Promised Sanctification

1 Thessalonians, Faith, Salvation No Comments »


Salvation is a process. Slow and painful, mysterious, with many ups and downs, and largely hidden from view. By the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, we are becoming more and more like Christ. And it’s difficult.

I was reminded during some prayer time this morning of a passage in C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity that addresses the topic of sanctification from Jesus’ point of view:

“The moment you put yourself in my hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push me away. But if you do not push me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, and whatever it costs me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect — until my Father can say without reservation that he is well pleased with you, as he said he was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.”

Our Lord has promised to bring that thing he has started in me to completion. It’s not happening as quickly as I had hoped. Sometimes it’s not as much fun as I imagined. And there are times I honestly don’t feel like it’s happening at all. But I trust him. I trust him.

And you can, too.



4Amarillo 2Night

4 Amarillo No Comments »

2015SummerJoAnnIt’s starting to become normal. Routine. Old hat, even. All four of the downtown churches are working together on a couple of Vacation Bible Schools at two elementary campuses? They’re building wheelchair ramps together? Side-by-side, Baptists and Presbyterians and Methodists and Church of Christs? They’re all going to worship together tonight at First Pres?


We’ve only been at this for a little more than two years now, but I can sense the novelty has worn off. Every event was celebrated with great enthusiasm during that first year: each pulpit swap, every service project, the prayer gathering, both combined worship assemblies, the Easter week services. There was wide-eyed amazement that our four congregations were tearing down the denominational walls between us in order to better reach our city for Christ. There was a complete embrace of the concept of Christian unity as the will of the Christ and the work of his Spirit. And we all rushed in to participate.






This is our annual 4 Amarillo week of service projects and worship. Together we are feeding and teaching, loving and playing with more than 400 children at San Jacinto and Wills Elementary Schools. We’re building five wheelchair ramps and installing them at the homes of five families in our downtown neighborhoods. Participation has been high. Enthusiasm has been great. But it just seems so normal now.

2015SummerMeanJeanAnd that’s really, really good. Right? Of course, it’s good! That we should regard as perfectly normal Baptists and Presbyterians serving food together, Church of Christers and Methodists teaching Bible stories together, and all four of our churches singing “Victory in Jesus” and praying together is a tremendous accomplishment. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. It far exceeds my biggest hopes when Howie and Burt and Howard and I first committed to regular meals and prayer times together in the fall of 2011.

I just don’t want us to lose the wonder. I don’t want us to ever forget how truly special this is. I want us to be continually aware that only a very few Christians in our country, much less our state or region, ever get to experience what we do here. Let’s not grow indifferent about this. Let’s praise our God and see this as the earth-altering, barrier-breaking work of the Gospel among us that it really is.

Tonight we all gather at First Presbyterian to celebrate God’s work this week in our city. We will sing and pray and read the Holy Scriptures. Howard will talk to us about unity and the unique witness our partnership is to the power of our Lord. We’ll watch a slide-show that re-caps this wonderful week of Christian service. And then we’ll share ice-cream together.

Normal? Yeah, by now, it kinda is.

Old hat? Never!



Concerning the Ruling Again

Central Church Family, Christ & Culture, Luke No Comments »

I felt good about Sunday. We were launching a new sermon series on the parables of Jesus from the Travel Narrative in Luke 10-19 and were beginning with the Good Samaritan: “Love God and love neighbor.” The timing was good. Providential, probably. The text seemed to work really well with what was happening in our society over the weekend and with what most of our people were bringing in their brains to our assembly.

I told our congregation here at Central a lot of what I had written here Friday morning. I made it very clear that our church believes, teaches, and upholds that homosexual practices are against the will of God. Not the urge, not the temptation, not even the orientation — the willful conduct is outside the limits of God’s purposes for his created people in the same ways it’s wrong when any of us gives in to conduct that is beyond the limits of God’s intent. But I also was very clear that all people are deeply loved by God and that Jesus died and was raised for the sins of the homosexual just as he was for the sins of all people. So Central is going to be over-the-top loving to everybody. We’re going to treat homosexuals with respect and dignity and we’re going to show them mercy and compassion and forgiveness and grace.

I left out completely the part I wrote in this space Friday about not seeing the Supreme Court’s actions as persecution of Christians or an attack on the Church. I do believe what I wrote in that paragraph Friday. Very much. It just didn’t need to be a main point on Sunday. Instead, I talked a little bit about fear. I asked our people to please not be afraid. The Kingdom of God has nothing to fear and plenty to gain right now. For more than four thousand years God’s people have always wrestled with how to be faithful when the culture changes. That’s one of the main themes of Scripture. I don’t see this as being much different. We will be faithful and, knowing our Lord, he will advance his Kingdom in ways that will surely surprise us. So don’t be afraid. Or angry. Scripture and history tells us this is normal. It’s expected.

