Category: Mark (Page 3 of 13)

Where is Jesus?

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“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” ~Colossians 2:9-10

He is Lord over all the nations. He is Lord over all the schools. He is Lord over all the churches. He is Lord over every economic system and every form of government. He is Lord over all. There is nothing that is above him, there is nothing that is not under his authority. Name anything. Name everything! It’s all subject to our ascended King. All rule, all authority, all power, all dominion. The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever! Amen! Hallelujah!

And then I turn on the news. Violence. Death. War. Abused women and children. Racism. Hundreds of thousands of refugees being driven from their homes and nobody wants to take them in. Corrupt governments and politicians. Hunger. Disease.

Where is Jesus?

Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Drought. Wildfire. Tornados. Cancer. Divorce. Crime. Riots. Terrorists.

Where is Jesus?

It doesn’t feel like he’s running anything. It doesn’t look like he’s in charge. The grand spectacle of the ascension — Jesus lifted up to heaven right before the disciples’ eyes to become the sovereign ruler of the universe — seems to mean very little in our real lives today. It doesn’t look like Jesus is in control. If he is, he’s making a huge mess of it.

So, where is Jesus? What does it really mean that he is raised up to heaven and seated at the right hand of God?

“He was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” ~Mark 16:19

Luke says Jesus was taken up into the sky, into the clouds. What does that really mean? Well, when a student moves “up” from tenth grade to eleventh grade, that doesn’t mean the eleventh grade classroom is on the floor above the tenth grade classroom; it might just be down the hall. If a salesman makes the move “up” to manager, he might get a new office on the top floor, but that’s not what that means. When George Jefferson was “movin’ on up,” it was to the East side, not the North. George and Weezy did move into a deluxe apartment in the sky-hi-hi — but that’s not what it means to move “up,” to physically be a few feet farther away from the ground.

When the Bible talks about heaven and earth, it’s not talking about two different locations in the same time and space dimension like Amarillo and Israel or even Houston and Mars. And it’s not talking about a non-physical world versus a physical world. It’s more like two different types of time and space and matter altogether. It’s a parallel world: very, very real and existing in another dimension.

You know, we’ve got a lot of movie makers and writers who are very good at taking us into these parallel worlds and places. But we don’t think that way when we think about Jesus. C. S. Lewis did a great job with the Narnia stories of illustrating how two totally different worlds can relate and interlock. And that’s still the best way, I think, for us to understand it.

Some of the oldest and best church buildings try to illustrate this with the architecture. We’ve kinda got something like that working in our worship center here at Central. We’ve got a soaring ceiling, reaching and stretching far above us. Down on the floor we get a sense of belonging in the room, but we’re not actually physically occupying any of the great space of light and beauty high above us. Our songs and our prayers go up there and occupy this great space above us, but we ourselves cannot physically go there yet.

What that’s supposed to help us understand is that because our Lord is in heaven and seated at the right hand of God, God’s space and ours are not very far away from each other. They’re very different, yes, but they’re close. There’s a relationship, a connection. God’s very real time and space and matter intersects and interlocks with our very real time and space and matter all the time.

The right hand of God is the Bible name for the control center for the universe. Whoever sits there is in charge. It’s like my chair in the living room is the control center for the TV. Sitting down at God’s right hand means Jesus really is totally in charge of everything.

“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything.” ~Ephesians 1:19-22

I don’t know exactly how it works — nobody does, it’s a mystery. But Jesus right now is totally in charge. He’s the one making all the decisions, turning all the dials: “I will allow this to happen. I will not allow that to happen. I will cause this. I will put a stop to that. I will speak into that. I will be silent about that. I will help Tom Landry, but Jerry Jones is on his own.”

It’s all Jesus. He decides what happens and when. From heaven. “All authority has been given to me,” he says, “in heaven and on earth.”

