Paint, Diapers, and Praise

4 Amarillo No Comments »

Our annual “4 Amarillo” week got off to a fantastic start last night as all four downtown congregations came together at Polk Street United Methodist Church to worship God and to bless a couple of our area ministry partners.
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I think it’s a blessing every time our four churches get together to worship, to work, to eat ice cream, to do anything. It’s a privilege, an honor. To lift up songs of praise together, to pray words of thanksgiving together, to listen to God’s Word together, to acknowledge that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ together — it’s beyond beautiful. And while I appreciate the value this partnership is to our churches, I still believe the greatest worth of our cooperation is in the powerful witness to our community. “4 Amarillo” proclaims to the whole city and anybody else who is paying attention that we serve a God who is bigger than our individual churches; we serve a risen and reigning King who overcomes all our institutional differences; we have much more in common together in Christ than any problems that could ever divide us. It’s an undeniable witness that we all truly believe Jesus came to this earth, died, and was raised again in order to break down all the barriers between men and women and God, and between all men and women. We believe it, and we practice it. Together. Whew! It’s so strong!

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For the whole month of June our four churches have been collecting diapers for CareNet’s new headquarters just down the street at 15th and Taylor. CareNet is a local organization that upholds the dignity of all human life, working tirelessly to protect all children of God, born and unborn. But they don’t do it with protests or petitions or public demonstrations or political campaigns. They do it with love and relationship and mercy and grace. It’s Gospel. And now they have purchased the old Planned Parenthood building here in downtown Amarillo and have remodeled it and moved in. So we collected several thousand diapers among our four churches — they distribute about two thousand per month — and walked across 15th street together last night to welcome CareNet to the neighborhood.

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For the rest of this week we’ve taken on the task of repairing and painting several of the apartments at Jackson and 12th that are being refurbished for use as transitional housing for the Downtown Women’s Center. Greg is coordinating volunteers from all four churches — cleaning, repairing floors and walls and ceilings, painting, replacing light fixtures and toilets. And at the same time, as every year, we’re running a couple of outdoor Vacation Bible Schools — we call them Bible Block Parties — at Margaret Wills and San Jacinto Elementary Schools.

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I praise God for the Christ-like culture in our four churches that allows us to run after our Lord’s vision for the unity of his people for the sake of the world. I have to continually remind our folks that the vast majority of our brothers and sisters in the Churches of Christ do not have the same opportunities. Fellowshipping and worshiping and serving with other Christians in other denominations isn’t even an option for most CofCers. I praise God that his Spirit has moved us in Amarillo to embrace one another in Christ. And I pray that his holy will be done in and through our churches for the sake of Amarillo and to his eternal glory.

Peace,

Allan

Rest and Obey

1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy, Death, Psalms 1 Comment »

DeadTrees

We’ve been discussing this week that day in between, the Saturday between the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection; the long, silent, absent Saturday our Lord spent in the grave. We’ve all experienced those Saturdays. You might be in the middle of a Saturday right now. So, what’s the point of the Saturday? Why is there that awful day in between? And how are we supposed to respond?

Well, you could choose despair. Some people do that. Paul writes about this to the church in Corinth:

“How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” ~1 Corinthians 15:12

Some people will tell you there’s never going to be a Sunday. It’s Saturday. Get used to it. This is just the way things are. Nothing’s going to change. Take some disappointment management classes because this is as good as it gets. Some people live in that. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not a good place to be.

You could choose denial. Some people will tell you Friday and Saturday never happened. They just excuse everything away with easy clichés and bumper sticker explanations. Whatever happens, it must be God’s will. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Some people just bulldoze right through everything it means to be a real human being and almost deny that there’s a problem. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not going to work.

You could pray harder or live better or increase your faith. Paul wrote to Timothy about people like this:

“They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” ~2 Timothy 2:18

They say it’s already Sunday. The resurrection’s already happened for all Christians. We’re already living the abundant life, eternal life, in Jesus. If you’re having problems, if you’re still sick, if you’re prayers aren’t being answered, then you clearly don’t have enough faith. If you had a stronger faith, if you prayed harder, God would heal you. If anybody ever says anything like that to you, you have my permission to hang up on them. Or unfriend them.

We all have Saturday experiences in our lives. Sometimes they last for a few weeks, sometimes it lasts for decades. Sometimes we feel very, very, very far away from God. I think it means something that our Lord endured a Saturday in the grave. There’s a reason for that day in between the calamity and the rescue.

