Outnumbered

Daniel, John No Comments »

Do you ever feel like it’s you against the world? I mean the whole world; every single person in the world is against you. Do you ever feel like that?

I think Scripture teaches that men and women of God are going to have those feelings quite often. It’s stated very matter-of-factly in the Bible. If you’re walking in the light as a child of God, it’s going to seem sometimes like you’re all by yourself.

The writer of Daniel sets up the story of the fiery furnace in a particular way that illustrates the entire world as standing opposed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel 3:2 tells us that all the “satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincial officials” were summoned to the dedication of the king’s giant image of gold. Then in the very next verse, the writer reminds us that all the “satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates, and all the other provincial officials” assembled for the statue’s dedication. In verse four, the herald addresses “nations and men of every language.” Same thing in verse seven, “peoples and nations and men of every language.” They all fell down and worshiped this idol.

They all worshiped the idol, the king. The whole world. All the government. All the officials. All the important people. All the people of prestige and status. All the educated people. All the well-trained and successful people. All the people in charge. Every nation, every language — they are all represented here. The writer of Scripture says the whole world ignored the commands of God and bowed down before the statue.

Everybody except these three young boys who told the king, “The God we serve is able to save us, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold” (Daniel 3:17-18).

Once the three men are delivered by God, it’s interesting to me that the “satraps, prefects, governors, and royal advisors” gathered around the furnace and were commanded by the king to praise the God of Israel (Daniel 3:27-28) and that “people of every nation or language” were also warned to speak well of our God (Daniel 3:29).

The story reminds me that some day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess the Lordship of our God in Christ. It’s going to happen. This world that stands opposed to you will recognize our God some day. You’re on the right team. You serve the Almighty God. He will rescue you. And you will be rewarded for your faithfulness to him.

In the words of the true and reigning King of the Universe, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Peace,

Allan

4 Amarillo Packing School Supplies Tonight

4 Amarillo No Comments »

Yes, I have torn a muscle in my lower back trying to dead-lift a four-million pound concrete flower box on our front porch. And I remain in the blur of a medically-induced haze as a result of the muscle relaxers, pain killers, and steroids prescribed by my doctor. I missed Central’s Family Camp this weekend, flat on my back, alternating between ice packs and heating pads. It’s one of those almost embarrassing things you’d rather not everybody know. But when the preacher doesn’t show up, people ask questions. Greg did his best to tell folks at Blue Haven I had broken my back while baptizing a really overweight man. But it didn’t hold. Everybody knows, as evidenced by the wheelchair that greeted me this morning as I arrived in my office.

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At 5:30 this afternoon more than a hundred volunteers from our four downtown churches will come together in our Sneed Hall to sort and pack thousands of school supplies for Wills, San Jacinto, Bivins, and Sunrise elementary schools. It was this event one year ago at Polk Street Methodist that served as the official “first” 4 Amarillo cooperative effort. Since that time all four of our churches have worshiped together in each other’s buildings, we’ve run neighborhood Bible schools and block parties, we’ve remodeled a house, and we’ve eaten a lot of ice cream.

That the world may believe.

Putting aside our denominational differences, tearing down the walls that divide us, and focusing only on our common Savior is a compelling testimony to the power of our Lord. When we come together in Christ we are proclaiming in word and in deed that Jesus really is the Prince of Peace, that he really is all about reconciliation, and that he really does transcend all human divisions.

 

What an honor to host this event tonight at Central. What a joy to be right in the middle of something Jesus actually prayed for on the night he was betrayed. What a tremendous blessing to live and serve in the very heart of what God is doing in his world.

Peace,

Allan

Citizenship

Acts, Christ & Culture, Heaven, Jesus, John, Philippians 2 Comments »

“Our citizenship is in heaven.” ~Philippians 3:20

The city of Philippi was a Roman colony. It was 550 miles east of Rome, across the sea and in a different world in many respects. But because it was a Roman colony, the citizens of the Philippi region were citizens of Rome. Their official citizenship was in Rome. And they were very proud of that citizenship. So they dressed like Romans. They built their buildings and set up their city administration like Romans. They spoke Latin like Romans; they worshiped the emperor like Romans. They lived in Philippi, but they never considered themselves Philippians — they were Romans. They lived in Macedonia on the Aegean Sea — but their citizenship was in Rome.

When Paul and Silas were in Philippi in Acts 16, the owners of the slave girl accused the missionaries of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” What did they mean “us Romans?” Don’t they know they live in Philippi? Yes, they live in Philippi, but their citizenship is in Rome. Philippi is a Roman outpost. It’s an island of one culture in the middle of another. It’s a city of people holding on to and promoting customs and traditions and practices and even a language that is unfamiliar to its surroundings.