Peace,

Allan

Your Marital Status is Not the Point

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Whether you’re married or single is not important. Your marital status is not the key concern. The question is: Are you being faithful to the Lord? Paul’s main concern throughout 1 Corinthians 7 is that we “live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

“The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” ~1 Corinthians 7:29-32a, 35

The time is short, he says. The old order of things is doomed. Because of Christ Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, this present way of life is on borrowed time. It’s passing away. But not quite yet. We live in the in-between times. Paul calls it the “present crisis” in verse 26. Jesus calls it the “days of distress” in Mark 13. So, yes, the world goes on as we know it. All the social and material concerns are still there. We’ve got to plan and work for tomorrow. We can’t just lay around and watch Sponge Bob until Jesus returns. But what we know about the Kingdom changes our attitudes about all of it. We ought to be glad about our successes, but not overly glad; we should be sad about our failures, but not overly sad; we should enjoy this present world and the things of this present world, but not be engrossed in those things. All those things. Including marriage and family.

Both being married and not being married are good conditions to be in. We shouldn’t be overly happy about being married or overly disappointed about being single. And vice-versa. You shouldn’t be super excited that you’re single or down in the dumps because you’re married. The question is, married or single: Are you becoming more like Christ?

Paul addresses every possible situation in this chapter: singles, virgins, married people, divorced, widowed, all of it. And in each case he makes it clear that the particular situation is fine, it’s inconsequential, it’s not worth worrying about. In fact, he urges all people in each situation to remain just as they are. The specific circumstance is not the pressing issue. Our energies should not spent on worrying about or trying to change our marital status. Married or single, the focus is on our undivided devotion to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Not Difficult

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

Untitled-1We’re likely not afraid of being persecuted or of being killed if we’re caught telling the Gospel story. So what are we afraid of? What makes us so reluctant to tell? Yesterday in this space we considered the possibility that we might be afraid the Gospel is old news. It’s not relevant. It’s something that happened a long time ago and may not be practical or helpful for my friends. It’s certainly not new or fresh.

Please see yesterday’s post for a brilliant dismantling of that misguided viewpoint.

Is it possible that we’re afraid we’ll mess it up? If we attempt to share the Gospel, we’ll somehow get it wrong?

If we’re holding back from going and telling because we’re afraid it’s too hard, Scripture has something to say about it. The first four books of the New Testament are not about the foolishness and the failings of the disciples, although there’s plenty of that in there. The Gospel is about the power of God that overcomes our failings. Because the story is being told all over the world today, we know that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was eventually shared by those fearful women at the empty tomb. That means Jesus’ promises and God’s will are being fulfilled despite our failings and sins. Praise God.

Mark’s ending, which is really a beautiful beginning, shows us that it’s not dependent on us. Our hope for a glorious future rests in the almighty power of the one and only God of the universe. Our God will make it happen, not us. Jesus makes us that promise.

Around the table with his followers on that last night, Jesus tells them: “You will all fall away.” And they do. Later that night, they scatter. They’re gone. Yet Jesus follows this prediction up with a promise: But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you” (Mark 14:28). Then, on that first Easter morning, the angel reminds the disciples, “He is going ahead of you” (Mark 16:7).

Megaphone1Wherever you go and tell, he’s already there. There’s nothing to be afraid of. He’s already there. Our feeble efforts to proclaim the good news are always made successful by the one who goes before us. Our lives are centered on Christ, we are bounded by Christ, our identity is wrapped up in him. And we know by his faithful word and promises and through his divine power that he turns our clumsy stumblings into graceful sprints. He makes our miserable failures into glorious victories.

I’m reminded of something the great Texas theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote almost twenty years go:

“God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Gospel. That seems to me to be great news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.”

What are we waiting for? To get all our ducks in a row? To find all the answers first? To first make sure everybody in our boat is on board with the exact same theology and the exact same practices? Man, I hope not. That sounds really boring.

What’s going to save more people? What’s going to redeem our part of the world for Christ? Not fear! Not anxiety! Not silence! It takes us getting out in the middle of it — sacrificing and serving, forgiving and learning, proclaiming with our lips and our lives that Jesus is Lord and he’s really fixing everything. Not waiting. And not being afraid. It takes throwing our entire selves into the Gospel right now, knowing and trusting that the God of our salvation is going to do something eternally wonderful with it.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Not Old News

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“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

If it’s real, I have to tell. If Jesus really is the risen Messiah, if he really was raised from the grave, and if we really are forgiven and restored and righteous because Christ Jesus is crucified and resurrected, then we have to tell. But we’re so reluctant to tell. For some reason we run and hide

It’s not because we’re bashful. We’re not shy. If I find a new restaurant or a new album or a new soap, I’m telling people about it. “It smells great and it doesn’t dry out my skin!” Come on, we all do that. “That Longhorn Steakhouse on I-40, you’ve got to try it!” “Tom Petty’s new album, you’ve got to get it!” “That Cloverfield movie, you’ve got to see it! It’ll mess you up!” We all do this. When something brand new impacts me, I want other people to experience it, too. And I’m talking about it all the time.

