Category: John (page 1 of 22)

It’s Already Started

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of Truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” ~ John 14:16-17

“When he comes, he will expose the guilt of the world in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because people do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned… When he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth… He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” ~ John 16:7-15

Jesus says the Holy Spirit will be at work convincing men and women, exposing what’s wrong in the world and drawing all people to God. The Holy Spirit is being sent to convince people of their sin and compel men and women to seek righteousness and avoid judgment. The Holy Spirit is going to be working hard on people all around you. And this same Spirit will live inside you and he will empower you like you can’t believe. Everything I know from the Father, you’re also going to know. You’ll see. It’ll blow your doors off. Trust me.

When Christians talk in Acts — when they witness and declare and proclaim — it’s always in response to something God is already doing. Look what God is doing; we’ve got to tell somebody! Look what God has done; we need to let other people know!

One of my problems is that when I talk, I’m usually trying to start something. Whether I’m preaching on Sunday morning or talking to people at Toot N Totem or praying with people at the League House, I’m trying to use just the right words to say just the right thing to get something started. I forget that every word out of my mouth is just a response to what God’s already started long before I ever showed up. I forget that there’s not one single person I talk to about Jesus that God’s Spirit hasn’t already been working on.

God’s on this — way ahead of me. When he puts somebody in my path, the absolute fact is that he’s been convincing them and drawing them and preparing them for a while now. I don’t have to start anything; God’s in the big middle of it and he would be thrilled if I’d just jump in and share the fun.

This is God’s plan, this is how it works. We need to trust it. We need to trust the way God desires to spread the Good News and expand his Kingdom and save people.

That person you see every day? You’ve wanted to invite him to church, you’ve wanted to ask if you can pray for her, you’ve wanted to talk to him about forgiveness and salvation and peace. You haven’t asked the question or initiated the conversation because you don’t know how to start it. You don’t have to start anything. It’s already started.

Peace,

Allan

Word and Table

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” ~Acts 2:42

The Greek word koinonea means fellowship. Communion. Sharing. Having things in common. Luke describes it in the above verse as eating together and praying together. That’s what makes a Christian assembly, those are the worship habits: Teaching and Fellowship. Scripture and Communion. Word and Table. That’s the time and place where everybody ministers together, everybody participates, everybody’s heard, everybody shares. God meets us, Jesus is present with us, and the Holy Spirit shapes us in our regular gatherings around Word and Table.

That two-thousand-year-old pattern, I believe, is based on the habits of Jesus during his ministry.

When Jesus taught, he generally did it in the context of a meal. He opened up the Scriptures and ministered to others around a common table. The Word is proclaimed and then the reality of the Word is practiced and experienced around the meal.

In Luke 14, Jesus is eating a Sabbath meal at the home of a prominent Pharisee and, as we would expect, he starts teaching: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

At the banquet at Levi’s house, Jesus gives us the Word: “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And he’s sitting around a table with tax collectors and prostitutes. The Table is the tangible experience of the Word.

With five-thousand hungry people in the wilderness, Jesus tells his apostles, “You give them something to eat. You engage the mission. You participate in serving others.” And then he empowers them to do just that. Then they all ate together, as much as they wanted.

At Zacchaeus’ house, the Word, the teaching: “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost!” And around the meal, the hospitality and community of the Table: “Salvation has come to this house! This man is a son of Abraham!”

In John 13, on that last night before he was crucified, Jesus shared a meal with his disciples. And some teaching. The evening meal was being served, the Bible says, and Jesus got up and washed everyone’s feet. A tremendous act of humble service. Jesus made himself the least important person in the room in order to serve others.

“Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Our habits together around Word and Table shape how we think and act. It shapes us into a people who think and act like our Lord. Jesus gets up from the table during the meal to say to each of his followers to say, “I am your servant.” And he tells us to do the same for each other.

Some of us view our worship gatherings as a legal duty and everything has to be done exactly right. Some of us see our worship assemblies as an experience; it’s all about how it makes me feel, so there aren’t really any rules to follow. Some of us have grown up with no real understanding about community worship, so we don’t really think about it at all.

