What Can I Do For You?

Jesus, Luke, Ministry No Comments »

The Holy One of Israel came to this earth not to be served but to serve and to give his life for others. He came to seek and save what was lost. He took the very form of a servant. Our Lord never did anything for himself. He lived and died to meet the needs of others.

At the end of Luke 18, Jesus is purposefully walking to his death. He’s almost to Jerusalem and the cross. And he comes upon a blind man sitting by the roadside begging. Jesus looks at him and says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus — full of the Holy Spirit, empowered by Almighty God, living in perfect harmony with God’s original promise and God’s perfect plan — says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Just a few verses earlier, Jesus had been surrounded by a bunch of little kids. “Let them come to me,” he says, “in all their sticky handed and runny nosed glory! Do not hinder them! Let them come!” And they’re climbing all over him as he touches them and hugs them, engages them and blesses them.

One chapter earlier, Jesus engages and heals and blesses ten Samaritan lepers. In Luke 14 Jesus interrupts his own dinner in the home of a popular Pharisee to heal another man of a terrible disease. One chapter before that he lays his hands on a crippled woman and sets her free.

We get it, right? We’re not surprised when, after all this serving and healing and blessing, Jesus gets to the end of the road and asks one more time, “What can I do for you?”

This world is broken. It’s messed up. You are broken. You are. You know you are. I am messed up. I am. I know I am. We are all broken. And we see in Jesus our God’s faithful promise to deliver justice to the marginalized and oppressed, to bring healing to the sick and dying, to restore community to the lonely and isolated, and to bless those separated from God with true joy and connection. And belonging. And peace.

Peace,

Allan

The Right Question

Discipleship, Faith No Comments »

Many, many times over the past six or seven years, I’ve asked people who are going through a major life thing: “What is God doing with this right now?” If you’re putting your dad in a nursing home or you’re pregnant with twins — whatever life change thing is happening, good or bad — I’m going to ask you this question: “Hey, this is pretty big. What do you think God is doing in this?”

And this is what I hear in response most of the time: “I haven’t thought about that.”

Haven’t thought about it?!? Well, for crying out loud, start thinking about it!!!

God has not abandoned you. He’s not left you alone in this. God is not on vacation somewhere and so can’t see you or help you. He has not forgotten you. “Rejoice in the Lord always. The Lord is near!” He is in this thing with you. Pay attention to what he’s doing. Don’t go through a major milestone in your life and not be changed. Don’t miss what God’s doing with you right now. Be aware. Be on the lookout.

When something really, really great happens to you, think about how God is shaping you in that. You know that every good and perfect gift comes from God. You know that the whole earth belongs to the Lord and everything in it. So every single thing belongs to God, including this great blessing he’s given you. So, you’re just a manager of this blessing, this gift. How is God wanting you to manage it? Pay attention. Ask the question.

When something really, really awful happens to you, think about how God is forming you in that. You know that God is working in all things for your ultimate good. You know that his strength is experienced in your weakness. So this tough thing is a holy opportunity for growth and witness. How is God wanting you to mature in this? How is God wanting you to testify through this? Pay attention. Ask the question.

Life is going to happen to us. Good things and bad things — that’s just the way it is. And when life happens, we can wring our hands and say, “Oh, I don’t know!” Or, we can lift our hands and say, “God knows!” and align our minds and lives with Christ. We can confidently say with Peter, “Lord, only you have the words of eternal life. Only you. You’ve got this, Lord. You’ve got me.”

Peace,

Allan

Desert Time

2 Corinthians, Hosea, Jesus, Salvation No Comments »

“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” ~2 Corinthians 1:10

We view any hardships we encounter as unpleasant interruptions. Trials and tribulations are distractions that mess up our lives. It’s unfair when something bad happens to us. But Scripture paints things like this from the divine perspective of the Father. Paul says tough times come into our lives to teach us, to show us, not to rely on ourselves, but on God.

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” ~2 Corinthians 2:9

God’s people have always believed that if you want to hear the voice of God, you go to the desert. You are drawn to God in the desert. You’re brought closer to God in the desert. God is better able to mold you and shape you in the desert. Because in the desert, you can’t survive without God’s direct intervention. If doesn’t provide water, you die. If God doesn’t give you food, you die. If God doesn’t bless you with shade, you don’t survive. If you’re in the desert, you can’t live without God. And you realize it there more than at any other time in your life.

It’s hard in the desert. It’s tough. Hot. Dry. Barren. Very little sign of life anywhere. Surrounded by desolation. And most of the time you don’t know if you’re going to be able to take one more step.

Maybe you’re in the middle of a desert right now. Maybe. Are you? You feel isolated. Alone. Helpless. Something’s happened to get you in this place. A serious illness. A divorce. Somebody died. A job situation. Whatever it is, maybe you don’t know if you can even make it one more day.

I want you to know that this desert time is where our God shapes you. God trains you in the desert. He’s drawing you closer and causing you to depend more on him.

