Holy Spirit Community

Church, Ephesians, Holy Spirit 1 Comment »

CommunityCrowdHow do we do this? Community. Family in a congregational setting. It doesn’t matter the size of your church, you have many different opinions and viewpoints, different ways of receiving and responding, competing ways of experiencing and expressing the Christian faith within your congregation. There are different values and priorities. And a whole lot of that breaks along the lines of generation.

The Builders generation constructs an auditorium, installs carpet and pews, and calls it God’s House. They show up every Sunday in their suits and ties and nice dresses. And when they’re in church, they show respect.

The Baby Boomers have all the money. They pay for everything (thank you). And they want more: more programs, more buildings, more ministries; bigger and better and louder. When they’re in church, everything had better run smoothly.

The Gen Xers are the consumers. They wear blue jeans to church and bring their coffee with them. And that makes the Builders shudder. Their kids are loud. And that makes the Boomers cringe. When the Gen Xers are in church, they’re comfortable.

The Millennials and Generation Y and Generation Z and whoever is sitting with the youth group want experiences. They want action. They think saving whales is just as important as saving souls. They come to church wearing whatever they had on last night. And when they’re in church, they’re looking for something to do.

Bringing all these people together under one roof, together as one body, is hard. Because we think differently. We behave differently.

If we’re in the middle of a worship service and the electricity goes out and everything goes dark:

The Builders would sit in their pews and shake their heads. “Why aren’t we taking care of our building?” They’re embarrassed. Ashamed. And they sit there in the dark until 11:30, because that’s when church is over.

The Boomers would get on their phones and call an electrician and pay him the quadruple-overtime it would take to come over and get this power turned back on immediately. “Nobody move!”

The Gen Xers would call Home Depot and rent a generator. “That’s all we need.”

The Millennials would get up and leave. But they’d feed 94 homeless people and adopt twelve children on the way home.

Generations Y and Z would grab a guitar and head over to the park, sit under a shade tree, and sing a worship song they wrote at Taco Bueno the night before. They’d take a picture, post it on Instagram, and call it the best worship experience they’ve ever had.

There are differences between us every Sunday on every pew. How do we do this?

God’s Spirit tears down all the walls and brings us together and keeps us together. I can’t explain it; I don’t know how he does it. But he holds us together by his Spirit.

“You who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity…thus making peace… For through him we all have access to the Father by one Spirit.” ~Ephesians 2:13-22

Paul goes on to write in this chapter of Ephesians that we are all fellow citizens with God’s people and members together of God’s household. We belong to God and we belong to one another. We are being “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

We are joined together. We do life together. We rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn together. We bear one another’s burdens together. We consider the needs of others more important than our own together. God has brought us together and he’s not finished with us yet. He’s still working on us, changing us, transforming us, and empowering us by his Spirit to proclaim his Kingdom and the lordship of his Son by the ways we love each other and get along.

So, younger people, sing the older, slower songs you hate for the sake of the community. Pay attention to the Scripture readings, shake hands with the older guy in the back in order to bless others in the family. Older people, sing the newer songs you hate and, maybe, clap your hands for the sake of the community. Smile during the skit or the video clip, ask the younger guy down front about his car or his soccer team in order to bless others in the family.



Celebrating our Partnership

4 Amarillo, Central Church Family, Colossians 1 Comment »

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“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” ~Colossians 3:11

Religious barriers, cultural barriers, generational barriers, ethnic barriers — God’s Spirit eradicates all barriers between people in the body of Christ. The Kingdom of God does not clarify people by race or tribe or nationality or class. There’s no “us” and “them” in God’s Church.

