Little Bear in the Big Apple

We told all three daughters years ago that during the summer after their high school graduations we would take each of them for a week long vacation anywhere they want to go in the contiguous United States. Our third daughter just graduated and we just took our third trip to New York City.

Of course, the trips have all been really different. Whitney scheduled hers around a four-game Rangers-Yankees series at Yankee Stadium. Valerie just wanted to see a lot of Broadway shows. And Carley this past week wanted to spend most of her time at The Met, Central Park, and shopping on Fifth Avenue.

Carrie-Anne and Carley and I rode a lot of trains and walked a lot of miles. Over the Brooklyn Bridge and back on our first night in town with a giant New York style pizza at Juliana’s in-between. Throwing up the Delta with the Wall Street bull. We strolled the unique High Line park and ate at the Hard Rock Café in Times Square. We saw Wicked and the Lion King, took in medieval paintings and 3,000-year-old sculptures at The Metropolitan Museum, learned how to really jaywalk, and got to know Grand Central Station like the backs of our hands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, of course, we tracked down the Seinfeld diner. It’s not Monk’s; it’s Tom’s Restaurant. But we had breakfast there and took a lot of pictures and traded a lot of one-liners from our favorite sitcom. We also found the Friends fountain in Central Park. I was a little underwhelmed — I thought there’d be more water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We toured Rockefeller Center from the top down, shopped at Chelsea Market where Carley found a vintage Aerosmith concert T-shirt, gasped at the price of diamond jewelry at Tiffany’s, and marveled at a twelve-foot T-Rex made of Coach purses and bags. We cheered for the Broadway wannabes at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and saw the famous Naked Cowboy from a distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The people are not nearly as friendly and you really have to apply yourself to locate a Dr Pepper. But New York City is a wonderful place to visit. It’s impossible to run out of things to do or see, whether people-watching in the train stations, staring at Picassos in the Met, or meandering through a nearly 300-year-old cemetery. We went hard from early in the morning until late every night and had an absolute ball.  And when our plane landed in Amarillo at 12-noon on Saturday, we got to Abuelo’s as fast as we could for that one thing you certainly cannot find in New York.

Peace,

Allan

 

Salvation Through the Promise

All the add-ons and extras are being ripped down on the west side of our church building at Central, preparing for the construction of the new façade and entrance. The stairs and foyer and overhang in front of the offices are gone and the porch and foyer in front of the Gathering Place exist no more. It’s loud and there’s a lot of dirt. The whole building shakes with every blow of the heavy equipment against the concrete foundation. The daily changes are noticeable around here now — on the outside and the inside. Things are falling off the walls in Vickie’s and Gail’s offices.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.” ~Galatians 3:16

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3

This promise reveals and establishes God’s universal intent and plan for salvation: all peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham. It’s universal. It’s for the whole world. God calls Abraham out of the blue and says, “I will bless you and you will be a blessing. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Paul says Abraham believed that promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was saved by believing in God’s promise, by trusting in God’s Word. That’s how the covenant was established.

Abraham didn’t make a covenant with God; God made a covenant with Abraham. God did not lay down any conditions for Abraham to meet. In fact — you can look it up! — when God ratifies the covenant in Genesis 15, Abraham is sound asleep. It’s a covenant of pure grace.

God’s people are chosen by grace. God establishes the relationship by his own initiative apart from any law. They’re his people before there is such a thing as the law. The promise came first. The relationship came first. God’s people never obeyed the law in order to be saved. God had already saved them by his promise. There’s a big difference between “Do this and I’ll save you” and “I’ll save you so you can do this.”

Salvation is founded on God’s promise. And that promise is unchangeable.

What God promised Abraham is eternal. It’s irrevocable. God’s promise can’t be nullified, modified, or altered in any way — not by anybody’s personal preferences, not by any group’s cultural or national agendas, not even the Law of Moses can change God’s promise.

“The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” ~Galatians 3:17-18

The law is really a latecomer to the salvation scene. The law doesn’t change the eternal arrangement God made with Abraham and his descendants. The promise is unchangeable. So the way we relate to God today is the same was it’s always been and always will be: through faith, not through works of the law. God saves people when they trust his Word, when they believe his promise, not when they keep all the details of the law.

