Brought to Jesus

Church, Evangelism, Jesus, Matthew, Valerie No Comments »

You probably are aware that high school seniors today don’t just take the year book photo alone. Oh, no. That’s not nearly enough. They have to go out to exotic locations with their own commissioned photographer and half a dozen changes of clothes and take a hundred different portraits to capture the singular beauty and unique personality of each candidate for graduation.

Hannah McNeill is our family photographer. And she has done a remarkable job with our “Little Middle.” Of course, it would be tough to mess up pictures of Valerie. But Hannah is just the best at what she does with our kids. You can check out a bunch of Hannah’s work by clicking here. But her most important work lately can be seen in these thumbnails.














“People brought to him all who were ill with various diseases…” ~Matthew 4:24

“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat.” ~Matthew 9:2

“A man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus.” ~Matthew 9:32

“They brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute.” ~Matthew 12:22

“Then little children were brought to Jesus…” ~Matthew 19:13

These people Jesus healed and saved, these people who felt the compassionate touch of the Father through the Holy Son were brought to Jesus. They were brought to him by somebody else.

It’s not “build it and they will come.” Praise the Lord, sometimes that actually works. But that’s not the deal. It’s really “if you bring them they will see.”

We go get them and bring them to Jesus. As his followers, as his loyal subjects, that’s our mission. It’s our charge as his disciples. We don’t sit around and wait for people to come to Jesus. We go out and get them and bring them into his presence.

You know, you can do that just by inviting people to church.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not talking about bringing people to church just so we can count them. Inviting people to church is not about filling up your worship center. It’s about inviting people to a place where they can encounter Jesus. Our Christian assemblies are still the widest on-ramp into your community of faith. A worship service is still the main entry point, the biggest front door, to someone encountering a group of people who represent and embody our Lord and Savior. What better place to see Jesus? What better venue for experiencing his love and acceptance, his mercy and grace, his peace and joy?

I’ve seen and heard in three different places this year that if you invite anywhere from five to seven people to your church, one of them will say “yes” and come. One out of every six (or so) people you invite to worship with your church on Sunday will say “yes” and do it. The question is: Is anybody inviting anybody?!?

There are so many people in our community — countless numbers; you’ll interact with several of them over the next 24 hours — who have never experienced anything like the merciful love and saving grace of Jesus. And it’s because nobody’s ever brought them into the presence of Jesus. You can do that, you know, just by inviting them to your worship assembly this Sunday.



The Superman Verse

Jesus, Philippians, Promise No Comments »

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” ~Philippians 4:13

This might be one of the most popular verses in the whole Bible. I’m sure you’ve seen this verse printed on inspirational posters and gifts, silk screened on T-shirts and hoodies, emblazoned on coffee mugs and bumper stickers. You might have a Philippians 4:13 tattoo. We are very familiar with this verse. Seemingly everybody knows this verse. And it’s used, mainly, for personal motivation. Tim Tebow wore this verse on his face while he quarterbacked the University of Florida. Boxer Evander Holyfield was decked out from head to toe in this verse when he fought Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis. This is primarily how the verse is used.

“I can do all my pushups through him who gives me strength.”
“I can win my baseball game through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I can complete the marathon through him who gives me strength.”
“I can be strong through Christ who gives me strength.”

This verse has become for a lot of people our Superman verse. “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” So that if I say it enough and believe it enough, I’ll be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound; I can go where no man has gone before. And in our overly individualized western culture with its overly emphasized focus on personal achievement and individual success, this thing has turned in to, first, “I can do all things…” or “I can do everything…” or I’ve even seen it as “I can do anything…” and, secondly, “my faith in Christ is going to get me there.” So we jump out of the phone booth with the big “S” on our chests and “Phil.4:13″ on our capes, appealing mainly to our reliance on positive thinking and will power, ready to conquer the world!

“I can get that new job!”
“I can have the perfect marriage!”
“I can get that college scholarship!”
“I can beat this cancer!”
“I can dominate the defensive lineman on the other side of the ball or the lady in the office who stands between me and the bonus!”

There’s nothing wrong with positive thinking and there’s nothing wrong with hard work and doing your best. I’m all for that and I believe our Lord is, too. But this passage is not “I can do anything I want if I set my mind to it and just believe.” It’s not “I can accomplish any goal by my faith.” This is not about making the sales numbers or passing the semester exam or winning the golf tournament or losing 20 pounds. This verse is here not to tell you that you can be rich, but to tell you that you are already rich, even if you don’t have a penny. It’s not here to tell you that you can be powerful and strong, but to tell you that you’re already powerful and strong, even if you’ve never worked out in a gym.

