. So God’s Word became flesh. God’s Word became a body.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

The holy Son of God has a body. We know Jesus has a body — a real, physical body. Jesus ate and drank, he wept and slept, walked and talked, worked and played. He bled real blood. He suffered excruciating pain. And he died an agonizing death. He was dead. His body was killed.

And when God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave, he raised him to life in a resurrection body — a real, physical body. Our risen Lord in his real, resurrection body was recognized by everyone who knew him. He ate and drank with his followers whether he was invited to or not. He walked and talked with them, taught them, and argued with them. It was Jesus’ real, physical, flesh-and-blood, resurrection body that proved he was really risen. It was remarkable.

Now, here’s something even more remarkable: our ascended Lord who is reigning right now and forever at the right hand of the Father in heaven continues to have a body here on this earth. Jesus still insists on being flesh-and-blood present in this world. He keeps showing up as a recognizable personality. But now he in an even stranger bodily form than his resurrected post-Easter body.

It’s the Church. It’s us. We are the Body of Christ.

Through us, together, by his Church, our Lord Jesus wraps his real, tangible, physical, concrete, flesh-and-blood presence around the whole world. Today the Body of Christ lives and breathes and moves and acts in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, even to the panhandle of Texas! That’s us. The Church.

And some well-meaning people say Jesus never intended to establish the Church. They say Jesus was a holy man, they even say he was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. But he never wanted to start a church. Baloney! That was the plan all along, from the very beginning of the story of Jesus. Jesus started the Church when he called together that first group, that body of twelve disciples. The Jesus movement was always a corporate, social movement; it was never just a collection of religious individuals. The Church was always meant to be the Body of Jesus.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” ~1 Corinthians 12:12

The Bible is not saying that the Church has lots of different members and we’re all supposed to work together. It says Christ has different parts of his body and we’re it! We are his body, not because we all agree with each other about everything, not even because we all like one another. We are his body because we have one Lord and that one Lord is totally committed to always being physically present and flesh-and-blood active in his world.

We are the mouth and eyes and ears and hands and feet of Jesus. We are his body on earth. And if anybody’s going to meet Jesus in this world, they’re going to meet him through the Church, the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Belong To God

“Now that you know God — or rather are known by God…” ~Galatians 4:9

This short, jam-packed phrase come in the context of our adoption by God as his sons and daughters. We are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. We are one in Christ Jesus. We are Abraham’s seed, we’re heirs according to the promise, we have rights as God’s children, we have the gift of God’s Spirit, we have an intimate relationship with God as our ‘Abba’ Father. To be known by God is to belong to God.

“God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his.'” ~2 Timothy 2:19

Paul is quoting from the Old Testament here, from somewhere in Numbers, I think. The foundation of who we are in Christ is solid, it’s rock, it’s forever. The seal is about ownership, who owns us, who we belong to. The seal and the foundation mean that God is enough to sustain us no matter how bad things get. No matter the destructive forces attacking us, no matter the evil that threatens to overwhelm us, God knows you and you belong to him.

Jesus says the same thing in the fourth Gospel:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” ~John 10:27-29

During World War I, the British were trying to figure out how to designate the remains of soldiers they couldn’t identify. Rudyard Kipling suggested that every grave of an unidentified British soldier be marked with the words “Known Unto God.” For those of us in Christ, for all who are connected to Jesus by baptism, that is a message of hope and assurance that we are known by God and given a value and a security that not even death can take away.

Peace,

Allan

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