The Gain is Worth the Pain

2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, James, Romans, Suffering No Comments »

“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

Moving Away From the Tomb

Ephesians, Ministry, Resurrection, Romans, Salvation No Comments »

I’m struck by the fact that nobody saw Jesus at the empty tomb. Clearly our risen Lord didn’t hang around the cemetery once the Spirit resurrected him back to life. It seems he got out of there as fast as he could. Yet, here are the women, looking for their living Lord among the graves. The angels ask, almost incredulously, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Good question.

Sometimes good faithful Christians can be stuck. We’re dead. Or, at least, we act like we’re dead. Some of us have followed Jesus to Jerusalem. We’ve endured suffering and pain in his name. We’ve carried the cross. Most of us have died on the cross of Christ and, even though we’ve been baptized for the forgiveness of our sins and received the gift of God’s Spirit inside us, we’ve never really been resurrected. Some of us don’t live like we’ve been given the gift of eternal life by the almighty author of life. We live like we’re still dead. We’re still knocking around in the dirt and dark of the grave. And we’re surprised when we have a hard time seeing Jesus. We’re surprised when there’s no experience of Jesus.

The resurrection is not just about heaven someday — it’s about a full life today!

But some of us are still buried in a tomb. We don’t sing. We don’t work. We don’t explore or experiment. We don’t accept challenges or tackle new tasks. We don’t grow. We don’t laugh. Singing and working and exploring and growing and laughing are what you do when you’re alive! If you’re grumpy all the time, you’re not living the resurrection life. If you’re negative all the time, you’re dead.

What are you thinking? God’s going to fix my attitude when I get to heaven?

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ!” ~Ephesians 2:4

“Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life!” ~Romans 6:4

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” ~Romans 8:11

The death and resurrection of Jesus is not just about my sin and Jesus taking my punishment and now everything’s great. We’ve been given eternal life. We share in Christ’s resurrection so we can be holy, royal image-bearers, so we can be ambassadors for Jesus and partners in his Gospel.

But I want to play it safe. Better safe than sorry. I don’t want to take any risks. I don’t want to go out on a limb. I don’t want to change or grow.

Man, you’re living in the dark and cold of the grave! And that’s not really living. Follow Jesus away from the grave and into the warmth and light of his resurrection life!

Once the disciples moved away from the grave, they most certainly did not play anything safe. There was no hiding or sleeping. No stagnation or status quo. They started preaching and teaching. They sold their possessions to give to the poor. They violated city ordinances to proclaim the good news. They took mission trips on broken down boats and prayers. They sang praises in prison chains. They turned the world upside down for the Kingdom of God! That’s resurrection living!

It’s like a wonderfully talented musician on the verge of his own worldwide concert tour. He plays beautifully. He’s awesome. He’ll inspire thousands. But he’s caught up in a terrible crime and is thrown in jail. But, then, by some miracle, the governor declares a general amnesty and the great musician is released! His response is not just, “Whew! Thank goodness I don’t have to go to jail!” It’s, “Now I can play like I was born to play! I can perform like I was created to perform!”

Christians sometimes are too preoccupied with not going to jail.

Listen. If you’re in Christ, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO JAIL! So now you can really live!

This is good news, not good advice. This is the Gospel.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus is God’s “Yes” to You

2 Corinthians, Faith, Forgiveness, Numbers, Promise, Romans, Salvation No Comments »

“God is not a man, that he should lie
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?”
~Numbers 23:19

amenscrabbleWhat God says, he will do. What God promises, he will fulfill. God is faithful to his Word. What God has said about your life, what he has said regarding your past, what he has promised related to your right now, what he has promised concerning your home, your family, your job, your well-being — he is faithful. He can be trusted to keep his Word.

There are a lot of promises in the Bible. God promises to do a lot of really great and eternal things. But I think we struggle sometimes to believe his promises are for “me.” Church people, Christians, — us! — believe God in the abstract, but we struggle to believe him personally. We believe in theory. But it doesn’t always translate to “me” very well.

