I Am the Good Shepherd

Ezekiel, Jesus, John, Leadership, Matthew, Texas Rangers No Comments »

shepherd3Almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Judas Maccabeus put together a Jewish militia and fought the Syrians who had taken control of Jerusalem and had desecrated the temple. Antiochus IV Epiphanes had established Zeus worship inside the Lord’s temple, including the daily sacrifice of pigs. The Maccabean revolution was a bloody three-year struggle that resulted in Jewish oversight of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple to the Lord. You can research the origins of Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication to get the full story. But on the 25th day of Kislev, in the year 165 BC, the temple was rededicated and Ezekiel 34, the passage about Israel’s shepherds was read aloud.

The eight day celebration was not just about rejoicing in God’s great deliverance. It was also a time to reflect on the events that led up to those awful years in Israel’s history. It was a time to ask questions about failed leadership, hard questions about Israel’s bad kings or, as they’re called in Scripture, false shepherds. How did the leadership of God’s people lose its way so badly? Where were the shepherds? And how must we shepherd our people today?

Since that day in 165 BC, Ezekiel 34 has always been a part of the worship liturgy for the Feast of Dedication. In John 10, we’re told explicitly that Jesus attended these worship assemblies.

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonade.” ~John 10:22-23

imyselfYou can bet Jesus heard the readings just like everybody else. And, yeah, Jesus knew about lousy leadership and sorry sheep. So did a lot of God’s people listening to the readings. The man who pays three-fourths of his wages every month to his neighbor who’s paralyzing him with outrageous interest rates. The lady who’s not allowed to come all the way in because she’s divorced. The couple who gets told “You don’t dress right or talk right or act right and why don’t y’all find another temple to worship in!” Ask the woman at the well if she felt like people were staring at her. Ask the lady at Simon’s house if Simon acted like a jerk when she showed up at his dinner party with his well-connected friends. Ask the man in the Gerasenes who was driven away by his own brothers and sisters and chained to a tombstone. Ask the crippled man at the healing pools who always got pushed out of the way by people who were also crippled — just not as crippled as he was. And they all hear the Scriptures being read at Hanukkah. They hear it ever year. God says, “I myself will be their shepherd.”

And the people say, “When?”

“I Am the Good Shepherd! The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep!” ~John 10:11

Right in the middle of the questions and doubts and hopes and anticipation that someday God himself will personally shepherd his flock, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd! It’s me! I’m here!”

imyselfbig“I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I Am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11-16

See, in Ezekiel 34, God says I’m going to personally do what the bad shepherds have failed to do. I’m going to do what my people obviously can’t do. God promises to personally intervene. God says you don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bandage up the injured. You have not brought in the strays or searched for the lost. But I will! I will bandage up the injured and strengthen the weak! I will search for the lost and bring back the strays! God’s solution to the long history of lousy leaders and sorry sheep is not a new model, not a new system. He replaces the bad shepherds with the Good Shepherd. God comes to us in Jesus. Christ Jesus comes here to, in his own words, seek and save the lost. He comes here to comfort the weary and heavy burdened, to heal the sick and bring Good News to the poor. Jesus is our Shepherd, fixing things, restoring things.

Jesus knows how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To those who rely on their own righteousness, those of us fat sheep who’ve been doing this church thing for decades and think we have all the answers, Jesus rips away all the excuses and he forces us to see our desperate need for him and the Gospel. He says, “I Am the only way, I Am the only truth, and I Am the only life! No one comes to the Father except through me!”

To those who are burdened and marginalized, Jesus pulls them to God. He shows that God does not delight in their death, but he begs them to come to him for eternal life. He makes it clear that there is a place in God’s flock for all weak and sinful sheep. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He is bold and courageous and single-minded in his mission to seek and save the lost, to restore the lost sheep of Israel. And he’s so committed to it — he’s so committed to us, his sheep! — that he lays down his life for us. He dies for us. He stands in the gate — he is the gate! — between us and the ravenous wolves and murderous robbers who would destroy us. He’s unwilling to sacrifice even one of us to the enemy. He would die first.

And he did.

