Good Reminders

Jesus, John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Resurrection No Comments »

The Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus tell us that those who experienced the empty tomb up close and personal responded with wonder and amazement. Matthew says the women at the dug-out tomb were afraid. Mark says they were alarmed or astonished. The women are also described as bewildered and trembling. Other translations say they were stunned. The women in Luke’s version were “wondering” about the empty tomb. After Peter looks inside the empty grave, he, too, is said to be in wonder. With each of the Easter stories, the sense of resurrection wonder or mystery is building. It accumulates. So far, not one person who witnessed the empty tomb has been able to make sense of it. Not even those who encountered the risen Lord have it figured out.

And these are good reminders for us today.

The Resurrection confused everybody. At the time it happened, nobody could explain it. It’s obvious that those closest to the event had no idea what had happened or why. And that’s a good reminder for us. That we don’t always have God’s plan figured out. We don’t always know what God is doing. Or when he’s doing it. Or why. And that disorients us. But it’s OK.

Nobody had prepared for the Resurrection. Those women were going to the tomb that morning with burial spices to anoint a dead body. They weren’t bringing Jesus a fresh set of clothes and a toothbrush. When he shows up for dinner with the disciples that evening, they have to scramble to find a chair and an extra place setting. Peter’s wife pulls her husband aside and says, “You didn’t tell me your boss was coming!” Of course not; he didn’t know! None of them had prepared. And that’s a good reminder for us. We’re all beginners in this resurrection business. There aren’t any experts. We don’t control what God is doing. And that unsettles us. But it’s OK.

In the Resurrection stories, the marginal people are the main players. It’s the women. In this patriarchal society, these women had no rights, no status, no standing in the community. Especially Mary Magdalene. She had been possessed by seven demons before she met Jesus which might mean she had been living a reprehensibly horrible moral life or perhaps she was mentally ill. Either way, this lady lived on the edges of her community. She didn’t fit in. But she’s the only name we read in all four Gospel accounts of the Resurrection. And that’s a good reminder for us. That we don’t ever judge or rule out anybody we think might be beyond the reach of Resurrection. More than likely, it’ll be the ones we least expect who wind up at the very front of what God’s doing. And that surprises us. But it’s OK.

Some of the most exciting words in all of Scripture are when God says, “Behold! I am doing a new thing!” God is always doing new things. And it’s exciting. Right now, today, our God is doing new things in your church, new things in your city, new things — maybe unforeseen things — between people in different Christian denominations. God is speaking in new ways. He’s moving in new ways. He’s drawing men and women to himself in brand new and surprising ways. Things are changing.

And that can be disorienting. Unsettling. Scary. Because we don’t do well with change. We’re not always real good with new. But we have the Spirit of our risen Lord within us. Christ Jesus inside us gives us the power and the peace to embrace the mystery and the wonder of what God is doing; to not just accept it with our heads, but to jump into it with our hearts; to let God in Christ have his way with us; to fully submit to what we may not fully understand. Not just to be OK with it, but to rejoice in it.



Hearing God at Central

Central Church Family, Isaiah, John, Mark No Comments »

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” ~Mark 4:9

Our God is a God who speaks. Our God is not silent. That truth that our God is a talking God is what differentiates him from all other gods, it’s what separates Christianity from all other religions. Our God has a voice and he uses it. Our God creates us to hear his voice, he indwells his children by his Holy Spirit in order to communicate directly to us. But we rarely tune him in. In a world growing louder and noisier with distraction and static, we are increasingly unable and, maybe, unwilling to hear the voice of God. Or, possibly, we’re just not trained and equipped.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” ~Isaiah 30:21

As children of God and followers of his Christ, we need to improve our hearing. We need to grow in our capacities to hear the voice of our God. We need to diligently work to eliminate the barriers to our hearing so that our Father’s merciful encouragement and direction can come through loud and clear.

We’ve just concluded a six-weeks study here at Central on “Hearing God.” Yes, I admit, I stole most of the ideas from a three-session series Rick Atchley presented at several conferences a little over a year ago. The main point during the study here was that our relationship with God is intended to be a dynamic, personal, intimate, two-way relationship. It’s not a monologue in which we’re the only ones doing the talking; it’s a dialogue in which God talks back! And it was good for us. It was good for the preacher and for the congregation.

As part of the series, we handed out a few hundred blank canvases and asked our church family to illustrate what “Hearing God” means to them. As the art projects came in, we displayed them on the walls inside our worship center as a continual reminder that we each experience the voice of God in different ways. It’s different; but it’s real. Very real.

Our Worship Minister, Kevin Schaffer, made an excellent slide show presentation that highlights each of the paintings. And we shared it with our church family on the last Sunday of the series. You can see the video by clicking here to get to our church website and scrolling down that home page to the “Hearing God” video. It’s about five-and-a-half minutes and well worth your time. It’s an excellent video and, again, highlights the varied ways we all hear the voice of our God.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” ~John 10:27







God wants us to hear him in order to know him. He longs for an intimate and dynamic relationship with his children. Let’s commit together to continuing our practices of listening for his voice, of being still and tuning in to the many ways he communicates with us, and responding to his loving guidance in trusting obedience.



Through the Church

Church, Ephesians No Comments »

“His intent was that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Ephesians 3:10-11

I’m struck by the lofty vision Paul has of the Church. According to the apostle, the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth is today using the Church to proclaim to all the powers and authorities above and below what he has done and is doing in Jesus. Paul says the Church — the Church, for crying out loud! — is the vehicle God is using to communicate to the world what his salvation plan is all about.

Most of us just view Church as a place that puts on services.

No, Scripture tells us that the Church is God’s megaphone to the planet and beyond. The ways we live in the Church, the ways we talk as Church, the ways we mourn and rejoice, the ways we weep and laugh, the ways we sacrifice and serve and heal and restore is the way our Father proclaims and demonstrates his holy plan for saving and reconciling the world.