The law is not God’s most important revelation. It’s the promise. God’s eternal promise and our faith in that promise to save is the basis of everything God has planned for us and his creation. Faith, not works, is the foundation of our righteous relationship with God and with each other.

In Romans 7, Paul says the law is holy, righteous, and good. But we are unholy, unrighteous, and not good. The law doesn’t make us sinners; it reveals to us that we are sinners. The law is a holy mirror that shows us we have dirty faces. But you don’t wash your face with a mirror. We are cleansed, we are made holy and righteous, and good, by the faith of Christ and our faith in Christ — the fulfillment of God’s great promise.

Peace,

Allan

People of Promise

What we believe about how we are saved matters. What we think saves us matters a great deal. The apostle Paul spends all of Galatians 3 reminding us that we are saved by God’s promise, not by God’s law. And he thinks it matters a lot.

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed…” 3:16

“If the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise…” 3:18

“The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe…” 3:22

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” 3:29

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purposes for us. We are no longer condemned by the law, we’re not threatened by the law; the era of the law is over! The promise is fulfilled and the new age of righteousness and grace and freedom in Christ has begun! We are the people of promise.

God’s promises are not like the promises you and I make and receive every day. This is God. It’s his promise. No fine print, no out clauses, no surprises. God doesn’t make promises with his fingers crossed. He promises to save us, knowing he would have to die to make it happen. And — praise the Lord! — he did!

We are not people of the law. We are a people of promise. And that matters. It matters big time. If we think we’re saved by law or by rules or works or behaving correctly, then we’re going to treat people harshly. We’ll be arrogant and judgmental. We’ll be unbending and unforgiving. We’ll be nervous and unsure and we’ll fight and divide over the weirdest little things. And we’ll turn off a lot of people.

When we know we’re saved by the gracious promises of God, we’ll be a people of mercy and love. We’ll give others the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be flexible and forgiving. We’ll seek to bless other people. We’ll be kind and hospitable. Our words will be encouraging, our actions will be inviting. We’ll be unified by a focus on the really big important things and we’ll inspire a lot of people.

We are not people of the law. We are not people of the rules or people of the regulations or people of the guilt trip or people of the coercion. We are not people of correct interpretations or proper practices. None of those things save us! Those are the things we use in order to gain control. Or to be more prominent. Or better. Or right. Those are the things that divide us and separate us. Those are the things that lead to jealousy and anger and strife and condemnation.

We are free. Free from guilt. Free from condemnation. Free from punishment. We are rescued from the present evil age according to the will of God our Father to whom be glory for ever and ever! Amen!

The Good News today is that your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal life does not depend on rules or regulations or interpretations or practices. Your righteousness rests solely in the unchanging promise of our loving God.

The Bible says no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “yes” in Christ. Every one of God’s promises — all of his blessings, all of his hope and peace and joy, everything God wants for you, everything he created you to be and to have — are available to you if you’ll put your faith in Christ.

Peace,

Allan

Ignite in Action

 

 

 

 

 

It rained an inch last night — praise God! — but that is not slowing down the construction crews at our Central church campus. Pioneer Construction is today using wet saws to cut through the brick on the west side of our building that will become part of the doorway to our new children’s play space. And huge trucks and graders are spreading a bunch of white stuff on the far west parking lot. It’s way too early to start asking, “When are they going to be finished?” Don’t even think about it. We’re just getting started.

 

 

 

 

 

Because of the Ignite Initiative and our church’s commitment to making a positive impact on our local community, we’ve just given another $25,000 to Martha’s Home. The money is being used to fund the salary of the new staff social worker, Catherine O’Day. This new position, initiated by last year’s Central donation, means more women and children are receiving more services more quickly — rehabilitation, counseling, education, and other resources. Women and kids coming out of homelessness, abuse, and addiction are being brought into Christian community and getting more of the help they so desperately need.

God bless Connie and Catherine and everybody who walks through the doors at Martha’s Home.

Peace,

Allan

4 Unity of Spirit and Purpose

I’ve told you before how much I love our annual “4 Amarillo” week. This past week was our fifth annual week of service projects, worship, and ice cream with the combined membership of the Christian families at First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Polk Street United Methodist, and us Church of Christers at Central. And it just never gets old.

This year we came together to host Bible block parties for the kids at the Astoria Park apartments in the San Jacinto neighborhood and at the Baptist church community center in the Eastridge neighborhood. And the more hearty among us transformed a vacant lot on South Kentucky Street into a community garden.