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bobbywilson6Another walk off win. A two-out, two-run, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth. The 45th come-from-behind win for the Texas Rangers this year. And the magic number is down to six.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit Peace

Holy Spirit, Jesus, John, Promise, Texas Rangers No Comments »

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” ~John 14:26-27

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33

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The peace of the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus is different from the peace of the world. The main reason for that is that the world’s peace is not based on reality. The world can’t keep its promise of peace. It’s impossible.

See this ship? It’s unsinkable. Don’t worry about a thing on your cross-Atlantic adventure. Nothing bad can happen. This ship can never sink.

This school is super safe. Put your children in this school and nothing bad will ever happen to them. They’ll be safe, they’ll be protected. They’ll turn out exactly the way you want.

Vote for this candidate. If this candidate wins the presidency, ISIS will be destroyed and terrorist attacks will become a thing of the past.

Invest in this stock and your retirement fortune will be guaranteed.

Have this surgery and you’ll never get sick again.

The world promises peace, but the world can’t deliver it. The world tells you, “You can do this. You’ve got this. Think smarter. Plan better. Work harder on your marriage. Be more efficient with your job. Be more disciplined with your habits. Pay more attention to your kids.” And we’re all neurotic and anxious and fearful, thinking any success we might have is all on us. And Jesus says, “That’s not how I’m going to do it.”

Remember, you are not God. Neither is Trump or Clinton or Blue Cross – Blue Shield or Dow Jones or Ford or Southwest Airlines or your parents. You are not good enough to make happen everything you want to happen. And our Lord steps into that space where we’re not capable and where the world cannot deliver. The Holy Spirit of Jesus comes to us and we melt into this knowing that we’re not able, but he is. And that results in peace, perfect all-surpassing peace.

Jesus gives us all a heads-up. Bad things are going to happen to you, he says. You’re going to have trouble. The world’s going to do bad things to you and sometimes you’re going to do bad things to yourself. Some of this trouble you might can avoid, but won’t; and some of this trouble is completely unavoidable and totally out of your control. Don’t be shocked when it happens. It’s going to happen. In this world you will have trouble. But in me, he says, you’ll have peace.

That is so real. That’s so grimy and dirty and real. God’s Holy Spirit adopts us as his sons and daughters and gives us new life and teaches us how to love and obey in a community of faith. He comes to us and makes his home with us and is the eternal source of everlasting peace.

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The Texas Rangers’ magic number is eight for clinching their seventh division championship. Last night’s 3-2 win in Houston was the team’s 44th come-from-behind win this year, the most in MLB. It was their 18th win in their last at bat this season, also the most in the big leagues. The Rangers are 33-10 in one-run games, the best record in that category in MLB history. And they are 15-3 this season against the Astros. The shaky bullpen is a big reason, I think, for the high number of come-from-behind wins and one-run victories. So, too, though, is the never-ever-quit attitude of this team. They’re never out of it. They never give in until that 27th out has been recorded. This team is fun to watch.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit Identity

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“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you… Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” ~John 14:18-20

holyspiritbreathThe adopting work of the Holy Spirit pulls us out of the cosmic orphanage into an intimate and eternal relationship with God. The Holy Spirit gives us new life in Christ — Christ in us. By the work of the Spirit, God lives in us and we live in God. And the overflow of joy and grace and peace and love of the Trinity belongs to us. It’s ours. We’re in! This is our brand new life in Christ! This is my new and primary identity. This is who I am. And nobody or nothing can take it away from me.

I am Carrie-Anne’s husband. One of my identity markers is that I am Carrie-Anne’s husband. That’s who I am. For 27 years now, I am Carrie-Anne’s husband. And I dig it. It gives me love and stability and joy and support and, sometimes, sopapilla cheesecake. But my identity as Carrie-Anne’s husband can be taken away from me. We’re both getting older. God forbid — something could happen and I would not be Carrie-Anne’s husband anymore.

Another of my identity markers is that I am the father of three awesome daughters. That’s who I am. But could be taken away from me. Again, God forbid — something could happen and I wouldn’t be a father anymore. There aren’t any guarantees.