By God’s grace, we do a pretty good job with this at Central. Pretty good. We know that all baptized confessors of Jesus as Lord are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are actively tearing down the walls that divide the Christian denominations in Amarillo. We believe that, in Christ, there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, or Baptist or Presbyterian or Church of Christ or Methodist, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Tonight at First Baptist, all four of our downtown churches are coming together to preach and practice Holy Spirit reconciliation in our third annual Thanksgiving Service. Our theme this year is “Celebrating our Partnership in the Gospel.” All four worship ministers are combining our respective praise teams and choirs to lead us in thanksgiving to our God. We’ll sing together, pray together, and read the Scriptures together. And all of Amarillo will be reminded again that Jesus is Lord, he’s fixing everything that’s broken, and we’ve got to get in on it!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, around which this event is planned, I am so grateful for the godly leaders of our four churches who recognize the powerful testimony to Christ our partnership offers. I’m thankful for the enthusiastic response of the men and women of our churches who so quickly have entered into the partnership with Gospel vision and energy. I’m thankful for the deep friendships that have been developed between Howard, Howie, Burt, and me. And I praise God for the limitless potential our partnership holds for further reconciliation among the fractured members of our Lord’s Body.

May the walls continue to come down. May the name of our Savior continue to be lifted tonight and forever more by our commitments to him and to one another. And may he continue to work in us and through us, together, to his eternal glory and praise.

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” ~Colossians 3:15



Romo to the Rescue

Cowboys No Comments »


Tony Romo has not thrown a pass in an NFL game nor has he seen a pass rush at NFL speed in two months. He is not riding to the rescue of the Dallas Cowboys. Not Sunday in Miami. Not in 2015. Not ever.

The same problems that marked this team before Romo broke his collarbone in week two are still there. When this team was at full strength before the opener against New York I picked them to go 8-8. Things have only gotten worse since then. Much worse.

Who’s the running back on this team? Well, against the Dolphins it’ll be Darren McFadden. Remember him? Seventeen carries for a total of 32 yards last week against Tampa. And he’s nursing a strained groin. Behind him? Three guys you’ve never heard of: Trey Williams, Rod Smith, and Robert Turbin. The next carry either of those guys gets Sunday will be his first ever for Dallas. Yeah, Miami’s run defense is terrible, next to last in the league. By this time tomorrow, they will have cracked the top twenty.

Who’s going to catch the ball? One reason I thought the Cowboys would fall back to .500 this year is because of Dez Bryant. Regardless of Jerry Wayne’s opinion, Dez has character issues. So when he signed the $70-million dollar deal this summer, I figured he was done. Mission accomplished. And I was right. In the first minute in the second quarter in the first ballgame, Dez had to spend time in the locker room receiving IV fluids to treat dehydration. Dehydration? In the second quarter? In the first game? At home? What was he doing all week? Not getting ready to play football. Since then, Dez has broken his foot and he’s currently hobbled with additional injuries to his knee and ankle. Miami seems to have problems covering tight ends, so Jason Witten may have a big game. But with no one to stretch the Dolphins D, and no one to run the ball, and Romo protecting a tender collarbone, Suh and company can pin their ears back. Everybody said last Monday that Matt Cassell had thrown his last pass of the season. Not so fast…

Even if Romo knocks all the rust off and the Cowboys offense scores a touchdown or two, he doesn’t play defense. Who’s going to stop the Dolphins? Who’s going to make that one stop in the fourth quarter with the game on the line? Who’s going to force the turnover? Who’s going to make the pick?

All of these areas were problems before the season started and now they’ve only gotten worse. That doesn’t take into account all the new problems that come with a seven game losing streak. Sideline eruptions and locker room blowups. Finger pointing. Accusations against the owner and the head coach. Charges of favoritism. Evidence of selfish plays and dogging-it give-ups.

For the Cowboys fans who still think a playoff spot is a possibility — there seem to be way too many of them — tomorrow’s game in Miami will hopefully be the final blow back to planet Earth reality. To even hope a 2-7 team can contend for a postseason slot is ludicrous; to say it out loud with such confidence as some are borders on clinical insanity.

Miami 17, Dallas 16.



