Category: Romans (page 1 of 23)

Closer Than You Think

You are familiar with the warning etched into the bottom of the passenger’s side-view mirror on your car: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. This authoritative statement is located on the passenger’s side-view mirror, but not the driver’s side. Why?

Your driver’s side-view mirror is just a standard flat-surface mirror. Your eyes are less than 18-inches away from that mirror and there’s hardly any angle. You can see almost everything behind you on that side through that mirror. But a normal mirror doesn’t work on the passenger’s side. The driver’s eyes are at least six feet away from that mirror and the angle is extremely sharp. A flat mirror would only allow you to see a tiny sliver of what is behind you on that side. So those mirrors are convex in shape. To compensate for the increased distance between you and the mirror and the severe angle, the passenger’s side mirror bulges out in the middle and curves away toward the sides to give you a wider view. You can see much more with the wider angle, but it comes at a price. The wider focal point compresses the image so it makes the objects appear to be smaller and farther away than they really are. Hence, the warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Every time you get behind the wheel, you are reminded that what you are seeing on that side is a lot bigger and a lot closer than you think. That’s what the warning is all about. This thing in the mirror is closer than it looks. It will impact you sooner than you think. You need to act on this, and your response is important. Time is short. The gap is small. It’s closer than it appears to be.

There is a similar warning for us  in the Bible. It should probably be heard or read as a comfort.

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” ~Romans 13:11-12

It feels like night. It has for a while. We were told at the end of March that we only needed 15-days. If we shut everything down for 15-days, we can flatten the curve and avoid any real crisis. Fifteen days and we’ll be good.

That was nine months ago. And we’re not good. I’m not good. Are you? I feel like I’m in a fog. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure anybody really knows.

We have a vaccine now, praise the Lord. It seems like a miracle we’ve received the vaccines so quickly and we should be thanking God for this answer to our prayers. But most health officials are saying the darkest days of the pandemic are still ahead. And now a new strain? It feels like nobody knows what to do and nobody knows when it’s going to be over.

Our salvation seems like a smaller thing in the face of all the suffering and loss that surrounds us. The dawn of a new day feels a long way off in the suffocating darkness of the present.

We all have questions as we head into the new year. When will the coronavirus crisis end? How will the vaccines work? Is 2021 going to be better than 2020, or will it just be more of the same? Will handshakes and hugs ever be normalized again? What about my own peace of mind? My own sense of well-being? Lots of questions.

Romans 13 reminds us of what the Bible affirms for us over and over again: that we belong to a God who does his very best work in the dark and his deliverance is always closer than you think.

What we see right now can throw us off. You know, it is possible to focus too much on the coronavirus and develop a distorted view. We can pay too much attention to the experts. We can watch too much news and get sucked into a false narrative. We can scroll through too much Facebook, we can read too many emails and websites, we can easily lose sight. Our salvation can seem much smaller than it really is. And farther away. The presence and power of our God can appear to be smaller and farther away.

We need an authoritative statement on the fronts of all our phones and etched into the bottom of all our screens: God’s presence and power is closer than it appears! God’s rescue is closer than you think!

New life always begins in the dark. A seed in the ground. A baby in the womb. Jesus in the tomb. A church in a pandemic. A Christian in despair. We can believe the night is nearly over and the day is almost here. You can have faith in the middle of your fears. You can be calm and certain through your anxieties. You can experience true life even as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Because we know what the prophet Micah knows: “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” And we know what our Lord has promised: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Which is closer than you think.

Peace,

Allan

Your Destiny is Redirected

“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” ~Colossians 3:4

The reality is that you have already been glorified, it just hasn’t been fully revealed. Romans 8 says those he called, those he justified, he also glorified. On that last night around the table with his disciples, our Lord prayed, “I have given them the same glory you gave me.” It’s already a done deal. When you are raised with Christ, your destiny is redirected. You are already rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of God. You’ve been re-routed. It is the most certain, most positive, most definite guarantee from our God: When our Lord Jesus Christ appears in his glory on that last day, you are also going to appear right there with him!

