Where Would You Rather Be?

Central Church Family, Isaiah, Jesus, Mark 1 Comment »

“No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” ~Jesus

“Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? This is what the Lord says, ‘Yes! Captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save… Then all mankind will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer.” ~Isaiah

Where would you rather be?When you’re rescuing captives and taking plunder from the devil, you’ve got to go into some pretty dark places. And our church at Central, I think, presents a pretty compelling picture of that. This church is full of rescued captives and liberated slaves. Central is made up of former prisoners: alcoholics, drug abusers, prostitutes, sex addicts, the mentally and physically disabled, ex-cons. There are extraordinary Gospel stories scattered all over the worship center every Sunday. God is involved and things are changing for lots of men and women at Central.

And when God brings us all together, sometimes it can be less than decently and in order. People who are rescued tend to celebrate wildly. People who are being freed are less inhibited. Central’s not like a lot of other churches. You never know what’s going to happen during our assembly on Sundays. God is bringing all different kinds of his precious treasure and valuable possessions together in this place. And it’s exciting. Every Sunday morning here is an adventure.

And it’s disorienting. It’s not the status quo. Honestly, I’m still trying to get used to it. But it’s SO GOSPEL! It’s SO KINGDOM OF GOD!

Where else would you rather be? In a church where everybody’s sins are exactly the same? Where everybody’s salvation stories sound just alike? Where everybody is comfortable all the time? That’s not nearly as much fun as what goes on here.

We’ve got the full picture here. As messy and as upsetting as it sometimes can be, what we’ve got here is real. We see it on every pew; we hear it and feel it all around us. And if we continue to embrace it in all of its unpredictable glory, if we’ll rejoice in it and find ways to celebrate it — I mean the weird stuff, the mess — the city of Amarillo will hear the good news. Our city will understand the Gospel that we embody: that God really is involved and even the darkest and worst and most hopeless situations can change.

Regardless of the personal and corporate cost, may we always be a church compelled by the love and power of Christ to stand up to the devil and his powers, to storm the house of Satan with our Lord to take the plunder and rescue the captives.



Things Can Change

Genesis, Mark, Salvation No Comments »

BarsOpen3When God tells Abraham he’s going to have a son and more descendants than he’ll ever possibly be able to count, the old man informs the Lord that what he’s saying cannot come true: “Yeah, right! I’m a hundred years old! And my wife if ninety!” Sarah herself, upon hearing that she is going to have a child laughs out loud, right in front of God: “I’m worn out and my husband is old! I’m not having a kid!”

But God answers: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

When God is involved, things can change. When God is involved, ten lepers who are not whole and have no community walk away completely clean. When God is involved, the town sleaze who can’t get water from the well without insult and rejection becomes a Gospel preacher. A loud-mouthed unstable fisherman becomes a pillar of God’s Church. Dead Lazarus, rotting away in the grave for four days, walks out of the tomb. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, becomes Paul, the Christian missionary. When God is involved, things can change.

It’s so crucial that we get this point. If we don’t have this picture of dramatic change, we’ll never anticipate the Gospel. All of us will stay locked up in our prisons.

Abraham and Sarah couldn’t let go of the other picture: worn out old people don’t have babies. That’s just the way it is. That’s the way it’s always been and the way it’ll always be. But, no, things can change.

When Sarah has her son she says, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6). People who knew Abraham and Sarah were saying, “Seriously? They had a baby?!?” And now all these people also have this new picture of the good news that when God is involved things can change.

As followers and imitators of the risen Christ who saves us, we are charged to proclaim this good news. We’re called to preach it and embody it and share it. God through Christ has defeated the evil empire and we shout that from the rooftops as loudly as we can and we work with everything we’re got to liberate others.

Remember when Jesus was resurrected, he didn’t appear to everybody. Scripture tells us he appeared only to those who had been chosen. He appeared to the people he knew would keep it going, people he knew would keep telling the story, keep declaring the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: that God is still involved and things can still change. That’s our job. Because the fight continues.

The wreckage is all around us. The carnage, the twisted bodies and warped minds, the moral and institutional vileness that surrounds us tells us that the fight is still on. Satan is defeated, yes. He’s done for and he knows it. But he’s working with every power he’s got to take as many as he can to hell with him. Establishing the Kingdom of God isn’t easy. It requires conflict and struggle. It comes with a price.

Jesus gives his followers the power to engage and defeat the enemy: “…that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15).

So, yeah, the Church needs to do more than just talk about it. We have to be a community that exhibits the evidence of that power. We don’t just confess Jesus as the Son of God; that’s no more than what the demons do. We don’t just sit on the sidelines, watching the world go by, and do nothing more than offer another religious option for salvation. The Church is charged with standing up and confronting the devil. We are in the rescuing business.