“They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Are we afraid? Is that why we don’t tell? We’re probably not afraid of being persecuted or killed if we tell. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that maybe the Gospel is old news?

NoTalkingBarFullI wonder if we define the Gospel as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus that happened almost two-thousand years ago? If so, it’s not really news. It’s not right now. And I was saved a long time ago. I was buried with Christ in baptism almost 40 years ago. I was raised with Christ, I put on Christ decades ago. Is that why we don’t tell? Because it doesn’t feel fresh? Is it not much more than the memory of something you obeyed a long time ago and you’re glad you did? Are we afraid the Gospel is irrelevant? Maybe it’s historical and theological and religious and good — but it’s not going to be super helpful or practical for my friends. Not like a new toothpaste or a place that serves really awesome bread sticks.

Let me challenge your thinking on this: the Gospel is not a point in history. The Gospel is not an event in time. The Gospel is what God is doing, what God has always been doing, and what God will continue to do in the future. The Gospel, the good news of salvation from God, is not limited to the first four books of the New Testament. The Gospel is what God has been doing since time began and what he keeps doing until the end.

When God doesn’t destroy Adam and Eve, that’s the Gospel. When God delivers the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, that’s the Gospel. When God forgives David, when he rescues Daniel, that’s the Gospel. It’s ongoing, continuous, and relevant to every human need. You name any need, you define any problem, and the Gospel is the answer. Jesus showed us.

Jesus shows us a man who’s been beaten up, lying in a ditch. I’ve got good news for that man: he’s going to get picked up! He shows us a rebellious son who runs home to his father smelling like a pig pen. I’ve got good news for that son: he’s going to get hugged! The man falls on his knees in front of Jesus and says, “Heal my child if you’re willing.” “I’ve got good news for you,” Jesus says, “I am willing!”

That’s the Gospel, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. God is involved and things are changing. The Kingdom of God has broken in. Jesus is risen and Jesus is Lord! That is very much today and very fresh and very right now. Jesus is Lord and he is fixing everything and he wants everybody to get in on it!

So I can’t just be a shopkeeper. Our churches can’t just hold religious services. We can’t just mark time.

It’s not old or irrelevant. His mercies are new every morning. We are being renewed by his Spirit day by day.

And we should probably stop saying the phrase “1st Century Church.” That’s not helping. We’re not the 1st Century Church. We can never be the 1st Century Church even if we wanted to be the 1st Century Church. And who would want to be? The Gospel demands that we be a 21st Century Church doing 21st Century things in 21st Century ways right now today in our 21st Century world. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is not a moment, it’s a movement! It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s very relevant.

When you tell a dying man that God will take care of his family, you’re telling the Gospel. When you tell a lonely woman that she’s invited to a feast and to join a family, you’re telling the Gospel. When you cry and pray with the parents of a gay son or a lesbian daughter and you tell them God loves you and God loves your child and this thing’s not over yet, you’re proclaiming the Gospel. You’re sharing the good news, even with people who are already saved.

“The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” ~Romans 10:8

Peace,

Allan

The Counter Cultural Way

JesusPraysInPainThe Word of God confronts us with two ways. The Law and the Prophets, the Psalms and Proverbs, the Gospels and Letters all present us with the choice of two ways. It’s not where you’re going to live or what career you’re going to pursue or who you’re going to marry or where you’re going to eat. The choice given us in Scripture certainly encompasses and impacts all the daily choices we make while we live in those places with the people we marry and in the work we do and while we’re eating lunch. But there’s only one choice in the Bible: the way of life of the way of death; the way of blessing or the way of curses; the way of God or the way of the devil.

Jesus says, “I am the Way.” I am the Way to God and I’m also the way God comes to you. I’m a two-way Way. And so we choose Jesus. And when we choose Jesus, what is it specifically that we’ve chosen? What are we signing up for when we say “Yes” to Jesus?