Our worship assemblies are the time and place where our living God meets us, where we all meet in the presence of God together. We are gathered by God’s Spirit around the Word. The Word of God reminds us who God is and what he’s doing and who we are and to whom we belong. The Word has to the power to teach us, train us, and transform us to continue the Kingdom work Jesus has already begun. The Word reorients us away from the shadows of this world’s fading kingdoms and toward the eternal realities of the Kingdom that has come and is coming.

And we experience those realities around the Table. The Holy Spirit brings us together around a meal where we actually experience God’s mercy, acceptance, wholeness, equality, compassion, and peace.

But we can get so wrapped up and bogged down in the details of our worship practices and the finer points of our traditions and our methods, that we don’t give much thought at all to the main point of our assemblies. We worry about how we do church and what we can and cannot do in church, forgetting this a Holy Spirit endeavor. All of this takes place in and by the Spirit.

We worship God in Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who mediates God’s grace and the presence of Christ to us around Word and Table. God gathers us together. God initiates and enables our praise. God eats with us, the Holy Spirit prays with us and for us with groans we can never comprehend, Jesus intercedes for us. God gives us the words to say in our worship. God speaks to us through his Word and then places that Word into each heart in exactly the way he wants it to go. We are brought together in the presence of God and he’s the One doing everything!

We should relax about our rules and stop worrying about our methods and submit to what God’s Spirit wants to do. Instead of fretting about how we do church or how somebody else does church, we should pay more attention to how God does church.

Peace,

Allan

 

His Presence is the Proof: Part 1

I’ll suggest that the Church’s weekly communion meal is shaped at least as much, if not more so, by the resurrection meals of Jesus on that first Easter Sunday than by the Last Supper in the upper room. It’s the Resurrection Day meals that most inform the Church’s Lord’s Supper and give it its meaning. One of the main reasons is that the disciples first encountered the risen and living Lord at those meals.

The very day he walked out of the grave, Jesus made it a point to be present with his followers at the main evening meal. He showed up at mealtime.

In Mark 16, we’re told “Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating.” They risen Lord is physically present with them at the table. Luke 24 says “Jesus himself stood among them.” They offered him some fish and “he ate it in their presence.” The Gospel of John is describing this same scene when it says “Jesus came and stood among them.”

Jesus is present with his followers at the Sunday meal. He is here. He is with us at the table, eating and drinking with us on the other side of the salvation work he came to do. On the other side of his death and resurrection, Jesus is present with his people at the meal.

And his physical presence provides the proof of God’s promises. It’s the proof the disciples need to know for sure that Jesus really is alive and that God is really doing everything he says he’s going to do.

In John, Jesus shows them his hands and his side. “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” Thomas runs his fingers along the Savior’s wounds, he touches Jesus’ scars. Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe!” And Thomas does: “My Lord and my God!” In Mark, the disciples don’t believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Twice it says they did not believe — they didn’t believe Mary and they didn’t believe the two disciples who Jesus in the country. But after the supper with the risen Lord, they do believe. The dinner provided the proof. Everything changed. “And the disciples went out and preached everywhere.”

In Luke 24, the disciples thought the resurrected Lord was a ghost or a spirit. They thought Jesus was still dead. Jesus says, “No, it’s me! Look at my hands and my feet! It is I, myself! Touch me and see! A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones!”

“Look,” Jesus says, “I’ll prove it. Give me some of that fish.” And he ate it in their presence. And the disciples went from startled and frightened to joy and amazement. Their minds were opened, it says, and they understood everything.

It’s very easy to see why these resurrection meals carry so much weight. The risen Lord is present, he’s actually with us around the table. And it proves everything. This is not a dream or a vision, he is not a ghost or a spirit, this is not group hypnosis or wishful thinking. When Jesus appears on Sunday to eat with his followers, the realities are revealed. In Acts 10, Peter is preaching about the resurrection of Jesus. How do you know it’s real, Peter? Where’s your proof? Peter says, “We ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead!”

