Category: Mark (page 1 of 12)

Here’s Looking at You

My kids tell me I’ve ripped this off from the movie “27 Dresses” which, as God is my witness, I’ve never seen. But when I’m at a wedding and the bride makes her appearance at the back of the church and begins to walk down that center aisle, I do turn my attention to the groom. I want to watch the groom as he sees his beautiful bride. Because the way that groom looks at the bride is the way our God looks at his Church.

Scripture tells us that God wants to be much more to us than just a mighty king with loyal subjects. He wants to be the groom to the bride. He wants a relationship of intimate love with us as profound and eternal as that between a husband and a wife. God calls himself the groom throughout the Old Testament.

“‘They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 31:32

Jesus calls himself the groom in the Gospels and compares the Kingdom of God to a massive wedding feast.

“How can the guests of the groom fast while he is with them?” ~Mark 2:19

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son… All things are ready! Come to the wedding banquet!” ~Matthew 22:1-4

And at the end of time, when everything is finally made right and all of our Father’s plans have culminated in the new heavens and new earth and perfectly righteous relationships with him and one another, there’s going to be a wedding feast to end all wedding feasts!

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” ~Revelation 21:2

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” ~Revelation 19:9

This coming feast celebrates finally the intimate and permanent union of God and his people. This is how history ends. This is what God is doing.

When God uses a metaphor to help us see him better, it also helps us better understand how he sees us. God calls us his Father, he calls us his children, and then Jesus says, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more…?”

If God is our groom, then he must really love us. He must truly delight in us.

What does the bride look like when she walks down that aisle? How does her groom see her? Have you ever watched the groom?

When the groom sees her, he’s absolutely delighted. You can see the love in his eyes. You can almost feel the commitment in his heart. You can sense the complete devotion to her in the deepest part of his soul. He’ll do anything for her for the rest of his life, he’ll stop at nothing to protect her and provide for her and please her, he’ll dedicate his whole existence to loving her forever — you can see it in the way he looks at her!

How dare our Lord use a metaphor like that! How dare the Scriptures tap into this really powerful image and its accompanying emotions!

Could it be that he really loves us like that? That he really loves you that much? That God is that committed to you?

How different would your life be if you lived every day — hour by hour, moment by moment — in the awareness of God’s great love for you? He’s looking at you right now. He thinks you’re beautiful. He’s proud of you. And he loves you more than our words can describe.

Peace,

Allan

Love Changes Everything

You’ve heard it said that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. You want to know how a guy is going to act in the future, you just look at how he’s acted in the past. That notion goes largely unchallenged. We accept it, we don’t question it. Why? Because of our own experiences.

Maybe you’ve dated a person who does something you just can’t tolerate — some behavior, some character trait, a bad habit — and you break up. Sometimes that person will promise to change: “Take me back! I’ll change!” After a period of time — six months, maybe six minutes — you take that person back. But before you can blink that person is back to doing the exact same stuff as before.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Your brother-in-law is never going to pay back the money he borrowed, that department store is not going to have the advertised item, and the Cowboys are going to rip your guts out in December. How do you know? Past behavior is the best indicator. You know what’s going to happen.

Or do you?

This seeming certainty of the formula seems to change when the love of God in Christ Jesus is involved.

Look at the woman in the well in John 4. She’s the town sleaze. She’s had five husbands, she’s shacking up with a sixth guy, and nobody will talk to her. We know her future, right? She’s going to run right through this guy number six and guy number seven and number eight, maybe a dozen of them, and she’s going to keep drawing water in the heat of the sun until the day she dies all alone in her guilt and shame.

But then Jesus goes out of his way to love her. He doesn’t just feel love for her, he shows it to her. He does something. He rearranges his travel schedule to get to her. He sits down and honors her with his time and full attention and conversation. He teaches her right there at the well and the town sleaze becomes a Gospel preacher! Her whole village believes in Jesus, the Savior of the World!

What about the woman caught in adultery in John 8? She’s about to be killed. And that might be the best thing for her. That’s what the Law says. If she’s not stoned to death, she’ll keep cheating, she’ll keep lying, she’ll keep hiding, she’ll keep sinning. We know this. Past behavior is the best indicator, right? But Jesus stands up for her against the authorities. He shows her his love by defending her, by believing in her. And she leaves her life of sin. She’s given the gift of new life by the love of God in Christ.

Zacchaeus is going to keep cheating people on their taxes, he’s going to continue lining his own pockets, and padding his profits and looking out for number one. But Jesus pulls him out of a tree, he eats dinner with him at his house, and he looks him in the eye and calls him a son of Abraham. And now Zacchaeus is giving half of everything he owns to the poor! He’s going back through his books and making things right, blessing others, realizing deep inside that it’s better to give than to receive.

The demon-possessed guy in the Gerasenes in Mark 5. His community has banished him to live in the cemetery. He’s not in his right mind. He’s got no name, no family, no clothes, no peace. The devil and his demons have successfully stolen from this man everything it means to be made in the image of God. What’s going to change? They’ve tried everything with this guy. He’s going to keep being scary and keep suffering and he’s going to die in his chains.

