Category: Story of God (page 1 of 6)

Underdog

During Bible times in the Ancient Near East, where and when the Scriptures were penned, the oldest son inherited all the wealth. That was the culture. The practice ensured the family would keep its status and place in society. The second and third sons got very little, if anything at all. The first-born male got everything.

Yet, all through the Bible, when God chooses to work through somebody, he chooses the younger sibling. Abel over Cain. Isaac over Ishmael. Jacob over Esau. David over all eleven! God doesn’t choose the oldest, the one the world expects to get the glory. It’s never the one from Jerusalem, always the one from Nazareth.

Back then, women who had lots of kids were considered heroic. Very valuable. Highly prized. A good wife. Lots of children ensured economic success for the family business and military security and success for the village. It also carried on the family name. Women who had no children were shunned. Shamed. Yet, God continuously chooses to work his salvation through barren women, females who were despised by the culture. Sarah. Rebecca. Hannah. Elizabeth. God always works through the men and women nobody values.

OK, great. God loves the underdog. So what? It’s like a Disney movie. It’s like ALL Disney movies.

No! The point is that God himself — transcendent, immortal, holy, righteous — became an underdog. God came to earth and became weak and vulnerable and despised. For us. He did it for us.

This is what makes Christianity different from every other religion in the history of the world. Every other religion says if you want to find God, if you want to improve yourself, if you want to achieve a higher consciousness, if you want to connect with the divine, you have to DO something. You have to gather up your strength, you have to keep the rules, you have to free your mind and then fill it again, you have to strive to be above average. Every human religion says if you want to live the right life and make the world a better place, summon up all your strength and reason and make it happen.

Christianity says just the opposite. Christianity says you CAN’T do any of those things. God came to earth and has done all those things for you. Those things are already done in and by Christ Jesus. Every other religion says they have all the answers to the big questions. Christianity says Jesus himself IS the answer to all the questions!

It’s not: If you’re strong and hard-working enough this religion will save you. Christianity is not just for the strong and smart. It’s for everyone, especially for people who admit that, where it really counts, they’re weak. It’s for people who admit they’re broken and incapable of fixing themselves.

The genius of Christianity is that it’s not: Hey, here’s what you have to do to find God!” Christianity is: “Hey, God came here in the form of Jesus to find you!” That’s the unique and radical truth of Christianity. That’s what Christianity has contributed to the world. All the world’s ideas about caring for the weak and needy, living for love and service instead of power and success, loving our enemies, sacrificing for others — all of that flows directly from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Community Proclamation

CommunityColorsHandsI don’t know if it’s possible to have as many white people as black people in the same church. I don’t know if it’s possible to have just as many people living in poverty as people living in the upper middle class in the same church. I don’t know if it’s possible to have more than one language worshiping and serving God and the community together in the same church. It’s hard. The differences between us are real. The barriers are many and imposing. I can’t name more than four or five churches in this whole country who are doing it successfully.

So, don’t hear me say that breaking down the barriers in our churches is easy. It’s not. In fact, I fully understand it might truly be impossible.

But the reality of the lordship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God, the urgent message that Jesus is Lord and that he’s fixing everything, compels us to try. We have to try. Together.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” ~Acts 2:44-47

Please notice how God’s Church, in breaking down the dividing walls to bring people together — living together, worshiping together, serving the community together — leads directly to the spread of the message. It is the spread of the message. The Church is the proclamation.

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” ~Acts 4:31-33

“All the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonade… more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” ~Acts 5:12-14

“The Word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” ~Acts 6:7

The Word of the Lord, the message, the Good News spread rapidly and with Holy Spirit power through the way the Church was living. Their lives together in Holy Spirit community was the proclamation.

Karl Barth said, “Grace is the enemy of everything.” He claimed that grace is what declares to the world that all the powers have been defeated. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a woman who mixes a little bit of yeast into about 60 pounds of flour until that yeast has worked all through the dough.

It’s not about taking something little and turning it into something large. It’s not about mixing the two things together. It’s about taking the qualities of the yeast and encrypting them into the flour until the whole thing is changed. The whole thing becomes something brand new. New creation.

A little bit at a time. One act of grace here. Another act of mercy there. Forgiveness in this situation. Sacrificial love in that circumstance. Service. Justice. Generosity. Subversive acts that disrupt and reverse the world around us until the world around us has completely changed. It’s completely different. That’s the Kingdom of God.

And we proclaim it when we live it. Together.

Peace,

Allan

Stuff in the Middle

LamentB&WI don’t know where you are today. Maybe today you’ve already spent a few minutes alone in a chair by the window thinking, “I can’t believe this is my life.” Maybe last night you sat at your kitchen table and thought, “I can’t believe this is where I am.” Maybe you’ve been in a mess for the past couple of weeks. Or maybe you’ve been in a bad place for many years. Maybe sermons about transformed lives and blog posts about living by the Spirit discourage you. They might even depress you.