Notice, the apostle Paul is not concerned at all in this passage with what he himself wants. He doesn’t write, “I can get out of jail, I can beat this rap, I can escape death through Christ who gives me strength.” He doesn’t say, “I can find a steady job, I can get married and settle down, I can stay off of those ships through him who strengthens me.” When Paul proclaims he can do everything through God in Christ, he talking about doing everything God’s called him to do. He’s talking about serving others in humility and sacrifice, regardless of his own personal circumstances. Whether he’s in need or whether he has plenty, well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want, either way, I can do what God is calling me to do. I can put the needs of others ahead of my own, I can consider others better than myself, I can look to the interests of others, no matter my own personal situation. Paul is saying, “Whatever I happen to be going through, good or bad, has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not I’m living the Gospel and extending God’s love and mercy to others.”

Can you imagine? Patiently listening to the grumbling neighbor, serving my grumpy neighbor, when I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my bills this month? Taking a cake or writing a card to the sick lady from my Bible class when I’ve got tons of reports stacking up at work? Forgiving my cousin when what she said about me has wounded me so deeply? Visiting and loving and encouraging others when the Multiple Sclerosis is wracking my body with so much pain I can barely walk? Flying to Africa to serve orphaned children when my husband was just killed in a motorcycle accident last month? Does anybody really live like that? If so, how?

Certainly not with their own strength. That’s impossible.

We are not in charge. We are not the masters of our destiny. We are not the captains of our lives. God didn’t die and make you boss. If we are Christians, Christ Jesus is our Lord. We are not our own; we are bought with a price. It’s not about our dreams, our goals, our agendas, and then getting God to help us with them. It’s about Christians like Paul, Christians like the brothers and sisters in Philippi, Christians like you and the people at your church, doing God’s will, working out God’s salvation, persevering in God’s mission in God’s way, no matter our circumstances.



Little Blue Stars

Central Church Family, Cowboys, Whitney 1 Comment »

We need to probably revisit the policy here at Central that gives all the ministers and administrative assistants keyed access to all the offices.

I walked in to my study early Saturday morning to discover that the whole room had been desecrated with the metallic blue and silver of Jerry Wayne’s Dallas Cowboys. Blue streamers and silver stars criss-crossing the ceiling, blue plastic on the floors and the chairs, Cowboys pom poms on the printer, little tiny blue stars glitter in my chair and on my phone and SPRINKLED ALL OVER MY STUDY BIBLE! A few dozen balloons, a pair of Cowboys slippers with a funny note, and a large posterboard declaring my allegiance to the football team in Arlington.

Now, I can appreciate a clever prank. I love a good joke. The more creative and surprising, the better. And this one was pretty good. What topped it off, though, and made it almost borderline genius were the dozens and dozens of little pictures of my head taped to all the pictures of the Cowboys players on the walls. These perpetrators were not content to just paste my face to my existing décor. They came in with their own doctored up photos and plastered them all over the walls, too. Some of these were downright hilarious. A couple of them were almost creepy. But it was all really, really funny Saturday morning.











However, I am now finding little tiny blue stars everywhere. Everywhere. I thought I had cleaned all of them off my phone. But at 1:45 this afternoon, fifteen minutes before Ralph Hill’s funeral in the chapel, I’m leaving a meeting in Greg’s office when Mary starts laughing and pointing at my left ear. A little blue glitter star right there in my ear! I’m glad she caught it before the funeral; I’m not sure how I would have explained that. Knowing one of the pranksters and her style, I’m certain I’ll be finding little pictures of my face and little blue stars in weird places in this office for the next several months.











Hannah, Aleisha, and Whitney: Congratulations. Well played. Very good. But, I’m on to you. Your day is coming. Maybe not this week. Maybe not this month. But your day is coming.

Now, how do I get this tiny blue star out of the USB port on this laptop?



Do You Remember?

Baptism, Holy Spirit, Salvation No Comments »

This past Sunday it was Ken. The Sunday before that it was Lynzi. We are so blessed to be able to so often participate in Christian baptisms during our weekly assemblies. We watch and pray, cheer and sing, as these new disciples publicly confess Jesus as Lord and put him on in baptism for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. What an incredible event!

When I visit with these new followers of Jesus, I always stress that they should look back often on their baptisms. They should intentionally reflect on what God created in them that day they were buried and raised with Christ. We should all remember what God did for us and with us when we came up out of the water.

God has made something brand new out of each of us. He has chosen now to live inside us and to re-create us to experience all of life in a brand new way. It’s amazing, really. Death has nothing on us anymore. And neither does sin.

Do you remember when you were baptized? Who baptized you? Where did it happen? Do remember how you felt when you came up out of the water? Do you remember the songs that were sung? The people who were there?

