Category: Salvation (page 2 of 27)

The Power of Jesus to Heal

TV game shows have two audiences. The studio audience is the primary audience. They’re right there in the room. They’re seeing and hearing everything, up close, in real time. They’re actually participating, cheering and clapping and trying to help the contestants. If it’s The Price is Right, the people in the primary audience may even be called up to play the game. It’s quite exciting, I guess.

But there’s also a secondary audience, the TV audience, the people watching at home. You’re watching from your couch, you’re watching from a long way off. You’re learning how the game is played, you’re getting to know the host and the contestants, and pretty soon you find yourself wanting to be a part of the show. That looks like fun. Hey, I think I could do that.

Then you start to visualize yourself on the show, you can actually see yourself participating. And winning. Come on! Everybody knows the coffee creamer costs more than the ketchup! I could win that Ford Focus and the patio furniture!

Next thing you know, you really are participating in the show, out loud, from your living room. You’re yelling at the TV. What is Bismarck? $935! Come on, baby, light my fire!

I think the Gospels are supposed to work the same way. I think we are intended to see ourselves in these stories, to see ourselves in the scenes with Jesus.

In Luke 5, you are the leper on the side of the road and you beg Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus looks you right in the eye. “If I’m willing? Yes! I am willing!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and he touches you. “Be clean!” Is there anything more wonderful, more Good News, than Jesus looking at your deepest hurt and saying, “I am willing.”

In Mark 4, we’re in the boat with those disciples. The storm comes, the boat’s about to sink, and the disciples are freaking out. Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still!” And everything’s fixed. And he says to his followers, “Why are you so afraid? Where’s your faith?” And I wonder: Is he smiling? Is he upset?  Is he disappointed? Maybe he’s amused. “Why are you so afraid? Yes, I control nature, I control everything! I’m willing for you to be clean and I’m able to make it happen. I want you to be well and protected and safe and whole. I have the power. Trust me. Give yourself to me.”

Jairus’ daughter has just died. Jairus’ servants say it’s too late. Tell Jesus not to come. Jesus ignores them and says, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” He walks through all the people crying and wailing loudly. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, she’s asleep.”

The world sees one thing. Jesus sees something different. He wants you to see different, too. He wants you to see yourself with him and give yourself to it. “Don’t be afraid. Just believe. My child, I say to you, get up.”

And she did.

Peace,

Allan

The Power of God to Save

The Israelites are cornered. Trapped. They’re in a cul-de-sac, a bottle neck of disaster — the Red Sea on one side, the desert mountains on the other side, and the mighty forces of the Egyptian army barrelling down on top of them. They’re dead.

And our God shows his power over nature and history to split the sea right down the middle so two million of his people can pass through on dry ground. Israel saw the conquered Egyptians lying dead on the shore. They had proof. Their enemies were vanquished and powerless to ever do them any more harm. The escape is complete. Salvation is secure. And when they saw the great power displayed by the Lord, they put their trust in him, they swear their allegiance to him. And their lives are shaped by their utter dependence on the one who saves them.

That’s our story, too. That’s who we are. That’s the point of the Exodus story.

The point is not “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14). We’ll miss the whole point of this grand theological message if we reduce it down to some moral lesson like “Be faithful in a tight fix” or “Don’t be afraid in tough times, just be still and let God take care of you.” No, that’s not what this story is about. It’s so much bigger than that.

The story of the crossing of the Red Sea is not to tell us what to do. It’s to tell us how to think. This story is intended to shape our worldview. This story informs and motivates the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, the way we see and experience every person and place and thing and idea we encounter.

The Exodus is not a pep talk. The Exodus is our god moving his people from one kind of existence to another. It’s an understanding that God is your God because he’s acted in your life to deliver you. You get the idea when Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

When you go through the waters of salvation, you leave all your old stories behind. You see your enemies on the shore, your old enemies of sin and death and sickness and addiction and pain — all those things are eternally defeated in the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” ~1 Corinthians 6:14

That is the Gospel: The power of God to save! The power of God to save two million Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea and the power of God to save you and everybody else in the whole world. The power is his. And he uses it to save.

Peace,

Allan

The Purpose Behind the Power

We know our God by what he does. God shows us who he is by his actions. And those actions always involve power. If we know anything at all about our God, it’s that he is powerful. He doesn’t do anything that doesn’t demonstrate his power.

Not just any power. Holy power. Power from God. Power to produce miracles and marvelous works. It’s the power that parts the vast waters of the Red Sea, crumbles the mighty walls of Jericho, and rolls the stone away from the garden tomb. It’s the power that shines light into darkness, produces hope in disaster, and brings eternal life out of certain death. This power from above destroys demons, defeats armies, breaks the bars of prison doors, and raises the dead! This is the power that saves us. And changes us.

When we personally benefit from God’s mighty and saving power, we are commissioned to join his redemption project for the whole world. That’s the purpose behind his power.

