Category: Romans (page 1 of 19)

Against All Odds

I don’t know how Easter Sunday is for you. Maybe you go to church on Easter and you’re great. You’re excited. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is a part of who you are every day — the power and the life — and celebrating it with God’s people on Easter Sunday is a true highlight for you. Maybe you go to church wanting to be excited, but once you arrive, it all seems like empty ritual. You feel like an outsider, not an insider. Like a spectator.

Or maybe it’s bad. You feel like the odds are totally stacked against you. You’ve had faith that the world is basically a good place but you can’t find proof of it anymore. Disease and hunger and violence are not going to be solved by arrogant dictators and power-hungry politicians.

You’ve had hope in our culture, that the advances of science and technology would heal us and bring us closer together. But we are sicker and more lonely as a people than we’ve ever been.

You looked for life in your family and friends, the people you trust, the people who love you. But they’ve let you down. They’ve disappointed you. They’ve hurt you.

Maybe you can’t even believe in yourself. You can’t sleep at night because of the things you’ve done in the past. You can’t look at yourself in the mirror because of the things you’re caught up in now. The obstacles to faith and hope and life have boxed you in. The odds are stacked against you. You feel like you only exist. On a dead-end street. Maybe.

Maybe the bad news in the world drives you to despair. Maybe the bad news at work or at the doctor’s office is overwhelming. Maybe the bad news in your marriage or with your kids or the bad news between you and your parents is too much. Maybe the bad news of your past and current sins — the odds are stacked against you. It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t feel good.

Let’s talk about bad news.

The bad news is Pharaoh’s army is going to win at the Red Sea. Those were the odds that day. Pharaoh’s army was favored by 497 points. The over-under was four-million dead Hebrews.

The bad news is the little shepherd boy with the sling is no match for a trained warrior giant.

The bad news is Peter can’t walk on water.

The bad news is a virgin can’t have a baby.

The bad news is the authorities crucified our Savior.

The bad news is dead people stay dead.

I’m telling you right now the declaration of the angels is true: Jesus is alive! Jesus lives! That stone was rolled away from the tomb not so Jesus could get out but so we could all look in and see for ourselves, so we could see and proclaim the truth that our God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were!

He calls the things that are wrong in your life, right. He calls the things that are broken in your family, fixed. He calls things that are missing in your soul, the things that are lacking and bad, he calls them found and saved and overflowing with goodness and life!

Psalm 112 says the one who belongs to God has no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Can you hear the good news? Are you able to hear the power and the life our God so longs to give you by the resurrection of Christ Jesus? Hear the good news, believe the good news, and walk through the door into a brand new world where the ultimate reality is not dying and death, but where Jesus is the risen and reigning King and his gift is everlasting life.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism: Unity With Christ

When you pass your drivers license test at 16-years-old, you become a person who drives. You belong now to the community of people who operate motor vehicles and you share the privileges and responsibilities of that group. You have a freedom you’ve never had before and you also have to pick your little brother up from practice. And go to the store for laundry detergent and milk. It’s really the only reason we have kids — we hope one day they’ll go to the store for us.

Your seventh grade Texas History class qualifies you as a true Texan. When you come out of that required course you know the difference between the Alamo and San Jacinto, you can talk knowledgably about cattle drives and cotton farming, and you’re better able to look down on and feel sorry for the millions of people who live in the other 49 states. Rightly so.

Graduating from high school makes you a lifelong alumnus of that institution  and confers on you a unity with all that school’s alumni for all time. Once a Sandie, always a Sandie, they say.

There are certain rituals that shape your identity in the Stanglin family. We have first day of school rituals that include an obnoxious song, awkward group photos, and invasive questions at dinner. We have Christmas rituals in our family that include certain holiday movies and certain holiday foods on certain nights. We have summer vacation rituals in which we stack everything we’ve packed by a certain door the night before, we stockpile our favorite snacks, we play rock, paper, scissors for the preferred seats in the van, we get up early and say a prayer in the living room, and something on the car breaks down as we’re pulling out of the driveway.

These are rites of passage. These rituals form us and give us our identity.

