First Day 2020

First day of school and we’re down to one kid now. Carley started her Junior year this morning at Oklahoma Christian University just the way you would expect her to: Theta T-shirt, Delta coffee mug, laptop, and coronavirus mask.

Short semester. Social distancing. Mandatory masks. But she’s making it work. We’re so proud of this brilliant psychology major and we’re wishing her a wonderful year.

We love you, Bear.

Dad

Secure in Not “Falling Away”

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

Another thing that can mess with our safety and security in the Lord is the possibility of “falling away.” Backsliding, maybe. I once was lost but now I’m found. And I might get lost again.

Some Christian traditions teach “once-saved-always-saved” like it’s a non-negotiable contract. Once you say “yes” and sign on the dotted line, you can’t become a free-agent again no matter what the league commissioner rules. Well, that’s just not true. You certainly can turn away.

If God does not force you to faith in the first place, he’s not going to keep you against your will. Think about Judas. Think about Hymenaeus and Alexander. The Bible says they rejected their faith and their good conscience. They shipwrecked their salvation.

“Those who turn to crooked ways, the Lord will banish with the evildoers.” ~Psalm 125:5

So if it is possible to fall away, how do I know I haven’t? How do I know I haven’t already lost my faith, especially when my feelings are bad on the inside and bad things are happening to me on the outside?

Please, hear this. It is not possible to drift unconsciously from faith to out of favor with God. It doesn’t happen without you knowing it. It can’t. Yes, we all wander around like lost sheep, but Jesus is a faithful shepherd who pursues you relentlessly. Yes, we have our ups and downs, but he is a rock. A mountain. We do break our promises sometimes, but our Lord never breaks his. Discipleship to Jesus is not a legal contract where  if we don’t live up to our end of the dead, God is free to bail on it, too. It’s God’s covenant. God establishes the conditions and he alone guarantees the results.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” ~John 10:28-29

How does the song go? No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand?

Yes, you can quit if you want to. You can say “no” to God. You can turn to the crooked way. God is not going to hang onto you against your will. But you’re never going to accidentally fall away from God or lose your salvation without knowing it. Turning away from God, losing your salvation, is a deliberate decision. In fact, we should never use the phrase “lose your salvation.” Nobody loses his or her salvation like you lose your car keys. You can give it back. You can turn your back on it. But it’s no accident or oversight. It’s a sustained, determined, on-going rejection.

1 Thessalonians 5 says the God of peace is sanctifying you through and through. He is making you holy. He is keeping you blameless. He calls you, he is faithful, and he will do what he’s promised to do. He’s the one making your salvation happen, not you.

But I’m a sinner.

All the great people of faith you know are sinners! I don’t know a single perfect Christian, do you? I’ve never met one.

Our security is not tied up in our performances. It’s grounded solidly in the faithfulness of God.

The first line in Psalm 125 says “those who trust in the Lord.” Not those who trust in their obedience or in their own righteousness.

“This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life… I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” ~1 John 5:11-13

God wants you to be more sure of your salvation than you are. You belong to him forever.

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Midst of Suffering

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

Living as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus Christ is not like walking a tightrope without a safety net. This is not a situation in which you’re 200-feet up, trying to keep your balance, and taking extra care with every movement and twitch. A fly landing on your nose is life-threatening. People are watching you, everybody’s paying attention, some are secretly hoping you’ll crash and burn. That’s not the Christian life. It’s not a tightrope where every single step you take is a life or death deal. It’s more like sitting safely and securely inside a fortress. If you’re a Christian, you’re protected. You’re safe.

Even in your sufferings. Even when bad things happen to you. When you lose something you think you can’t live without. When your loved ones suffer pain. When you’re the victim of an injustice.

Psalm 125 says you’ll be OK because you’re surrounded by God. He’s got you. As long as the Lord is your God, you’ll be fine.

Whoever wrote Psalm 125 did not have anesthesia at the hospital, he didn’t have Tylenol or antibiotics in his medicine cabinet, and he didn’t have a government spending hundreds of billions of dollars on national defense. The writer here endured pain and suffering and threat personally and with the people around him every day. Why did that not destroy his confidence in God?

“The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous.” ~Psalm 125:3

The wickedness won’t rest, it won’t last, it won’t stay with you permanently. The bad stuff is always temporary.

“…for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.” ~Psalm 125:3

If the evil is permanent, if there’s no hope for deliverance, even the most faithful and devout person will break. They’ll use their own hands to do evil — it’s too much. But God never allows that to happen. The pain and the suffering are never too much for our faith.