Our God delivers his people from bondage in Egypt so they can bless the whole world. Our Lord Jesus heals the demon-possessed man in the cemetery and gives him a mission to tell others. The Holy Spirit indwells the disciples at Pentecost for understanding and boldness to spread the Good News. The church in Antioch partners with other Christians to preach and minister and save and turn the whole world upside down. And none of that is accomplished without power.

The power of God to save — that’s the Gospel! The power of God to save two million Israelites through the waters of the Red Sea and the power of God to save you and everybody else on earth. That power is his and he uses it to save.

That’s the Gospel truth and we don’t dare water it down. We ramp it up. We turn it loose in all its power.

We say prayer is powerful; no, the God who listens to prayer is powerful. We say preaching can be powerful; no, the God who gives us the words is powerful. We pray for the sick but our God is the one who heals. We preach to the dry bones but our God is the one who gives life. We send money to Ukraine and PARC but our God is the one who gathers the lost into communities of faith. We volunteer at Bivins Elementary and CareNet but our God is the one rescuing those precious children. We build houses in Kenya, we send bicycles to missionaries in India, we mentor women at Martha’s Home, and we do Let’s Start Talking in Columbia, but our God is the one who saves. He alone has the power to save!

The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power!
His divine power has given us everything we need!
This all-surpassing power is from God and not from us!
Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power!

Peace,

Allan

 

The Mess

“The story is not so much about how to simply clean up the mess, but how creative you can get with the mess you have. This is what God seems to be up to — creating good, mysterious things out of messes.” ~Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul

The Only Thing That Counts

“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” ~Galatians 5:6

There’s only one thing that matters; don’t mess it up. There’s only one thing that’s important; don’t miss it. Our forgiveness, formation, and eternal life, our righteous relationships with God and with all people hang on just one thing; pay attention to it. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Circumcision? Doesn’t count! Uncircumcision? Who cares? In Christ, none of that stuff has any force. It doesn’t exercise any power. It’s got nothing. Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, has all power and all authority. He alone saves. So our faith, focus, and attention is only and always on him.

“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. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” ~Romans 8:1-4

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purpose on our behalf. Not individual commands — not circumcision, not the Ten Commandments, not purity rituals, not feast schedules — the singular requirement, the whole point of the law is fulfilled for us by Jesus. That’s the whole point of Jesus.

Do we trust that or not?

The perfect Son of God, the only one who’s never broken the law, became sin for us. He became your sin. He took on your sin. He took your transgressions with him to the cross. And when your sin is condemned in him, you become in God’s eyes as if you’ve never sinned. Jesus intervened to do what you can’t do. Christ became what you are so you can become what he is. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and he has taken care of absolutely everything to set you totally free from sin and death. Now, is your faith in that, or is it in something else? The only thing that counts if faith. That’s the only thing we need to be concerned with. That’s the freedom for which Christ sets us free.

But for some reason, we feel more comfortable in the chains. We have a very difficult time with the only thing that counts. We’ve got a whole list of things that count! We’ve got dozens and dozens of things that count!

It’s not circumcision; it’s acappella. It’s not food laws; it’s weekly Lord’s Supper. It’s not feast days; it’s Wednesday nights. It’s not you must become a Jew; it’s “Is he a member of ‘The Church?'” And it’s baptism by immersion and women’s roles and bishops and kitchens and KJV and crosses in the sanctuary, um, I mean, “auditorium.”

We judge people and we draw lines and label others and decide who we’re calling brothers and sisters and who we’re not when there’s only one thing that counts! We’re paying too much attention and spending too much energy on the things that don’t count!

We are freed from all that. We don’t have to worry about those things. Having the same worship styles and the same church structures and the same name on the building is not how we’re united. Or saved. That’s not what makes us brothers and sisters. We are united in Christ alone! We are made one in Christ alone!

The Bible says there is one body, not just one expression of that body. There is one faith, but not just one expression of that faith. There is one baptism, yes, but not just one expression of that baptism. These are the very things they’re discussing in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and the decision is “We should not make it difficult for the people who are turning to God.”

We spend valuable energy debating worship styles and doctrinal positions and denominational differences, but there’s only one thing that matters. We fuss and divide over methods and traditions and structures and rules, but there’s only one thing that’s important. We get worked up over interpretations and translations and obligations, but only one thing counts: faith expressing itself through love.

That’s true freedom. When we give ourselves completely to the fact that our salvation has already been secured, that there’s nothing left to do, it’s all been done, when we embrace that in faith, then we’re living in freedom. We’re free from our sins and anything that’s ever happened in our pasts. We’re free to stop worrying about ourselves and our rights and our honor to serve other people so that walls are torn down and wounds are healed. You’re not anxiously fretting about your standing with God. You’re not looking for physical signs or proof of who’s in and who’s out. You are free to become what God created you to be, what you always wanted to be — you just didn’t know what it was!

And whatever rules there are, whatever obligations remain, we’re free to live above them and through them. We don’t worry about any of that because our faith in Christ has us loving others.

