The Good News

A Texas Longhorns football legend and the best two-way player Darrell Royal said he ever coached died yesterday. Tommy Nobis, a two-time All America and the only sophomore starter on the Longhorns’ 1963 National Championship team, passed away at 74. In my view, he is the greatest football player to ever wear the number 60, edging out contemporary linebacking cohort Chuck Bednarik. Nobis played both offensive guard and middle linebacker for the ‘Horns for three years, leading Texas to a 27-5 overall record and that national title. He was named All Southwest Conference twice, he was the team MVP twice, and in 1965 Nobis won the Maxwell Award as college football’s best all around player, the Outland Trophy as college football’s best lineman, and finished seventh in the Heisman vote. The expansion Atlanta Falcons made Nobis their overall number one pick in franchise history, outbidding the AFL’s Houston Oilers who also drafted him number one. And in that first NFL season, Nobis racked up an average of 21 tackles per game and won the league’s Rookie of the Year honors. He played in Atlanta for eleven years, leading the team in tackles for nine of those years, making the Pro Bowl in five of those seasons, and earning the nickname “Mr. Falcon.” From Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio to the College Football Hall of Fame and the cover of Life Magazine and the Falcons’ Ring of Honor, Tommy Nobis was the consistent picture of rich character, immense talent, and deep loyalty. God bless Tommy Nobis and his family.

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There’s a difference between advice and news. Advice is concerned about what you should do; news is a report about what’s already been done. Advice tells you to make something happen; news tells you something’s already happened and compels you to respond. Advice says it’s all up to you to act; news says someone else has already acted.

Let’s say there’s an invading army coming to town and they’re bent on killing all of you and destroying everything you have. What you need is advice. You need advisors. You need someone to explain, “OK, we need to dig the trenches down here and put the snipers up there. We need to move our troops in that direction and place the tanks over in this direction. We need to do these things to be saved.”

But what if a great and powerful king intercepts the invading army and destroys it? What does the town need then? You don’t need advisors, you need messengers. And the Greek word for messengers is angelos: angels. And these messengers don’t say, “Here’s what you need to do to be saved.” They say, “I bring you good news of great joy that’s for all the people! Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ, the Lord!”

In other words, “Stop running, stop hiding, stop building fortresses, stop stockpiling weapons. Stop trying to save yourself! The King has already done it! The King has come to save you!”

Something has happened, something has been done, and it totally changes everything.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people!

Allan

The Light of Life

We’ve posted the video from last month’s 4 Amarillo Thanksgiving worship service on our church website here. If you were a member of the combined choir, there are some really good shots throughout of you singing — some up close! You might especially check out the 5:30 mark where we sing “When We All Get to Heaven,” highlighted by all four worship ministers singing a middle verse as a quartet. Kevin Schaffer leads the choir and congregation in the closing song, “By Our Love,” at the 49:00 mark. And my 21-minute sermon — yes, 21- total minutes! — is at the 28:00 mark. What a wonderful, wonderful night. I praise God for the unique fellowship and undeniable witness of our four churches and for the distinct honor to serve right in the middle of it.

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You know, light isn’t really what we see; light is the very element by which we see everything else. You walk into a dark room and flip the switch, you don’t really see the light as much as you see the coffee table leg that’ll kill your toes and the edge of the wall that’ll take out your kneecap. The light allows you to see reality, to see what’s really happening.

In Jesus Christ, our light, we see clearly what God is up to in the world. We see God at work forgiving and healing, repairing broken lives, bringing people back from the dead, feeding the hungry, defending the accused. We see God restoring and reconciling, calming the sea, driving out the demons, turning empty jars into overflowing containers of eternal joy. God is the only One who can fix things and he’s come here in Jesus Christ to do just that. He’s moved here.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:14

There’s a reason we put candles in the windows and hang lights on our houses and string lights around the trees at Christmas. May the brightness of those lights remind us that the light has dawned — and it is a great light. May the glow of those lights point to the forgiveness, the righteousness, and the holiness that is ours in Christ Jesus. And may the beauty of the lights open our eyes to the matchless wonder of God’s great love for us.

Peace,

Allan

The Heart of Christmas

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” ~Isaiah 9:2

This is a very well-known Christmas text, a famous Christmas text that speaks to the coming of the Christ. And it describes the condition the Christ is coming into as darkness. People are walking in darkness. People are living in the land of darkness. We read this a lot at Christmas, but we don’t ever read the verses right before it. The end of the previous chapter actually tells us why the world is so plunged in darkness:

“When people tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?… If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn… They will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” ~Isaiah 8:19-22

People are looking toward the earth for help. Men and women are looking toward themselves for wisdom and salvation.