And our greatest weapon is the knowledge and our individual and corporate experience that our God is involved and things can change.



God Is Involved

Jesus, Mark, Salvation No Comments »

PrisonChainsThe Gospel is not just one point in history. We know the Gospel is not just the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel is eternal. It’s what God is doing and what God has always been doing. One way to sum up the enormous scope of the good news of God is to say that God is involved and things can change.

God is involved in real human need. Real, practical, physical, earthly, human need. It’s not metaphorical, allegorical, or symbolic. It’s real. When Adam and Eve are naked and afraid, God gives them clothes and protection. When Cain is worried about being killed, God gives him a mark of safety. When Israel is trapped in bondage to slavery, God delivers them to freedom. When David was a sinner, God forgave him. God is involved in real human need.

And we see this so clearly in his Son. Jesus came to show us what it looks like when God is involved. He tells us the stories and embodies it in his actions. God is involved in real human needs. And that’s really good news. A man is bleeding to death in a ditch and along comes a good Samaritan. Yes! A runaway son comes home smelling like a pig pen and his father runs to hug him and restore him to the family. Excellent! A man says to Jesus, “You can heal me if you are willing.” And Jesus replies, “I am willing.” That’s the Gospel! That’s the good news!

The Kingdom of God is hurting people being comforted. It’s distressed people being encouraged. It’s about hopeless people being given hope. The Gospel is captives being freed, prisoners being released, outcasts being brought in to a family. It’s cold people being warmed, sinful men and women receiving full forgiveness and Satan’s grip being broken forever.

God is involved right now today in your situation. The almighty Creator of heaven and earth is not some distant despot, a remote ruler who only watches from afar. He sees your plight, he hears your cries, he feels compassion for you, and he is mighty to save. He is intimately involved.



Do Whatever Jesus Tells You

Discipleship, Faith, Grace, Jesus, John No Comments »

Do Whatever Jesus Tells YouWe’re not sure what the mother of Jesus was thinking at that wedding in Cana when she told her son the hosts had run out of wine. But she was clearly expecting Jesus to do something. The timing was wrong and the Messiah seemed a little less than enthusiastic about inserting himself into the situation, but his mother was asking him to do something. And then she told the servants of the house, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.”

Mary knew that Jesus would provide what was needed. And whatever he chose to do and however he chose to do it, Mary believed would be for the best of everybody involved. She trusted that Jesus would come through. And he did.

Jesus provided more wine at that party than anybody could possibly drink. The conservative estimate in Scripture claims anywhere from 150-180 gallons of wine. That’s a lot of wine. And not just any wine; this was the very best wine. This wine was so good the caterer complained to the groom.

“Do whatever Jesus tells you” is a statement of faith and confidence in that grace and in the Lord of that grace. You can’t do much better than that. Advising people to do whatever Jesus tells them and you, yourself, doing whatever Jesus tells you is a pretty good rule of life.

Jesus delivered more than Mary could have possibly asked or imagined. He provided an abundance of blessing. There’s grace in this miracle. There’s grace and provision for a pushy mom and grace and provision for everybody who had been invited to the feast. Abundant grace and provision. From Jesus. More than you need.




For Parents of Teenagers

2 Corinthians, Faith, Grace, Hebrews 2 Comments »

Grace for ParentsYou can’t do anything right, can you? Every decision you make is wrong, every thing you say is wrong, every action you take is wrong. Nothing you do is right. Right? It can seem that way if you’re raising a teenager. The teenager will certainly make you feel that way. But, in your own mind, you know: I’m not a perfect parent.

The truth is, yeah, you’ve messed up plenty of things while parenting your teen. You’ve made mistakes. There are several decisions you’d like to do over. You’re too strict on some things and not strict enough on others. Raising teenagers is difficult at best, sometimes downright impossible. Nobody gets out of parenting teenagers without making lots of mistakes, some of them colossal.

But these mistakes are not what define you as a mother. Your mistakes do not characterize you as a father. Or as a child of our God. It’s God’s grace that defines you. It’s his grace that covers you. It’s his grace that enables you to keep parenting in the trust and faith that God is at work in you and in your children.

I like the Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11. Everybody who’s anybody in the Bible is mentioned in Hebrews 11. And as I scan the names in the list, I don’t see any perfect people. Sarah had a laughing problem and a faith problem. Abraham had the same issues. And I seem to remember him lying about his wife a couple of times. Yet Abraham is not defined in Scripture by his mistakes. Sarah is not defined in the Bible by her poor choices. All the people in Hebrews 11 are defined by God’s grace and commended for their faith.

