Category: Romans (page 1 of 22)

Prayer of Our Lord

It’s striking to me that in the very last recorded conversation between Jesus and his Father in the Gospel of John, just hours before his hands and feet would be nailed to the tree, Jesus is talking about our unity as his followers. These are some of the very last words of our Lord. And they carry so much weight.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

This prayer of Jesus is very familiar to us. Maybe a bit too familiar, like maybe we’ve heard it so often and read it so much and NOT made it the priority that Christ does, we’ve NOT pursued it and practiced it or been willing to die for it like Christ is. Maybe it’s lost its punch. Verse ten has really jumped out at me the past couple of weeks. Maybe the message of verse ten can revive the punch in our Lord’s prayer.

“All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine.”

All those who belong to God belong to Christ and all those who belong to Christ belong to God, which means all those who confess Jesus as Lord — “all who will believe in me” — all belong to each other. We’re not promoting Christian unity here, we’re practicing it. Christian unity is not something we chase or pursue, it’s not something we must generate or create; it’s already the reality! Christian unity is the gift we’ve all been given by God in Christ.

Scripture tells us we all form one body, that this is the way it is in Christ.

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12:13, 18, 27

We don’t try hard to be a part of the body. We don’t do our best to share in the blessings of belonging to God’s one universal and united people. No! Listen to the Bible! You. It’s plural, actually, so, you all. Y’all ARE the body of Christ. So act like it.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

Because of our fallen, sinful nature as humans and because of the broken systems and structures of the fallen, sinful world, we don’t see each other enough. We don’t listen enough to each other’s stories. We don’t know each other well enough to practice and live this unity that’s already there if we’ll just pay attention to it. If we’ll just look each other in the eye. If we’ll really listen to each other well. If we’ll commit to loving all believers in Jesus as the brothers and sisters in Christ they are.

“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~Romans 12:5

What does it mean for all Christians to belong to each other? It means we love each other. We forgive each other. We help carry each other’s burdens. We look out for each other and take care of each other. It means offering grace to people we’d rather punch in the throat. It means standing alongside those whose politics we might detest.

This is what Jesus prayed. This is who Jesus is. The way Jesus lived his life, the things he taught and the stories he told — he erase all the labels we attach to others. He obliterated the ways we draw lines and build walls between us and others. He lived and taught the complete unity of all God’s people.

When you see the hungry and thirsty — listen to the words of Jesus — when you see the alien, the naked and the sick, when you see the prisoner, you’re looking at me.

The Samaritan? Yeah, he’s your neighbor. That’s right, the guy who doesn’t look like you, his skin’s a different color than yours, he lives in a different part of the city, he doesn’t smell like you, he doesn’t vote like you, he believes and practices his Christianity a little differently than you — he’s yours. You are responsible for each other.

Jesus completely turned upside down the whole economy of the way the world operates. The first are last! The poor are blessed! The oppressed are kings! We love our enemies and pray for those who treat us wrong! Why would we ever stand by and ignore or go along with the world’s status quo when our Lord Jesus prayed that it would all be changed?

Each member belongs to all the others. All the ones I have are yours and all the ones you have are mine. Taking care of each other. Uniting as one. That’s the prayer of our Lord. It’s what he asked for the night before he died.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Also Suffered

The preacher of Hebrews ends his sermon by showing Christians a different way to view their position in the world. He tells us to go outside the camp, where Jesus is. He encourages us to bear the same disgrace Jesus did. Why? Because this ain’t our city. We’re living for the city that’s coming.

Earlier in Hebrews 13, he eludes to this radical shift in priorities by reminding us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The stranger, the foreigner, the alien — open your door to them and an angel might walk in! They may look homeless and hungry when you invite them in, but for those who have the conviction or the certainty of things not seen, you’re inviting in the very presence of God!

We’re also told in that same context to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Those in prison, those who are mistreated, some translations say “victims of abuse.” Put yourselves in their shoes. Empathize with them. Act like what’s happening to them is happening to you. Feel it.

