Category: Mark (page 1 of 13)

Definition of Faith

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews gives us the biblical definition of faith: bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future. Any casual stroll through the Faith Ring of Honor in this chapter confirms what a life of faith looks like, precisely the kind of life that pleases God.

By faith, Noah built. That’s action. He built. Noah built when he was warned about things not yet seen. Noah had no physical, tangible evidence that building an ark was a good use of his time and resources. He’d never seen a flood. Most scholars believe he’d never even seen rain. For Noah to build an ark made no sense. But Noah builds. He acts boldly, motivated by what the Word of God told him was going to happen even though nobody had ever seen anything like it before.

By faith, Abraham went. Abraham acted on God’s promise even though he didn’t know where he was going. God had told Abraham he’d be given land in the future and that his descendants would be too many to count. And there was no physical evidence to suggest it might come true. He’s 100 years old! His wife’s 90 and barren! But by faith, Abraham went — bold action. He left the certainties of what he knew to take his family into the unknown, relying only on the Word of God. This is the very essence of faith. This is what faith is: a bold action in response to the promise of god regarding an unseen future.

By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith, Joseph spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. They acted on things that were going to happen in the future. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. The Word of God, the promise, was going to be fulfilled after each of them died. But they each acted by faith anyway.

By faith, Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God. Why? Because he was looking ahead to his reward. It made no sense for God’s people to put blood all over their doors. But they did it because they had faith that God was going to keep his promise. Walking down into the middle of the Red Sea, are you kidding me? But had promised to deliver them, so in they went. Same thing with marching around the walls of Jericho. Their only motivation for doing this thing that made no sense was that God told them to. God was doing something. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

In Mark 2, four men dig a hole through a roof and lower their paralyzed friend on a mat down to Jesus. And the Gospel says Jesus saw their faith. He saw their faith! Faith is not believing that Jesus can heal; faith is digging through the roof! Faith is not believing God can save; faith is walking into the Red Sea, faith is marching around Jericho, faith is getting up and going where God calls you to go and doing what God is calling you to do! Faith is in the verbs: bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future.

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We received more than six inches of snow overnight here at Stanglin Manor, more snow in the past 12 hours than we’ve received total the past two winters combined! It never gets old; I still get excited about the snow up here.

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The construction on the west side of our church building at Central is finally going up instead of down. Over the weekend, they framed out the arches for the new main entrance. It’s really starting to take shape. The new ground level ministry space is so much bigger than I could realistically imagine. The new welcome center is going to make a big difference. And the main entrance to our building will be obvious for the first time since the mid ’80s!

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Tomorrow is the day Amarillo baseball fans have been anticipating / dreading for several months. The San Diego Padres AA affiliate, scheduled to begin play in April 2019 at our brand new downtown Amarillo baseball stadium, is announcing the name of the local team. The press conference is at 1pm.  Please don’t be Sodpoodles! I’d rather it not be Long Haulers, Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, or Jerky, either. But please don’t let it be Sodpoodles!

Peace,

Allan

The Power of Jesus to Heal

TV game shows have two audiences. The studio audience is the primary audience. They’re right there in the room. They’re seeing and hearing everything, up close, in real time. They’re actually participating, cheering and clapping and trying to help the contestants. If it’s The Price is Right, the people in the primary audience may even be called up to play the game. It’s quite exciting, I guess.

But there’s also a secondary audience, the TV audience, the people watching at home. You’re watching from your couch, you’re watching from a long way off. You’re learning how the game is played, you’re getting to know the host and the contestants, and pretty soon you find yourself wanting to be a part of the show. That looks like fun. Hey, I think I could do that.

Then you start to visualize yourself on the show, you can actually see yourself participating. And winning. Come on! Everybody knows the coffee creamer costs more than the ketchup! I could win that Ford Focus and the patio furniture!

Next thing you know, you really are participating in the show, out loud, from your living room. You’re yelling at the TV. What is Bismarck? $935! Come on, baby, light my fire!

I think the Gospels are supposed to work the same way. I think we are intended to see ourselves in these stories, to see ourselves in the scenes with Jesus.

In Luke 5, you are the leper on the side of the road and you beg Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus looks you right in the eye. “If I’m willing? Yes! I am willing!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and he touches you. “Be clean!” Is there anything more wonderful, more Good News, than Jesus looking at your deepest hurt and saying, “I am willing.”

In Mark 4, we’re in the boat with those disciples. The storm comes, the boat’s about to sink, and the disciples are freaking out. Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still!” And everything’s fixed. And he says to his followers, “Why are you so afraid? Where’s your faith?” And I wonder: Is he smiling? Is he upset?  Is he disappointed? Maybe he’s amused. “Why are you so afraid? Yes, I control nature, I control everything! I’m willing for you to be clean and I’m able to make it happen. I want you to be well and protected and safe and whole. I have the power. Trust me. Give yourself to me.”

Jairus’ daughter has just died. Jairus’ servants say it’s too late. Tell Jesus not to come. Jesus ignores them and says, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” He walks through all the people crying and wailing loudly. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, she’s asleep.”

The world sees one thing. Jesus sees something different. He wants you to see different, too. He wants you to see yourself with him and give yourself to it. “Don’t be afraid. Just believe. My child, I say to you, get up.”

And she did.

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

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

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

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