“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” ~1 Corinthians 10:13

At some point, at just the right time, it goes away. The bad stuff is never too much for your faith. And it’s never too much for our God.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8:31-39

Peace,

Allan

Dr Pepper Shortage?

I’m not panicking. I believe the current Dr Pepper shortage is probably being experienced in places outside the borders of the Republic of Texas. I’m not hoarding. I believe the 24-pack of Diet Dr Pepper Carrie-Anne bought on Saturday is more than enough to get us through to this Saturday when she will be able to easily find and purchase another. I’m not worried. I am confident that the aluminum  scarcity or employee reduction or combination of Covid-19-related issues that have led to this Dr Pepper shortage won’t affect us here.

I’m also a bit skeptical. I’m cynical about this whole thing.

The tweet that came from the official Dr Pepper twitter account Monday and sparked all the retweets, news stories, and Facebook posts sounds like it’s intended to cause panic. It feels like a publicity ploy. The news stories weren’t written as a result of consumer complaints or grocery store notices. This is coming directly from Dr Pepper. It sounds like it’s meant to cause consumers to rush out to the grocery stores right now and buy triple or quadruple what they really need, thus leading to a real shortage, thus gaining even more publicity.

“We know it’s harder to find Dr Pepper these days. We’re working on it – hang tight! Note: This applies to all flavors of Dr Pepper – including our newest permanent addition to the family, Dr Pepper & Cream Soda.”

It sounds like a sales pitch to spark a run, not a reassuring message to ease concerns.

“We’re doing everything we can to get it back into your hands… contact your local retailer directly for the most up-to-date availability of Dr Pepper products.”

Yes, this is a publicity stunt. No, this is not serious. God is in his heaven and Dr Pepper will always be available in Texas.

But, if you’re going to the store, why don’t you pick up a 24-pack for me.

Peace,

Allan

Secure in the Face of Our Feelings

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”
~Psalm 125

A lot of us grew up with a view of our salvation as something we slip in and out of pretty easily. According to what we do or don’t do, what kind of day we’re having or the last time we prayed, we might be saved or lost. If you’re not on constant guard, if you’re not vigilant in doing everything in exactly the right way, your mortal soul is in jeopardy. Losing your salvation could happen to you gradually or all of a sudden. Your status with God is fragile. Your salvation is a delicate thing. You’re worried about your worthiness. You’re anxious about your standing. There’s always a question. Always a doubt.

There’s a Greek word for this: Baloney.

There’s also a West Texas word for it. But I can’t use it here.

The Scriptures are clear that our salvation with God in Christ Jesus is secure. We don’t have to wonder about it. We don’t have to look over our shoulders in dread at what might take us out. The Christian life is not like walking a tightrope where every single step is a life or death deal.

Of course! I know this. In my head. I know this as a solid, indisputable fact. In my head. But my heart doesn’t always acknowledge this truth. My gut sometimes disagrees. Sometimes we do get anxious about our own salvation. Sometimes we do slip into uncertainty. We slip into fear. Or maybe we don’t slip into it; maybe we kinda live there.

Did I know what I was doing when I was baptized? Have I really been forgiven for my past? Have I really been good enough? Am I really doing enough?

Legalism is a disease we all have. We’re all in different places in our recovery, but nobody’s completely cured. If doing the rules and obeying the commands is what saves me, then, yes, I should be worried. But if it’s not… thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I want us to consider Psalm 125 this week to banish our insecurities and grow our confidence and Christian assurance. I’d like for these holy ancient words to get into our souls and remind us that we are safe and secure in Christ  in the face of our feelings, in the middle of our sufferings, and despite our sins.

There are three things — I’m speaking very broadly here — that get in the way of the solid security we have in the Lord. The first of these is our feelings. The way we feel. Our feelings can hijack our security.

Psalm 125 says, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.” But I do get shaken. It happens a lot. One day I’m full of faith and confidence as a beloved child of God, the next day I’m questioning and doubting almost everything. I wake up one morning full of energy and assurance in what God’s doing in me and through me, the next day I’m gray and moody and not real sure God’s doing anything at all. One day I’m a man of God, the next day I don’t know.

Cannot be shaken? That’s not me at all. I can be shaken by almost anything. Sadness, joy, success, failure, a bad meeting, another change in the coronavirus restrictions, a phone call, a disagreement — I’m like a thermometer, just going up and down according to the weather around me.

OK. Maybe so.