Yes, we’re living in darkness; yes, things are really messed up; but we can fix it ourselves! There’s poverty and hunger, greed and lust; but if we’ll just all look out for each other and learn how to give more, we can change it! There’s broken lives, broken hearts, and broken relationships; there’s twisted bodies and warped minds and institutional vileness and moral evil all around us; but if we just vote for the right people, if we just pass the right laws, if we just use the right technology, if we just invest in the right companies, we can overcome it!

Listen, the message from the Hallmark holiday movies and the holiday music and the Coke commercials and emails and billboards is that we have it within us. The love and goodwill that exists in each of us is enough to create a world of unity and peace. In other words, we have the light inside us. And if we just work together, we can eradicate the darkness of the world. If we’ll all come together, we can overcome poverty and injustice, violence and evil. With what’s inside us, we can build a world of love and joy and peace.

Really? Can we?

We can’t save ourselves. Have you noticed?

We’ve been trying for centuries. We are completely unable to save ourselves. In fact, believing that we can save ourselves — that education or politics or hard work or some system or ideology  can save us — has only led to more darkness!

See, the Christmas message gives us a very realistic way of looking at life. At it’s core, Christmas is very unsentimental. It’s not mushy or fantasy. Christmas is not, “Cheer up! If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place!” Christmas is not optimistic thinking like, “We can fix the whole world if we try really hard.” And Christmas is not pessimistic doom, either, like, “Things are awful and they’re getting worse and nothing’s ever going to change.”

The heart of Christmas is this: Things really are terrible and we cannot heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark. Everywhere. But, there is great hope.

On those living in deep darkness, a light has dawned.

It’s not, “A great light has sprung up from the world” or “The light has come from the people.” It’s ON the people, a light has dawned. ON the world, a light has come. The light has come from outside us. The hope has come to us from outside the world. Christ Jesus is that salvation light. That light is the Holy Son of God.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not conquered it… The true light that gives life to all people was coming into the world.” ~John 1:4-9

The true light was coming. The eternal light that gives life to all people has come. The one light that shines in the darkness and overcomes the darkness — the light from above, the light from outside us has come!

And we celebrate that light at Christmas. But that’s not really the right word. We stare at it dumbstruck. We’re lost in wonder at it. We fall down on our knees in awe of it. God himself comes to us in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ to provide for us what we simply do not possess, to do for us what we could never do ourselves. He brings to us from outside of us holiness and righteousness and peace.

Peace,

Allan

Why Christmas?

 

Christmas is a unique holiday. What separates Christmas from all the other holidays is that Christmas is the only Christian holiday that’s also a major secular holiday at the same time. It’s the culture’s biggest holiday, but it’s also religious. So we’ve got millions and millions of people celebrating Christmas, but in two different ways. It’s strange. And it brings a little bit of discomfort.

Christians are noticing that more and more of the public expressions of Christmas are avoiding any mention of the Christ. It’s a Winter Festival and a Happy Holiday, but it’s not a Merry Christmas. It’s a time for family, it’s a time for giving and joy and peace, but not worship. Christians notice that. The background music in the stores is less Joy to the World and more Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. The Culture and Media Institute claim that 98.7% of all Christmas stories on network TV do not mention Jesus. They talk about holiday shopping trends and holiday travel alerts and the economy, the weather, and the food. But only 1.3% of the news stories about Christmas mention Christ. That bothers some Christians.

On the flip side, the non-religious among us complain that the Church is intruding on the season, forcing its beliefs and practices on people who don’t care. A column in last Sunday’s Amarillo Globe News pointed this out. An increasing number of non-Christians are saying that religious expressions during the holidays are offensive and oppressive. They want the songs without the baby in the manger. They want the joy and peace without the religious symbolism.

It can be a little confusing. It can lead to lots of questions. And those questions are all good questions.

Why Christmas? Why is it such a big deal, why is it so emotionally charged? Where did it come from? Why do we spend so much time and energy hanging up lights right after Thanksgiving? What’s the connection? Why do we spend so much money on so many presents? Who started that? Why do we think about the needy more during Christmas? Why do people feel more charitable during December?

Is Christmas a religious holiday or not? And does it really matter?

Can’t we just have Christmas without religion?