Baptism is a ritual and a rite of passage that places one into a brand new community and give one a brand new identity. Christian baptism radically changes where you are and who you are.

And we need this gift from God. We need this ritual. As our Western society becomes more and more a world of disconnected and lonely individuals, we need this ritual. We need this gift of baptism as an anchor driven deep into the solid foundation of a saving faith in God.

For the rest of this week, I’d like to post some simple baptism theology here. We’re wrapping up a twelve-weeks Bible class and sermon series here at Central on the sacraments of the Church. And I’d like to share some quick thoughts on baptism in this space.

If the Gospel is that the Son of God lived a perfect life, he was crucified, and then because of his perfect life God vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, and because he did this for us we, too, can be saved and raised and exalted exactly like Jesus if we are connected to him, how do we get connected to him? If that’s the Good News, how do I participate in that? How do I get in on it?

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Baptism is unity with Christ. Baptism is a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus WITH Jesus. It connects us to Jesus, it makes us one with Christ. We die with Jesus, we are resurrected with Jesus in baptism.

Now, that’s a strong statement, it’s a very positive statement about what God does for sinners in baptism. Jesus was recognized as the Savior and declared the Lord because of his death, burial, and resurrection. And the Bible says we get in on all that — all three of those things — with Jesus in baptism.

“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… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” ~Colossians 2:9-12

Again, baptism connects us to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it unifies us with the saving work of the Son of God. The very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the grave belongs to us in baptism. So does his righteousness and holiness and peace. His sinlessness belongs to the baptized. His perfect status belongs to the baptized. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is applied to all of us at baptism.

Theology doesn’t have to be complicated. More tomorrow.

Peace,

Allan

Silence Is Not Approval

I’ve been in more than a couple of conversations lately with Christian brothers and sisters who claim that Confederate flags and statues were never a problem for anybody until the national media began inflaming emotions and generally riling folks up. African-Americans didn’t care about the statues until only lately, black people weren’t bothered by the flags until recently.

How do they know?

Because they never heard anything different. Nobody ever said anything about it. Nobody complained. Nobody made any noise.

My response to that line of reasoning, that black people were not / are not bothered by the Confederate symbols because they did not/ do not complain, has been to attempt to persuade my brother or sister to see the situation from the viewpoint of the African-American.

How do we know unless we’ve been in their shoes? How do we really know?

What if a middle-aged black man walks past the Confederate statue in Elwood Park here in Amarillo every evening on his way home from a lousy job? Maybe his great-great grandfather was a slave in the South. Maybe his grandfather and his father spent their lives in and out of work, on and off welfare. Maybe none of them graduated high school, much less went to college. Maybe he feels the structures and systems in this country keep pushing him down. Maybe he feels oppressed by a government and by a society that has never given people like him a fair shot. He sees this statue every day, his kids attend Robert E. Lee Elementary School in their mostly black neighborhood, there are Confederate flags flying out the backs of pickups from Pullman Road to Soncy.

What are his options? Who’s he going to complain to? What’s this man’s recourse?

Just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s OK with everything.

Last week Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, quietly protested as his State Senate publicly and officially honored Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. Fairfax is the Senate’s presiding officer, but he temporarily handed off his duties so he wouldn’t be officially participating in the ceremony. His gesture, though, was so subtle, not very many people even realized it happened.

Isaac Bailey is a member of the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board. He wrote a column last week praising Fairfax’s stand and pointing out the irony and frustration most African-Americans experience in these situations:

“It’s long been a dilemma for black people in the South. If you protest and let your anger be known, you risk being called purveyors of hate or ‘outside agitators,’ and being accused of hardening racial divisions and stirring the pot. If you swallow your anger to get along with white counterparts who revere ancestors who raped and beat and enslaved your ancestors, you risk being accused of not really caring about symbols such as the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments. Your silence is used to suggest you are OK with how things are.”

That’s precisely how I’ve experienced it lately.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and black people have never had an issue with this statue. I know lots of African-Americans in this city and nobody’s ever complained about the name of that school.”