Stuff in the Middle

Genesis, Grace, Holy Spirit, Matthew, Promise, Revelation, Story of God No Comments »

LamentB&WI don’t know where you are today. Maybe today you’ve already spent a few minutes alone in a chair by the window thinking, “I can’t believe this is my life.” Maybe last night you sat at your kitchen table and thought, “I can’t believe this is where I am.” Maybe you’ve been in a mess for the past couple of weeks. Or maybe you’ve been in a bad place for many years. Maybe sermons about transformed lives and blog posts about living by the Spirit discourage you. They might even depress you.

My life proclaiming the Kingdom of God? My life being a declaration of the lordship of Jesus? That’s not my life. Not today, not ever. My life is too messed up. I’m too far gone.

We all think we’re supposed to have an undefeated season. “This was going to be my year. This year everything was going to get worked out. This was going to be a great year. I was going to get everything on track and this was going to be a wonderful year. My family is going to be undefeated this year. My marriage. My career. My relationship with God. This is the year!”

And it’s not.

I’m sorry.

I want you to think about Judah in the book of Genesis. He’s the son of Jacob. His name means “praise God.” And he had sex with his daughter-in-law. He didn’t mean to, he said. He thought she was a prostitute. He had sex with his daughter-in-law, he left behind his keys and his wallet, and he got busted. It was a huge scandal.

Think about King David. The glorious king of God’s united nation. Personally chosen by God. David intentionally blows up seven of the ten commandments in one terrible weekend.

Think about Peter. The very first apostle chosen by Jesus. He publicly, loudly, and with great religious curses betrayed our Lord three times the night before the crucifixion. Told everybody he’d never met Jesus.

Can you imagine Peter standing in the room while the people were putting the Bible together? Can you see Peter looking over their shoulders? “Hey, can y’all just go from me throwing my nets down and leaving everything to follow Jesus to those letters I wrote at the end? Can you just cut out all that stuff in the middle?”

Can you imagine David in that same room? “Could y’all just skip from me killing Goliath to the geneaology of Jesus in Matthew? Would you please leave out all that stuff in the middle?”

Judah also is looking over the shoulders of the people putting together the Bible. “Um… can you go from my birth in Genesis 29 to those last words in Revelation that say the Messiah is the Lion of Judah? Could you delete all that stuff in the middle?”

That’s not filler stuff there in the middle. The stuff in the middle is there for a reason. To show us. To teach us.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t believe this is my life.” Hey, let me tell you, your life’s not over! If you’re reading this right now (and you are!), the last lines of your life have not yet been written.

By the power of his Spirit, our Lord Jesus is standing right now between what is and what can be. He stands between what can be and what it can mean for generations of people you’ve never met. Jesus also stands right now today between what is and what won’t be, too.

Your life can be a powerful testimony to the reality of the lordship of Jesus and the eternal Kingdom of God. I don’t care where you are right now or what’s going on, your life can be a proclamation. Not by your power. But by the power of the Spirit and the grace of our God through Jesus Christ.



Acting in Line with the Gospel

Galatians, Holy Spirit, Story of God No Comments »

JesusDisciplesFeetI’ve been preaching all week that our transformed lives are an important part of our Christian proclamation. The new reality that Jesus is Lord and that the Kingdom of God has been established is best declared by holy lives. The lordship of Jesus ought to radically impact the things we do, the things we say, the ways we think, our relationships with people, and our connections to stuff. Not following rules and commands. Not believing the right way about all the right things. Living a changed life is what’s required.

That’s why when Paul encourages Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave as a brother, he appeals to the love of Christ in Philemon, not to law or philosophy or tradition or culture. That’s why Paul prohibits lawsuits among Christ followers: it’s better to be wronged, to be cheated, than to dilute the proclamation that Jesus is Lord, not your desire to assert your rights or to get what you want. When Peter refuses to eat with Gentiles whenever any Jews might be around, Paul calls him on it: “You’re not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel.” Deitrich Bonhoeffer had a practice in his Confessing Church: No one in this community of faith can mention the name of anybody else in this community of faith, even to say something nice, unless that other person is in the room to hear it.” That threw the potential for gossip right out the window — even gossip in the name of prayer.

The truth of the Gospel — Jesus is Lord, he’s fixing everything, and we’ve got to get in on it — informs and shapes our lives.

