Category: John (Page 1 of 29)

Our Only King

“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” ~ Matthew 4:8-10

It’s election season in the United States–tomorrow is Super Tuesday here in Texas–and a whole lot of Christians are losing their minds. And their hearts. And maybe more. I appeal to all followers of Jesus everywhere to remember that we already have a King, he has already come and defeated all our enemies, and he is reigning in all power and glory at the right hand of God. Not only is Christ Jesus our King, but he is our only King. We only have one. And he has made it unmistakably clear how we are to behave. If we act in ways he never acted, if we say things he never said, if we seek power when he never did, if we fight for perceived rights while he willingly laid his down–he’s not really our King. Not really.

“This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” ~ 1 John 2:6

I see Christians struggling mightily against flesh and blood, their eyes fixed on the here and now, desperate for worldly power so they can rule an earthly kingdom. I see Christian churches hosting political rallies and selling t-shirts in the lobby proclaiming, “Let’s go, Brandon,” the well-known euphemism for a vulgar and violent profanity aimed at the sitting President.

You know, the same President the Bible tells us to honor. And respect.

Most Christians I know would never stand for that kind of vulgarity to be displayed inside their homes, shared around their workplace, or shouted at a ballgame. But increasingly more Christians are just fine with spewing and promoting and wearing that kind of filth in the context of national politics. To get their guy elected, to get their platforms approved and their laws passed, lots of Christians are using decidedly un-Christian tactics. And they are openly eschewing the ethics of our King Jesus. I used to worry when it was subtle and under the table. Today, though, Christians and Christian leaders are publicly declaring they don’t believe in Jesus or his Way.

The pastor of the biggest Southern Baptist Church in Texas says, “I don’t want somebody who’s going to turn the other cheek. I want the meanest SOB I can find to protect this nation.” In other words, I don’t want Jesus. Salvation for this country has got to come from someone else. And Christians are applauding. If it’s about national politics and “saving” the nation, they’re happy to compartmentalize their discipleship, to fight and cheat, to insult and lie, oblivious to or apathetic toward the obvious hypocrisy that is destroying our Christian witness to the world.

“My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight.” ~ John 18:36

It’s not that we don’t know the Scriptures–of course, we do! It’s not that we’re ignorant of who Jesus is and what he came to do and how he came to do it. We all know he came not to condemn the world, but so the world would be saved through him. And we know he did it with love and sacrifice and service, he did it with forgiveness and mercy and peace. Why are the ways of Christ Jesus adequate for destroying the powers of sin and death and Satan for all eternity, but they are not enough to protect us from political opponents?

Christian brothers and sisters, let us all reflect carefully and prayerfully about the ways we are representing our Lord during this election season and what we are communicating about Christianity to a watching world. Many of our loves are disordered. Many of our priorities are misplaced. These things shape us. These actions carry far-reaching consequences. We already have a King. And he has already shown us his Way.

As the ancient baptismal confession states, let us renounce the ways of the world and of the devil, and embrace the Way of our Lord Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

The Ad Gets Us

I want to share a few personal observations about the excellent He Gets Us commercial that aired during the Super Bowl on February 11. If you have not seen the commercial… Wait. I know you’ve seen the commercial. I know at least 123.4-million people have seen the commercial and you are one of them. In case you need to view it again before you read my comments or you’re compelled to watch it after reading, here it is:

The ad gives us several beautifully enhanced photographs of different people in a variety of settings adopting the posture of our Savior Jesus Christ, obeying the direct command of our Lord, stooping down and washing someone else’s feet. A police officer washing the feet of a Black man in an urban alley. A White landowner washing the feet of an older Native American. A Pro-Life protester washing the feet of a pregnant girl outside an abortion clinic. An oil man washing the feet of an environmental activist. A White woman washing the feet of her Indian neighbor. A Black woman at a protest over an unidentified issue washing the feet of a counter-protester. A Black and White man sitting together, each with a foot in the same bucket of water, smiling in a post-mutual-foot-washing moment. The ads ends with the dramatic tag-line, the Scriptural, historical, traditional, Christian fact that “Jesus didn’t teach hate; he washed feet.”

Powerful.

Truth.

Genius.

Most people seem to believe this whole two-year campaign is aimed at non-Christians to give them a more realistic view of our King. In dozens of these ads, Jesus is depicted as homeless, as a refugee, as persecuted for his non-conformist actions, as being an outsider in his own community–all of this is true according to the Gospels and are critical facets to the biblical picture of our Lord–to show non-believers that Jesus understands them. He gets us.

But I believe this whole campaign, and particularly this Super Bowl commercial, is aimed at the Christians. It’s a dramatic way to remind us of the identity and the priorities of the King we claim to follow, and to rightly judge those among us who talk and act toward the outsiders, the foreigners, and the marginalized in decidedly un-Christ-like ways.