You might not like this. But I’m convinced this is the lesson. I truly believe the proper response to the Saturday is to wait on God. Wait on him. Work with God even when he feels far away. Talk to God even when it feels like he’s not listening. Rest in God.

I’ve written this week that the only information we have in the Bible about that Saturday is that a guard was posted at the tomb. That’s not true. We have one very short sentence at the end of Luke 23 that tells us exactly what the disciples did on that Saturday:

“They rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” ~Luke 23:56

They rested. And they obeyed. That’s a good place to be. When all is lost, we rest in God and we continue to obey. We pray. We ask. We whine. We complain. And we trust. We trust even on the darkest Saturday that God is right there beside you. Loving and working and saving.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” ~Psalm 22

God never turned his back on Jesus. He didn’t. Not while Jesus was dying on the cross. Not when he lay dead and still in the grave. God never turned his face away from his Son. It felt like it to our Lord. Jesus felt like the Father had abandoned him. But the words of Jesus’ prayer from Psalm 22 are clear. Even when it feels like you’ve been forsaken by God, he’s right there. Right there! Loving and working and saving.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the place of the dead, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you.” ~Psalm 139

If Jesus went to the tomb, if he went to the place of the dead, if maybe he even went to hell, the good news is that this means there’s no place Jesus won’t go in order to save you. There’s nothing you can suffer that our Lord hasn’t already endured himself. There’s no dark corner of despair or suffering or evil or sin where he won’t go to get you. Wherever you are, Christ Jesus has already been there, and is there still. With you. Right beside you. Loving. Working. Saving.

Rest and obey.

Peace,

Allan

What About Saturday?

Death, Psalms No Comments »

DeadDisciples

Why is there a day between the death and resurrection of Jesus? Why does God spread these two salvation events over three days? What’s with this horrible day in the middle?

This just seems to be the way our God works. I have no idea why. But this seems to be his divine pattern. The Scriptures are full of three-day stories. On the first day there’s trouble, on the second day there’s nothing — just continuing trouble. Salvation comes on the third day. Always.

The problem with three-day stories, though, is that you don’t know it’s a three-day story until that third day. When it’s Saturday, you don’t know God’s deliverance is going to come. It doesn’t feel like it. It probably feels like a two-day story and this Saturday is going to last the rest of my life.

Yesterday I wrote that nothing happens on Saturday. That’s not true. Silence happens on Saturday. After the trouble hits, after the awful thing happens, you cry out to God, “Save me, Father! Help me, Lord! Listen to me, God! Do something! Say something! God, help me!”

Nothing. Silence. Absence. You run to God in your despair, you cry out to God in your pain and desperation, and you get the door slammed in your face. The sound of a deadbolt locking on the inside. And then silence.

Let’s stop acting like this never happens. Let’s stop pretending that every day’s a Sunday. If our churches are going to be safe places to talk about sex, we also need to be safe places to talk openly about the realities a whole bunch of us experience with the silence of God during times of despair. Half the psalms in our Bible deal openly, publicly, with the troubling fact of God’s silence. But we never sing them. Or read them. Or pray them.

“O Lord, day and night I cry out before you. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.” ~Psalm 88:1-5

DeadManA husband, a father, wants more than anything else in the world to save his marriage. But his wife won’t listen and she won’t help. He’s not perfect — not even close— and he knows it. But he wants to do what’s right. He doesn’t know why his wife won’t respond to him, why she won’t try, and he can’t stand what this is doing to their kids. And God is silent. Nothing. Dead.

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” ~Psalm 88:6-9a, 14

A mom and dad find out their child has a terminal illness. They pray like crazy. They pray all the time. Nothing. She’s getting worse. And they pray more and they pray harder. Nothing. Again, the Scriptures acknowledge this reality.

“I say to God, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?'” ~Psalm 42:9

“You are God, my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning?” ~Psalm 43:2

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject me forever! Why do you hide your face and forget my misery and oppression?” ~Psalm 44:23-24

DeadWomanYou lose a friend. You lose your health. Your financial situation changes. Your church has let you down. Your spouse betrays you. A very horrible and particular thing has happened to you and it’s not getting better. It just happened in the past few weeks and you can’t see past it. Maybe it happened 20 years ago and it still feels like every single day is the “day after.” Maybe you can’t point to one terrible tragedy, you just know that you’re living in darkness, you’re dying on the inside, and you feel totally abandoned by the people all around you and by our God.

“I cry to you for help, O Lord. Why, O Lord do you reject me and hide your face from me? I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” ~Psalm 88:13-18

What do you do on Saturday? How should you behave when you feel like even God isn’t with you?