This is our calling. Why? Because Jesus also suffered.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

This is our missional mandate. This is the great commission. If Jesus went outside and suffered public abuse to make his sacrifice, then his disciples should be willing to follow him outside to make ours. The question here, and the decision we Christians have to ultimately make, is do you find your identity in the safety and security of Judaism and the pagan temples, or the Empire with its government and military and law, or is your identity grounded in Christ Jesus and the ways of the Lord? It can’t be both. It’s really the choice.

Going where Jesus goes will cost you status and security.

Why was Jesus crucified? Not because he was powerful, not because he was violent, not because he was exclusive and judgmental. Our Lord was rejected and mocked, he suffered and was killed, because he loved so unconditionally. Because he was so liberal with his forgiveness. Because he ate with prostitutes and partied with sinners and hugged the lepers. He was killed because he gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, because he worked so hard to tear down walls that divided people, because he refused to label people. And the world was offended by the way he lived. The government tried to shut him down, the religious leaders tried to shut him up. In the end, they all decided that Jesus was unpatriotic, that he wasn’t working in the best interest of society’s law and order. And they killed him.

And then he was raised. Romans 1 says Christ Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!” The resurrection and the ascension to the right hand of God validate this Jesus Way as the right way. It’s the eternal way. It’s the only way to live.

So show hospitality to strangers and aliens, show empathy for prisoners and victims of abuse. Share the shame. Bear the disgrace.

Peace,

Allan

What Will Happen

The middle of Romans 8 tells us where we are right now: the world is in pain. All of creation is groaning right up to the present time. Because of sin. Because of fallen human nature and the broken world.

This passage also tells us what we’re called to do: the Church shares the world’s pain. We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly. We know how things are supposed to be and they’re not. Not yet. So we share the pain of the people around us.

And this important passage tells us very clearly what will happen when God’s people get involved and share the pain of his world: God’s Spirit works through that pain to glory.

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… Those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  ~Romans 8:18-30

All of creation is groaning. We ourselves are groaning. And God’s Holy Spirit — seeing all this, watching all this, experiencing all this with his creation and with his people — is groaning with groans that words cannot express. God’s Spirit lives and works in the pain.

He who searches our hearts — that’s God. He knows what’s inside our hearts. And I know God comes across things in our hearts we’d like to stay hidden. But God’s looking for the sound of his Spirit’s groaning. When we are sharing the world’s pain, when we’ve decided to embrace the world’s pain, and sit with it, live with it, groan with it, we realize we don’t have any answers. We don’t know what to do. We don’t even know what to pray for. And that’s when God’s Spirit is most obviously at work.

God the Creator, our Father, is always in constant communication with his Spirit who lives in the hearts of his people. God totally understands what the Spirit inside us is saying, even when we don’t. Our God hears and answers the prayers of our hearts, even when they don’t feel like prayers. Even when it just feels like heartache or hopelessness or inadequacy. When the pains and groanings of the world weigh heavy on your heart, you become one with the loving, groaning, and redeeming working relationship and conversation between the Father and the Holy Spirit.

It’s a mystery, for sure. I don’t understand it. But the Bible says God works through that for glory. For our glory. And ultimately for his.

The apostle Paul can’t find the words. He can’t describe the difference between where we are right now and the glory that’s coming. Everything he might say falls short, so he doesn’t even try. It’s not worth comparing! He has called us  and justified us and glorified us! We know that in all things — even in the sharing of pain, maybe especially in the sharing of pain! — God works for our good! For ultimate glory!

“We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory!” ~Romans 8:17

The devil means this mess we’re in right now for evil; God our Father is working in it and through it for glory! By the death and resurrection of his Son and by the power of his Holy Spirit, it’s going to be so good! As Christians, we don’t shake our heads and wring our hands and say, “Look what’s happening in the world.” We say, “Look who came into the world!”

All of God’s plans for the restoration of the world, all of God’s promises for glory for us and all of creation, all of what God wants to bring about for our good, is all “yes” in Christ Jesus. It’s not sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no”…

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20-22

Sin’s dominion is being broken. Our bondage to corruption and decay is coming to an end. And the Church speaks the “Amen!” We say it. We believe it. And we live it. The Holy Spirit guarantees the glory that’s coming because of Jesus. So, when the politicians say “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When the culture says “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When your friends say “No,” when the peer pressure says “No,” when your favorite website says “No,” when your family says “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When your gut says “No,” when all the experts say “No,” when your own brothers and sisters in Christ say “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ every time. Every time.