Yeah, the resurrection meals are loaded.

But the ultimate expression of the deep significance of these Lord’s Day suppers is found in Luke 24:13-35. This is the account of the very first of these resurrection meals, the first meal Jesus shared with his followers the day he walked out of the grave.

I’ll be breaking it down in this space over the next couple of days. In the meantime, you might read the text. You’re already familiar with this great story.

Peace,

Allan

Working Every Day

My brilliant brother Keith Stanglin has written a provocative post for the Christian Studies blog at Austin Graduate School of Theology on “Sexual Harassment and Hollywood’s Double Standard.” He expertly exposes the hypocrisy of an industry that sells sex as nothing more than a bodily function, a pleasurable thing to do with another person — sex whenever and with whomever you will — but then “occasionally wants to maintain that sex is an intimate matter, not for public consumption, not for objectification or merely for someone else’s pleasure.” He makes the point in this post that the entertainment industry’s very public outcry against the bad sexual behavior is counter to Hollywood’s core message and actually belongs to the mindset of a Christian worldview. The message characterized by #metoo and timesup and punctuated by black dresses at the Golden Globes is hard to arrive at without a Christian understanding of God and humans and sex. So, the whole thing is confused and it’s confusing. And, in Keith’s estimation, nothing will change in Hollywood or popular culture or in American society unless there’s some kind of honest evaluation of and commitment to the Christian ethic. In other words, don’t hold your breath. But do read his post.

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Our God is putting people in front of you every day. He’s bringing people right into your presence all the time.  God is always at work, constantly drawing people to himself. And we get to decide each time whether to lean in or step back. You get to decide whether to say ‘yes’ or to ignore it.

How many times did Moses balk? For some reason, he thought he had to be somebody important for God to use him. Think about Joseph: his brothers hated him, they sold him into slavery, he winds up in the governor’s house, he gets thrown in prison, then he becomes second-in-command in the Egyptian Empire. At the end of the story Joseph says twice that God put him where he was in order to save many lives. That’s the reason God chose Moses, to save many lives. The same goes for Jonah and Esther and Samuel and Deborah and Peter and Paul. And you, too.

You were chosen by God in Christ for the saving of many lives. God is always working to save lives. And he usually uses the least likely people to do it.

In John 5, Jesus says, “My Father is at work every day and I, too, am working.” Don’t you love that?

“My Father is at work every day and I, too, am working.” Oh, I want that to be my attitude. I want to be taken over by that thought. Don’t you?

“My Father is at work every day and I, too, am working.” That’s Jesus. That’s the One who came, in his own words, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life to save many lives.

And on that last night before he willingly walked to the cross, just hours before his death that would take away the sin of the world and reconcile all of creation back to the Creator, he looked his followers in the eye and said, “Remember, you didn’t choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last!”

May our eyes be open and our hearts in tune with what God has planned for us in 2018. May we embrace his vision and throw ourselves into his mission with everything we’ve got, to his eternal glory and praise!

Peace,

Allan

“In the World, Not Of the World”

The man comes up to Jesus and he’s covered with leprosy. He falls with his face to the ground and says, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus say, “If I’m willing?!? Of course, I’m willing!!! That’s why I’m here! Be clean!!” And he healed him immediately.

A widow is wailing over the death of her only Son. Jesus says to her, “Don’t cry.” He raises the young man from the dead and gives him back to his mother. All the crowd is filled with awe and they praise God saying, “God has come to help his people!”

Everywhere our Lord goes, everywhere he is, he shines the light of love and forgiveness, he brings the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, Jesus is love and mercy and truth. He brings it. He lives it. People are blessed and the world is changed.