I totally believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and that he was raised from the dead for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, I believe God promised to forgive sin and I believe God worked through Jesus to accomplish it. Amen, yes, I believe in the forgiveness of sins…

…unless we’re talking about your sins, maybe.

Well… I’ve got some really bad sins. I don’t know. I mean, I still sin. I’m not a good person. I can’t believe my sins are totally taken care of. Not all of them.

Look, I’ll be honest here. I can have a hard time with this, too. It doesn’t always take much. Bad things can start happening and I can question and doubt the faithfulness of our God.

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ!” ~2 Corinthians 1:20

Everybody loves to hear “Yes.” You’ve never heard anybody say, “If I could get a few more ‘NOs’ in my life, I’d be a happier person.” Two children talking together in a bedroom have never said, “Let’s don’t ask dad, let’s ask mom; she always says ‘No!'” We all want to hear “Yes.” We love to hear “Yes.”

Scripture reminds us that all of God’s promises find their “Yes” in Jesus. Not half of God’s promises, not some of God’s promises, not a conditional percentage of God’s promises — the answer to every single promise God has ever made is “Yes” in Jesus!

How do you really know God’s promises are true for you? Can you really trust that all your sins are truly forgiven? How do you know?

Scripture says if we look to ourselves for the answers to these profound and valid questions, we’ll struggle and doubt for our entire lives. The solution is to look to Jesus. Find the answers in Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus and your confidence and faith in God will grow.

How do you know God is fully in charge and he really is going to fix everything that’s wrong with the world and me? Look at Jesus. Look how he heals the lame, how he gives sight to the blind, how he feeds the hungry, how he drives out the tormenting demons, how he raises the dead. God will fix you. It’s a promise.

amenblocksHow do you know God can really forgive my worst sins? Look at Jesus. Look how he loves the prostitute at Simon’s house and says to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Look how he saves the woman caught in adultery and tells her, “I don’t consider you guilty.” Look how he forgives the tax collector in the tree, the best friend who betrayed him, the paralyzed man. Look how Jesus prays from the cross for his accusers and executioners; how with his dying breath he prays for his killers: “Father, forgive them.” God will forgive you. It’s a promise.

How do you know that God is really for you, that he’s not indifferent toward you, that he really loves you and he’s in tune with you and paying attention to you and he wants the very best for you? Look at Jesus on that cross. He died for you. He suffered and died for you.

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? 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?” ~Romans 8:31-32

There is no event in salvation history, there is no promise made by God to his people, that is not coming true in Jesus. God is faithful to keep his Word to you. It’s a promise.

Peace,

Allan

Satan Crushed

Romans No Comments »

satancrushed

Before we move away from the end of Romans, I’d like to point you to one of the most powerful verses in all of Holy Scripture, Romans 16:20:

“The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet!”

Wow. How powerful. How empowering. I’m not sure any of the motivational speeches in the history of the silver screen, from Knute Rockne to Braveheart, ever inspired as much hope. From Washington to Bowie to Patton, no commander has ever spoken a more immortal truth to rally the troops. Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry combined could never touch the power of these motivational words.

“The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet!”

If these words of Holy Scripture are true — and they are! — then there’s nothing that can ever stop us. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to doubt. Nobody can stand in our way. Satan can’t stop us. Satan can’t slow us down. Satan can’t scare us or intimidate us or trick us. His fate is sealed. His destiny is already being delivered. He will soon be completely crushed by God under our feet.

So, what are we afraid of? Why are we so slow to act? What are we waiting for?

With Satan out of the picture, we are liberated to do bold things, courageous things, great things for God’s Kingdom in the name of our Risen Lord. With no fear. No doubts. No hesitation.

“The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet!

Peace,

Allan

Strong Christians

Church, Discipleship, Giving, Grace, Romans No Comments »

oneheartbaptism

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” ~Romans 15:1-3

As children of God and followers of his Christ, the Church takes its example from Jesus. The Son of God is the one who calls us to live with each other the way we do. We realize that Christ Jesus never once did a single thing to please himself. Instead, he gave up everything, he sacrificed everything, to benefit others. And by choosing to serve others instead of please himself, Jesus sets the pattern that we must accept as our own: Putting others first, considering the needs of others more important than our own, never about me, always about you.