Maybe someday we’ll have a vaccine for the coronavirus. Maybe. But not for the sin that has plunged God’s world into so much pain. Sin is not new. It’s not novel. There’s no shot, there’s no pill, there’s no medicine for this pain that has us and all creation groaning. The only prescription for the pain is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the only cure.

Everything we do and say, everything people do and say about us or to us, every experience we will ever have, is all lovingly used by our God for our good. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always enjoy it. But we know our groanings are not in vain. They serve an eternal purpose that’s being worked out by the Creator of Heaven and Earth who groans right along with us to make it happen.

The pain and the groaning are real. But so is the glory. We’re not finished yet. God’s not done. He has a plan for us and for the whole world and it is glorious. He has established his risen Son on his eternal throne and the whole world which is groaning under the weight of our sin is going to be redeemed. This is our Father’s world and he will do whatever he sees fit. And he sees fit to appoint it and us to glory.

Peace,

Allan

What We Do

I believe Romans 8:18-30 tells us Christians exactly where we are right now, what we are called to do, and what’s going to happen. In a time when confusion reigns and the future is no less clear than the present, we need a Word from God to provide clarity and assurance. And I’m convinced that this middle part of this critical chapter is that Word.

Yesterday we looked at where we are. The world is in pain. All of creation is groaning, right up to the present time. The whole world is in pain because of sin. That’s where we are. That’s what’s happening right now.

And the Church shares the world’s pain. That’s what we’re called to do.

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies.” ~Romans 8:23

We join the world’s pain. We bear the world’s pain. We don’t ignore it. We don’t isolate ourselves from it or look the other way and pretend it’s not happening. The Church is called to share the world’s pain.

Wait. Why us? Because we know. We know things are not the way they are supposed to be. We have the firstfruits. We’ve seen glimpses of the eternal glory. We’ve tasted the way things are supposed to be. We’ve experienced a little bit of what God is doing. When we come together around the table and share the communion meal, we are one with God in Christ and we are one with each other. Perfect fellowship. Perfect unity. Perfect acceptance and forgiveness and love and peace. And that’s not ordinary. It’s Christian.

Baby blessings and baptisms, missions work and Loaves and Fishes, small groups and 4Amarillo — we experience up close and personal these firstfruits of the Spirit. We see and hear and taste and touch God’s healing and cleansing, his joy and forgiveness, his power and reconciliation and compassion and love. And it’s not what you find in the ways of this broken world. It’s uniquely Gospel.

To accomplish what’s coming for us, our Lord Jesus had to get out of his comfort zone and put on our pain. That’s the Gospel truth. Christ Jesus left his home in glory, he sacrificed his position and power, he gave up his status and wealth, and he joined us in our pain. He came to where we are, he put on our flesh and blood, he clothed himself in our skin, and he suffered in the dirt with us. He became familiar with our sufferings. He carried our burdens. He healed our disease. He became our sin for us, to rescue us from the corruption and decay.

We all share the common human predicament of pain. Of groaning. So, like our Lord Jesus, we intentionally seek out the pain in others. Where is that pain? You look for it. And you don’t have to look hard because we’re surrounded by it. And we join the pain. We embrace the pain. We live it. We share it. We stand with and for those who are in pain. We speak for and with those who are suffering. The Church is called to share the world’s pain. Who else is going to? And if the Church doesn’t do it now, when will we?

Some of you, I know, the pain is too far away. The problems are just on TV. You’ve never been shot by a police officer, you’ve never been pulled over for no reason, you’ve never been discriminated against at school or work, you’ve not had opportunities taken from you because of your skin color. And maybe you don’t know anybody who has. It’s not something you think about or talk about unless it’s on TV.

For some of you, though, the pain is very close. You do know someone. You’ve experienced it yourself. You’ve spent hours crying in front of the TV the past three weeks. You think about it and talk about it all the time.