 

 

 

 

 

What a blessed joy to work side-by-side with these faithful disciples of Jesus. Our congregations worship a little differently, our churches are structured a little differently, and our denominations have different understandings of some key points of doctrine. But none of that keeps us from being united in spirit and purpose, in working together so that more of God’s will is done in Amarillo as it is in heaven, and pointing as one people to our Lord Jesus as the hope of the world.

I thank God for the blessings of being at Central in Amarillo, Texas at this exact time in history. I praise him that my children are being raised in a church that sees beyond our worship preferences and doctrinal differences and looks to the unity of all followers of Christ. I’m so grateful and blessed to participate in these ecumenical partnerships that we might not be able to pull off in many other places. And I hope and pray our “4 Amarillo” alliance serves as an inspiring witness to our city and beyond that our God really is who he says he is, that he’s bigger than all our differences, and that his Son truly is the Prince of Peace.

I miss having Burt Palmer around. The senior pastor at Polk Street has become a dear friend to me. His quick humor and dry wit, his awkward bike shorts, those nasty half-water-half-diet-coke cocktails he ordered at Burger Bar, his focused leadership, his faithful encouragement and spot-on advice, his commitment to our “4 Amarillo” partnership — all of that matters deeply to me. But the Lord has moved him to Kingwood down in Houston (If you want to be a blessing to Burt, you might send him mosquito nets, a case of OFF!, and a dehumidifier). Burt was a vital part of our friendship among the four pastors and an ardent pusher of “4 Amarillo.” I jokingly told the Polk Street UMC leadership group at one of their meetings that their new guy would have to agree to eat with us once a month and pick up the tab every fourth time. They assured me that their commitment to “4 Amarillo” was bigger and went deeper than Burt’s presence in their pulpit.

Wow. That’s a great thing, huh?

My hope is that what we’re doing together among our four churches is much bigger and deeper than any of us; that this kind of unity and purpose as a testimony to the truth of Christ Jesus transcends all our personalities and leadership styles and subsequent generations of disciples; that this somehow serves as an example for other groups of churches to follow in the future, all over the Texas panhandle, throughout the Southwest, and around the world.

Peace,

Allan

Deconstruction Begins

Construction has been scheduled to start today, June 18, on our building and grounds here at Central. But what’s happening can only be described as deconstruction!

The construction fences are up and the walking lane on 15th street has been marked off with barricades. But the rest of the work today is about tearing things down and ripping things out. The handicap parking signs and poles have been dug up out of the asphalt, the main church sign has been removed from its post, and the downspouts have been disconnected from the building. The equipment is being moved in and readied for all the demolition that should start in the morning.

And then the actual construction begins on our west parking lots, the new west entrance, the expanded welcoming center and ministry space, the indoor playscape, and the chapel steps. It’ll be a little messy and a little inconvenient and very exciting. Finally, an obvious main entrance! Finally, nice landscaped parking closer to the building! Finally, an indoor play space for our kids!

 

 

 

 

As construction begins this week, we’re asking three things of our Central church family:

Practice Patience – We need you to park in the designated areas and enter and exit through the clearly marked doors. You’re going to need to pay attention to the signs and the volunteers. Things will change every couple of months as we transition work areas — it may get stressful. We’re doing everything we can to communicate and to make this go as smoothly as possible. Keeping your eye on the goal of the finished product and encouraging others will help.

Say Your Prayers – Our campus gets used every day by those doing Gospel work in our city and by those who do not yet know Christ. Thank God for the facilities we have that serve as such an effective ministry outpost in Amarillo. Ask the Lord to bless us during this construction period, that those ministries can be expanded to his glory.

Finish Your Ignite Pledge – Your faithful giving truly reflects the nature of our Lord who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich. In the words of the apostle Paul, you are excelling not only in faith, speech, knowledge, and love — you are excelling in the grace of giving. Keep it up! We’re going to need every penny of what was pledged!

The Christians at Central are to be commended — no, praised! — for their extravagant generosity and for the faithful ways they embrace the ministry God is doing through Central in our neighborhood, throughout our city, and around the world.

May our eyes be open and our hearts in tune with what God has planned for us together the rest of this year and beyond.

Peace,

Allan

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