Author: Allan (page 2 of 317)

Kingdom > Church (part 2)

The Hebrew Scriptures promised of a time when God would truly rule in people’s lives. He created and saved and called his people to be a Kingdom of priests for the whole world. But the Law and the Prophets talked about this Kingdom, not in terms of the religious rituals or the trappings of the establishment, but in terms of cooperating with God in fulfilling his ultimate mission. It was never intended to be about the institution. It was always meant to be about joining God in taking care of the orphans, the widows, and the strangers in the gate. Being a light to the Gentiles. Living your life in a way that reveals God and saves the world.

In Jeremiah 7, the old prophet’s preaching at the gates of the beautiful temple, the very symbol of the religion, and he says it’s not about this building or what goes on in here during corporate worship:

“Hear the Word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘…Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!… Look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.'”

Later in the same chapter, Jeremiah says when you focus on what happens in here, you’re going backwards.

As Israel failed to live up to God’s vision for his people to protect the defenseless and feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the poor; as Israel just couldn’t or wouldn’t keep it up; God’s prophets began to speak of a time that God himself would bring his everlasting Kingdom to earth. The Lord would reign supreme from sea to sea. Peace would come to all nations and the rule of God would transcend geography and politics and even religion. All of that is in the Old Testament.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of all those Kingdom hopes and promises.

Jesus preaches the Kingdom: “Repent! The Kingdom of God is near!” And what does he do? He frees the prisoner, heals the blind, rescues the oppressed. Those are the signs of the Kingdom. That’s the proof. When John the Baptist asks if Jesus is truly the Messiah, Jesus sends word back, “Look, you know the signs of the Kingdom. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the Good News is preached to the poor.”

That’s the Kingdom.

Jesus, show us the Kingdom. What’s the Kingdom of God, Lord?

Never once did the Son of God ever say, “The Kingdom of God is that group over there that meets on Sundays for Bible class and worship.” “The Kingdom is identified by those who take communion once a week on the Lord’s Day and sing acappella.” “You’ll know the Kingdom when you get two songs and a prayer with announcements at the beginning and the end!”

No. Jesus says, here’s the Kingdom: it’s hurting people being comforted. It’s distressed people being encouraged. It’s cold people being warmed. It’s the outcasts being brought into a family. That’s the Kingdom of God.

When we talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of church and the institution, the rules and the order, when that’s our whole idea of Kingdom, we quickly lose sight of the very things that make the Kingdom of God what it is: when and where God graciously rules in people’s lives.

In Matthew 12, Jesus’ critics are claiming he’s driving out demons by the power of Satan. But he says, no, I’m driving out demons by the Spirit of God. “And if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God has come to you.” In other words, when and where you see people being delivered from evil, that’s the Kingdom. And then he explains it:

“How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” ~Matthew 12:29

Jesus is sent here by God to invade Satan’s house. Jesus rams the gates and busts through the doors of Satan’s domain. He ransacks all the rooms and breaks open the safe. He tears apart the pantry and goes into the attic and the basement. And he snatches away every man, woman, and child held in bondage by the power of the devil. They are rescued! They are all saved! That’s the Kingdom of God.

Peace,

Allan

Kingdom > Church

“Kingdom” is not a word we typically use in our everyday American English. When we say the word, it has an other-culture, if not a counter-culture, kind of feel. But “Kingdom” is a very important word for Christians. We use it all the time, mainly in church and church settings.

We’re citizens of the Kingdom. We do Kingdom work. We’re all about Kingdom business. We seek first the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we think the preacher’s going to preach ’til Kingdom come.

We use the word “Kingdom” to talk about things that are Christian as opposed to things of the world. But a lot of people use it to talk about church. Growing up, it seemed the words “Kingdom” and “church” were interchangeable, they were synonyms. Both the “Kingdom” and the “church” — same thing — were established on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. I remember hearing several preachers in my youth declare that the Kingdom of God was the church! Some of us were told we should not pray the Lord’s Prayer because the Kingdom had already come — the church! And I remember looking around at my church and the people in it and thinking, “This is it?” No offense, but if this is all there is to the Kingdom of God, then I’d rather not.