My family and I lived in Memphis, Tennessee for almost a year in 1998. We bought a house in Memphis and Carrie-Anne and I both worked in Memphis. Whitney went to Memphis public school. But I refused to get a Tennessee drivers license. I didn’t get a Tennessee license plate. I flew the Texas flag from our front porch and in my office at work. I wore Dallas Mavericks t-shirts, I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughn everyday, and I absolutely never, ever put cole slaw on top of my barbecue sandwich! I was living in Tennessee, but my citizenship was in Texas.

The same thing is happening with the folks receiving this letter from Paul. The apostle writes to the Christians in Philippi and he says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” You don’t belong to Philippi or to Rome; our citizenship is in heaven.

Here on earth, we are a colony of heavenly citizens. God’s Church is an outpost. It’s an island of one culture in the middle of another. God’s Church is a city of people holding on to and promoting customs and traditions and practices and a language unfamiliar to our surroundings.

And it sets us apart. It makes us different.

In Acts 21, Paul is accused of teaching “all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place.” When given the chance to defend himself, Paul claims that as a citizen of heaven, as a subject of Christ, he “had fulfilled his duty.” The Christians in Thessalonica are arrested in Acts 17 and charged with “defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” Our Lord is standing in chains before the Roman governor in John 18 when he says, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight… my Kingdom is from another place.”

To confess that Jesus is Lord is to say that Caesar is not. And that makes us different. To claim citizenship in heaven is to declare our allegiance first and foremost to God’s Kingdom, not the Empire. And that sets us apart.

Jesus did not bring a new teaching or a new ethic; Jesus brings a brand new reality. Jesus didn’t give us new ideas about God and humanity and the world; he gives us an invitation to join up, to become part of a movement, a new people that is not of this world. We see something the world doesn’t see; we understand something the world cannot comprehend. We live in and are part of the reality of the eternal power and reign of God in Christ. So we are strangers and aliens in this world because we get it, and nobody else does. We understand that God rules the world, not congressmen and presidents or governors and generals.

We need to slow down and look around and get a handle on what’s really going on. We need to see what’s really happening. That’s hard to do because we’re surrounded by all the unreality. With 24 hour news networks and around the clock talk radio and more ads and campaigns and debates and emails and bumper stickers than any of us can fathom, it’s easy to get caught up in it. If we’re not careful, we can actually start to believe that the Empire and its politics and our role in all that is pretty important. Until we step back and look at it with a heavenly perspective.

The Gospel of Jesus places all of us into an eternal and international community of those who follow the Savior. We live under the rule of our Christ. So our loyalties go far beyond any national thought or national pride. Our allegiance rises high above any national agenda. Our conduct will be different from the world’s because our citizenship is in heaven.

I was nine years old in the summer of 1975 when my dad packed up the blue Chevrolet Impala and took our family of five at the time and my grandmother up to Niagara Falls. Yes, we drove it; lots of ham sandwiches. After a long day of sightseeing in Ontario, I remember vividly ordering hamburgers at a little diner. I can still see the black and white tile on the floor and the pattern and colors of the fabric on the cushions of the booths. We ordered our meals and sat down together in the crowded diner. And after just a minute or two, a lady sitting at the table next to us leaned in toward us and said, “What part of Texas are you from?”

She hadn’t seen our license plates. We weren’t talking about home. None of us was wearing Dallas Cowboys t-shirts or anything that would have overtly given away where we lived. She said she could just tell by the way we talked and the way we acted that we were from Texas.

I remember being kind of proud about that. I think maybe I’m still a little proud about that.

When’s the last time you sat down at a restaurant and someone leaned over and said, “What part of heaven are you from?”

Wherever we go and whatever we do, we ought to stick out as people who live somewhere else. We are a people with customs and practices and a language different from the rest of the world. Our citizenship is in heaven. And it should be obvious.

Peace,

Allan

Can We At Least Think About It?

Christ & Culture, Philippians 3 Comments »

“Our citizenship is in heaven.” ~Philippians 3:20

The Church gets into trouble, we fail to live up to our responsibilities, when we equate national politics with the politics of God’s Kingdom. When we view earthly power systems as helpful to the cause of Christ, or something to be used, we fall short of our calling. When the colony of Christ, of which we are citizens, views the national agenda and the national methods of achieving that agenda as compatible with the ways and means of our Lord, we’re in trouble.

Consumerism. Materialism. Sex. Violence. Greed. Independence. War. That’s the prime-time lineup on our television stations. That’s what’s on the billboards and the sides of city buses. That’s what’s on the radio and our computer screens. That’s what drives this country’s economy. Those are the values that actually sustain this country and shape this country’s politics. They’re not compatible with the Kingdom of God, they’re competing.