Well, I mean, you could. But it doesn’t really work. All those ancient connections are there. It’s the foundation of the holiday. And, yeah, we believe it matters. And we believe it’s all actually really good news!

We’re beginning a three-part series tomorrow morning at Central: “Why Christmas?” If you’re in Amarillo, why not join us at 10:15 Sunday mornings. If you’re not in the greater Amarillo area, I’ll be posting a lot of what we’re preaching in this space in the coming days.

Peace,

Allan

Ready for “Why Christmas?”

The gifts are wrapped. The candles are ready. The stage is set.

Please join us at Central this Sunday as we kick off our three-part series “Why Christmas?”

I’ll post a full preview here tomorrow. Or you can go here right now.

Peace,

Allan

Praying for Israel

I’m not concerned about the politics of the U.S. president’s speech yesterday related to moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and declaring that city the eternal capitol of that nation. Frankly, I don’t understand the politics. Why does the U.S. insist on being so tangled up with Israel? Is it oil interests in the Middle East? Is it the money from Jewish-Americans who bankroll the re-election campaigns of the politicians? I don’t get it and it’s not my concern.

I’m also not concerned about the distorted theologies out there claiming that if the U.S. looks out for Israel and protects Israel and pursues the political purposes of Israel, then somehow God above will smile on America and we’ll all prosper and maybe Jesus will return. I don’t get it. The promise in the Torah is clear, from Genesis 12 on, that God’s salvation is for all nations, that the Lord is interested in rescuing all peoples. The New Testament tells us over and over again that the Church is Israel, we’re grafted in. It’s bigger than man-made boundaries and worldly politics and armies. The Church is the political entity; our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God. Our Lord is gathering all people to himself in Christ Jesus. He doesn’t love or favor any one nation or people any more or any less than he does the people of Israel.

My concern today is with the people I know and love in that great land.

I emailed Anton Farah yesterday, a little ahead of the anticipated violence that has resulted from the U.S. government’s move. Anton is our faithful guide when we take our every-other-year trips to Israel. Anton led 15 of Bill Humble’s 20 trips to the Holy Land and blessed me by introducing me to his dear friend and guide. Anton was born and raised in Nazareth, a Palestinian and a Christian; a wise and humble man, full of grace and dry humor, brimming with knowledge and strength, full of God’s Holy Word and God’s Holy Spirit. I love Anton and his wife and sons.

I told him yesterday I was thinking about him and praying for him in advance of what’s going to be a rough few days. I was praying that God will bless him and the people he loves with peace and protection. I was praying that there would be no violence (D’oh!). I was praying that he and his family would be safe.

He emailed back that he’s in the middle of a seven day tour and is scheduled over the next four days to be in the West Bank, Jericho, Hebron, Arad, and Shechem. He expressed gratitude for the prayers and well wishes and told me he is also praying that there will be safety and no troubles. He’s not scared. He’s been through much worse. He thinks and reacts on a much higher plane.

I’ve been checking in on the violence and protests throughout the day. The pictures and videos of protestors starting fires and throwing rocks and the Israeli police answering with tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades are unnerving. It’s so sad. And dark. I don’t have a full grasp of the complicated politics — I’m not sure anyone does. I don’t understand the misguided theology — it’s wrong. But I do know some of the people in Israel — people on both sides of the ancient conflict — and I love them. And God loves them. All of them.

We’re scheduled to take a group of 32 to Israel the first week of June this coming year, the largest group I’ve ever led to the Holy Land! My middle daughter, Valerie, is making her first trip with us to Israel and I can’t wait for her to meet Anton and Kando and Shipley and all the beautiful men and women and children of that country. I can’t wait for her to see and experience all that our God has done and is doing there.

I’m a little concerned that the date for the next signing of the waiver that keeps the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv is scheduled for that same June. Whether the American president signs the waiver at that time or chooses to actually move the embassy — either way — I’m worried that it’ll spark more violence and our trip will be in jeopardy. I hope not.

In the meantime, I would ask you to pray for the people of Israel. Don’t spend a lot of time praying and talking and tweeting and texting and forwarding emails about the politics or the theology of the current situation over there. Pray for the people. Think holy thoughts about the men, women, and children in Israel.

Pray for peace — not peace on U.S. terms, not peace according to your political party’s definition, not peace that’s brought about by threat and force. Pray for the eternal peace of Jesus Christ, his will, in his way, in his timing, to his glory.

Shalom,

Allan

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