I closed my comments with an appeal to negotiate this uncharted present and future in the name and manner of Jesus. I asked that we commit to upholding Christian principles with truth and grace, speaking and acting in ways that can never be labeled mean or hateful.

And then we prayed. We acknowledged to our God the fallen condition of his world, we confessed our own sins as a church, and we begged for his mercies so that we could be his light of mercy and salvation.

And it was good.

I had already written the sermon before the high court’s ruling Friday. But I added a couple of things Sunday to include gays and lesbians in Jesus’ definition of neighbor. In Luke 10, the lawyer’s question to Christ assumed distinctions among the people we meet: some of them we are demanded by God to love and some of them we are not demanded by God to love. Jesus’ story says there are no distinctions. We are called to love God and love neighbor, which means helping anyone in need. Anyone. So, in a list of people who are just like us and people who are nothing like us, people who live across the street and people who live on the other side of the boulevard, people who are dirt poor and people who are crazy rich, I mentioned “and the guy who’s flying his rainbow flag in front of his house this weekend.”

Jesus’ story says we are the unlikely neighbor rendering aid to people who don’t expect to see us coming. So, after mentioning our “4 Amarillo” week of service projects and after explaining our partnership with “Heal the City” free clinic, I also mentioned that “we’re going to welcome gays and lesbians into our worship assemblies with love and compassion and we’re going to eat with members of the LGBT community around our Lord’s Table in mercy and grace. And we will have conversations. And we will listen. And we will help. And it will all seem so very unlikely. And so Gospel.”

And, yeah, I know, none of this is going to be easy. This is going to be very difficult. This is going to take a whole lot longer than some of our people think it should and it’s going to be way too much too fast for many others. I heard from many people in their 20s and 30s on Sunday who appreciated so much our position as it was articulated. A young woman who was visiting our church from another city approached me, along with her husband, with tears in her eyes, so thankful for our grace and truth stand. Others in that same younger age range texted me and emailed me Sunday in gratitude for helping them sort out their feelings and forming a Gospel game plan with their gay and lesbian friends. A few people who are older than me began almost immediately asking questions about the details of how we’re going to do this, maybe a little concerned about our level of interaction or acceptance. I don’t know yet how we’re going to handle every single situation. We won’t be able to predict every situation or how our people are going to respond to those unforeseen circumstances.

Only two things are certain. We will not condone behavior we believe is a willful practice of a lifestyle that goes against God’s will. We won’t sanction by word or deed homosexual individuals or couples who are engaging in ongoing sinful conduct. But, at the same time, we will not turn them away from our building or our gatherings. We will love all people with truth and grace. That’s our commitment. And it might get messy. We might struggle with this. But it is our call and our duty as servants of our King.

Overall, I feel the same way I felt right after we unveiled to the church our partnership with the downtown Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches two years ago. I sensed great appreciation and even relief from our church family. Liberation. Freedom. I think on Sunday we provided our people with a theology and a language for something most of them have felt for a very long time, but just didn’t know how to articulate.

The hard work of loving and teaching, of grace and truth, is still ahead of us. May we enter into this work with complete abandon, trusting our God to advance his Kingdom to his eternal glory and praise.



Concerning the Ruling

Christ & Culture 2 Comments »

Friday morning the Supreme Court of the United States voted to legalize gay marriage in Amarillo, Texas and in every city and county in this country. I want to say a few short somethings about that today. This is not going to be exhaustive or comprehensive in any way. This is going to be short. For now.

1-We believe and we teach and we stand that homosexual conduct, the practice of a homosexual lifestyle, is contrary to the will of God as it’s revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures and through his Son, our Lord Jesus. We believe homosexual practices are against God’s desires for all men and women who are created in his image.

2-We believe and we teach and we stand that all gays, lesbians, bi-sexual, and transgendered people are created by God in the image of God. We believe they are loved by God and that our Lord Jesus died and was raised for their sins just as he was for ours. So our church at Central will show them, and the groups to which they belong, the love of Christ. We will treat them with respect and show them mercy and compassion and forgiveness and grace.

Now, I would call on all disciples of Jesus in the United States to commit to these three things going forward:

1-Please don’t say that the Church is being attacked or our religious freedoms are being taken away or that our Christianity is being persecuted. If it happens — it hasn’t yet and I’m not sure when or if it will — losing the state’s sponsorship or the federal government’s support of our worship is not the same as losing our freedom and it’s certainly not persecution. Let’s not claim that it is. People outside of Christ don’t want to hear it. And it’s laughable to people who are hostile to the Lord’s Church.

2-Let’s all please commit to living with this, to negotiating this uncharted present and future, in the name and manner of Jesus. Let’s reflect the glory of our God in word and deed, in thought and action. Let’s promise to live like the Christ who came in truth and grace, who preached repentance and obedience and, at the same time, defended adulterers and ate with prostitutes. Let’s live and uphold Christian principles in ways that can never be labeled mean or hateful.