Here’s my definition: The Kingdom of God is the time and place of God’s gracious rule in people’s lives. The Kingdom of God is where and when our God reigns. It’s when and where Christ is Lord and everything wrong is made right and everything that’s broken in you and the people around you is fixed. And it is right here and right now.

It has come; praise God. And it is still coming; Lord, come on.

God reigns on his throne in all power over all things right now; Amen. But someday… oh, man… every knee, every tongue, to the glory of God the Father.

The Kingdom of God — all its complexities and fullness, all of its here and now and there and later — is best expressed and experienced and revealed in Jesus. He brought it. He shows us what it is.

Jesus grieved over the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching reality of a world taken over by evil. “Woe to the world,” he says, “because of the things that cause people to sin” (Matthew 18:7). It pained him. He felt strong compassion for this broken world. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you are not willing” (Luke 13:34). It tore at him. It killed him.

Jesus witnesses this broken condition of men and women and he jumps right into the middle of it. God intends to redeem and restore what’s broken. The Father is bent on reconciling all of creation back to himself and he does it through Jesus. Everything Jesus came to do — his birth, life, teachings, ministry, healings, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection — is about fixing our shattered lives, mending ruined relationships, and repairing this broken world.

Jesus, the Son of God, began to work with broken people and he saw the Kingdom of God. He started to sacrifice and serve people and he saw the Kingdom. He saw the major changes that were taking place. He says at the beginning of his ministry, “The Kingdom of God is near!” He saw it. He knew it. That’s what he preached: The Kingdom of God.

In Luke 4, Jesus is healing crowds of people. Laying his hands “on each one, he healed them,” it says. He was driving out demons by the dozens. And then Jesus says, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43).

In Luke 9, Jesus sends his apostles to cast out demons and cure diseases, to “preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). The Bible says they “went from village to village, preaching the Gospel and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:6). When they came back to report to Jesus all they had done, “He spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9:11).

The Kingdom of God is about healing people. Healing people and the Kingdom of God are joined at the hip. They are inseparable. Eternally connected. The Kingdom of God is healing and fixing and making things right; making things right and fixing and healing people is the Kingdom of God! And it’s happening right here and right now. And it’s a whole lot bigger than church.

Peace,

Allan

Repent! It’s Happening!

It’s happening. John the Baptist is standing out in the desert, right there in the Jordan River, where the world’s resistance to God is meeting the irresistible force of God’s coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees! It’s happening. Get ready. You’d better re-think your priorities. You’d better re-order your lives. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance! Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!

Jesus is coming. And he’s coming to judge. And Jesus is going to judge us according to our fruit that’s in line with our repentance. And repentance doesn’t just mean saying “I’m sorry.” We know this. We experience this when someone we’re close to says “I’m sorry” one too many times and we flip out in frustration. “Stop saying you’re sorry! I don’t want you to be sorry! I want you to change your behavior!”

When I was roofing houses a million years ago there was an old crusty guy who worked with us. We just called him Tommy. I don’t remember his last name. He was originally from New York  and I always felt like he had mafia ties. Anytime anybody ever said “I’m sorry” about anything, Tommy would say, “Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it no more!”

The word “repent” means to turn around, to start going in a different direction. It means to make a brand new start.

What John the Baptist is preaching sounds a lot like the Old Testament prophets, calling God’s people into a right relationship with the Lord that has to impact every part of their lives. Repentance is a change in your attitude toward God that changes all your actions and the overall direction of your life. But as much as this sounds like the Old Testament, there’s a distinctly new element to this. He calls the people to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. The Messiah is coming. The Kingdom is here. It’s happening. Repent.

But if I’m told over and over again I need to repent, I need to change, I need to orient my life toward God, nothing significant ever happens. Nothing really changes. It’s like being told I need to exercise and lose weight. I know those things. My doctor tells me. My family tells me. I know I need to exercise and lose weight. But I still wind up at Whataburger twice a week!

I don’t need a preacher telling me to change. I don’t need some prophet telling me to get my life right, or else. I need some power from outside myself to make me different. It’s got to be something besides me. Because with just me, it’s not happening. I can’t do it.