And then on that last night, around the table with his followers, our Lord Jesus prays. He prays for all people “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). He tells the Father “they know I came from you, they believe you sent me” (John 17:8). He tells God “everybody knows you sent me” (John 17:25). And he prays for his disciples:

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” ~John 17:15-18

Then Jesus is arrested and crucified. Out of his deep love for us and his commitment to our forgiveness and righteousness and peace, he gives his life. On the third day, God’s Holy Spirit brings our Lord out of the grave. That evening the risen and reigning Jesus eats dinner with his followers and says:

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” ~John 20:21

When Jesus says we’re not of this world, that’s not a final destination or a future goal — it’s a starting point. By our baptisms and the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are members of the family of God, we are citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, like Jesus. And, like Jesus, being not of this world is so we can be sent into this world.

I’ve heard it said all my life — you and I have probably both said this many times: “We’re in this world but we’re not of this world.” The way we say it implies that being in the world is a temporary accident we have to endure or, at worst, a really bad circumstance we must fight. We’ve paraphrased Jesus’ words into an isolationists slogan. We make it sound like we’re above everything and we need to take care of ourselves first and be separate from the world.

No, we’ve got it backwards!

Jesus says we’re not of this world precisely so we can be sent into the world. In the world is intentional, it’s the very core of God’s eternal plans. The Church is not a community of cautious isolation, we’re a group committed to courageous transformation! We don’t run from the world or rail against the world; we are racing into the world with the amazing story of God’s love that has captured our hearts and commissioned our lives! God gathers us together in his Church so we can better be on point for his mission in the world!

Peace,

Allan

Baptism Fruit

We’ve got seven months to learn how to pronounce Tagovailoa.
Jalen Hurts and the Alabama kicker have six months to pick out a dorm room at Texas Tech.

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John the Baptist is preparing the way for the Lord. He’s getting all the people ready to meet the coming Messiah. He’s baptizing in the desert, people are repenting, and their sins are being forgiven. John the Baptist is doing what needs to be done so people can see the Lord.

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.
And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
~Luke 3:4-6

Our job as a church full of Christians is to make it easier for people to see God’s salvation. We are in the business of preparing the way, making it easier for people to see and experience what God is doing. And these are the questions we need to be asking: How do we level the mountains? How do we straighten out the crooked roads? What can we do to smooth out the rough places? How do we make it easier for more men and women to see and experience God’s salvation?

Well, John the Baptist tells us:

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance!” ~Luke 3:8

You’re repenting of your sins, John says. You’re being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins. Now make sure your lives reflect that. Make sure you’re consistent with that.

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”
~Luke 3:10-14

Share your possessions with others. Pursue economic justice for others. Treat others fairly.

Being baptized means you’re all in. Your sins are forgiven, you’re cleansed; but that’s not all. You’re commissioned, you’re charged with ministry, with living your life in such a way that others can see and experience the salvation works of God. The same thing happened when Jesus was baptized. He didn’t need forgiveness; this was the commissioning point of his ministry. His ministry was launched in the waters of baptism.

“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized, too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased!'” ~Luke 3:21-22

God anoints his Son with his Holy Spirit. He’s consecrating Jesus, ordaining him for ministry. God makes a public declaration of his relationship to his Son and at that point, verse 23, Jesus begins his ministry. He is full of the Holy Spirit (4:1), led by the Holy Spirit (4:1), and empowered by the Holy Spirit (4:14).

Through the rest of the Gospel we watch as our Lord Jesus shines God’s salvation light into darkness. Jesus lays his hands on the crippled woman and heals her. He eats dinner at the Pharisee’s house. He interacts with and serves the Samaritan lepers. He stays with Zacchaeus and calls him a son. Jesus looks at the sinful woman at Simon’s house and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” He says “Let the little children come to me with all their sticky hands and runny noses.” He holds them, touches them, blesses them.

Everywhere our Lord goes, everywhere he is, he shines the light of love and forgiveness. He brings the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, our Lord Jesus is love and mercy and truth. He brings it. He lives it. And people are blessed and the world is changed.

And on that last night, around the table with his closest followers, he looks us in the eye and says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16).

By our baptisms and by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are to go into our communities and do the same things Jesus did in order that more men and women might see God’s salvation. All of us are called to seek and save, to heal and forgive, to love and reconcile — to bear baptism fruit.

Peace,

Allan

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