God & Money

Jesus, Matthew, Possessions 1 Comment »

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” ~Matthew 6:24

Senator Phil Gramm once famously said, “I’ve got more guns than I need, but not more than I want.” Most of us might be able to say the same thing about our TVs, our cars, our computers, our books, our bank accounts, or the square feet in our house. More than we need; not more than we want.

Our Lord teaches that we are not to store up treasures for ourselves on earth but, instead, to store up treasures in heaven. He says not to worry about food and drink or clothes and cars, that our faithful Father will provide everything we need. He says to focus on the Kingdom, to seek first and foremost the Kingdom, and then all the stuff we really need will be given to us.

To chase after the things of this world, to spend our time and money and resources securing material things, working at a job we hate to pursue things that won’t last, isn’t a matter of not trusting that God will give us what we need. But it may be a matter of not trusting that God will give us what we want. And what we want seems to be very, very important.

Myself included.

There’s a group of young men in Abilene who are taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously. They have decided to give up the pursuit of material things in order to live together in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town and serve the community with God’s love and grace. Our Bible classes here at Central recently watched a video interview with three young men who are living in this Allelon Community. And I was immediately struck by how my first thoughts about these guys were negative. Why was I feeling negatively about these men who are living out in such concrete ways the teachings of our Lord? They’re sharing everything — the rent, the bills, the food, the clothes, everything — so they can work less and spend more time in Gospel relationship blessing their neighbors. Yet, I found myself judging the blankets hanging over their windows in place of curtains. I caught myself judging the holes in their T-shirts, the unmowed grass in the yard, the unkempt hair, and the terribly messy living room.

Ha. It’s easy to judge others. It’s much more difficult to evaluate my own life as it stands in contrast to Jesus’ teachings.

How might these guys judge me if they were to see the inside of my house? “Why does he have four TVs?” “Why are there four cars in his driveway?” “How many of these shirts in his closet does this dude actually wear?”

The exhortations in the Sermon on the Mount are not intended to bring us down. They’re not unrealistic expectations for a disciple of Jesus. And they’re not commands as much as they are encouragements. Reminders. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer on this particular passage, we have here either a crushing burden, which holds out no hope, or else it is the quintessence of the Gospel, which brings the promise of freedom and perfect joy. Jesus does not tell us what we ought to do but cannot; he tells us what God has given us and promises to continue giving us, so we can live lavishly in him.

It’s not “Stop chasing material things! Stop worrying about your food! Stop hoarding money and buying more stuff!” It’s more like, “Look at everything you have in Christ Jesus! Why are you chasing material things? Look at all the blessings and promises that belong to you in Jesus!Why are you worrying about food? Look at the boundless love of your God! Why are you hoarding money and buying more stuff?”

Come on, I love God. I serve God.  I like to buy things, but I’m not serving money.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~Matthew 6:21

What would the Allelon boys say about you if they toured your house? I’m just asking…

Peace,

Allan

Not That We Loved God…

1 John, Incarnation No Comments »

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” ~1 John 4:10

Jesus is not just a messenger or an ambassador sent from God to the earth. Jesus is actually God in the flesh! Through his Christ, God actually joins us and lives with us on this planet. He’s not just standing a long way off and announcing the way of salvation through a representative. God actually became a man!

And we see in this “Emmanuel,” this “God with us,” our Lord’s deep desire for community. We see his longing for eternal relationship and communion with his people. And we experience our God’s love.

Jesus, in essence, says, “I am God.” Look at me. When you see me, you see the Father. When you know me, you know the Father.

Jesus reveals God. Jesus allows us to see God, to experience God. His compassion shows us God’s compassion; his gentleness shows us God’s gentleness; His mercy shows us God’s mercy; Jesus’ forgiveness shows us God’s forgiveness. And his death on the cross reveals very clearly to us the depth of God’s great love.

If God so loved the world, that means he loves you, too. And it’s that deep love for you that motivates his every action. There’s nothing our God does that is not compelled by his love for you. There’s nothing he allows to happen to you that is not driven by his foremost goal of living in eternal communion with you.

God loves you. Forever.

Peace,

Allan

Bring It With You

Worship No Comments »

I want to ask you to stop saying something to your brothers and sisters in your church. If you’re a preacher or a prayer leader or a communion guy table talker or a call to worship person or an announcement maker in your congregation, I want to ask you to consider never again saying the following in front of your congregation:

“Let’s clear our minds of our worldly troubles and just focus on our worship.”
“Let’s put everything out of our thoughts and concentrate only on the sacrifice of Jesus.”
“Let’s get out of our heads everything that’s happened this week and just think about why we’re here.”
“Let’s leave the cares of the world out there and turn our attention to God.”

These are certainly well-intentioned phrases uttered by well-meaning men and women in our Christian assemblies. And I know most of us have heard them in church for most of our lives. But they don’t make any sense. They’re not only impractical suggestions, they’re actually contrary to what our Father asks us to do.

