Jesus Did Nothing

Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Jesus, Mark, Salvation, Sin No Comments »

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

Faith, Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Mark No Comments »

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?

Colossians, Ephesians, Jesus, Luke, Mark No Comments »

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

Your Marital Status is Not the Point

1 Corinthians, Mark, Marriage No Comments »

SinglePew

Whether you’re married or single is not important. Your marital status is not the key concern. The question is: Are you being faithful to the Lord? Paul’s main concern throughout 1 Corinthians 7 is that we “live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

“The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” ~1 Corinthians 7:29-32a, 35

The time is short, he says. The old order of things is doomed. Because of Christ Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, this present way of life is on borrowed time. It’s passing away. But not quite yet. We live in the in-between times. Paul calls it the “present crisis” in verse 26. Jesus calls it the “days of distress” in Mark 13. So, yes, the world goes on as we know it. All the social and material concerns are still there. We’ve got to plan and work for tomorrow. We can’t just lay around and watch Sponge Bob until Jesus returns. But what we know about the Kingdom changes our attitudes about all of it. We ought to be glad about our successes, but not overly glad; we should be sad about our failures, but not overly sad; we should enjoy this present world and the things of this present world, but not be engrossed in those things. All those things. Including marriage and family.

Both being married and not being married are good conditions to be in. We shouldn’t be overly happy about being married or overly disappointed about being single. And vice-versa. You shouldn’t be super excited that you’re single or down in the dumps because you’re married. The question is, married or single: Are you becoming more like Christ?

Paul addresses every possible situation in this chapter: singles, virgins, married people, divorced, widowed, all of it. And in each case he makes it clear that the particular situation is fine, it’s inconsequential, it’s not worth worrying about. In fact, he urges all people in each situation to remain just as they are. The specific circumstance is not the pressing issue. Our energies should not spent on worrying about or trying to change our marital status. Married or single, the focus is on our undivided devotion to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Not Difficult

Discipleship, Evangelism, Mark No Comments »

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

Untitled-1We’re likely not afraid of being persecuted or of being killed if we’re caught telling the Gospel story. So what are we afraid of? What makes us so reluctant to tell? Yesterday in this space we considered the possibility that we might be afraid the Gospel is old news. It’s not relevant. It’s something that happened a long time ago and may not be practical or helpful for my friends. It’s certainly not new or fresh.

Please see yesterday’s post for a brilliant dismantling of that misguided viewpoint.

Is it possible that we’re afraid we’ll mess it up? If we attempt to share the Gospel, we’ll somehow get it wrong?

If we’re holding back from going and telling because we’re afraid it’s too hard, Scripture has something to say about it. The first four books of the New Testament are not about the foolishness and the failings of the disciples, although there’s plenty of that in there. The Gospel is about the power of God that overcomes our failings. Because the story is being told all over the world today, we know that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was eventually shared by those fearful women at the empty tomb. That means Jesus’ promises and God’s will are being fulfilled despite our failings and sins. Praise God.

Mark’s ending, which is really a beautiful beginning, shows us that it’s not dependent on us. Our hope for a glorious future rests in the almighty power of the one and only God of the universe. Our God will make it happen, not us. Jesus makes us that promise.

Around the table with his followers on that last night, Jesus tells them: “You will all fall away.” And they do. Later that night, they scatter. They’re gone. Yet Jesus follows this prediction up with a promise: But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you” (Mark 14:28). Then, on that first Easter morning, the angel reminds the disciples, “He is going ahead of you” (Mark 16:7).

Megaphone1Wherever you go and tell, he’s already there. There’s nothing to be afraid of. He’s already there. Our feeble efforts to proclaim the good news are always made successful by the one who goes before us. Our lives are centered on Christ, we are bounded by Christ, our identity is wrapped up in him. And we know by his faithful word and promises and through his divine power that he turns our clumsy stumblings into graceful sprints. He makes our miserable failures into glorious victories.

I’m reminded of something the great Texas theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote almost twenty years go:

“God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Gospel. That seems to me to be great news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.”

What are we waiting for? To get all our ducks in a row? To find all the answers first? To first make sure everybody in our boat is on board with the exact same theology and the exact same practices? Man, I hope not. That sounds really boring.