Thank goodness this is not about New Year’s resolutions. This is about change.

You can’t do it. I can’t do it. This change we need is not tied up in your commitments or your identity. This is not about your family or your nation or your church. It has nothing to do with your education, your zip code, or your bank account. I was raised in the Church; I’m a Christian. Give me a break! Out of these stones God can raise up as many Christians as he wants! This call to repentance is universal. It’s not just for sinners or backsliders or non-Christians. This is a call to repentance for all of Israel, including the religious leaders. Including you. And me. All of us.

And, praise God, John the Baptist points to that great power from outside us that is coming. He isn’t talking about some new self-help promotion or a New Year’s resolution. He points us to the only source of real, lasting, significant change: the Holy Spirit. The coming Lord who is more powerful than me will baptize you with the promised Holy Spirit! A power that can make a new creation out of stubborn people like us, stones like us, who have no way to save ourselves. The power that is coming is not our power — not the power of our deeds or our inner resolve or our spiritual disciplines or even our faith and repentance. It’s God power. We are able to repent and bear fruit because of God’s power in the coming Lord Jesus and his Holy Spirit!

We can’t trust the powers of this world to make us children of Abraham. We can’t tell ourselves we have better genes or better morals or better theology or better attitudes or better humility or better works. It is God through Christ who is making children of Abraham. He is making people brand new for his Kingdom. Stones like you and me. It’s happening.

We are being changed. We are being weaned away from our possessions and turning more toward being possessed by the everlasting love of God. We are becoming less interested in blessings for ourselves and more interested in serving others with the grace and mercy of our Lord. We are in the process of becoming more thankful and less self-righteous and sure. We are gradually becoming less preoccupied with our own privileges and prejudices and seeing ourselves more and more in solidarity with all human beings who, like us, can receive grace only from the hand of God.

It’s happening. God does not sleep. He’s wide awake and he’s bringing his Kingdom to us. The new heavens and new earth where everything that’s wrong is made right and everything that’s broken in you and in those around you is fixed. It’s not some fuzzy, far-off dream. It is the Word of the Lord. The God who came to us in Christ Jesus is unveiling his Kingdom in all its glory. He is bringing justice and joy to the whole world. The Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Peace,

Allan

Winterfest Superstar

When six thousand teenagers packed the Arlington Convention Center this past weekend for the largest annual gathering in the Churches of Christ, our daughter Valerie was on stage rocking her artistic abilities to glorify God and inspire his people. The story is long and the details are many when describing how Valerie came to be the artist selected to paint the murals in real time, on stage, to illustrate each of the keynote themes for the three day event. The bottom line is that our Lord has brought our daughter into holy community with  Dudley Chancey, the genius and driving force behind nearly 40 Winterfests, and there she is!

Carrie-Anne and I had so much fun from the fifth row, watching Valerie paint, listening to her interact with the likes of Jeff Walling and Eric Wilson and The Skit Guys, and watching her legions of fans from Edmond CofC and Pleasant Ridge CofC flock to the front of the stage before and after each session to talk to and take pictures with her. Eric Wilson was effusive in his praise for Valerie’s skill, interrupting his own Saturday night presentation to step over and marvel at her work. Jeff Walling was more than generous in his interactions with Valerie during his keynote Sunday morning, acknowledging her talents and her growing fan base. It was just so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Six thousand teenagers! Worshiping God! Our students! Committing publicly to telling others about the Lord! Our kids! Promising to live for Christ! This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

God’s Church has seen a terrible decline in this country during my generation’s turn at the wheel. It’s our fault. We’ve messed it up. We’ve gone about church in the wrong way and it’s time we admit it. We’ve compromised our allegiances. We’ve pursued power and glory, control and fights. We’ve shied away from suffering and sacrifice and peace. We’ve lost our way. We’ve embraced a distorted version of discipleship and communicated to the world a twisted vision of our Savior. We’ve lined up with the ways and means of the world and totally turned off everybody my age and younger. People are rejecting the Jesus our generation has expressed, they are leaving the Church we’ve modeled. And we deserve it.

