The Gospel at Central

My heart is filled with gratitude this morning. My soul is overflowing with thanksgiving for the grace of our God and for his good people here at Central. The Lord showered his mercy on us here yesterday. His Holy Spirit met us here — as promised, as always — and blessed us as a congregation.

Yesterday was the first day our sisters in Christ served the communion meal during a Sunday assembly at Central. It was a special day, a highly significant day. And, at the same time, it felt so normal for us.

Four of our graduated High School seniors, two young ladies and two young men leaving town this week for their first years of college, read the Scriptures and led the prayers. A dozen of our families — moms and dads, sons and daughters, those too young to carry a tray and teenagers who are almost too cool, grandparents with their grandkids — walked the aisles, serving the body and blood of Christ to our church.

It was so new for us. And so familiar. Very emotional. Yet, sort of anti-climactic.

It just felt so right. The readings and prayers were beautiful. The kids who served with their parents were super cute. It was very inter-generational. And only one tray was dropped in the back. It was a watershed moment in the long life of this faithful church, but in so many ways it felt like a typical Sunday.

We believe that all Christians are gifted by God’s Holy Spirit — male and female, men and women, alike. We do believe that all Christians are called by God to exercise those gifts to build up the Church. And we value our families at Central. We go out of our way to encourage our young people and to honor our older people. We try to nurture an atmosphere where everybody feels like they belong at Central. So to see that kind of diversity scattered throughout the worship center, serving the communion meal, didn’t feel very different from what we always do at Central.

Our sisters have been singing solos, reading Scripture, baptizing friends and family, blessing teens, making announcements, and encouraging our church in a variety of ways on Sunday mornings for years. Yesterday, they helped distribute the bread and the cup.

Yesterday we took another step in breaking down the barriers between men and women that were erected with our sin in Genesis 3. We added another important layer to our congregation’s testimony that all the barriers between us and God and between us and each other have been eradicated in Christ Jesus. We made a deeper commitment to proclaiming and practicing the Gospel in here.

And the Lord blessed us.

My heart is so full of gratitude this morning.

Peace,

Allan

The Bible is Your Story

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul tells the old story of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness and they way they complained and rebelled and how God faithfully provided. Paul says they were all baptized when they passed through the waters, just like us (10:2). They ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink from Christ Jesus, just like us (10:3). These things are examples for us, Paul writes (10:6). He says these things were written down for us as warnings (10:11). What happened to them, he writes, is common to all people, it happens to all of us (10:13). And, he says, God is faithful in all of it (10:13).

You see what Paul’s doing. He’s telling our story. The Bible is our story.

Story doesn’t just tell us something and leave it there, it invites us to participate. A good story drags us in. We feel the emotions, we get caught up in the drama, we identify with the characters, doors and windows get flung open, and we the nooks and crannies of our lives and our world we had missed.

The Bible as our story brings us into the vast wonderful world God creates and saves and blesses and offers us a place in that world. It shows us where we are. Good stories show more than they tell. And the Bible is the greatest story of all time.

“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the child of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” ~2 Timothy 3:15-17.

The Bible is a story. If we read it and interpret it like a book of rules and regulations or like some kind of constitution, we won’t get it. We’ll respond to it in the wrong way. If you mistake a recipe for chicken enchiladas for a manual on putting a vacuum cleaner together, you’re going to wind up hungry in a very dirty house. If you misread a highway sign that says “Speed Limit 65” for a randomly posted bit of information and not the stern law of the land it is, a police officer is going to pull you over and give you a brief, but expensive, lesson in hermeneutics.

The Bible is not a moral code that says, “Live up to this.” It’s not a system of doctrines that says, “Think like this.” The Bible tells a story and invites us in. “Live into this.” This is what it looks like to be a human being in righteous relationship with God and others. This is what God wants. This is what God is doing. And here’s where you are. Now live into it.

“You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” ~1 Thessalonians 2:13

Sometimes I am blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road near Jericho. Calling out to Jesus in my pain. Surrendering my life to the Lord. Yielding to his will. And he mercifully heals me.

Sometimes I am Naaman, covered with sores, dying of disease, and wanting to be saved, but on my terms. I try to dictate just how God needs to deal with me. He needs to do it my way. So arrogant. And he heals me anyway.

Always, I am Peter. Always shooting my mouth off, always wanting to be up front, always wanting to be the leader. One minute I pledge my allegiance to the Lord — Even if I have to die with you, I will never leave you! — and the next minute I’m a shrinking coward, warming myself at the world’s fire and denying that I even know who Jesus is. And then Jesus comes to me and asks, “Do you still love me? Then, come on, let’s keep going.”

Is that you? Where are you right now in the Bible’s beautiful story?

Are you Martha? So busy. Way too busy. Running around like a chicken with your head cut off, taking care of all the urgent stuff that needs to be done. Family. House. Chores. Neglecting your most important relationships. Maybe avoiding your relationship with Christ. And Jesus knows it. He’s sitting right there in the next room, waiting for you to slow down and pay attention to him. Even though you haven’t talked to him in months or even years, he keeps coming over. Have you noticed that about Jesus? He keeps coming over.