Nothing can possibly stop that. Nothing is going to keep that from happening.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” ~John 10:28

You are going to live in Christ’s glory in the presence of God forever. It’s so certain, it’s so guaranteed, the Bible talks like it’s already occurred. And the call is to adapt yourself now to that coming reality. Don’t wait.

Peace,

Allan

Righteousness, Peace, and Joy

“The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by all people.” ~ Romans 14:17-18

Secure in the Midst of Suffering

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

Living as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ is not like walking a tightrope without a safety net. This is not a situation in which you’re 200-feet up, trying to keep your balance, and taking extra care with every movement and twitch. A fly landing on your nose is life-threatening. People are watching you, everybody’s paying attention, some are secretly hoping you’ll crash and burn. That’s not the Christian life. It’s not a tightrope where every single step you take is a life or death deal. It’s more like sitting safely and securely inside a fortress. If you’re a Christian, you’re protected. You’re safe.

Even in your sufferings. Even when bad things happen to you. When you lose something you think you can’t live without. When your loved ones suffer pain. When you’re the victim of an injustice.

Psalm 125 says you’ll be OK because you’re surrounded by God. He’s got you. As long as the Lord is your God, you’ll be fine.

Whoever wrote Psalm 125 did not have anesthesia at the hospital, he didn’t have Tylenol or antibiotics in his medicine cabinet, and he didn’t have a government spending hundreds of billions of dollars on national defense. The writer here endured pain and suffering and threat personally and with the people around him every day. Why did that not destroy his confidence in God?

“The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous.” ~Psalm 125:3

The wickedness won’t rest, it won’t last, it won’t stay with you permanently. The bad stuff is always temporary.

“…for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” ~Psalm 125:3

If the evil is permanent, if there’s no hope for deliverance, even the most faithful and devout person will break. They’ll use their own hands to do evil — it’s too much. But God never allows that to happen. The pain and the suffering are never too much for our faith.

“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13

At some point, at just the right time, it goes away. The bad stuff is never too much for your faith. And it’s never too much for our God.

“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 shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:31-39

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Face of Our Feelings

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

A lot of us grew up with a view of our salvation as something we slip in and out of pretty easily. According to what we do or don’t do, what kind of day we’re having or the last time we prayed, we might be saved or lost. If you’re not on constant guard, if you’re not vigilant in doing everything in exactly the right way, your mortal soul is in jeopardy. Losing your salvation could happen to you gradually or all of a sudden. Your status with God is fragile. Your salvation is a delicate thing. You’re worried about your worthiness. You’re anxious about your standing. There’s always a question. Always a doubt.

There’s a Greek word for this: Baloney.

There’s also a West Texas word for it. But I can’t use it here.

The Scriptures are clear that our salvation with God in Christ Jesus is secure. We don’t have to wonder about it. We don’t have to look over our shoulders in dread at what might take us out. The Christian life is not like walking a tightrope where every single step is a life or death deal.

Of course! I know this. In my head. I know this as a solid, indisputable fact. In my head. But my heart doesn’t always acknowledge this truth. My gut sometimes disagrees. Sometimes we do get anxious about our own salvation. Sometimes we do slip into uncertainty. We slip into fear. Or maybe we don’t slip into it; maybe we kinda live there.

Did I know what I was doing when I was baptized? Have I really been forgiven for my past? Have I really been good enough? Am I really doing enough?

Legalism is a disease we all have. We’re all in different places in our recovery, but nobody’s completely cured. If doing the rules and obeying the commands is what saves me, then, yes, I should be worried. But if it’s not… thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I want us to consider Psalm 125 this week to banish our insecurities and grow our confidence and Christian assurance. I’d like for these holy ancient words to get into our souls and remind us that we are safe and secure in Christ  in the face of our feelings, in the middle of our sufferings, and despite our sins.