And, yeah, there’s no doubt we’re all over the map in our churches. We have lots of different viewpoints and opinions. We probably disagree about what should be done and what ought to work and the steps that need to be taken. We’re not going to be on the same page.

But here’s what the Bible tells us. The world is in pain. The whole world is broken because of sin. And it’s groaning. And, like our Lord Jesus, his Church is called to share the world’s pain.

And you might say, “I don’t know anything about racism. I don’t know how to fix it.” And all the other problems in the world — not just racism. You don’t know anything about drugs or homelessness or divorce. You can’t relate to CPS cases or losing your job.

Well, you do know how to love people. You do know how to sacrifice and serve people. You know how to just sit with people, to just be present with people. If it were your daughter, you’d do it. I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you move heaven and earth, I’ve seen you sacrifice and suffer for the sake of being with your son or daughter. I’ve seen you struggle to build bridges and reconcile relationships with the people you love. I’ve seen you work so hard and give up so much to heal and restore what’s broken in your own families.

The world is in pain right now. That’s where we are. The Church shares the world’s pain. That’s what we’re called to do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I had the great pleasure of sharing lunch with two African American brothers today and then recording a podcast together about the upcoming “Uniting as One” city-wide worship service on June 28. Isaac Butler, the associate pastor at St. John Baptist, and Chris Brown, a minister at Temple of Praise Church, honored me with their company and their passion to see all of God’s people come together as one Body in Christ Jesus. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. I’ll be sharing more about the worship gathering in this space later this week.

Peace,

Allan

Where We Are

There’s one passage in the Bible that tells us where we are right now, what exactly we are called to do, and what is going to happen as a result. Seriously. Thirteen verses that tell us what’s happening right now, what we’re called to do about it and in it and through it, and what’s going to happen because of it.

Today, you might not know any of these things for sure. You might be confused or uncertain about one or two or all three of these things.

Where are we? You tell me! We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that reminds us of the disease and death of 1918. We’re on the front edges of an economic depression that will feel like the 1930s. The racial injustice and violence and demonstrations feel like the 1960s. And the extreme reactions to all of it — the judging, labeling, choosing up sides, hate — feels like we’re headed for a civil war like the 1860s. I don’t know what’s happening. It feels like chaos and like everybody’s lost their ever-lovin’ minds.

And what are we supposed to do? I have no idea! Am I supposed to post on Facebook or Instagram? Or retweet something? No way! Are you crazy? You’re taking your life in your own hands if you try to say or do anything. Whatever I do won’t be enough, it won’t be woke enough, it’ll be misunderstood  or taken out of context. I don’t need that. Somebody needs to do something, but I don’t know who and I don’t know what.

And what’s going to happen? Nobody knows. You’ve probably noticed, the experts change their minds every twelve minutes. They can’t agree on anything. All of it seems so arbitrary. Like it’s not based on facts or truth or science — it’s all on gut. It’s all emotional. So there’s no predicting any of it.

We need a Word from God. We desperately need the truth of God’s Word to tell us where we are, what we’re called to do, and what’s going to happen. We need that clarity and confidence. And I feel very strongly that the middle of Romans 8 gives us that Word. I believe these thirteen verses — Romans 8:18-30 — is God’s Word to us today regarding our current situation.

“The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” ~Romans 8:20-22

The world is in pain. That’s where we are. That’s what’s happening. Creation is groaning out of frustration. The rocks and trees, the animals and birds, the rivers, the people — it’s all subjected to frustration. All of creation is a slave to decay. The whole world is in bondage to corruption. And it’s groaning. Right up to the present time. Right now.

And it’s groaning because of sin. Everything got messed up when we decided we know better than God. We know what’s best for us, better than the One who made us. So when that one man, Adam, went against the will of the Creator, all of creation was infected with his sin. Everything that exists is somehow corrupted by sin.

This goes back to Genesis 3: the groans and the pains of childbirth, the hard work and sweat and frustration, women and men struggling against each other for power and control. And when sin entered the picture, so did death. Everything decays. Nothing is permanent. Every thing that’s living dies. Everything you know, everything you experience, even the really good things — all of it is distorted and twisted. Relationships, work, our bodies, our marriages, the people and things we love — it’s all corrupted by sin and death. Right up to the present time. This is what’s happening right now. This is where we are.

