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

He Will Stand

Church, Romans, Salvation No Comments »

oneheartcross“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” ~Romans 14:1-4

Nobody looks down on anybody. Nobody condemns anybody. For God has accepted him. Accepted whom? Who has God accepted? This brother or sister who disagrees with me on a certain church tradition. This group of brothers and sisters who don’t see eye to eye with me on this matter of opinion. You’re not his master, Paul says. Who’s his master? Christ Jesus as Lord is his master. Not you. Whether he stands or falls is up to the Lord. Whether he’s right or wrong is up to the Lord. Paul says we can’t judge that.

And then Paul goes ahead and judges. Paul makes the call.

“He will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” ~Romans 14:4

He’ll stand. He’s fine. Whether he agrees with you or not, whether y’all are on the same page or not, he’ll stand because he’s in Christ. So, you accept him because God accepts him. This is why Jesus died, Paul says later, for this very reason. Christ died and was raised so he could be the Lord over all this, and not you.

Peace,

Allan