My life proclaiming the Kingdom of God? My life being a declaration of the lordship of Jesus? That’s not my life. Not today, not ever. My life is too messed up. I’m too far gone.

We all think we’re supposed to have an undefeated season. “This was going to be my year. This year everything was going to get worked out. This was going to be a great year. I was going to get everything on track and this was going to be a wonderful year. My family is going to be undefeated this year. My marriage. My career. My relationship with God. This is the year!”

And it’s not.

I’m sorry.

I want you to think about Judah in the book of Genesis. He’s the son of Jacob. His name means “praise God.” And he had sex with his daughter-in-law. He didn’t mean to, he said. He thought she was a prostitute. He had sex with his daughter-in-law, he left behind his keys and his wallet, and he got busted. It was a huge scandal.

Think about King David. The glorious king of God’s united nation. Personally chosen by God. David intentionally blows up seven of the ten commandments in one terrible weekend.

Think about Peter. The very first apostle chosen by Jesus. He publicly, loudly, and with great religious curses betrayed our Lord three times the night before the crucifixion. Told everybody he’d never met Jesus.

Can you imagine Peter standing in the room while the people were putting the Bible together? Can you see Peter looking over their shoulders? “Hey, can y’all just go from me throwing my nets down and leaving everything to follow Jesus to those letters I wrote at the end? Can you just cut out all that stuff in the middle?”

Can you imagine David in that same room? “Could y’all just skip from me killing Goliath to the geneaology of Jesus in Matthew? Would you please leave out all that stuff in the middle?”

Judah also is looking over the shoulders of the people putting together the Bible. “Um… can you go from my birth in Genesis 29 to those last words in Revelation that say the Messiah is the Lion of Judah? Could you delete all that stuff in the middle?”

That’s not filler stuff there in the middle. The stuff in the middle is there for a reason. To show us. To teach us.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t believe this is my life.” Hey, let me tell you, your life’s not over! If you’re reading this right now (and you are!), the last lines of your life have not yet been written.

By the power of his Spirit, our Lord Jesus is standing right now between what is and what can be. He stands between what can be and what it can mean for generations of people you’ve never met. Jesus also stands right now today between what is and what won’t be, too.

Your life can be a powerful testimony to the reality of the lordship of Jesus and the eternal Kingdom of God. I don’t care where you are right now or what’s going on, your life can be a proclamation. Not by your power. But by the power of the Spirit and the grace of our God through Jesus Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Acting in Line with the Gospel

JesusDisciplesFeetI’ve been preaching all week that our transformed lives are an important part of our Christian proclamation. The new reality that Jesus is Lord and that the Kingdom of God has been established is best declared by holy lives. The lordship of Jesus ought to radically impact the things we do, the things we say, the ways we think, our relationships with people, and our connections to stuff. Not following rules and commands. Not believing the right way about all the right things. Living a changed life is what’s required.

That’s why when Paul encourages Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave as a brother, he appeals to the love of Christ in Philemon, not to law or philosophy or tradition or culture. That’s why Paul prohibits lawsuits among Christ followers: it’s better to be wronged, to be cheated, than to dilute the proclamation that Jesus is Lord, not your desire to assert your rights or to get what you want. When Peter refuses to eat with Gentiles whenever any Jews might be around, Paul calls him on it: “You’re not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.” Deitrich Bonhoeffer had a practice in his Confessing Church: No one in this community of faith can mention the name of anybody else in this community of faith, even to say something nice, unless that other person is in the room to hear it.” That threw the potential for gossip right out the window — even gossip in the name of prayer.

The truth of the Gospel — Jesus is Lord, he’s fixing everything, and we’ve got to get in on it — informs and shapes our lives.

Proclamation means bearing witness, giving testimony. If you’ve not experienced a changed life, then the Kingdom of God and the lordship of Christ is only a theory for you. You don’t know if it works or not. If you’re not transformed, how do you know it works? If the Gospel’s not transforming you, how do you know if it’ll transform anything? How are you going to proclaim?

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit Living

HolySpirit

“We ought to always thank God for you, children loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” ~2 Thessalonians 2:13

We’ve got a lot of rules. Bunches of rules. And while laws and regulations and commandments and edicts do matter, they’re not the main thing. You can tell people they have to obey the rule to be generous. But if someone gives you a present only because he’s obeying a rule or doing his duty, the glory of gift-giving, the beauty in blessing another person because your life is changed, is lost. God came to us in Christ Jesus, God has poured out his Holy Spirit, not to give us more rules, but to change our lives.

The rich young man runs up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was keeping all the rules, right? Jesus starts listing the ten commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal…” And this guy interrupts Jesus, “Yes, I’m obeying all the rules. I always have. What else do I need to do?”

He’s keeping all the rules. But he senses, “There’s got to be more.”

And Jesus says, “Yeah, there is.”

“‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” ~Mark 10:21

This young man wants his life to be right. He wants to live correctly now so he can live with God forever in the future. He knows he lacks something. And Jesus says, “Yeah, you need to turn everything inside out.” Your whole life needs to become part of a larger, outward-looking orientation. You need to put God’s Kingdom first. You need to put the needs of your neighbors ahead of your own — especially your poor neighbors. That’s the challenge. It’s not just add a couple more commandments to set the moral bar a little higher, but to become a different kind of person altogether. Jesus says, “You need a transformed life.”

Notice, just a few verses up, in the same chapter, some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes back to God’s original, divine intention for male-female relationships: “If you’re married, stay together.” Right after the rich young man story, James and John ask Jesus if they can sit by him on his throne in the coming Kingdom. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes right to the heart of God’s original, divine intention for how human power needs to work: “If you want to be great, you need to be a servant. I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.”

As N. T. Wright points out, in this one chapter Jesus talks about sex and money and power and reframes all of it, not in terms of rules and regulations, but in terms of character. In terms of a changed life. Jesus calls us to see ourselves as having a role in the Story of God. And that role is to proclaim the reality of his lordship by the kinds of lives we lead.

Well, Allan I have to cheat just a little bit on my taxes this year. Just a little. I’m not doing anything lots of other people don’t do. But I have to. We haven’t made enough money the past three years. I have to either fudge the lines a little bit on my return or overbill my customers for the past six months. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. In God’s name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have a choice. How about downsizing your house or skipping the summer vacation? How about canceling the membership or selling a car? You’ve got lots of options that would declare Jesus is Lord over your money, over every dime and penny that goes into and out of your pockets.

My girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yes, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex, Allan; we can’t wait that long. I’m a 20-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have to have sex or I have to go to pornography. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. In the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, you have lots of choices. How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created for his holy purposes?

I’m going to call the police to come run the homeless people away from the park by my house. Either that, or I’m going to start a neighborhood petition to get the ordinance changed. I’ve got to do one of the two. It’s such an eyesore and it’s not safe. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. How about praying with and for those people? How about making them a plate of food or delivering to them a couple of blankets? There are lots of ways to serve instead of be served, lots of ways to give up your rights instead of asserting your rights, lots of ways to proclaim that Jesus is Lord over your power, over all the ways you might use your influence.

God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to change us so that all of our lives can be brought under the lordship of Jesus.

Proclamation means bearing witness, giving testimony. If you’ve not experienced a changed life, then the Kingdom of God and the lordship of Christ is only a theory for you. You don’t know if it works or not. If you’re not transformed by the Gospel, how do you know it works? If the Gospel’s not transforming you, how do you know it’ll transform anything? How are you going to proclaim?

Peace,

Allan

Prayers for Paris

ParisGrief

The pictures and stories keep coming in from Paris. More information and updates keep crawling across the bottom of the screen. What happened in Paris Friday is the result of Act Two in our Story, right? The Fall. The Perished Kingdom. Men and women rebel against the Creator, they turn their backs on the God of Heaven and Earth, and sin is the result. Sin. Violence. Death. Chaos. Grief. Terrible, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking grief.

We see it. We hear it. We can even feel it.

And we pray.

We pray for the victims and their families. I can’t imagine the horror, the fear, the tremendous loss.  We pray for the perpetrators of this evil and their families. I can’t understand how sick and distorted the image of God must be in the people who pull off these kinds of horrific acts of violence; how twisted and sad, it’s so incredibly sad. And we pray for government leaders and their families. I can’t comprehend the tremendous pressure and stress these people must feel, the burden of leadership, the responsibility to make things right, the impossible chore of balancing freedom and security, caution and action, justice and patience, all with the proper amounts of calculated diplomacy.

I think we’re called to pray.

We’re also called to proclaim.

God has made a lot of promises to us. In Act Three, God declares that he’s going to fix everything. In Act Four, God comes to this earth to suffer these same kinds of atrocities with us to prove he’ll do anything — everything! — to fix what’s wrong with this world and his people. We see the conclusion to the Story in Act Six: everything is fixed. Peace between all people. Perfect harmony between the Creator and his creation. No violence. No war. No death. No tears.

While we live in the unfinished Fifth Act, we proclaim. With our lips, with our lives, and through our Christian communities. Jesus is Lord. He really is fixing everything. And we all need to get in on it.

I can’t explain terrorism and airplane crashes and bombings. It’s sin. It’s Act Two. And the world leaders and politicians have no solution. Whatever they’re saying and whatever they’re promising — they’re making a lot of statements and making a lot of promises — is not going to work. More bombs and more violence and more death doesn’t fix this. The only ruler with the solution is our risen and coming Lord Christ Jesus. He alone can make right everything that’s wrong. He alone can fix this. And he is. He is risen and he is coming and he is reigning supreme right now at the right hand of the Father in heaven. That’s what we proclaim.

And we pray.

Peace,

Allan

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