“I’m going to allure you. I will lead you into the desert and speak tenderly to you.” ~Hosea 2:14

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they spent 40 years in the desert. God gave them manna and quail from heaven and water from a rock. And it changed them into the people he wanted them to be. David spent time in the desert, running for his life, hiding in caves. God protected him and provided for him in the oasis at En Gedi. And it changed him into the greatest king Israel’s ever known. Elijah was driven to the desert where God caused an angel from heaven to give him food and then spoke to him personally in that small, still voice. And it shaped him into the Lord’s greatest prophet. When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit pushed him into the desert where he was tempted and tortured by Satan and protected and provided for by God.

It took Jesus 40 days. It took Moses 40 years.

God’s promise in Christ is that everything is going to be made right. All will be well. He proved his promise in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus and in Jesus’ ascension to the place of ultimate power and authority at the right hand of God. Every single thing that’s wrong is being changed. And it’s all being made perfect to dwell forever in the presence of God.

So if things are not well with you today, it means it’s not over yet. It’s not done. And that’s good news! God is at work in you and through you. The Spirit says God will bring to completion that thing he’s started in you. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Amen. Maybe while you’re in the desert.

Peace,

Allan

Getting Out a Leaf

1 Corinthians, Central Church Family, John, Ministry, Revelation, Salvation No Comments »

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.” ~John 15:16

J. R. R. Tolkien, who had one too many middle names, wrote a short story about an artist named Niggle. He was a painter. And Niggle wants to paint a tree, a perfect tree, “a beautiful tree,” he says, “and behind it, snow-capped mountains and a forest marching off.” And so Niggle began painting the first leaf. Painstakingly. With excruciating attention to detail. He painted slowly. Every line had to be perfect. Every color and shade had to be just right. Every single leaf on this beautiful tree would be exquisite.

And Niggle would get interrupted and distracted. He’d grumble from time to time and lose his temper and maybe even cuss, mostly to himself. But he kept at it. Working and painting and laboring over this beautiful tree. And when Niggle dies, he’s only painted one leaf.

Tony Morrow made it his mission to move to Eastern Ukraine to house and feed and train and minister to orphaned kids who have aged out of the government programs. The Central church has partnered with Tony. We bought him a van last year. Some in our church have made Tony’s mission their mission. They’re sending him money and cards and emails, they’re planning to visit Ukraine and minister alongside him themselves. The truth is, there are still thousands of street kids in Ukraine. Tony’s not even making a dent.

For four years Central has been providing weekend meals for Bivins Elementary with the Snack Pak program. 84 children a week. They’d go hungry without it. A lot of our folks work in that important mission: picking up the food, sorting and stuffing the backpacks, delivering it to the school. Yet, more than 32-thousand children in the Panhandle still go hungry every week.

Some of our church family have gone on a Let’s Start Talking trip. Some are planning to go this summer. That’s their mission: teaching people the English language through the Bible. And we believe in it. We train them, we plan the trips, we schedule the whole thing, we help them pay for it. But I’m not sure any of them have witnessed one single baptism.

Loaves & Fishes. Martha’s Home. Another Chance House. We’ve partnered with them for a dozen years and there are just as many homeless men and abused women in Amarillo today as there were when we started.

For nine years, maybe, you’ve poured your life into your next-door neighbor, trying to form a holy relationship that’ll lead her to Christ. So far, nothing.

You’ve spent seven years, maybe, trying to keep a Bible study going at your workplace. It’s sporadic at best. Nobody seems that interested.

For three years, maybe, you’ve given money and brought groceries and bought Christmas presents for the single mother who happens to be your cashier at Toot ‘N’ Totem. She never came to church. Last week she moved to Colorado.

We’ve been doing “4 Amarillo” for more than two years now. But lots of churches still have nothing to do with each other in this city. Division among Churches of Christ is still a huge problem.

Central has been on a mission in downtown Amarillo for 107 years. Good ministry. Gospel ministry. Powerful ministry. And there are still many, many dark and godless places in this city.

Sometimes it feels like we’re only getting a leaf out. We have a beautiful picture in our hearts. And we’re painting that perfect tree with everything we’ve got. And when we die, maybe we’ve only painted one leaf.

In Tolkien’s story, when Niggle dies, he’s going into the afterlife and he sees something way off in the distance. He jumps off the train and runs to the top of the platform and there’s his tree! His tree! His beautifully perfect tree, the one he had felt, the one he had worked on his whole life. In the afterlife, Niggle’s work has become an eternal reality. In heaven, his life’s mission has been made complete, not on canvas, but in the everlasting stuff of new creation.

We spend our lives working on the painting, but it’s only going to be completed on that day in glory. We know that eventually all our work is going to be made perfect because our Christ is returning and he’s bringing heaven with him. Scripture says on that day our work will be shown for what it is. That Day will bring it to light and it will survive. Revelation 14 promises us that the dead who die in the Lord will be blessed and they will rest “for their deeds will follow them.”