What’s going to save more people? What’s going to redeem our part of the world for Christ? Not fear! Not anxiety! Not silence! It takes us getting out in the middle of it — sacrificing and serving, forgiving and learning, proclaiming with our lips and our lives that Jesus is Lord and he’s really fixing everything. Not waiting. And not being afraid. It takes throwing our entire selves into the Gospel right now, knowing and trusting that the God of our salvation is going to do something eternally wonderful with it.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Not Old News

Church, Evangelism, Mark, Romans No Comments »

NoTalkingBar

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

If it’s real, I have to tell. If Jesus really is the risen Messiah, if he really was raised from the grave, and if we really are forgiven and restored and righteous because Christ Jesus is crucified and resurrected, then we have to tell. But we’re so reluctant to tell. For some reason we run and hide

It’s not because we’re bashful. We’re not shy. If I find a new restaurant or a new album or a new soap, I’m telling people about it. “It smells great and it doesn’t dry out my skin!” Come on, we all do that. “That Longhorn Steakhouse on I-40, you’ve got to try it!” “Tom Petty’s new album, you’ve got to get it!” “That Cloverfield movie, you’ve got to see it! It’ll mess you up!” We all do this. When something brand new impacts me, I want other people to experience it, too. And I’m talking about it all the time.

“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Are we afraid? Is that why we don’t tell? We’re probably not afraid of being persecuted or killed if we tell. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that maybe the Gospel is old news?

NoTalkingBarFullI wonder if we define the Gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus that happened almost two-thousand years ago? If so, it’s not really news. It’s not right now. And I was saved a long time ago. I was buried with Christ in baptism almost 40 years ago. I was raised with Christ, I put on Christ decades ago. Is that why we don’t tell? Because it doesn’t feel fresh? Is it not much more than the memory of something you obeyed a long time ago and you’re glad you did? Are we afraid the Gospel is irrelevant? Maybe it’s historical and theological and religious and good — but it’s not going to be super helpful or practical for my friends. Not like a new toothpaste or a place that serves really awesome bread sticks.

Let me challenge your thinking on this: the Gospel is not a point in history. The Gospel is not an event in time. The Gospel is what God is doing, what God has always been doing, and what God will continue to do in the future. The Gospel, the good news of salvation from God, is not limited to the first four books of the New Testament. The Gospel is what God has been doing since time began and what he keeps doing until the end.

When God doesn’t destroy Adam and Eve, that’s the Gospel. When God delivers the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, that’s the Gospel. When God forgives David, when he rescues Daniel, that’s the Gospel. It’s ongoing, continuous, and relevant to every human need. You name any need, you define any problem, and the Gospel is the answer. Jesus showed us.

Jesus shows us a man who’s been beaten up, lying in a ditch. I’ve got good news for that man: he’s going to get picked up! He shows us a rebellious son who runs home to his father smelling like a pig pen. I’ve got good news for that son: he’s going to get hugged! The man falls on his knees in front of Jesus and says, “Heal my child if you’re willing.” “I’ve got good news for you,” Jesus says, “I am willing!”

That’s the Gospel, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. God is involved and things are changing. The Kingdom of God has broken in. Jesus is risen and Jesus is Lord! That is very much today and very fresh and very right now. Jesus is Lord and he is fixing everything and he wants everybody to get in on it!

So I can’t just be a shopkeeper. Our churches can’t just hold religious services. We can’t just mark time.

It’s not old or irrelevant. His mercies are new every morning. We are being renewed by his Spirit day by day.

And we should probably stop saying the phrase “1st Century Church.” That’s not helping. We’re not the 1st Century Church. We can never be the 1st Century Church even if we wanted to be the 1st Century Church. And who would want to be? The Gospel demands that we be a 21st Century Church doing 21st Century things in 21st Century ways right now today in our 21st Century world. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is not a moment, it’s a movement! It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s very relevant.

When you tell a dying man that God will take care of his family, you’re telling the Gospel. When you tell a lonely woman that she’s invited to a feast and to join a family, you’re telling the Gospel. When you cry and pray with the parents of a gay son or a lesbian daughter and you tell them God loves you and God loves your child and this thing’s not over yet, you’re proclaiming the Gospel. You’re sharing the good news, even with people who are already saved.

“The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” ~Romans 10:8

Peace,

Allan