It was the single greatest day of your life. You may not recognize it all the time. But that was the day you were added to God’s eternal Kingdom. That was the day you were made righteous by the salvation work of Christ and reconciled to your Creator. It was a tremendous day, a cosmic day when eternity broke through the barriers of time and space and took up residence inside your body and soul.

Praise God for the blessings of his loving and merciful salvation. And give him thanks for the great privilege of sharing those wonderful baptism days with others.



Properly Permitted

Carley No Comments »

Our youngest daughter, little Carley Bear, turned 15 today. Yes, fifteen. Whoa. I took her to the DPS this morning to get her driver’s permit. We waited in line together, submitted all the paperwork and forms, signed the documents, took the picture, got her properly permitted, and then I let her drive the little Ford Ranger for about an hour all over southwest Amarillo.

Carley is a freshman at Amarillo High. She’s stunningly beautiful, brilliantly smart, hilariously funny, and singularly amazing in dozens of ways. I can’t imagine there’s anything she can’t do. If she wants something, she goes for it all the way. Hurdles and pole vaulting, running and jumping, lifting weights and doing chin ups. Painting and drawing, singing and acting, hiking and climbing. And she’s got hanging out down to a science: Carley and all her little buddies  watching crime dramas on TV and talking about boys.

Did I mention she’s our youngest?

I love hanging out with Carley. She’s very observant; she gets it. We notice a lot of the same things in people around us and in the culture at large. We think a lot of the same things are funny. She’s getting better and better at Ping Pong, racking up 17 points in a game against me earlier this week. That’s fun.

She’s in that really tough in-between stage. She’s in-between childhood and adulthood; caught in the middle of wanting to color in a coloring book and get a job to save money to buy a car; living in the land between a naïve optimism and joy and a knowing and experienced caution. Like everybody her age, she sometimes has these little cracks in her self-esteem and confidence. I hear it every now and then. And I want so badly for her to understand that everybody goes through this stuff, especially at this age. Carley’s not just learning about driving, she’s learning about life. And she’s learning that it’s never a super smooth ride for very long. One minute you’re soaring after a major accomplishment or in the middle of a great relationship. An hour later you feel like your heart falls into your socks because of a significant setback or a stupid boy. It just happens.

Carley, you need to know how much your mom and I love you. You need to know that we are cheering for you with every step as you become this wonderfully incredible young woman our God created you to be. We are so very, very proud of you. And we will never stop supporting you and defending you and encouraging you through all of your achievements and successes.

You are something else, girl. I love spending time with you. I love listening to your heart. I rejoice in every victory of yours, and my heart breaks in half every time you’re sad. And we’ve got just 15 more days until you and I see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers together on the floor at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Happy Birthday, Bear.

I love you.


The Almost Impossibly Hard Thing

Discipleship, Jesus 1 Comment »

Soren Kierkegaard said sin is substituting things — any thing — for God. Good things, bad things, it doesn’t matter. If you find your identity, if you find your true self, your self worth, your emotional well-being, if your life is centered on any thing other than God, that is sin. Using this definition, Timothy Keller categorizes a lot of what we pursue as modern day men and women as sin in his terrific apologetics masterpiece, The Reason for God:

~If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.
~If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
~If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
~If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
~If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the “escape strategies” by which you avoid the hardness of life.
~If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
~If you center your life and identity on a “noble cause,” you will divide the world into “good” and “bad” and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
~If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.

The only real solution is not simply to change our behaviors, but to reorient and center every part of our lives on God. Our self worth and sense of purpose and reason for living and emotional well-being must all be found in Christ. If he is not the center, we’re going to be in trouble.

This passage from C. S. Lewis’ essay “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” sums it all up pretty well:

The ordinary idea which we all have is that we have a natural self with various desires and interests. And we know something called “morality” or “decent behavior” has a claim on the self. We are all hoping that when all the demands of morality and society have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on.

The Christian way is different — both harder and easier. Christ says, “Give me ALL.” I don’t want just this much of your time and this much of your money and this much of your work — so that your natural self can have the rest. I want you. Not your things. I have come not to torture your natural self; I will give you a new self instead. Hand over the whole natural self — ALL the desires, not just the ones you think wicked but the ones you think innocent — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead.

The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves” — our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition — and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us we cannot do. If I am a grass field — all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat, I must be plowed up and re-sown.

Everybody is living for something. Whether you think of it that way or not, whatever it is eventually becomes your Lord.

Where are you pouring most of your time and energy, your money and resources? Where do you find most happiness and fulfillment? What are you pursuing more than anything else? The answer to that question is the lord of your life. And if its anything other than Jesus, it’s not going to work for too much longer. Jesus says lose your life for me and I’ll save it. Throw it away for me and I’ll give you eternal life forever. Make yourself last for my sake and I’ll exalt you on high.