Proclamation means bearing witness, giving testimony. If you’ve not experienced a changed life, then the Kingdom of God and the lordship of Christ is only a theory for you. You don’t know if it works or not. If you’re not transformed, how do you know it works? If the Gospel’s not transforming you, how do you know if it’ll transform anything? How are you going to proclaim?



Holy Spirit Living

2 Thessalonians, Holy Spirit, Mark, Story of God No Comments »


“We ought to always thank God for you, children loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” ~2 Thessalonians 2:13

We’ve got a lot of rules. Bunches of rules. And while laws and regulations and commandments and edicts do matter, they’re not the main thing. You can tell people they have to obey the rule to be generous. But if someone gives you a present only because he’s obeying a rule or doing his duty, the glory of gift-giving, the beauty in blessing another person because your life is changed, is lost. God came to us in Christ Jesus, God has poured out his Holy Spirit, not to give us more rules, but to change our lives.

The rich young man runs up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was keeping all the rules, right? Jesus starts listing the ten commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal…” And this guy interrupts Jesus, “Yes, I’m obeying all the rules. I always have. What else do I need to do?”

He’s keeping all the rules. But he senses, “There’s got to be more.”

And Jesus says, “Yeah, there is.”

“‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” ~Mark 10:21

This young man wants his life to be right. He wants to live correctly now so he can live with God forever in the future. He knows he lacks something. And Jesus says, “Yeah, you need to turn everything inside out.” Your whole life needs to become part of a larger, outward-looking orientation. You need to put God’s Kingdom first. You need to put the needs of your neighbors ahead of your own — especially your poor neighbors. That’s the challenge. It’s not just add a couple more commandments to set the moral bar a little higher, but to become a different kind of person altogether. Jesus says, “You need a transformed life.”

Notice, just a few verses up, in the same chapter, some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes back to God’s original, divine intention for male-female relationships: “If you’re married, stay together.” Right after the rich young man story, James and John ask Jesus if they can sit by him on his throne in the coming Kingdom. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes right to the heart of God’s original, divine intention for how human power needs to work: “If you want to be great, you need to be a servant. I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.”

As N. T. Wright points out, in this one chapter Jesus talks about sex and money and power and reframes all of it, not in terms of rules and regulations, but in terms of character. In terms of a changed life. Jesus calls us to see ourselves as having a role in the Story of God. And that role is to proclaim the reality of his lordship by the kinds of lives we lead.

Well, Allan I have to cheat just a little bit on my taxes this year. Just a little. I’m not doing anything lots of other people don’t do. But I have to. We haven’t made enough money the past three years. I have to either fudge the lines a little bit on my return or overbill my customers for the past six months. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. In God’s name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have a choice. How about downsizing your house or skipping the summer vacation? How about canceling the membership or selling a car? You’ve got lots of options that would declare Jesus is Lord over your money, over every dime and penny that goes into and out of your pockets.

My girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yes, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex, Allan; we can’t wait that long. I’m a 20-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have to have sex or I have to go to pornography. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. In the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit, you have lots of choices. How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created for his holy purposes?

I’m going to call the police to come run the homeless people away from the park by my house. Either that, or I’m going to start a neighborhood petition to get the ordinance changed. I’ve got to do one of the two. It’s such an eyesore and it’s not safe. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. How about praying with and for those people? How about making them a plate of food or delivering to them a couple of blankets? There are lots of ways to serve instead of be served, lots of ways to give up your rights instead of asserting your rights, lots of ways to proclaim that Jesus is Lord over your power, over all the ways you might use your influence.

God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to change us so that all of our lives can be brought under the lordship of Jesus.

Proclamation means bearing witness, giving testimony. If you’ve not experienced a changed life, then the Kingdom of God and the lordship of Christ is only a theory for you. You don’t know if it works or not. If you’re not transformed by the Gospel, how do you know it works? If the Gospel’s not transforming you, how do you know it’ll transform anything? How are you going to proclaim?