What’s front and center for us right now is the racism in the United States. The discrimination and injustice against minority peoples that’s built into our fallen nature and built right into the systems and structures of this country. It’s breaking news right now. But we know racism is not new. It’s not novel. It’s always been there and it’s never going away.

And violence. Poverty. Selfishness. Greed. Lust. Power. Control. The sins of our society and our own individual sins. They separate us from our God, they divide us against each other, and they devour our bodies and souls.

So people are hurting. People are dying. People are crying out in pain. That’s where we are. The world is in pain.

Peace,

Allan

You Are Blessed By God

You are blessed by God. This is first and it’s foundational and it’s forever. You are blessed by God. This goes all the way back to the very first chapter of the Bible, the very beginning. The very day God created the first man and woman.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them…” ~Genesis 1:27-28

God blessed them. The very first words God ever spoke to people at creation is blessing. Before God gives any command or any law, before he gives out jobs or guidelines for behavior, God gives his blessing. God’s blessing is not based on performance or on meeting some expectations. God’s blessings are based solely on the fact that you are created in his holy image, you bear his likeness, he made you and put himself into you. You belong to God and your are loved by God and God is very pleased with you because you are his child.

That is your identity. First and foremost and forever. That’s not just what you are, it’s who you are: blessed by God. And God speaks that blessing over and over and over to you, from that first day of creation glory to this very moment right now while you’re reading these words.

“This is what the Lord says — he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine… Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.'” ~Isaiah 43

“I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!” ~Isaiah 49

Jesus says there’s not one little bird in the sky that goes down without the Father being aware of it. What about you? You’re worth more to God than all the little birds in the world! God knows the exact number of hairs on your head!

Jesus says you know how to give good gifts to your children, and you’re not even that good yourself. How much more does your Father in heaven give to his children! How much more grace does he have for those who belong to him!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” ~ 1 John 3:1

Over and over and over again, every page of Holy Scripture reminds you of the blessing.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?… [Nothing} in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” ~Romans 8

You are blessed by God. And it’s not based on your performance. It’s not founded on what you do or how well you do it. God loves you because you are his child. God commits to you and publicly accepts you and approves of you because you are his child. You are blessed by God.

And that’s exactly where the devil attacks you.

Man, this is so important.

Ephesians 6 tells us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. 1 Timothy 3 warns us not to fall into the devil’s trap. And we know what it is. The devil attacks the blessing. The devil wants to undermine your confidence in Christ, he wants you to doubt your identity as a beloved child of God, he wants you to lose your assurance — your certainty — as saved by Jesus Christ and sealed forever by God’s Holy Spirit.

I believe the devil wants to keep you from believing that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise and moral teacher. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really physically raised from the dead — those are just stories. Maybe there are other ways to get to heaven. I think the devil starts there. But his most subtle, most dangerous, and most effective attacks are on your blessing from God, your status as a beloved child who belongs to God.

If the devil can get your brain to believe that God loves you, but your heart to feel like God only loves you if you’re good enough — that’s his goal. If the devil can get your brain to believe that Christ’s death takes care of all your sins, but your heart to feel like that won’t cover the super big sins or the sins you can’t shake — that’s what he wants. If the devil can get your brain to accept that you are saved by God’s grace, but your heart to feel like you haven’t done enough…

The Bible calls the devil the tempter, and he certainly is that. But much more than that, the Bible calls the devil the accuser, the liar, the father of lies. Jesus says lying is the devil’s native tongue.

I’m convinced that most of the trouble in my world and in your world — whatever trouble you find in your heart and your soul, whatever’s not good inside you — is a result of knowing and believing in God’s love for you in your brain, and confessing his mercy and grace for you with your lips, but feeling something different in your heart.

All the research shows that when you ask Christians how they believe God thinks about them — “When God thinks about you, how does he feel? — more than two-thirds of Christians say “disappointed.” God is disappointed with me. Not “I belong to God.” Not “God loves me.” Not “God is well pleased with me.” We don’t feel what the Bible says about God and me, we feel what the devil says about God and me!

Brilliant, huh? And evil.

Peace,

Allan

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