Minorities — by the very definition of the word in conjunction with the broken ways of our world — generally speaking, do not experience a status anywhere near the same level as others. In this country, because of the past history and the current structures and a thousand other very complicated factors, African-Americans do not have the same chances. The playing field is not level. In our city, African-Americans make up less than six-percent of the population. They are marginalized.

Where is the Church in all this? Where are the followers of Jesus?

In the past four or five months, I’ve heard Christians say things to my face, into my ears, about Charlottesville and statues and flags and minority peoples that are decidedly unChristian. Where are we?

I don’t have any advice for the school board or the city council on this. But I do have something to say to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Slippery slope arguments about erasing history and heritage are completely missing the point. The question for Christians is, will you identify with the city that’s fading away or with the enduring city that’s coming? Will you love your neighbor more than you love a flag or a statue? Will you love the African-American men and women of your city more than you love the history and heritage of the South?

My question for Christians who display that flag is this: if you know how African-Americans read that flag, if you know how that flag makes them feel vulnerable and oppressed, why would you continue flying it? Why would you insist? Why would you actually fight with your words and your good name for a statue that you know causes deep pain?

Scripture says be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Romans 12. In this same context, live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, people who don’t enjoy the same status or success. These are the very people chosen by Christ, remember? Not influential, not of noble birth, weak people, despised people, vulnerable and oppressed people. Have we forgotten who we are? That’s us!

Peace,

Allan

Amazement at the Gift

“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” ~John 1:13

The coming of Jesus is a gift from God. It’s a gracious and loving gift. But it has to be received. You have to say “Yes.”

Romans 8 explains it like this: “If we are God’s children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Galatians 4 tells us we are no longer slaves — You’re a son! You’re a daughter! God has made you an heir according to the promise. And if you are a co-heir with Christ Jesus, the first born of God, that makes you a first born of God with him.

And that should be astonishing to us.

Me. With all my sins, with all my flaws, with all my issues and problems. Me. God gives this incredible gift to me.

This is the essence of the Good News. This is the heart of Christianity. The amazement at the gift.

If you think Christianity is mainly about going to church and believing all the right things and living your life a certain way — there’s no surprise or wonder in that. Where’s the sheer happiness and incredible joy? If somebody asks, “Are you a Christian?” you’ll  respond, “Of course I am. It’s hard work but, yes, I’m a Christian. Why?”

When we think and talk like that, Christianity is something done by you. So there’s no amazement in being a Christian. But if Christianity is something done FOR you, if it’s a great gift given TO you, then there’s a constant sense of surprise and wonder.

“Are you a Christian?” The answer shouldn’t be, “Of course!” It shouldn’t be so matter-of-fact, so automatic and obvious. It should be, “Yes! Yes, I’m a Christian and it’s unbelievable! It’s a miracle! Me, a Christian! Isn’t that crazy? But, yes, Christ Jesus has given me his righteousness, holiness, and peace! God through Christ has made me his child! I’m his forever! Can you believe it? Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

These next few days are going to be hectic for most of us. There’s a lot to do, a lot to keep track of, there’s a lot going on. If we’re not careful, the significance of the season gets lost. The peace and joy gets crowded out by the chores and noise. And we miss it.

There’s a reason we give and receive gifts at Christmas. There’s a reason that gifts are such a central part of the Christmas experience. May the beauty of those gifts — the wrapping, the ribbons and bows, the colors — remind us that the beautiful salvation we share in Christ Jesus is a gift from God. May the abundance of the Christmas presents point to the forgiveness, the holiness, righteousness, and peace — all the salvation gifts lavished on us through Jesus. And when we’re opening presents in the coming days, may our eyes and our hearts be opened anew to the wonder of God’s matchless love for the world. And for you.

Peace,

Allan

God at Work: Sacrament

Sacrament: A physical symbol that acts as a means of God’s grace by which we participate in a spiritual reality.

This Sunday at Central we’re beginning a 13-weeks Bible class series on the sacraments of baptism, communion, and the Christian assembly. Our intent is to move more toward viewing these special moments together as places and times when our God is redemptively present and seriously at work. We want to learn how to focus more on what God is doing and less on what we are doing in these practices. And the word “sacrament” is significant for our understanding and growth.

The definition above is my own version of how the Church has understood the term for centuries. Let’s explain it using each of the divine ordinances.