Come back tomorrow. I promise, I’ll give you an idea from Scripture tomorrow. You might not like it; but I really do believe it’s the answer.

Peace,

Allan

Crucified, Dead, and Buried

Central Church Family, Death, Psalms 2 Comments »

Central’s middle school kids are doing service projects all over the city with three other CofCs this week during the annual “Mission in Amarillo.” Channel 10 did a local piece on yesterday’s projects and featured our very own Tanner Albright. You can click here to see the video.

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DeadJesus

The crucifixion of Jesus happened on a Friday. He was raised from the tomb on Sunday. And in between there was… what?

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are probably the two most studied and most celebrated dates in the history of the world. And the Saturday in between is maybe the most ignored. Even in the Bible, we only get one detail from Matthew telling us that guards were posted on that Saturday to watch the tomb. And that’s it. This Saturday in between is a nothing day. It’s the day with no name, the day when nothing happened. Jesus is crucified, dead, and buried. And… for a full day… nothing.

What does it mean for Jesus to be dead? What does it mean for God incarnate to be in a tomb? What was going on that Saturday? What were the disciples thinking? What were the angels doing? What was that Saturday like?

Doubt. Despair. Hopelessness. Anger. Loneliness. Abandoned. Silence. Fear.

Jesus felt all of that while he was hanging on the cross. He felt abandoned by God. He felt the despair and the loneliness. He felt the silence in his soul, like God had withdrawn his presence, like his Father had turned his back on him. The gospels tell us that our Lord cried out near the moment of his death, “My God! My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus is obeying the will of his Father. He’s extending mercy in the middle of being tortured, he’s forgiving his executioners even while they’re killing him, he’s comforting a man who’s also being killed, he’s making arrangements for his mother — Jesus is faithfully doing every single thing his Father has asked him to do. And now when he needs our God the most, right now at the most unbearable moment of suffering and death, Jesus feels what no person is ever supposed to feel: “My God, why have you forsaken me?!?”

Jesus is praying from Psalm 22.

“My God! My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer.”

That’s what Friday was like for Jesus. The day he died. The day they wrapped his body in a burial cloth and laid him inside a tomb in a cemetery.

And then, Saturday.

We know from Scripture that, after his death, the followers of Jesus lost all hope. Those two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We thought Jesus was the one, but he’s not.” Those women who went to the tomb Sunday morning did not go to worship a risen king, they went to anoint a dead body. There’s no hope on Saturday.

Friday’s a little different. A very horrible thing is happening, the disciples are living a nightmare, but they’re running on adrenaline. You know what that’s like. When the awful tragedy strikes, when the rug is suddenly pulled out from under you, when your whole world gets turned upside down in an instant, it’s all adrenaline. You’re taking care of the crisis, you’re doing what has to be done to get through the event.

And then the next day. The day after the funeral. The day after the Bible class delivers the last meal on the sign-up sheet. When things slow down and it gets quiet. That’s Saturday. Everybody knows Saturday.

Saturday is the day after your dream dies. The day after your husband died. The day after the divorce was finalized. The day after the diagnosis. The day after you lose your job. The day after your child does something you never thought she’d do. The day after your soul gets crushed. You wake up and you’re still alive, it’s the next day and you have to keep on living. But you don’t know how. Maybe you don’t know why.

“My God! My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer.

I am a worm, not a person. scorned by men and women and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”

Why is there a Saturday? Why is there a day between the death and resurrection of Jesus? It doesn’t further the plot. It doesn’t move the story line at all. If Jesus was going to be crucified and then raised for the salvation of the world, it seems like God would hurry up with it. I would. Why does God spread these two salvation events over three days? What’s with this horrible day in the middle?

Come back tomorrow. I’ve got a couple of ideas.

Peace,

Allan

New Jobs & Old Friends

Carley, Stanglin Family, Valerie No Comments »

BigTexans2Valerie and Carley are now both working for the city of Amarillo’s most widely known tourist attraction: The Big Texan. Yes, the home of the 72-ounce steak that comes free of charge if you can eat it and all the appetizers and sides and dessert in one hour or less is employing our two youngest daughters. Valerie is serving, Carley is hosting, and they’re both keeping alive every Texas stereotype you can imagine for the hundreds of foreigners (anyone outside of Texas) who eat dinner and kill time in the giant gift shop. Carley is instructed to greet all guests with a hearty, “Howdy, y’all!” They wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats and serve up huge steaks and country sides and a lot of sweet tea. They are not yet toting guns or riding horses.