Sometimes mission seems like a losing battle. For those who are serious about justice and mercy and peace and love; for those working to bring God’s will to earth just as it is in heaven; it seems like we’re only getting out a couple of leaves. But in the end, the masterpiece that God has placed in your soul, the picture you have in your heart, becomes an eternal reality, far more beautiful and perfect and everlasting than you could ever ask or imagine.

Peace,

Allan

The Church is on a Mission

Cowboys, Ephesians, Matthew, Ministry, Prayer, Texas Rangers No Comments »

Two positive observations following the Rangers’ season opener: 1) tonight will be better; it absolutely cannot be any worse, and 2) the Rangers are still mathematically alive. For Evan Grant’s five reasons Rangers fans should not be panicked today, click here.

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In case you’re keeping score at home, Kevin Schaffer won our church office bracket contest and the free lunch and dessert that goes with it. Well, actually, his wife Michele won it for him. Kevin doesn’t know a Blue Devil from a Demon Deacon. On the strength of Duke’s come from behind win in last night’s title game, Vickie Nelson, our office manager, edged past Hannah McNeill for second place and the other free lunch. With all the guys on our church staff, three ladies finished in the top three. I’m glad Connie retired before she could fill one out.

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One more sports angle: how can anybody ever trust a guy like Tony Romo? Doesn’t it say something about the guy’s integrity, his character, when he’s born and raised in Wisconsin, but shows up in Indy last night wearing Duke colors and openly cheering for the Blue Devils against his home state university?!? It would be like Troy Aikman flying to Atlanta to wear blue and white and cheer for BYU over Oklahoma. It makes no sense. How do you trust a guy like that?

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In Ephesians 3, Paul prays this beautiful prayer for the Church. He prays about transformation: that God may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, that Christ may dwell in your hearts, that the church would be rooted and established in love, that we would have power together with all the saints, to grasp the love of Christ, to know the love of Christ, and to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…”

The request here is that God would do a whole lot with the power that is at work in the Church. This prayer is not a wide open plea for God to demonstrate his power in the world in random ways and by random means. This is a specific request for God to act in spectacular ways through his Church. The transforming power of God belongs to us. So we’re not asking God to do great things while we sit in our church buildings and wait on it. And study it. And talk about it. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talking, but of power!

God’s Church is on a mission.

In Matthew 9, Jesus asks his disciples to pray for workers to send into the fields. Pray about it, he says. This is what we want God to do, to raise up these workers. And then in the very next sentence, just one verse later, Jesus is giving them the authority and the power and sending them into those fields to do the work. You ever notice that?

Be careful when you pray. The answer to your prayer may be the power of God moving you to mission. If you pray for God to use your church or to work through your church, be prepared to get off your pew and in to the mission. Go ahead and pray for the hungry and the sick. Please pray for God’s will to be done in your town just as it is heaven. Yes, pray those things. And then open your eyes and your ears and your heart to how God wants to work through you to do it.

Peace,

Allan

All On A Mission

Genesis, Isaiah, Matthew, Ministry, Texas Rangers No Comments »

Opening Day. And I can’t remember a spring in my lifetime when the Rangers appeared to be as undermanned and ill-prepared. Brand new manager. No ace. Bullpen a work in progress. Questions in the outfield. Predictions for last place. Again. The Cactus League never gives the full picture, but the Rangers only won nine out of 33 games. And they looked bad doing it. First innings exploded against the starters, late leads were squandered by the relievers, and the offense has never really looked like it clicks. But I can’t wait for the first pitch tonight at 9:05. There are a lot of supremely talented young guys on this team. Choo and Fielder are both healthy. Who knows? It’s a long, long season. A lot can happen. It’s finally baseball time in Texas. Go Rangers.

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All children of God and disciples of Jesus are on a mission. In Genesis 12, when God decides to tell us how he’s going to restore the world, how he’s going to fix the problem of sin and evil and rebellion and death, when he shares his plan with us, he lets us know clearly that we are in on it with him. God is not interested in saving the world by himself. He calls Abraham. He calls him and sends him. “Go,” God says, “to the place I will show you… All peoples on earth will be blessed by you.”

In Isaiah 49, God calls his people out of exile. He saves them and changes them for the purpose of participating in his mission: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches his followers how to pray: “Our Father… Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

And that’s exactly what happens. Jesus heals the sick because there is no disease in heaven. He feeds the poor because there is no hunger in heaven. Jesus raises the dead because there are no cemeteries in heaven. He turns the other cheek because there is no violence in heaven. He eats dinner with everybody because there are no divisions or distinctions among people in heaven.

And on that last night, he sends his disciples out: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do the same things I’ve been doing. In fact, you’ll do even greater things because I’m going to live inside you! Go! Go do it! And, remember, you didn’t choose me, I chose you! You are the light of the world! You are the city on a hill! Your good deeds will bring praise to our Father in heaven!”

Every one of us is on a mission. No one is exempt.

Matthew 25 says on that last day the King will separate us according to who was on a mission and who wasn’t.

Peace,

Allan