Are you Zacchaeus? You’ve got a great job, lots of money, wonderful benefits, more than enough security. But you’re alone. You’re not close to anybody. You’re just watching all the church people do all their church things and you don’t understand it at all. But here he comes. Here comes Jesus, walking right up to you. He pulls you down out of your tree and says, “I’m coming over. I’m coming to your house right now.”

Maybe you’re being torn apart by a terrible storm. The flood waters are rising, the things you love and the people you know are being destroyed. It’s dark and people are dying. It’s scary, this flood. And you know that God uses these times to cleanse and renew and recreate and make things right. But you don’t know if you’re in the ark with Noah or out in the water drowning. Listen as God’s Church reminds you, “You’re with us. You’re safe. You’re saved.”

Are you David? The King of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. What did God see when he looked at David that day and chose him and blessed him? David was just a kid, kind of an afterthought, just a boy hanging out with the sheep. Remember the story? What did God see in him that day? Did he see David’s fierce violence or his fierce loyalty? Did he see David as the great psalmist or as the notorious outlaw? Did he see David’s prayers and humility or the adultery and lying and murder and all the sin? God saw all of it. Every bit of it. And God still picked David. He chose David. And he chose you in Jesus Christ before the foundations of the earth.

The Bible is our story. It’s got our God on every page. It reveals our God who loves us intensely and saves us faithfully and who will not be stopped or even slowed down in his determination to live with us eternally. The story’s got all that.

You’re in there, too. It’s got you, too.

Peace,

Allan

Back to OC

We’re still two weeks away from classes beginning at Oklahoma Christian University, but we moved Valerie and Carley back to Edmond Saturday. Both of our younger daughters have leadership roles with OC’s annual orientation next week, “Earn Your Wings.” So they were going to get there early anyway. But Val needs to be there even earlier to attend training as a new residence director. Well, we’re not making two trips. So, they’re both in.

Valerie is in a different on-campus apartment with just one roommate — one of the perks of being a residence director. And Carley is sharing a dorm suite with a bunch of her buddies.

 

 

 

 

 

At this point, the whole thing has become a foregone routine. We eat dinner at Alfredo’s in Yukon Friday night on the way to my sister Rhonda’s house in Edmond, spend the night with Rhonda and her family, move the girls in at OC Saturday morning, eat lunch at The Garage, go shopping for the girls (trash cans, storage drawers, milk, bread, chips, ice-cream sandwiches), fill up their cars with gas, and be back in Amarillo before dark.

Valerie is a senior Youth Ministry major. She’s graduating in April with a Youth and Family Ministry degree and is in the beginning stages of looking for a full-time youth ministry gig. If you know of a Church of Christ that’s looking for a dynamic, hard-working, self-starting, female youth minister with a heart for young people, get in touch with Val right now. She’s going to be in high demand.

Carley is a sophomore Psychology major looking to complete her bachelor’s degree in under four years and earn her doctor’s degree from OSU or UT or some huge state school in less time than that.

Carrie-Anne is also starting back to school as the Culinary Arts Director at Canyon and Randall High Schools in the Canyon ISD. She’s in a brand new kitchen in a new building and will probably be living/teaching out of boxes for the first few weeks.

As for Whitney and me, we’re trying to squeeze in a couple of more Sod Poodles games before the season ends.

Peace,

Allan

Witness

“The Church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way which is full of promise.” ~Karl Barth

The best thing the Church offers the world is to show the world a way of life that can never be accomplished with social coercion or government power. We serve the world by showing it something that it is not. The world doesn’t know any other way to live but by might and threat and competition and violence.

It could use a witness to something else.

We are witnesses to a reality that transcends the limits of this world. The world can’t fix any of the things that really need fixing. What can the world do other than pass tougher laws and build bigger bombs? That’s it.

The Church provides a witness, a light to the world, an imaginative alternative. Loving your neighbor is very different from being a nice guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not even in the same universe as the peace that comes from having your mortgage paid off. Receiving the forgiveness of all our sins is not the same as rationalizing and justifying our failures. The Church is a separate, distinctive community, not to isolate or protect ourselves, but because we can best serve the world by being the Church.

We reject violence and retaliation to help the world see the way of peace. We refuse to threaten or control people to show the world the way of equality and respect. We break down social, racial, and denominational barriers to show the world the sinfulness of its divisions. We let go of our possessions with joy and gladness to expose the world’s idolatrous attachments to money.

“He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.” ~2 Corinthians 5:15

We live for the risen and reigning Christ Jesus. His vision for the world is our vision for the world. His ways are our ways. What he says goes. As the Church, we see things the way they really are: Jesus is Lord. And when we say “Jesus is Lord,” we’re also saying “Caesar is not.” You can’t serve two masters. You’re either going to love one and hate the other or despise one and be devoted to the other.  We know you can’t have both. So there are moral consequences and political ramifications for a people who define reality as the last being first and the first being last. In our economy, the poor and hungry and sick are the most blessed. In our view, as soon as you try to save your life, you’ve lost it. We take the side of the powerless over the powerful because Jesus views people differently than Pilate does. We’re living for the new heavens and earth where the blind see, the deaf hear, and all the outcasts are coming to the feast!