In almost all the pictures in the ad, it’s very clear who in the photograph has the power and who doesn’t. It’s obvious who’s got the advantages, the rights, the money, and the law. And in those pictures, it’s the person in power who is washing the feet of the one who has no power. These are moving images of people you and I can relate to–pictures of us–setting aside our rights, putting down our megaphones and protest signs, forgetting our claims and beliefs about law or justice or political party platforms long enough to obey our Lord and serve the needs of others. Meet the needs of others. Just like Jesus commanded us to do.

That last night at dinner with his disciples, Jesus got down on his hands and knees and washed their feet. He was their Lord and Teacher, the Gospel says. He was by far the most important person in the room. But he made himself the least important person in the room when he washed their feet. He gave up his power and authority and assumed the posture of a servant. He served. He met needs. He “showed them the full extent of his love,” it says. And when he finished, he said, “Wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

The commercial is reminding Christians that this is our King and this is his Way. Like Jesus, we are called to reject the ways of the world, to reject the ways of power and authority and threat and division–snap out of it!

Jesus didn’t teach hate; he washed feet.

Most of those getting their feet washed in the commercial are representing, generally, groups of people who have been hurt by Christians and, in a lot of ways, in the name of Christianity. Christian values. Again, generally speaking, these groups have experienced hate from those who claim to be acting out of loyalty to Christian principles and Christian rights. The ad is for Christians, calling us to return to love and grace, forgiveness and mercy, service and peace–the authentic Christians values.

If this ad has anything to say to non-Christians, maybe it’s offering hope that there are still some Christians in America who love and serve and forgive and show mercy in the name and manner of the One we follow. Maybe it could even be an apology on behalf of the King’s subjects.

It’s a wonderful commercial, effective on so many levels at presenting Gospel truth in a compelling way.

And, yet, lots of Christians hate the ad. Predictably, I suppose. Sadly. These Christians, ironically, fail to realize they are not judging the ad, the ad is judging them. Most of those expressing displeasure with the ad fit into the categories of people depicted doing the foot-washing. Evidently, these Christians do not like being portrayed as Jesus-figures of love and service in a world of violence and division. Why do they hate the ad? Because they see themselves as what they know deep down they should be but, because of their misguided loyalties to worldly kingdoms and worldly ways, they can’t.

I know which of the pictures made me flinch. I know which photograph caused me immediate concern and put a big balloon-sized question mark above my raised eyebrows. I know exactly which picture did that to me. It was only one. And it got me. It judged me. It convicted me. It took a couple of minutes, but it corrected me. It reset my priorities. I’m thankful. Praise our Lord.

We don’t judge great art; great art judges us. Your reaction and response to the ad reveals a lot, I think, about you. The Super Bowl ad says Jesus Gets Us. He does. That ad gets us, too.

Peace,

Allan

Here’s an Idea

For too long, too many Christian churches and whole Christian movements and denominations–Christians like us–have framed the existence and purpose of the Church with being in a fight. That’s our dominant metaphor: we’re in a culture war. We’re always fighting something or fighting against someone or a group of someones. We’re always being attacked, we’re always under siege, always in danger of losing something or having something taken away. It’s been our running theme. We’ve got to fight. We’ve got to fight. If we don’t fight, who will?

Fight?

Our Lord Jesus looked Pilate right in the eye and said, “My Kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight.”

What if we finally gave up that whole idea? What if we laid down our defense mechanisms? What if we framed our relationship to the world and to our neighbors and to our enemies in ways that lined up better with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ? What if we laid down our power and our rights and our weapons so we could love others, even if it costs us? Especially if it costs us!

What if we really believed that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness? I know, laying down our weapons and rights in order to love sounds like a recipe for making the Church weak. But, in fact, Nothing. Could. Make. Us. Stronger.

If we just had a little faith. Just a tiny amount.

Please, Lord.

The situation is that our lives and this country and the whole world is even more troubled than anybody thought. And the people around us know right now, more than they’ve ever realized in your lifetime, that the answers cannot be found in government or science or technology. The answers will never be found in politics or parties or protests or platforms. It won’t work. It’s never worked! They’re looking for the way, the truth, and the life right now more than they ever have. And you’ve got it all in Jesus Christ!

Why would we offer anything other than that?

Just an idea.

Peace,

Allan

 

Assurance for the New Year

“In this world you will have trouble. But take courage! I have overcome the world!” ~Jesus

These ancient words of our Lord are not about what happens after we die. This is not supposed to increase our faith in Christ for everlasting life after death. These words are intended to move us to new levels of confidence for living right now. Jesus is pushing us to new heights of assurance in God’s faithfulness to us right now. We don’t have to sin! We never have to compromise! In the middle of the mess, we can live fully for our Lord and his coming Kingdom because his victory is ours!

Scripture doesn’t ignore the bad stuff. The Bible guarantees there will be bad stuff. Living in this world as a follower of Jesus means you’re going to experience some trial and tribulation. You’re going to encounter opposition. There is suffering in this world. There are people who hate Christians in this world. There are so-called Christians making things worse. There are the normal problems that come with living in a fallen world. And there is the devil himself. But Jesus reminds us that none of that opposition has a chance.