Boy, that puts an unparalleled importance on the Church.

According to Paul, the ways we treat one another and interact with the community around us causes the beam of his eternal glory to burst right out of our church buildings. That light, so obvious to anybody who comes in contact with us, declares with unmistakable force that God is sovereign here, the Jesus is Lord here, that the Holy Spirit works here, and that the powers of darkness are in big trouble!

God’s purposes have already been accomplished in Christ. What remains is the unfolding of what’s been established. And the Bible says God is doing that through us.



A Time to Laugh

Central Church Family, Ecclesiastes, Grace, Lord's Supper No Comments »
“There is a time for everything… a time to weep and a time to laugh.” ~Ecclesiastes 3
I wish I could take credit for the potency of the “fruit of the vine” we shared around our Lord’s table here at Central yesterday morning. I wish I had set it all up ahead of time. I wish I had made the right phone calls and contacted the right people, even shown up here on Saturday night to supervise the filling of the cups.
The plan was to spend the morning together considering the power of the resurrection. And, boy, did we! The powerful video from the dedication ceremonies of the Alara school reminded us of the power of our God who gives brand new life to more than 300 African orphans in a situation most people gave up for dead about five years ago. Jim Killingsworth’s powerful testimony reminded us of the power of our God who restores and heals, who brings joy and peace to his people walking through a dark desert. John T. Langley’s powerful words at the table connected us to faithful communion prayers from 1,800 years ago, reminding us of the power of our God to crush Satan and destroy all evil in the resurrection of Jesus.
The powerful grape juice — “powerful” may be an understatement — reminded us…. Hmmm. What did that juice remind us of?
How about this: the power of our God who saves us and changes us and bonds us together and empowers us to do his will despite our terribly feeble and inadequate efforts.
What a great reminder yesterday that even our best endeavors and our hardest tries always fall short. What a testimony to the grace of our God who loves us and takes care of us despite our continual missteps. What a powerful witness to our own humanity and to God’s amazing patience and faithfulness to us all.
One of our more clever young men in the youth group texted me as soon as the assembly was over, “It was either the wine or the sermon, but one made me sleepy.” Funny guy. Somebody else emailed me this morning, “Do we need to raise the traditional Church of Christ ‘Age of Accountability’ to twenty-one?” Good.
Yeah, that was strong stuff we were passing out yesterday. No, it wasn’t an intentional thing to be used as a sermon illustration. No, it wasn’t connected to “4 Amarillo.” It was a mistake. We’ve discovered the cause of the mistake and are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In the meantime, enjoy the jokes and the laughs, re-live the animated expressions on the faces around you yesterday, and remember that none of us is perfect. But we belong to a powerful, powerful, powerful God who is.

The Kingdom Beyond

Evangelism, Faith, Ministry No Comments »

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”

~Oscar Romero

Great Power for Us

Christ & Culture, Ephesians, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Promise No Comments »

“…his incomparably great power for us who believe. 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 for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” ~Ephesians 1:19-23

Scripture goes out of its way, the apostle Paul goes to great lengths, to explain to us disciples just how much power we have in Christ Jesus, our risen and coming Lord. Christianity is a religion about power. Eternal power. Dynamic power. Powerful power. It’s like Paul pulls out his college Thesaurus, the one his parents gave him that weekend he was accepted into Gamaliel’s school, and conjures up every possible word for power — rule, authority, power, dominion, title — and says Christ is more powerful than all of it. Come on, Paul seems to be saying, just try to think of the most powerful thing in the universe. Now multiply that by ten billion. And Christ is still more powerful! Every power that’s ever been and ever will be, every title that’s ever been given and ever will be, every government, every political structure, every economic system, every industrial complex, every biological reality, every financial authority, every historical rule, Christ dominates it! Every single power that has ever existed and will ever come about, real or imagined, human or spiritual, temporal or eternal — – they are all subject to our Lord!

And we don’t get it. If we do, it seems to be only in the logical, cerebral sense, not in the practical application sense.

No wonder this is the focus of Paul’s great prayer that opens up his letter to the churches around Ephesus. I want you to know this power, Paul prays. I want you to understand it, to grasp it, to really own the mind-blowing truth that the exact same Holy Spirit power that brought Jesus out the grave to reign at the right hand of God is the exact same power we all have in us and at our disposal as his disciples.

The New Testament doesn’t really go into deep discussions about the powers and power structures of the world except to remind us that they are all in subjection to our King. Paul doesn’t seem worried about the powers at all. He shows little interest in them, other than to say, “They’re all defeated in Christ Jesus!” Sometimes he mentions that the victory was won at the cross. Other times he claims it happened on that Sunday morning at the garden tomb. But he doesn’t overly concern himself with what’s happening in Rome or in the local city hall. Christ reigns! Jesus is Lord!

So, if this is true…

(and it is!)

Jesus is the winner. And if we’re in Christ, we don’t need to worry about the powers. We don’t worry about what’s happening in Austin or Washington D.C. or Moscow. We don’t worry about what’s happening in Afghanistan or Iran or in downtown Amarillo. Those powers have already all been defeated, they just don’t know it yet.

And if, as Paul writes, the church really is the fullness of Christ, then we don’t have to worry that we’re missing out on something. We don’t have to concern ourselves with other disciplines or traditions from the other side of the globe, with formulas or superstitions from down the street, or with secret knowledge or unrevealed mysteries from another realm. We’re not missing anything. In Christ Jesus, we have everything!

No wonder Paul prays that we would grasp it.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…!” ~Ephesians 1:18

Now, what would happen if we really believed all that? The gates of hell tremble at the thought.