Baptism – The physical symbol is the water. The water is real, it’s tangible. You can see it, you can feel it, you can experience it. It’ll ruin your phone, it’ll go up your nose — it’s real. But the water also represents a reality beyond itself. It points to something bigger. The water symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What makes baptism a sacrament is that, by God’s Spirit, we actually participate in the reality it symbolizes. In baptism, we are buried and raised with Christ Jesus. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Lord’s Supper – The physical symbol is the bread and the cup, the cracker and the juice. Those are concrete, real things, physical things. You can smell the juice, you can crunch the cracker; it gets stuck in your teeth, it can stain your slacks — it’s real. But the meal represents Jesus eating and drinking with his disciples. What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that, by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the thing it represents. We are literally eating with the Lord. Somehow, mysteriously, yes, he meets us at the table and eats with us.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” ~1 Corinthians 10:16

Christian Assembly – The physical symbol is the people in the room. It’s us. Real men, women, and children, wearing clothes, laughing, singing, whispering, chewing gum, praying; babies crying and people sneezing — it’s real. And it symbolizes something bigger. It represents the heavenly assembly around the throne of God. By God’s Spirit, we join that heavenly chorus — we are actually participating in what we can’t see yet. We are singing and praying with all the saints of all time in heaven, in the eternal presence of God. That’s what makes the Sunday morning worship gathering a sacrament.

“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous men and women made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

God is present with us, saving us, nourishing us, changing us. When we view these three ordinances as merely commands to obey, we’ll focus on what we are doing. When we understand them as sacraments, we’re better able to focus on what God is doing.

Peace,

Allan

The Gain is Worth the Pain

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” ~Hebrews 12:10-11

Our Father is at work during the hard times in our lives, training us to share in his holiness, righteousness, and peace. The preacher in Hebrews is telling us, look, we ought to recognize the pattern here. We experienced this with our own parents and, if we’re parents ourselves, we do the same things. Good parents, including God, exercise discipline because they want their children to grow up to be like them, to share their values and commitments and way of life.

We sent one of our daughters to college in Oklahoma City and we told her, “You can only date boys from Texas.” Why? Because we have standards — standards related to our values and way of life. I check our youngest daughter’s phone from time to time and I see that almost half her playlist is Tom Petty and Aerosmith. And I say to myself, “Ah, we raised her right.”

God’s like that, too. He wants us to grow up to be like him. He wants us to love what he loves, to think what he thinks. He wants us to be holy like he is holy, to treat people the way he treats people, and to be righteous in the ways he is righteous. So he trains us. He conditions us. He uses discipline. And it’s not always pleasant. But it is always for our good.

“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” ~Romans 5:3-5

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” ~James 1:2-4

“We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.” ~2 Thessalonians 1:4-5

We know what God is doing through our struggles. We know it’s for our ultimate, eternal good. This character forming, this kind of relationship building with God, is proof that you belong to him as his child. It’s proof that he cares for you and he’s committed to you.

I know your sufferings are painful and your trials are terrible. And I know your troubles or whatever you’re going through make you feel lonely and desperate and depressed. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually — I know it’s real. And the Scriptures do not discount how hard this life is. The Bible doesn’t downplay the costs associated with a life of faith. The Scriptures don’t brush off your feelings. Your feelings are real. Your hard experiences are real. But the preacher in Hebrews wants to open our ears and our hearts to the eternal truth, to the everlasting reality of what’s being accomplished.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Jesus stayed focused on the joy in front of him: the joy of doing his Father’s will, the joy of fulfilling his Father’s purposes, the joy of participating in God’s salvation. Jesus endured the agony of the cross, he suffered through an excruciating physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual torture and death. And because he persevered, he reigns today at the right hand of the throne of God.

The preacher in Hebrews knows the people in his church are hurting. And they’re tired of hurting. They’re tired of suffering. To encourage them to keep running the race, he reminds them of the truth of Christ Jesus. Whatever you’re suffering, whatever you’re going through, Jesus went through so much worse, so much more, for the sake of your holiness, your righteousness, and your peace.

Peace,

Allan

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