And that kind of witness is not always practical and it’s not always safe. That kind of message might wreck somebody. It’s dangerous. It might turn something upside down. “Jesus is Lord” means we’re on a trip through the back of the wardrobe, we’re into a different world, a totally different reality that requires a completely different way to live.

The world needs to see and experience the Gospel vision in us. Who else is loving enemies and forgiving murderers and giving away possessions and saying “no” to violence and pre-marital sex and saying “yes” to suffering and sacrifice for the sake of others? The world needs to see that from us. How else will they even begin to imagine it?

We’re not asking the question:  Is what we’re doing effective or practical? Is what we’re teaching offensive? Are the things we’re advocating acceptable? No, our question is: Are the things we’re doing and teaching and advocating true to the fact that Jesus is Lord?

“Let God be true and everybody else a liar.” ~Romans 3:4

The New Testament refers to the Church as saints, the people of God, the temple of the Lord, the household of faith, and about 85 other really high and lofty descriptive words and phrases. That seems very generous on the Bible’s part. The truth is, we have good days and bad days in the Church. We have good decades and bad decades. Actually, the Church has good centuries and bad centuries. We know that. We don’t claim to be right about everything all the time. We’re not immune to sin. We don’t know it all and we don’t have everything figured out. But one of the many things that’s right about the Church is that, by the grace of God, we are a community of faith that exists and acts in Christ. We are the alternative society that sees the world and responds to it differently. And that Christian witness matters.

Peace,

Allan

The Church Prays

Father, we pray for the United States of America. There are dark places in this country, Lord. Please open our eyes to see and give us courage to act so that we may shine the light of your goodness and mercy into those spaces.

There are hurting people in this nation, Lord. Please open our hearts to feel, and give us the vision and the initiative to provide comfort and healing and peace.

There are divisions in this country, Lord. Please unite your Church, bring us together in worship and service, so the people of the United States will know that you are Lord.

There is sin in the United States, Lord. Please open our souls to live and work together as your people in this nation, in forgiving others, in loving our enemies, in sacrificing, in suffering, in putting the needs of others ahead of our own, in pointing our neighbors to the glory of your great Name and to the free gift of salvation in your Son.

Wake us up, Lord. Give us a renewed awareness of the pain and the problems around us. We pray for healing, Father, for our families, for our churches, for our country. Send your Holy Spirit, God, to work in us and through us for the sake of this land. And may your holy will be done in and through your Church in the United States just as it is in heaven.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Church People: Part 3

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself. They are disembodied entities. They are heard and learned and apprehended and that is all. But the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears and hearts but living people who will follow him. That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ours is an incarnational faith, not a disembodied abstraction. That’s how our God works in us and through us for the sake of the world. People don’t get agitated over what they can’t see. People don’t risk their lives for invisible concepts. Only a visible flesh-and-blood people church works, because salvation is not a one-time, single event. Salvation is not just having your name moved from the “unsaved” column to the Book of Life when you’re baptized. Salvation is restoration, reconciliation, transformation, and healing. Yes, it starts by being united to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But it continues — in fits and starts, off and on, usually slowly, but surely — in the Church. By looking at each other across the table during the communion meal and discerning the body. By learning how to worship and serve together. By practicing love and mercy together. By forgiving others and receiving that forgiveness. By experiencing acceptance and belonging.

You can’t get that from an ideal concept or an abstract theology. You can only feel that and experience that together in a broken and messy church-people church.

So when we stand together and recite the two-thousand-year-old words of the Apostles’ Creed, we can say we believe in the holy, universal Church. We believe that in this place, in this assembly, God is at work. We don’t believe in the Church; the Church is not the object of our faith. But we do believe that in this congregation, whenever we come together, the Holy Spirit’s saving, sanctifying, transforming work is taking place.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up one part, but of many… In fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” ~1 Corinthians 12

Our Father brought the Church into the world the same way he brought our Savior into the world: by a miracle. The miracle of the Church is every bit as miraculous as the birth of Jesus. The Holy Spirit descended on Mary in the Galilean village of Nazareth. Thirty-something years later, that same Holy Spirit of God descended upon 120 men and women praying in an upper room in Jerusalem. Mary was with them. The first Holy Spirit conception gave us Jesus as a person. The second Holy Spirit conception gave us the Church, Jesus as a people.

It was a miracle that didn’t look that grand or important. God was working in and through the powerless, the vulnerable, the weak. Not very different from any random congregation you might look up today. Just like your church. And mine. A group of people who are not wise by human standards, not influential, not of noble birth; just weak and lowly flesh-and-blood people.

“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, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!” ~Ephesians 3:20-21

Peace,

Allan

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