But Jesus gets in a boat and braves a terrible storm in the middle of the night to get to this guy. Our Lord goes to him and shows him his love and his power to change everything. He lets this man know that he matters to God. And that divine love of God drives those demons to the bottom of the sea and the next thing you know this guy is clothed, he’s in his right mind, he’s got a family, and he’s got a purpose. He’s preaching in the Decapolis, proclaiming the Good News all over the Ten Cities. And all the people are astonished.

Peter is a God-cursing, Christ-denying, lying scoundrel until Jesus shows him unconditional love and gives him unlimited forgiveness and changes him into a cornerstone of his eternal Church. John is a violent, volatile hothead — “Call fire down from heaven! Blow ’em all up! But the love of Jesus immerses him and changes him. And John winds up writing the most beautiful words we have in the Bible on love.

Past behavior is not the best indicator of future behavior. The love of God in Christ means the life you’ve lived to this point today is not the only life that’s possible for you. Or for your neighbor. Or your enemy.

Your church is filled with courageous people who used to be all kinds of unholy until the love of God in Christ changed everything. Our lives have been eternally changed by the love of God, so we have faith that the love of God can change all lives. Showing that love of God to others in faith is the whole point. Galatians 5 says the only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. Seeing the potential for God’s love to change everybody around you, to change our city, to change the whole world — that’s the invigorating challenge.

As John would say, we love because he first loved us.

Peace,

Allan

Genuine Authority

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” ~Mark 10:43

We’re in the last stages of the nomination process here at Central as we select additional shepherds to lead our church family. In preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I’ve been reacquainted with some important words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:

“Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. The desire we so often hear expressed today for ‘authoritative personalities’ springs frequently from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.

The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself there is nothing to admire.

Genuine authority recognizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: ‘You have only one Master and you are all brothers’ (Matthew 23:8). The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former, but in the latter is the lack. The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

Genuine authority is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.”

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Did Nothing

Tony Romo finishes his Mavericks career with a losing record and missing the playoffs. He’s still got it.

The lines between what is real and what is fake get blurrier every day. What an insult to every Mavericks player. And what a testimony to how low the bar is now for Cowboys quarterbacks. You don’t have to win a Super Bowl. Shoot, you don’t even have to win a divisional playoff game! Ever! You’re a hero!

Romo was speaking for all of us yesterday when he kept saying he was embarrassed.

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How do we move so quickly from praising our Lord to denying him? How do we go so fast from vowing to die for Christ to betraying him? The Gospels tell us that all his followers — those huge crowds that welcomed him with palm branches and shouts of loyalty — abandoned him. They went from shouting “Hosanna!” to shouting “Crucify him!” They went from showering Jesus with praise to driving nails through his hands and feet. From big, green, leafy palm branches to an old wooden cross. The apostles promised their undying allegiance to Jesus at dinner and, then, within an hour or two, maybe less, they abandoned him completely. How does that happen?

Remember the frenzy of Palm Sunday?

At last, God’s anointed King has come! The teacher and miracle-worker from Nazareth is God’s promised Messiah! Jesus will defeat the pagan rulers from Rome! He will establish the true Kingdom of God right here in our land! We’re going to regain our power! We’re going to be in control! Jesus is the Christ and he’s going to take away all our problems and he’s going to make all of us winners! Hosanna!

And there’s shouting and singing and celebration and anticipation. Huge crowds of followers surrounding Jesus on all sides, hailing him as their new king. Jesus rides through the eastern gate into the Holy City, right into the temple precincts, and he does…

…nothing.

He doesn’t do anything.

“Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” ~Mark 11:11

Jesus doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t lead the mob against the Roman garrison. He doesn’t physically confront the powers and authorities that are oppressing the people. He doesn’t even take the steps of the temple to deliver a stirring speech. He looks around for a little bit and then goes back to Bethany. For dinner, I guess.

What a disappointment! What kind of Messiah is this? What sort of Savior?

Yeah, the next day Jesus preaches a sermon in the temple and overturns a few tables to illustrate his point. But he doesn’t raise a finger against the Romans. He doesn’t even raise his voice. In fact, the next day, he tells everybody, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

What?

By Friday, enough of the crowds were disappointed and disenchanted with Jesus, that the priests and teachers of the law were easily able to turn them against him. The apostles — the insiders, the personally-chosen followers of Jesus — promised to never betray him, to never leave his side, to die first. But they’re gone, too.

If you look honestly at that picture, if you pay close attention to the story, you will see yourself. You will see your sin. And it will break your heart.

Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. His lordship doesn’t always provide for us what we think it should provide.

Maybe there’s something broken in your marriage that Jesus hasn’t fixed. Maybe there’s a deep wound in your soul that Jesus hasn’t healed. Maybe there’s something going on in your family, a situation at work, a physical illness or disease, an addiction. Maybe. And being a Christian hasn’t really helped.