God is going to use this upcoming generation to get his Church back on track in this country. These young men and women are going to show us how to embrace the way of Jesus, how to pledge allegiance to only one Lord, how to sacrifice and serve, how to live the eternal life we’ve been given right now instead of only after we die. This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Valerie is right in the middle of them. Painting and singing and serving and encouraging, smiling and laughing and giving and loving in the name and manner of our Lord.

Go Rams,

Allan

Lowering the Bar

The bar used to be really high for the Dallas Cowboys. Before Jerry Wayne bought the Cowboys in 1989, the longest the team ever went between league or conference championship game appearances was six years. That six year drought came in the last six years of Tom Landry’s tenure, from 1983-88. And it was the main factor in the sale of the team.

Prior to that, the Cowboys made it to the championship game almost every year. A divisional playoff win was a gimmee.

It took them five years from that initial expansion season to playing Green Bay in the NFL Championship game. They went from absolutely nothing in 1960 — they missed the draft that first season! — to playing the Packers for the league title in 1966 and 1967. Until Jerry bought the team, that was the second longest championship game drought in team history, those first five years!

They experienced a two-year drought from 1968-70. A one-year drought in 1974, another one-year miss in 1976, and another divisional round loss in 1979. They appeared in the conference championship game four straight years from 1970-73 and five out of six seasons in 1977-1982. In total, in the 29-years before Jerry bought the team, the Cowboys appeared in twelve conference championship games, never going more than six years in between appearances. The Cowboys were not just relevant, they were at the top. They were a dynasty. They were in every conversation. For almost 30-years, the Cowboys dominated the NFL. The championship always went through Dallas. The legitimate expectations were Super Bowl or bust every single season. The bar was high.

Then they suffered that longest ever six-year drought. No divisional playoff wins in six years. And it caused a panic. Tom Landry didn’t know what he was doing. Gil Brandt couldn’t evaluate players. Tex Schramm couldn’t keep up with the times. The league had passed the Cowboys by. It was time for wholesale change. Little tweaks wouldn’t fix what was broken. Everything needed to be cleared out. The owner, the coach, the GM, the assistants, the trainers, the scouting department, even Tommy Loy the Texas Stadium trumpet player! Everybody had to go. The entire culture of the whole franchise had to be changed. The Cowboys hadn’t been to the conference championship game in six years! It was the worst playoff drought in franchise history!

And it worked. With Jimmy Johnson at the helm, they turned it around. With his players and the culture he created, Johnson’s Cowboys went to four straight conference championship games. They won three Super Bowls.

That was 23-years ago.

The Dallas Cowboys right now are mired in a playoff drought that is four times longer than any other drought in the team’s history. It has never been this bad, it’s never even been close to this bad before. But I don’t sense that anybody’s panicked. I don’t hear the outcry. Somehow, the Cowboys are still the most valuable sports franchise in the world, they sell more merchandise than any other team, and that oppressive stadium is still sold out every week. Just making it to the divisional round is lauded by the owner, the coach, and the players as a great success. The expectations have changed. The bar has been lowered. The Cowboys are the Browns and the Bengals.

Peace,

Allan

After Delivery

My Aunt Alice finished her race yesterday. And she ran well. She ran very well. In honor of her, I’m posting the following short story my Uncle Gerald shared with me a couple of weeks ago. This story has come to mean so much to both of them in helping to articulate the hope and the reality of everlasting life after death in the presence of our heavenly Father. Uncle Gerald has asked me to read it at Aunt Alice’s funeral this Friday in Kilgore. I’m honored. And I share it with you today, praying it encourages you, too.

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Well, of course! There has to be life after delivery. I believe we’ve been placed here to prepare ourselves for what will be later.”

“Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than we have here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat with our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. Life after delivery is not logical.”

The second insisted, “Well, I think there is something else and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Hogwash! Plus, if there is life after delivery, why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life. After delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied, “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, where is she?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of her. It is in her that we live. Without her, this world would not and could not exist. And neither could we.”

Said the first, “Well, I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive her presence and you can hear her loving voice calling down from above.”

God bless Aunt Alice. May he receive her into his faithful arms. And may God bless Uncle Gerald and our whole family with his merciful blessings of comfort and peace and joy.

Peace,

Allan

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