Well, the Gospels tell us plainly that Jesus’ Way is counter cultural. Popularity and power mean just about everything in our society, but popularity and power mean absolutely nothing to our Lord. In the Gospels, it looks like Herod has the power. The governing officials in the Roman Empire have all the power. So the Roman soldiers. The religious leaders have a lot of power. The chief priests and teachers of the Law and the Sanhedrin wield plenty of power. And all of these people and groups seem to have their way with Jesus. Jesus is the lowly servant who’s despised and rejected, beaten and crucified. Cursed by God and man.

But remember the centurion clearly sees the truth when he sees how Jesus dies: “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

Jesus’ way is upside down. It’s counter cultural. Our default, though, is the pursue the ways of the world. As disciples of Jesus individually and as churches of God collectively, we’re not very careful with this. Without even thinking about it, we embrace and adopt the ways of the culture. We imitate the ways used by powerful people who run large companies and corporations, high profile people who lead political parties and nations. By threat and force and power; with money and might; by out-yelling and out-insulting others; by demonizing those who disagree with us; by walling ourselves off from anyone who may do us harm. And we don’t even consider that those ways are totally at odds with the way of Jesus.

We see accomplished men who’ve achieved great success by using these worldly methods and we make them elders of the church. We make these guys preachers of the Word. Whatever the culture decides is exciting and successful and influential, whatever gets things done, whatever will gather a crowd.

We usually have to take four or five different looks at guys whose main character traits are gentleness and humility before we consider them for leadership roles — if we even look at those kinds of guys at all. Shouldn’t the man who lives only to serve others be moved to the top of the list? Shouldn’t the guys who consider the needs of others more important than their own, the guys who refuse to advance their own agenda, the guys who you’ve never heard say one bad thing about anybody else, shouldn’t they be the frontrunners for leadership positions in our congregations? Shouldn’t they be the ones to set the tone in our churches?

Peace,

Allan

The Personal Way

JesusHealsBleedingWomanPeople matter to Jesus. Individual people — men, women, and children; young and old; rich and poor; educated and ignorant — mean a whole lot to Jesus. We find Jesus in the gospels calling crowds and feeding multitudes. But the main image is of Jesus with individuals. He heals individuals. He comforts and encourages individuals. Nothing’s abstract with our Lord. It’s not theory. It’s not impersonal. The Jesus Way is clearly a very personal way to be.

We’re carefully considering the Gospel of Mark here at Central. And I’m impressed by this picture Mark paints of a very personal Jesus.

On the opening page he presents Jesus as taking Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and helping her up. He touches the man with leprosy. He calls Levi and then eats dinner with him at Levi’s house. The bleeding woman touches him and he calls her “daughter.” He takes the dead girl by the hand, it says, with her mom and dad there in the room with him. “Little girl,” Jesus says. On and on Jesus is touching people, hugging people, eating with people, meeting with people. Jesus’ Way is personal.

And we don’t always think about it. We write checks. We build buildings. We create programs. We serve on committees. And those are all really great things. Praise God for those wonderful things! But I feel like there are fewer and fewer visits in one another’s homes. I think there are fewer and fewer face-to-face conversations. Fewer touches and hugs. Fewer confessions. Fewer prayers lifted up together through streams of tears. Fewer and fewer deep, close, personal relationships.

JesusHealsSketchIn the gospels, Jesus doesn’t stand on the edges of the scene. He never waits for something to happen. He grabs people, he walks toward situations. He makes things happen.

The way of Jesus is in bearing the burdens of others. Carrying the pains of others. Sharing their hurts. Not avoiding it. Not shielding yourself from it.

You can never go wrong showing up at somebody’s house to pray. That is always the right thing to do. You can never go wrong showing up at a funeral to cry. That is always the right thing to do. You can never go wrong showing up at a hospital to sit with somebody. That is always the right thing to do. And you’ll take it home with you. You won’t be able to shake it. It’ll keep you up at night. It’s heavy and it’s hard. It will burden you. It’ll impact you.

But it’s so like our Lord.

It’s so like Jesus who did not one time shy away from entering your mess and carrying your burdens. He walked toward you and your mess, he never walked away from you. He came to us and waded right into the middle of the tragedy of our lives to love and heal and restore. And it cost him. It cost him his life.

Peace,

Allan

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