Just look at the names in Hebrews 11:32: Gideon? A spineless, wishy-washy doubter. Barak? A gutless coward. Samson? Arrogant and selfish. Jepthah? Thoughtless and stupid. David? An adulterer and murderer. Samuel? Maybe one of the worst parents in all of Scripture. But here they are in this list of heroes. With all their sins and all their flaws. These are the people who “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength.”

“God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” ~2 Corinthians 9:8Grace & Provision

Without the good news of the Gospel, being a parent is a weight that’s too tough to carry. Because you are going to make mistakes. You’re going to mess some stuff up. Your hope is that Christ Jesus died for those sins. He atones for those shortcomings. You know that. And by his grace, your kids will know it, too.

Being a parent should reveal to you just how badly you need Jesus. You need to acknowledge the depth of your brokenness and recognize how badly you need Christ. And you need to rest — rest! — in God’s grace and provision for you as a parent. What you do every day is good and noble and ought to be celebrated. But it needs to be viewed in the light of the cross or it’s too much to bear. More than anything, parents and their kids need the grace of the cross.

As a parent, your struggles are real. And they’re big. So are your mistakes. And your sins. But we serve a God whose grace abounds and whose love is lavished on us so those sins and struggles do not define us or condemn us or determine what God is doing in us and in our families.



Blessing Our Senior

Central Church Family, Valerie No Comments »

SeniorSundayBlessingI still very much love the way Central does its Senior Sunday blessing of our congregation’s graduating high school seniors. The entire church family sings the seniors’ favorite songs during our worship assembly, our seniors and their parents lead us in worship and during the Lord’s Meal, and, yeah, the whole church presents each senior with a new Bible, complete with the autograph of each shepherd. But the coolest and, for the most part, unique-est thing we do is ask our Huddle leaders to formally bless each senior in front of the congregation.

Our Huddle leaders sign up for four year stints. Two couples, two families, commit to being Huddle leaders for a whole class of students as soon as that class enters 9th grade. And for all four years of their high school careers, these leaders spend a lot of time with these same students. In their homes on Wednesday nights, studying and worshiping together, talking over ice-cream floats at Sonic, texting encouragement throughout the week, wrestling together through the difficulties of living as disciples of Jesus. Bill and Suzannah Rexrode have been with Valerie for all four years. Suzannah has come to our house to do Valerie’s hair for every high school prom. And there she was on Senior Sunday, up on the stage with our daughter, blessing her in the name of our Lord.

SeniorSundayTableWith misty eyes and an emotional catch in her voice, Suzannah blessed Valerie by reminding her of her Holy Spirit gifts, by telling her how beautiful and talented she is, and then by charging her to walk faithfully with our God through the coming phases of her life and using those gifts and talents to bless others in his name. She told Valerie that she loved her and that the entire Central church family loved her. And they hugged. And laughed.

What’s not to like about that?

SeniorSundayPalsMatt and Sara Richardson formed the other half of Valerie’s Huddle leaders team four years ago. Valerie baby-sat their girls. Sara took Val to the movies and came by the house to check on her often, to bring her little treats, and to tell her she loved her. Matt and Sara recently moved to Denton, which we’ve not quite totally forgiven. But there they were in the worship center Sunday — all four of them. Sitting through the early morning rehearsal, getting emotional and choked up with the rest of us, eating lunch with us at Ruby Tequila’s, and reminding Valerie of how much she is loved by her God and her church family.

All of the research shows that more than half of our kids brought up in the Church leave the Christian faith at some point between their 19th and 29th birthdays. They just walk away. For a variety of complicated reasons, no doubt. But that same research affirms that almost all the kids who remain faithful to our God and his community of faith once they leave the nest have one thing in common. It’s not a rocking youth group or a contemporary worship service. It’s not a coffee bar in the foyer or a really dynamic preacher. It’s meaningful relationships with adults in the church. It’s having Christian adults they can look up to, they can talk with, they can share life with; adults who will spend time with them, who will love them and hold them accountable, and genuinely appreciate them during this formative time in their lives.

SeniorSundayBanquetFor all the mess that our Huddles are at Central — it’s complicated, complex, messy, difficult, stressful, all that — I’m reminded every year on Senior Sunday why we do it. These kids leave our congregation every year to go off to college and the next important phase of their lives knowing that they truly matter to the adults of our church. There’s no question. They are loved by the adults. They are blessed.

Kit and Amy Todd and Damon and Stephanie Herbert are Carley’s Huddle leaders. And I imagine in three years it’ll be Amy and Stephanie up there blessing our youngest daughter as she graduates high school and leaves for college. With four years of messy, loving, difficult, formative, critical, encouraging relationship between them.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.