3-Pray for wisdom and strength from God. Pray for holy discernment for his people. And pray for God’s Church — not for protection, but that we would be his light of mercy and salvation in a fallen world.



Pastors & Pistols

Christ & Culture, Discipleship, Faith, Hebrews, Jesus, John 2 Comments »

“My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my Kingdom is from another place.” ~ Jesus

Pastors&PistolsThe graphic behind the news anchor on one of our local stations last night was of a handgun positioned on top of a Bible with the words “Pastors and Pistols” in red letters across the top. According to the story, it seems the Potter County Sheriff’s Office, in response to last week’s deadly shooting at a church in Charleston, wants to train and arm our city’s Christian ministers in order to protect themselves and their parishioners from a similar attack. The sergeant promoting the program stated matter-of-factly that using guns to protect churches is “an important ministry, it’s a part of the church.”

God, help us.

One of my great fears is that someday some guy is going to open fire in a worship service somewhere and six disciples of Jesus are going to shoot him dead. And it’ll be celebrated. And cheered. And the Christians who killed the criminal will be honored as heroes.

I’m not sure all of us are thinking clearly about this. Which is better: that followers of Jesus are killed in a worship service while praying for their attacker and forgiving him and pleading to the Lord for mercy for him; or that disciples of Jesus, in an effort to protect themselves, kill somebody in the middle of church?

Which situation better exemplifies forgiveness and grace and love? Which circumstance faithfully places one’s ultimate safety and security in the hands of our Lord? Which response better follows the teachings and example of the Christ? Which reaction gets more publicity as a radical, I-can’t-believe-they-did-that, testimony to our commitment to the non-violent ways of Jesus?

Which response says loudly and clearly that the church is actually very much like the kingdom of this world? Not very different at all…

I’m often surprised by Christians, when discussing such matters and thinking about such questions, who say out loud things like, “Well, Jesus wouldn’t do it, but I would.” That makes you, actually, not a Christian.

I’ve been surprised this week to see a couple of comments on national news stories from people who claim to be Christian, when asked what Jesus would do, reply, “Jesus would not allow himself to be a victim.” Actually, Jesus willingly left his home in glory, put all of his trust in the One who judges justly, and purposefully submitted to being the worst kind of victim. He blessed those who attacked him, he loved those who hated him, he forgave those who killed him.

How does shooting anybody — anybody! — in church conform to that?

Christians, leave your guns at home this Sunday. Practice prayer. Practice forgiveness and mercy. Practice discipleship and obedience. Pray to God that nobody with violent intent ever attacks your church family in the sanctuary. But also pray to God for the strength, if it ever happened, to respond in ways that will honor our Lord, the Prince of Peace.



I Forgive You

Christ & Culture, Forgiveness No Comments »


They are three of the most powerful words in any language. These three words contain the awesome power to break through seemingly impenetrable walls, to break down unscaleable obstacles, to break in to the most fortified places. These words are able to accomplish what bullets and bombs cannot, what politicians and policies cannot, what violence and force cannot.

“I forgive you.”

Powerful. Whoa!

These are the three short words the family members of the nine Christians killed in Charleston used over and over in court Friday afternoon when confronting their loved ones’ murderer.

Dylann Roof killed Ethel Lance’s mother in that horrible shooting. Yet Ethel told Dylann Friday, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. You hurt a lot of people; but God forgives you and I forgive you.”

Felicia Sanders survived the massacre at that mid-week Bible study, left to mourn her daughter who was slain by Roof. She prayed for him Friday, “I forgive you. May God have mercy on you.”

Myra Thompson’s relative told Roof, “I forgive you and my family forgives you.”

When reflecting on the unique scene that played out in that South Carolina courtroom Friday, the President of the United States later observed, “In the midst of darkest tragedy, the decency and goodness of the American people shines through in these families.”

With all due respect, I disagree. To borrow Demi Moore’s line, I strenuously object.

It’s not decency and goodness in Americans that’s shining through, it’s the love of Christ in Christians that is shining through. It’s the glory of a loving and merciful God that is reflected through disciples of Jesus, not citizens of the United States.

DylannRoofForgiveAmericans do not respond to violence with forgiveness, Christians do. American people do not meet hate with love, Christians do. Americans don’t return grace and good for evil, Christians do. Americans respond in vengeance with bullets, seeking revenge by force. Christians react in love with forgiveness, seeking reconciliation by means of peace.

The reason it makes news, the reason it raises eyebrows, the reason it compels commentary and praise is because forgiving enemies and doing good to those who persecute is so decidedly un-American! The reason it stops the presses is because it’s so radically different, it’s so anti-culture, it’s so not what we expect.

It moves mountains, it shakes the earth, it changes everything.

“I forgive you.”

It liberates, it transforms, it saves.

“I forgive you.”

You should give it a try sometime.