Think about the children of Israel. Up one day and down the next. Hot and cold all the time. One day they’re marching in triumph through the Red Sea, the next day they’re griping because they used to eat steaks and cheesecakes in Egypt. One day they’re worshiping God in his holy presence on Mount Sinai, the next day they’re dancing in the valley around a golden calf. One day they’re eating with Jesus in the upper room, listening to his words, basking in his love, pledging their allegiance; the next day they’re receiving warmth from someone else’s fire and swearing with holy curses they never met Jesus.

Up and down, up and down, like a yo-yo. You get whiplash with these people.

But the whole time, there’s something very solid and very steady: They are always God’s people. That never changed. God is faithfully and steadfastly with them. He never leaves them. He never forsakes them. He’s right there with his mercy and grace and love. You get the sense that everything that happens with God’s people happens in this bubble of God’s security. It all happens, the good and the bad, with this God who is always with them, constantly redeeming and restoring, forgiving and loving.

Following Christ is an up and down thing for us. But we don’t rely on our feelings. Our feelings about God are not as important as the facts about God. I had a professor at Austin Grad, Dr. Michael Weed. If somebody was talking about a church service or a worship experience or a spiritual conference and said, “I felt the Holy Spirit,” he would say, “Maybe. Or maybe it was indigestion.” His point was that you have to go on more than just feelings. Feelings can be deceptive. You can’t always trust them.

So we refuse to trust in our ups and downs; we choose to trust in God. We refuse to believe in our darkness and doubts; we choose to believe in God. Not feelings, but facts.

“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death!” ~Romans 8:1

You know what the law of sin and death is: you sin, you die! We’re not under that law anymore! Why? Because by the sin offering of Christ, “the righteous requirements of the law have all  been fully met in us.”

My salvation relationship with God cannot be shaken. I’m a mountain. It’s not psychology, it’s geology. My security doesn’t come from how I feel today, but from who God is both now and forevermore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The puck drops this afternoon on the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I have little confidence in our Dallas Stars. They’re facing off against Calgary in this best-of-seven series, with some of the youngest, fastest, most skilled players in the NHL. But something’s not right. They can’t score a goal to save their necks. They’re great defensively — Stars teams always are. But they’re averaging less than 2.6 goals per game this season. Can’t light the lamp. Can’t put the biscuit in the basket.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn don’t look right. And we’re not sure if goalie Ben Bishop will even be dressed. What does “unfit to play” mean?

This same Stars team took the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Blues to seven games in the second round of the playoffs last year. It was wild. Thrilling. I believe NHL playoff hockey is better than football, the most exciting thing in the wide, wide world of all sports. And the Stars were playing so well before the global pandemic shut it all down. I was so sure the Stars were ready to take that next step and go all the way to the Conference Finals and maybe beyond this year. But the four month layoff has been disastrous. I guess. The Edmonton bubble isn’t working.

But it’s still playoff hockey. It’s still the coolest game on earth. It’s the only sport that has a true sudden death. It’s the only sport in which outcomes turn on an instant that you and I never see coming. So, here’s hoping I’m wrong about the Stars’ chances against the Flames. And here’s to playoff beards and penalty kills, to empty nets and overtime. Here’s to the start of sport’s most entertaining and most demanding championship tournament.

Peace,

Allan

Gearing Up

More than forty Amarillo pastors and preachers and our spouses came together Friday night to continue gearing up for the “Uniting as One” racial renewal worship service on August 30. We prayed and planned together over Delvin’s beef tips and apple pie, we laughed together as we made new friends and renewed old acquaintances, and we were inspired by James Tudman’s and Howie Batson’s calls to action from Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan and the biblical demand to love all our neighbors all the time. If not us, who? If not here, where? If not right now, when?

Most of us kept our distance and wore our masks for most of the time. Those of us who kept them on for the group picture are the true Christians.

The “4Amarillo” churches hosted the event at Polk Street United Methodist Church. Carrie-Anne and I were so blessed to be seated with Manny DeLosSantos of Power Church and his wife, Rachel, and to hear all the incredible things our God is doing in and through them to his glory. And we’re more excited than we were before for how our Lord is bringing all of his children together in our city — Black, White, Hispanic, Latino, everybody!

If you are anywhere in the Texas panhandle region, make your plans now to be at the downtown Amarillo Hodgetown ballpark at 6pm Sunday night August 30 as we proclaim to the world that what unites us in Christ Jesus is bigger and more important than anything that could possibly divide us.

Peace,

Allan

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