Another of my identity markers is that I’m the preacher at Central Church of Christ. And I love being the preacher at Central. It’s who I am. But the elders could get together and take one vote tonight and it could be taken away from me. (I’ve got dirt on every one of those guys; so, it’s not going to happen!) But you understand what I’m saying.

All of my identity markers can be taken away from me. I’m not all powerful. I’m not all seeing and all knowing. I’m not God. I live in a broken world where there are no guarantees.

But the Scriptures say the Holy Spirit guarantees that we belong to Christ. I have been adopted into a new life in Christ. So I have this one thing you can’t touch. I am a son of God. I am loved and protected and provided for and saved by my new Holy Spirit life in Jesus. I can get sick and it’s still true. I can lose my job, I can lose my family, everybody can hate me, and it’s still true. I can die and my identity as a saved child of the King does not change one bit. The Holy Spirit gives us new everlasting life and a permanent identity in him.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus’ Judgment Will Be Fair

2 Corinthians, Jesus, John, Matthew, Ministry, Romans, Texas Rangers No Comments »

JudgmentDay

“A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself, I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” ~John 5:28-30

The first Christians believed that what you do matters. The writers of Scripture all confirm that a fair and impartial judgment day is consistent with the character of God who doesn’t play favorites.

“God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” ~Romans 2:6-11

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that all men and women are someday going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of all their thoughts and words and deeds. Everything. And each of us is going to receive what’s right according to whether we’ve done good or evil.

JudgeSheep&GoatsJesus gives us a compelling picture of this in Matthew 25 with the separation of the sheep and the goats.  To the sheep on the right, Jesus says, “Come!” Come on in. Come close. You belong. You’re in. Come. How cool would it be to hear the Lord say that to you?

Notice the righteous in this story don’t say, “Boom! Nailed it! Yeah! That’s right! We’re feeding the hungry and clothing the naked! Yes! The Kingdom has been prepared for me! That’s what I’m talking about!” No, it’s more like, “What?!? We did what?!? You mean we got it right?” The sheep on the right are surprised.

Jesus explains that the way you regard the poor and the sick and the abused and the hungry shows your high regard for him and his mission. Our King associates himself with the lowly, with people who don’t have any resources. So when you show compassion for the poor, when you extend mercy to the sick, when you show love to the marginalized, that’s proof that you belong to God. These aren’t good works to earn favor from God. You don’t give a cup of water so you can go to heaven. That’s not why these people did these good deeds. They were surprised their kindness to prisoners and aliens had anything to do with it. The way they treated the poor and the minorities proved that they had submitted to the Lordship of Jesus and that his Holy Spirit was shaping their minds and lives. Clothing the naked is not a qualification to get in — it’s an evidence of a saving faith.

To the ones on the left, Jesus says, “Depart!” Go away. Get out of my presence. You don’t belong to me.” How awful and terrible to hear the Lord say that to you.

Notice the unrighteous goats who are eternally condemned are just as surprised as the righteous sheep. “What? When did these things happen? I don’t remember not taking care of you, Jesus, when you needed help.?

I don’t think they were deliberately rejecting Jesus when they turned their backs on the poor and the weak. It’s just evidence that they had not submitted to Jesus as Lord and to his mission to seek and save and make things right. They didn’t see Jesus in the poor and hurting.

Maybe they saw Jesus in their church, so they had perfect attendance. Maybe they saw Jesus in their political candidates, so they voted regularly. Maybe they saw Jesus in their Christian jewelry and T-shirts, so they went shopping. But they never saw Jesus in the poor. They never experienced his character in his mission to the lost. This was proof they had not allowed the Holy Spirit to shape them and transform them into the image of Christ.

JudgeMosaic2

Being faithful, being righteous, doesn’t mean being burned at the stake or becoming a missionary to Yugoslavia. The righteous are just paying attention to the people around them and taking care of real, practical, every day needs. A cup of water. A sandwich. A visit. A coat. Just be faithful with what God puts right in front of you every day. What you do matters. It’s evidence.

The righteous will always produce evidence. You’ll always be able to notice the transformed speech and thoughts and actions and character of disciples of Christ. On that last day, Jesus will distribute rewards and penalties according to the clear evidence. And he’s always fair.