But we don’t see it. Most of us don’t see the Empire as a subtle and seductive force working against God’s agenda. We don’t always view Caesar as actively seeking to destroy the work of our Christ. Because we’re so comfortable in this country, maybe. Because we have more than we’ll ever need, maybe. So we embrace the Empire as an ally, as something good that supports the Kingdom of God. In some cases, we even hold up Empire and Kingdom, God and Country, as if they are the same thing. We’ll talk like Christian values and American values are the same thing. Occasionally, we even give more to the conduct and culture of the Empire than to the conduct and culture of the Kingdom.

Maybe we don’t think about it. Can we at least start thinking about it? Maybe we’re not paying attention. Can we at least start paying attention?

Can we think about why we take off our caps and sing the national anthem at a ball game, but we get nervous if somebody wants to lead a prayer before dinner at Chili’s? Can we at least consider why we’ll stand perfectly still at complete attention with our hands over our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, but the reading of God’s holy Scriptures in the worship center on Sunday appears to be a cue to walk around and talk? Can we at least pay attention to why we’ll take a half-day off work so we can clap and cheer and whistle when someone becomes a citizen of this temporary, worldly Empire; but we duck out of the building when someone’s being baptized to become a citizen of the holy and eternal Kingdom of God in order to save ten minutes getting to lunch?

I get the emails and the articles and the videos from Christians almost every week. Emails calling democracy and capitalism God’s will for the entire world. I got an email last fall equating a single vote for a particular candidate with Christ’s singular sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all mankind. Somebody sent me a slideshow last year that said defending our rights and freedoms by going to war is a great Christian value.

It’s so subtle, I guess. We don’t think about it.

South African Bishop Peter Storey said:

“American preachers have a task more difficult, perhaps, than those faced by us under South Africa’s apartheid, or even Christians under Communism. We had obvious evils to engage; you have to unwrap your culture from years of red, white, and blue myth. You have to expose and confront the great disconnection between the kindness, compassion, and caring of most American people, and the ruthless way American power is experienced directly and indirectly by the poor of the earth. You have to help good people see how they have let their institutions do their sinning for them. This is not easy among people who really believe that their country does nothing but good. But it is necessary; not only for their future, but for us all.”

Can we at least think about it?

Peace,

Allan

True Giving

Central Church Family, Grace, Holy Spirit, Romans No Comments »

“We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is… contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously.” ~Romans 12:6-8

We superficially assume that Paul’s command to be generous is meant only for those who have lots of money. No. Sadly, that misunderstanding causes lots of us to miss out on the terrific blessings of being generous.

Remember, these gifts listed in the middle of Romans 12 are gifts of God’s grace. God’s grace is the source of and the basis for these gifts. And it’s divine grace that guides us in the use of the gifts. A person gifted with generosity gives liberally not because he or she has tons of money, but because that individual has a grace-based understanding of possessions and their importance. His or her priorities are straight, in line with a gospel grasp of what our God has given to us.

And — this is just as important — let’s not limit this gift of generosity to our money and financial resources. Paul doesn’t; neither should we. The Scripture here is calling for an attitude of heart within the Christian community that says, “What’s mine is yours.” So many times your money is not the best thing you could give. More urgently, those in need could sometimes use your mechanical expertise or your plumbing skills or your time to just sit and listen.

Paul’s talking about an attitude. An open heart produces open checkbooks, open refrigerators, and open calendars.

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One of the great joys of working at the church building during the summers is the invaluable interaction with all the kids. (There’s a reason I keep two jars of Jolly Ranchers in my office at all times, and it’s not so I can see more of Matthew or Greg.) At any given time on any given day during the summer, our work is likely to be interrupted by the sound of relay races around the concourse, Nerf rocket launchers down the hall, or some form of zombie tag in the chapel. Yesterday, I was the grateful recipient of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk delivered by a mess of middle schoolers. Today, I was ambushed in my office by a group of church ninjas who were not as sneaky as they wanted to be and a whole lot funnier than they intended.

Our Lord says the Kingdom of God belongs to people just like these little church ninjas. I know why. Who can resist? Their great joy. Their creativity. Their vulnerability. Their tremendous capacity to forgive and their eagerness to love. The carefree laughing. The unashamed singing and dancing. God has called all of us to be just like them minus, maybe, the t-shirts over the heads. Or maybe with the t-shirts over the heads; I need to give that more thought. Thank you, God, for surrounding me with these little reminders of what you want for all of us.

Peace,

Allan

First Cheap Shot of the Season

Cowboys No Comments »