And Paul puts it on the strong. It’s up to the strong Christians, not the weak, to make sure this happens in God’s Church. It’s on the strong to bear with the failings of the weak sister or brother. That’s hard. It’s on the strong to make the concessions to our weaker brothers and sisters and that’s not easy. It’s easier to be the weaker Christian, drawing the lines and insisting that everybody cater to me. It’s the strong, Paul says, who are able to grasp the truth that our love and mercy and grace to others is like Christ.

“But I can’t stop doing this certain thing; not for him.”
“I can’t give up practicing this particular thing; not for her.”
“I can’t sacrifice this behavior or this privilege or this freedom; not for them.”

You call yourself a follower of Christ? Jesus gave up everything! Jesus sacrificed it all for you and me, for all our brothers and sisters, for the strong and the weak! That’s what makes a strong Christian strong: a faith that comes to the realization that a lot of the things you care so much about are really not that important to God. You love your weaker brother so much, you care about your weaker sister so much, you’re willing to keep those things between you and the Lord and sacrificially carry the burdens of the weak. And the stronger your faith, the easier it becomes. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. You can do this.

Bottom line, here’s what separates the strong Christians from the weak Christians: Strong Christians with strong faith know that the more you sacrifice and the more you give up for others, the more like Christ you are. The more you insist on your own way, the more you assert yourself for your own interests, the less like Christ you are. Pretty simple.

So, what if all of us, to a person, decided that we would put ourselves at the back of the line? What if we all vowed to bend over backwards to make everybody else happy and sacrifice our own feelings and opinions in order to build up others? What if we all did that?

If we all accepted each other like Christ accepted us, if we all bore the failings of the weak just like Jesus does, it still wouldn’t result in a perfect Church. It wouldn’t eliminate our differences of opinion. It won’t do away with our arguments and debates. But it would mean figuring out how to live together in the Gospel. And we’ll know for sure that the Jesus who unites us is greater by far than the differences that may divide us. And our grace-filled conversations and our mercy-laden interactions with each other will reflect and strengthen that conviction.

Peace,

Allan

Keep It Between Yourself and God

Church, Romans, Salvation, Worship No Comments »

oneheartwings“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” ~Romans 14:5-7

Paul tells the fractured house churches in Rome that each Christian or group of Christians should be fully convinced that the things they believe and practice are the right things in the eyes of God, but don’t you dare bind those things on other disciples who don’t feel the same way. If my brother or sister believes or practices something different from me, we assume he’s doing it to the Lord, she’s doing it before the Lord, they’re doing it in the presence of the Lord with a clear conscience. We assume that my sister with a different belief or a different practice is not believing or practicing arbitrarily. She’s not doing it with a bad attitude or with bad intentions. She’s doing it with careful study and serious prayer and reflection. And she’s fully convinced she’s doing the right thing. So everything’s fine, Paul says. Don’t judge her.

“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord.” ~Romans 14:9

But what if we’re talking about a “salvation issue?” OK. You already know how I feel about the term “salvation issue.” Besides, in this Romans context, Paul never once categorizes the issues and practices in terms of saving or condemning anybody. “Disputable matters” seems to be almost anything about which Christians might argue. And, in Paul’s words, Christians should keep those beliefs and practices between themselves and God.

“As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that nothing is unclean in itself.” ~Romans 14:14
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” ~Romans 14:19
“Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” ~Romans 14:22

Paul clearly identifies himself as one of the strong — he says it: “We who are strong!” But let’s notice that he doesn’t say the weak need to change their minds or their opinions or their practices. These Christians who disagree with him on church traditions and worship practices? He doesn’t call on them to change. In fact, Paul goes so far as to command them not to change their practices unless their minds are fully convinced.

Paul’s prayer is not that all the Christians in Rome come to the same opinion on these things. No. He’s praying that they may possess a unity of Spirit that transcends their differences.

Peace,

Allan