Truthfully, it’s impossible for most people to put their struggles out of their minds. How do you ask somebody to not think about their deep loss or their painful trial or their debilitating disease? Imagine for a moment…

“You want me to just forget about the fact that I’m in a wheelchair while we pray?”
“My wife’s got cancer; you want me to just put that aside while we sing Firm Foundation?”
“I’m supposed to block out the fact that I’ve been out of work for four months or that my daughter is in rehab or that my husband just left me while we read Philippians 2?”

We may as well be asking people to hold their breath for 60-minutes. Or to just stay home. It’s impossible. Why burden people by expecting them or asking them to do the impossible?

Secondly, our Father begs us to bring ourselves to him in our worship. All of ourselves — all of our hurts and pains, all of our wounds and scars, all of our sin and sickness. These things are a genuine part of who we are as people, these things have worked to shape us and form us into the men and women we are. Our theology says God is actually using those tribulations, he’s working in and through those very tough things, to teach us, to transform us, to make us more like his Son. In the Christian assembly, Philippians 2 should speak to a person’s doubts and fears. Our time at the Lord’s table should speak into a man’s sickness and shortcomings. The Church’s prayers and songs are intended to give meaning and purpose to a woman’s struggles and trials. Why would we ask people to put that aside or ignore those parts of us while we’re in the holy presence of our God who desires that we give all of ourselves to him?

I know you mean well when you say those things. But, please, stop.

Peace,

Allan

From the Promised Land to God’s Country

Central Church Family No Comments »

Our group touched down safely in Amarillo at 1:00 this afternoon, glad to be home, grateful for the blessings of the trip to Israel, forever transformed by our time together in the Holy Land. It’s been more than 40-hours since any of us were in a bed — sleeping on a plane is worse than terrible. And I’m doing my best right now to stay awake until 10:00 or so tonight in order to get my body and brain back on Texas time.

I’m so grateful to Bill Humble, Ted and Becky Liles, Anton Farah, and everybody at Fowler Tours in Dallas and Guiding Star in Jerusalem for putting together such an outstanding trip. Every part of every day was smooth, really smooth. We got to visit sites and see things that most American tourists don’t. And I believe we were all transformed by God’s Spirit. Our Father revealed himself to us in extraordinary ways in Israel. And we’re all closer to him and much closer to one another for having experienced it together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m planning on doing it again in three years. Start saving your money now for 2017.

Shalom,

Allan

47 Hours Until Blue Sky!

Central Church Family No Comments »

We have had a really unforgettable time here in the Holy Land, but I’m ready to get home. I’m ready to see my beautiful wife and my three terrific daughters; I’m ready to pull my clothes each morning out of a closet and not a suitcase; I’m ready to watch TV in English; and I’m ready to eat a huge juicy cheeseburger with everything on it and fried jalapeno rings from Blue Sky!

We spent our last full day of hard core sight-seeing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, the Burnt House of the Katros, Nehemiah’s wall, the Herodian Quarter, the Shrine of the Book to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Israel Museum.

We’re sleeping late in the morning, doing some shopping on Jaffa Street until lunch, walking to the Garden Tomb (not the real one; the traditional one), and finishing our sight-seeing tomorrow afternoon at the Valley of Elah, the sight of David’s great victory over Goliath. After that, it’s our farewell dinner and then to the Ben Gurion airport for an 11:00 pm overnight flight out of Israel.

After a couple of changeovers in Newark and Houston, we’re landing at Rick Husband in Amarillo at 1:04 Saturday afternoon. As surely as the Lord lives, I’ll be eating that cheeseburger by 1:45.

Shalom!

Allan

Pray for Peace

Central Church Family, Ephesians, Matthew, Prayer 1 Comment »

“Christ Jesus is our peace. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we all have access to the Father by one Spirit.” ~Ephesians 2:14-18

We experienced just a wee bit more excitement today than we had anticipated — today’s clashes at the Temple Mount and Hamas attack at a Jerusalem light rail station were not on the itinerary. But everybody in our little Central group is OK and feeling very safe tonight. We have the best tour guide and bus driver in the entire Middle East and we trust them implicitly. We’re not sure what our schedule will be like for our final full day tomorrow; we don’t know what will be opened or closed or how our plans will be interrupted. But everybody in our group is fine. We spent a full hour after dinner together tonight processing the events of the day and it’s all actually been very, very powerfully good for us. Talk about bonding… man!

It’s 10:00 pm Wednesday night in Jerusalem. Time to say those evening prayers. I would ask you to pray for this holy city.

Our Lord is a King of Peace. He came to this earth in order to bring peace, to reveal to us our God of peace, to tear down the hostilities and break down the walls that come between humans and God and humans and one another. And, two thousand years later, his people still don’t know how to live it. It’s tragic, really. It’s terrible. This city of peace is anything but. This is a city of pride and envy, power and control, greed and selfishness, hatred and violence, revenge and death. It must sadden our King. And so it must also sadden us.

It must.

We must share our Lord’s sorrow. “O Jerusalem,” he lamented, “O Jerusalem, how I long to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you are not willing.” “O Amarillo, how I long… but you are not willing.” “O Dallas, how I long… but you are not willing” “O Atlanta…” “O Brasilia…” O Kharkov…” “O St. Louis…” “O Bogota…” O fill in the blank of any city in the world…

Lord, come quickly.

Shalom,

Allan