The Gospel truth that you are righteous because Jesus Christ has become for you your righteousness, holiness, and peace compels you to love God and others. It moves you to defend the weak and stand with the accused and speak up for the oppressed. It motivates you to give and forgive. It empowers you to let go and live the way God lives, erring on the side of grace and giving everybody the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever you do, don’t mess it up. It’s the only thing that counts.

Peace,

Allan

The Only Way That Works

I love Whataburger. I could eat at Whataburger twice a day every day for weeks. I think I’ve done that a couple of times. They know me when I walk in. They know my order: Number One with cheese and everything on it and extra onions. Hot french fries and spicy ketchup. A big booth with my Texas Monthly or Sports Illustrated. That’s my happy place. It makes me feel good.

But it’s not good for me. In fact, it’s probably killing me. I know it. My doctor knows it. My whole family knows it. Whataburger is bad for me.

So Carrie-Anne lays down this law: No more Whataburger. Eat at Subway. Get a six-inch Black Forest Ham, no cheese and no chips. Get the apple slices. Now, that’s a good rule. That’s a good law. That commandment is holy, righteous, and good. If I eat at Subway, it’ll benefit me greatly. I’ll enjoy greater peace with my body and the freedom to tuck in more of my shirts.

But I’m here in the office and I’m doing meetings and I’m on the phone and answering emails and reading and planning and studying and it’s 12:30 and I’m starving. And I get in my truck and I drive south. When I get to the red light at Washington and I-40, I can go straight and Subway is right there on my left — I can see it from the light. Or I can turn right and Whataburger’s on Georgia Street.

If the light is green, I’ve got a better chance.

If the light is red…

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do; but what I hate, I do! I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing! So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” ~Romans 7:15-21

I can’t keep the law because I’m human and because I’m hungry. That doesn’t mean the law is bad. It’s a good law! It means I’m bad and weak and faulty. And Carrie-Anne’s going to look it up online and see my Whataburger receipt before I can even get back to church. I know all this, but I do it anyway. The law is not bad — it’s just that the law cannot save me. No matter how good and righteous and holy the rules are, the rules can never save me.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” ~Romans 7:24-25

Christ Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. This is the only way that works. And this is a big deal.

In Galatians 5, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” Well, if it doesn’t matter, why’s he making such a big deal about it? It’s the reason for the circumcision. If the Galatians go ahead with circumcision because of the pressure from the Judaizers, then they’ll be confessing by submitting to this ritual that Christ alone isn’t enough. They’ll be saying, yes, you have to become a Jew if you want to be a child of God. Circumcised Christians are better than uncircumcised Christians. They’re more right, they’re more saved. They’re a “cut” above the rest (sorry-bad Scot McKnight joke).

So Paul lays it out: This is the only way that works. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, “Christ will be of no value to you at all.” You’re severed from Christ, you’re alienated, separated from Christ, you have fallen from grace!

This isn’t just a minor ritual requirement that you do right alongside your trust in Jesus. This isn’t a both/and. This is a definite either/or. If you get circumcised as a way to salvation or even as part of the way of salvation, you’re committing yourself to that whole way. You’re putting your trust in that whole temple/synagogue system with the sacrifices and food laws and cleanliness codes — the whole way. Paul illustrates by reminding us that a little yeast, a little leaven, goes all the way through.

You give in on this one extra requirement, you add this one extra ritual as necessary, and you’ve added the whole way of works-based religion, the whole way of law-based salvation. And that way does not save. Christ alone is the only way that works.

I am a recovering legalist. A lot of us are recovering legalists. I was raised a certain way in Churches of Christ and I behaved a certain way for more than half my life.

Less than 20 years ago I was arguing with my friends against small groups. You can’t meet in homes on Sunday nights, that’s dividing the body. Seriously.

We were at a church years ago that was looking to hire its first-ever children’s minister and they put me on the search committee. At our very first meeting, the chairman said, “We need to talk about whether we’re going to consider female candidates.” I said, “Why do we need to talk about that?” He said to me, “Do you think we should consider a woman?” I answered, “Absolutely not — not for a paid ministry position!” He asked the guy next to me, “Do you think we should consider a woman for the children’s minister position?” He answered, “I think it has to be a woman!” And the chairman turned back to me and said, “That’s why we need to talk about it.”

Fifteen years ago we were at the Tulsa Workshop and they were doing some unity stuff with the Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. The speakers were dynamic, the worship was inspiring, people were being baptized, and we were standing together and singing on the floor of that huge coliseum. A guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Man, isn’t this great?” And I replied, “Yeah, but I’m not sure about letting these denominations in here with us.”

That was me. I said those things. I believed those things. I behaved that way. Because I thought that’s what saved me! To paraphrase Paul in Galatians 1: I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. I thought my salvation and my righteous standing with God was connected to all that. But it’s not! Praise God! And we know that! We understand that! We’ve been freed from all that! Christ alone is the only way that works!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~Galatians 5:1

Peace,

Allan

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