All three of our daughters are now hard-working, tax-paying, productive members of society. Yee-haw!

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What a glorious weekend with two great and dear friends, Chris and Liz Moore. They rode their twin Harley Davidsons up here from Mesquite on Thursday and stayed with us through Sunday afternoon. They rode the Palo Duro Canyon, spray painted a heart on a car at muddy Cadillac Ranch, and spun a couple of times around Lake Merideth. We ate catfish together down in Umbarger, grilled fajitas, stayed up way too late, prayed together, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

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When we moved to Dallas-Fort Worth in 1999, Chris and Liz just happened to be sitting at the end of the pew we chose at the Mesquite Church of Christ — for the record, yes, they were there first and had been there a long time. We walked in to church with an almost seven-year-old Whitney, a barely two-year-old Val, and six-weeks-old Carley in a car seat / carrier. We plopped down on that same row with the Moores and they immediately welcomed us with their generous hearts and joyful sense of humor. Somehow, we clicked. And we’ve been clicking with them for 17 years now and counting.

Chris and Liz, we love you and your sweet family. We’re so grateful for the time we were graced by God to spend together this past weekend. Let’s see each other again before Tulsa.

Peace,

Allan

Marriage Needs Sex

1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Marriage No Comments »

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again…” ~1 Corinthians 7:3-5

Paul writes almost shockingly when he talks about the importance of sex within the marriage. It’s revolutionary. He’s writing these words at a time when women were legally considered the property of their husbands. But Paul says, no, the wife owns her husband’s body in exactly the same way he owns hers. Nothing like this had ever been said before. This is a radical and unprecedented  restriction on the husband’s sexual freedoms. He can only have sex with his wife. And he HAS TO have sex with his wife! Scholars and historians cannot find this thought written down anywhere in history before this — not in secular or religious writings — this idea of mutual sexual ownership.

Paul is telling married Christians that mutual, satisfying, sexual relations must be an important part of their life together. Sex should be frequent and reciprocal. One spouse can’t deny sex to the other. That plays right along with everything we know about God’s designs for Christian marriage: loving each other the same way Christ loves the Church and mutually submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Each partner in marriage has to be most concerned not with getting sexual pleasure, but with giving it.

In the movie Annie Hall, her therapist asks her how often she and Alvie are having sex and she answers, “Constantly! Three times a week!” The therapist asks Alvie how often he and Annie are having sex and he says, “Never! Three times a week!”

OK. It takes both people. We know this. Men and women are really, really different physically, emotionally, psychologically, and on down the line in as many ways as you can imagine. So, yes, it’s not easy. Nobody says this is easy. It takes all the mutual loving and submitting and sacrificing and serving that Ephesians 5 talks about.

You know, if you’re married — I hope you know this! — sex doesn’t just happen when you turn off the lights and turn on the Marvin Gaye. It’s about consistent kindness and every day listening and communicating. It’s about daily sacrifice and respect. And it’s not about you. It’s about the other and paying attention to something bigger than both of you.

So, married people, let me ask a couple of questions: Do you believe your current sex life with your marriage partner fully agrees with Paul’s encouragement in 1 Corinthians 7?

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again…”

Are you and your spouse practicing this?

Sex is a powerful thing. This whole “one flesh” idea means that sex is a sign of the personal union and the means to accomplish that union. It consummates the marriage and it acts to maintain that covenant. And it’s got to happen in a marriage. It’s not a marriage without it.

It’ll also text your marriage or troubleshoot your marriage. It’s such a powerful thing. If your relationship is in a bad place, sex doesn’t work very well. Sex is so intimate and so close and so personal, it doesn’t allow you to just sweep things under the rug. If there’s mistrust or disrespect in the relationship, if there are some unresolved hurts or wounds, the sex will bring it out and force you to deal with it. Or you just stop having sex. And that’s a sure sign that you need to do some serious digging and soul-searching. There might be something you both need to address to move closer to God’s design for your sexual and emotional intimacy. For the sake of your marriage.

Listen, I know this is difficult. There’s nothing easy about this. Marriage is hard. Sex is tough. And it requires a lot of grace: grace from our Lord to us in our marriages and to us as individual Christians; and grace from us to one another in our marriages and in our churches. But we make it so much more difficult when we separate sex and marriage. Sex without marriage doesn’t work. Marriage without sex doesn’t work. You know I’m telling the truth. You probably know from your own experiences. Because that’s the way our Creator designed it.

Peace,

Allan