No one can successfully condemn you. No one can ultimately defeat you. Christ died for you. God raised him to life for you. And he is your divine intercessor. Nothing can ever separate you from his love and his victory. So you can be a full-speed, brakes-off, no-looking-back follower of Jesus. You can take risks for the Kingdom of God. You can be extravagant in your forgiveness and acceptance of others. You can be lavish in your love for everybody, including your enemies. You can be all in, all the time and never be swayed by the world.

Jesus overcomes the world for you. His victory is your victory when you are in him. It’s your victory when you embrace him in faith–his triumph becomes your triumph. His eternal life, his righteousness, his holiness, his redemption belongs to you! That’s why it’s called Gospel. It’s really good news!

Jesus says, “Take heart. Take courage! I have faced your enemy and I’ve conquered it. I have fought your battle and I’ve won. In fact, it’s a blowout, it’s a rout. It’s not even close. You can’t do it. Never. You don’t have a chance. But that’s okay. I’ve already done it for you. And I’m doing it right now for you and in you and through you.”

As you start 2024, listen to our Lord Jesus. It’s a promise. But it’s also a call. It’s a call to live for Christ and his Kingdom right now today.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take courage! I have overcome the world!”

Hook ‘Em.
Allan

Light from Somewhere Else

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
~ Isaiah 9:2

This is a very well known Christmas text. It’s a famous text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the conditions the Christ is coming into as darkness. People walking in darkness. People living in the land of darkness. And we read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The four verses right before it tell us why the world is so plunged in darkness.

“When people tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law! And to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, they have no light of dawn! Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” ~Isaiah 8:19-22

People know they need help, but they’re looking for it in all the wrong places. They’re looking to the earth, they’re looking to themselves for wisdom and salvation. They’re looking to superstitions, they’re looking to their king, they’re looking to the culture — they’re looking to themselves.

Yes, we’re living in darkness. Yes, things are really messed up. But we can fix it ourselves. Yes, there’s war and violence and injustice and racism. But if we’ll all just love each other, we can fix it. Yes, there’s poverty and hunger and greed and lust. But if we’ll all just give to the right organizations, we can change it. Yes, there’s broken lives and broken hearts and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness all around us. But if we’ll just vote for the right people, if we’ll just pass the right laws, if we’ll just use the right technology, we can overcome it.

The message from the Hallmark movies, the holiday music, the Coke commercials, the ad agencies, the billboards, and the Facebook posts is that we have it within us. The love and goodwill that exists inside each of us is enough to make the world a place of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light inside us. And if we just work together, we can eradicate the darkness. If we’ll all come together, we can overcome poverty and injustice, violence and evil — sin. With what’s inside us, we can build a world of love, joy, and peace.

Really? Can we?

We can’t save ourselves. Maybe you’ve noticed. We’ve been trying for centuries. We are completely unable to save ourselves. In fact, believing that we can save ourselves — that education or party politics or hard work or some system or ideology¬† can save us — that’s only led to more darkness!

See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At its core, Christmas is very unsentimental. It’s not mushy or fantasy. Christmas is not, “Cheer up! If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place!” Christmas is not optimistic thinking like, “We can fix the whole world if we try really hard.”

The heart of Christmas is this: things are really terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. Nevertheless, there is great hope. On those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned!

It’s not, “A great light has sprung up from the world!” It’s not, “The people have finally produced the light!” It’s, “ON the people a light has dawned!” It’s, “ON the world a light has come!” The light has come from outside us. It had to. The hope comes from outside the world. There was never any other way. And that salvation light is Christ Jesus. That light is the promised Messiah, the holy Son of God!

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it… The true light that gives light to every person was coming into the world.” ~John 1:5-9

The true light was coming. The eternal light that gives life to all people has come. The brightest light that shines in the darkness and conquers the darkness, the light from above, the light from outside us has come!

How? When?

“To us a child is born. To us a Son is given.”

Peace,

Allan

Joy at Advent

The third Sunday of Advent is when God’s people experience and express great joy at the coming of our Lord Jesus. This is the liturgy we’re reading at GCR Church this Sunday. Please use this in any way that would be helpful for you or your church this week.

When God’s people were surrounded by hardship, suffering, and grief, the Lord’s prophet proclaimed in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives,
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn, and to provide for those who grieve in Zion.”

We come today as people who are also surrounded by suffering and grief. And yet, the Spirit hovers among us, caring and anointing, inspiring freedom where there is captivity, declaring blessing in places the world has cursed, and in places of mourning and heartache, igniting an unquenchable joy. Our coming Lord Jesus proclaims in John 16:

“A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets this anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you. Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy!”

Congregation: We wait as people who experience hardship and pain, yet we are called to witness to the persistent joy that sustains our life as God’s people.

We light this candle as a symbol of our Christian joy. May our lives shine with the joyful Light who lives in our hearts as we wait and work for the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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