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RangersLogoYesterday, while basking in the glorious glow of another exciting round of last minute deals for the Rangers at the trade deadline, I wrote in this space that, with the additions of Beltran and Lucroy, this Texas team will score an average of more than five runs a game from here on out. Last night, Beltran and Lucroy went a combined 0-6 with three Ks in a 5-1 loss at Baltimore.

I’m sticking with it. Hold me to it. This Rangers lineup will average more than five runs per game the rest of the way. Starting……
Now!

Peace,

Allan

Full Time Work

Jesus, John, Ministry, Preaching No Comments »

HardWork

Today I’m speaking downstairs at our weekly Loaves and Fishes gathering, I’m finishing up the sermon for this Sunday, re-reading the passage in Mark I’m teaching in our Bible class, writing questions for the small groups discussions, and visiting a dear church member who was moved into hospice care last night. While you’re slaving away at the office or the construction site or the airport or the school, I’m at the church building doing God’s work. Right?

WRONG!

We are all doing God’s work, together, every day, seven days a week.

Sometimes we speak in ways that make what I do as a preacher “full-time Christian work” and what you do as a member of the Body of Christ “part-time Christian work” or “weekend Christian work.” You must know that you are a full-time Christian banker or plumber or homemaker. You are a full-time Christian truck driver or repair man, administrator or salesperson. When we are at our work, we are at the same time at God’s work. Just like our Lord Jesus.

You realize that most of what Jesus did he did in a secular workplace: in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well, on a country hillside, in a court room, at dinner with friends and family, while walking along a road, in the marketplace. Sometimes in the Gospels Jesus shows up in a synagogue or the temple. But he mostly spends his time in the workplace.

The Fourth Gospel identifies Jesus as a “worker” 27-times. It quotes our Lord as saying, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”

Your work does not take you away from God, it continues the work of God. Our God is always in his workplace, your workplace, working. And once we recognize that, we can more easily see ourselves — all of us — working in our workplaces in the name and manner of Jesus to his eternal glory and praise.

Peace,

Allan

Light of Life

1 John, 1 Peter, 2 Timothy, Jesus, John, Resurrection No Comments »

EmptyTombAbstractNew

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not conquered it.. The true light that gives life to every person was coming into the world.”  ~John 1:4-9

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus over and over refers to himself as the light, the true light of life.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~John 8:12

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” ~John 12:46

When Jesus was betrayed by his friends and then crucified on the cross, the gospel says it was dark. When Mary went to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday morning, the Scripture is clear that it was dark. It’s also certain that Mary was not looking for a resurrected Jesus that morning; she was looking for a dead body. Maybe that’s why she didn’t recognize Jesus when she saw him — she wasn’t expecting it. But when he said her name, when she heard his familiar and powerful and loving voice, she knew it was Jesus her Lord, she knew he was alive, and she knew it wasn’t dark anymore.

2 Timothy says Christ Jesus has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light. 1 Peter tells us Jesus has brought all of us out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

I don’t know what kind of darkness maybe you’re living in. Maybe you feel trapped by sin or by some really bad decisions that you’re still paying for years later. Maybe there’s strife in your marriage or in your family. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with something and your future’s unclear. Maybe you’ve just got this dark cloud hanging over you that follows you everywhere you go and you can’t really describe it or explain it, but it’s just there. It’s just dark.

“You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” ~ Ephesians 5:8, 14

Listen, that darkness is real. I don’t want any of us to pretend that it’s not. You and I are broken. We are fallen. We are sinners. And this world we live in is broken and sinful. There is starvation and disease and violence and injustice all around us. Every day. We can’t get away from it. And we are not called to deny it or ignore it. The darkness is real. The darkness in your life is real. Your sin is real. Your desperation is real. Your sickness, your depression, your lack of faith is real.

It’s OK to feel it. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to feel hurt and disappointed. It’s OK to get angry. As a Christian, though, it is not OK to live without hope. It’s not OK to live without courage and confidence. It’s not OK to live like the darkness has any power. Jesus is risen, he is alive, and the darkness, whatever it is, is no match for the light of life.

“The truth is seen in Christ Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” ~1 John 2:8

Peace,

Allan