There are three things — I’m speaking very broadly here — that get in the way of the solid security we have in the Lord. The first of these is our feelings. The way we feel. Our feelings can hijack our security.

Psalm 125 says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” But I do get shaken. It happens a lot. One day I’m full of faith and confidence as a beloved child of God, the next day I’m questioning and doubting almost everything. I wake up one morning full of energy and assurance in what God’s doing in me and through me, the next day I’m gray and moody and not real sure God’s doing anything at all. One day I’m a man of God, the next day I don’t know.

Cannot be shaken? That’s not me at all. I can be shaken by almost anything. Sadness, joy, success, failure, a bad meeting, another change in the coronavirus restrictions, a phone call, a disagreement — I’m like a thermometer, just going up and down according to the weather around me.

OK. Maybe so.

Think about the children of Israel. Up one day and down the next. Hot and cold all the time. One day they’re marching in triumph through the Red Sea, the next day they’re griping because they used to eat steaks and cheesecakes in Egypt. One day they’re worshiping God in his holy presence on Mount Sinai, the next day they’re dancing in the valley around a golden calf. One day they’re eating with Jesus in the upper room, listening to his words, basking in his love, pledging their allegiance; the next day they’re receiving warmth from someone else’s fire and swearing with holy curses they never met Jesus.

Up and down, up and down, like a yo-yo. You get whiplash with these people.

But the whole time, there’s something very solid and very steady: They are always God’s people. That never changed. God is faithfully and steadfastly with them. He never leaves them. He never forsakes them. He’s right there with his mercy and grace and love. You get the sense that everything that happens with God’s people happens in this bubble of God’s security. It all happens, the good and the bad, with this God who is always with them, constantly redeeming and restoring, forgiving and loving.

Following Christ is an up and down thing for us. But we don’t rely on our feelings. Our feelings about God are not as important as the facts about God. I had a professor at Austin Grad, Dr. Michael Weed. If somebody was talking about a church service or a worship experience or a spiritual conference and said, “I felt the Holy Spirit,” he would say, “Maybe. Or maybe it was indigestion.” His point was that you have to go on more than just feelings. Feelings can be deceptive. You can’t always trust them.

So we refuse to trust in our ups and downs; we choose to trust in God. We refuse to believe in our darkness and doubts; we choose to believe in God. Not feelings, but facts.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death!” ~Romans 8:1

You know what the law of sin and death is: you sin, you die! We’re not under that law anymore! Why? Because by the sin offering of Christ, “the righteous requirements of the law have all  been fully met in us.”

My salvation relationship with God cannot be shaken. I’m a mountain. It’s not psychology, it’s geology. My security doesn’t come from how I feel today, but from who God is both now and forevermore.

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

The puck drops this afternoon on the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I have little confidence in our Dallas Stars. They’re facing off against Calgary in this best-of-seven series, with some of the youngest, fastest, most skilled players in the NHL. But something’s not right. They can’t score a goal to save their necks. They’re great defensively — Stars teams always are. But they’re averaging less than 2.6 goals per game this season. Can’t light the lamp. Can’t put the biscuit in the basket.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn don’t look right. And we’re not sure if goalie Ben Bishop will even be dressed. What does “unfit to play” mean?

This same Stars team took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blues to seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year. It was wild. Thrilling. I believe NHL playoff hockey is better than football, the most exciting thing in the wide, wide world of all sports. And the Stars were playing so well before the global pandemic shut it all down. I was so sure the Stars were ready to take that next step and go all the way to the Conference Finals and maybe beyond this year. But the four month layoff has been disastrous. I guess. The Edmonton bubble isn’t working.

But it’s still playoff hockey. It’s still the coolest game on earth. It’s the only sport that has a true sudden death. It’s the only sport in which outcomes turn on an instant that you and I never see coming. So, here’s hoping I’m wrong about the Stars’ chances against the Flames. And here’s to playoff beards and penalty kills, to empty nets and overtime. Here’s to the start of sport’s most entertaining and most demanding championship tournament.

Peace,

Allan

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

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