Maybe you’re all alone and Jesus hasn’t given you any friends. Maybe it feels like nothing is going right. Jesus doesn’t always provide for us what we think he should.

So, you abandon what Christ teaches, you give up on the way of the Lord, and you do things your own way. In order to gain some control, you leave Jesus, you turn your back, you drift away, or maybe you flat-out deny him.

When you see that, when you see your sin, it’ll break your heart.

I know it can feel like Jesus is doing nothing. And somebody has to do something! Jesus can’t just look around at everything, he can’t just look at my life and my struggles and my problems, and shrug his shoulders and go back to Bethany. For dinner, I guess.

Well, Jesus did do something. He did something that only he could do. He did something to finally and completely and ultimately destroy the effects of sin and death in your life and for the whole world forever.

He died. He died on a cross. On purpose.

Jesus resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem and walked to the cross. He allowed himself to be beaten and tortured. He allowed them to nail his hands and feet to the blood-soaked wood of that cross. He died willingly. He sacrificed himself. He could have called ten thousand angels. But he died alone. For you and me. That’s what Jesus came to do. The Lamb of God who dies to take away the sin of the world.

Peace,

Allan

Surely Not I

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

Where is Jesus?

RightHandControl

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” ~Colossians 2:9-10

He is Lord over all the nations. He is Lord over all the schools. He is Lord over all the churches. He is Lord over every economic system and every form of government. He is Lord over all. There is nothing that is above him, there is nothing that is not under his authority. Name anything. Name everything! It’s all subject to our ascended King. All rule, all authority, all power, all dominion. The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever! Amen! Hallelujah!

And then I turn on the news. Violence. Death. War. Abused women and children. Racism. Hundreds of thousands of refugees being driven from their homes and nobody wants to take them in. Corrupt governments and politicians. Hunger. Disease.

Where is Jesus?

Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Drought. Wildfire. Tornados. Cancer. Divorce. Crime. Riots. Terrorists.

Where is Jesus?

It doesn’t feel like he’s running anything. It doesn’t look like he’s in charge. The grand spectacle of the ascension — Jesus lifted up to heaven right before the disciples’ eyes to become the sovereign ruler of the universe — seems to mean very little in our real lives today. It doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. If he is, he’s making a huge mess of it.

So, where is Jesus? What does it really mean that he is raised up to heaven and seated at the right hand of God?

“He was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” ~Mark 16:19

Luke says Jesus was taken up into the sky, into the clouds. What does that really mean? Well, when a student moves “up” from tenth grade to eleventh grade, that doesn’t mean the eleventh grade classroom is on the floor above the tenth grade classroom; it might just be down the hall. If a salesman makes the move “up” to manager, he might get a new office on the top floor, but that’s not what that means. When George Jefferson was “movin’ on up,” it was to the East side, not the North. George and Weezy did move into a deluxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi — but that’s not what it means to move “up,” to physically be a few feet farther away from the ground.

When the Bible talks about heaven and earth, it’s not talking about two different locations in the same time and space dimension like Amarillo and Israel or even Houston and Mars. And it’s not talking about a non-physical world versus a physical world. It’s more like two different types of time and space and matter altogether. It’s a parallel world: very, very real and existing in another dimension.

You know, we’ve got a lot of movie makers and writers who are very good at taking us into these parallel worlds and places. But we don’t think that way when we think about Jesus. C. S. Lewis did a great job with the Narnia stories of illustrating how two totally different worlds can relate and interlock. And that’s still the best way, I think, for us to understand it.

Some of the oldest and best church buildings try to illustrate this with the architecture. We’ve kinda got something like that working in our worship center here at Central. We’ve got a soaring ceiling, reaching and stretching far above us. Down on the floor we get a sense of belonging in the room, but we’re not actually physically occupying any of the great space of light and beauty high above us. Our songs and our prayers go up there and occupy this great space above us, but we ourselves cannot physically go there yet.

What that’s supposed to help us understand is that because our Lord is in heaven and seated at the right hand of God, God’s space and ours are not very far away from each other. They’re very different, yes, but they’re close. There’s a relationship, a connection. God’s very real time and space and matter intersects and interlocks with our very real time and space and matter all the time.

The right hand of God is the Bible name for the control center for the universe. Whoever sits there is in charge. It’s like my chair in the living room is the control center for the TV. Sitting down at God’s right hand means Jesus really is totally in charge of everything.

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.” ~Ephesians 1:19-22

I don’t know exactly how it works — nobody does, it’s a mystery. But Jesus right now is totally in charge. He’s the one making all the decisions, turning all the dials: “I will allow this to happen. I will not allow that to happen. I will cause this. I will put a stop to that. I will speak into that. I will be silent about that. I will help Tom Landry, but Jerry Jones is on his own.”

It’s all Jesus. He decides what happens and when. From heaven. “All authority has been given to me,” he says, “in heaven and on earth.”

Peace,

Allan

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