Author: Allan (page 2 of 340)

Virus Perspective

I’m not sure any of us knows exactly what’s happening right now or what’s driving it. I spent over two hours last Sunday going to more than twenty stores looking for toilet paper and I couldn’t find a square! Carrie-Anne actually ordered toilet paper online. I’m not kidding. That’s actually a thing. And we did it.

My daughter’s college graduation has been postponed, March Madness has been canceled, and the Whataburger’s closed! We were two people away from me singing soprano on the praise team yesterday! What kind of a world are we living in?

Now, I do believe that everybody’s doing the very best they can. I really do. I believe everybody who’s making decisions for us are doing so with pure motives and in the best interests of the most people. But, still. I don’t feel like I actually know anything. Do you know anything for sure?

Is it just the older people who are suffering or are younger people beginning to get sick? How exactly is this thing transmitted? Do we have testing kits or not? Is this going to be a two-week thing or a two-year thing? Is all of this virus scare and the shutdowns and closings overblown or underappreciated? Is the government doing too much or not enough? Am I going to have any money left when this is over? And what about this tickle in my throat? What’s that all about? You know? These are anxious times. Things are unstable at best, and maybe even chaotic. People are frustrated. And nervous. And scared.

There’s a lot we don’t know for sure. A lot. But I believe our Lord Jesus gives us the proper perspective for dealing with this outbreak.

In John 9, Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind. When the disciples see this guy, they view his situation in a certain way. What’s their perspective? They want to blame somebody. They want to point fingers. They want to turn this guy into a theological case study. Who sinned? Whose fault is this? This is a bad thing that’s happened here — who messed up? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Let’s get after it!

And while the apostles are pulling out their commentaries and word studies and their grandfather’s lectureship notes, Jesus completely reframes the whole conversation. Jesus says nobody sinned. Nobody did anything wrong. That’s not why this man is blind.

“It happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” ~John 9:3

Jesus says this man born blind is going to be a banner, a display, a huge billboard for the glory of God and everybody’s going to see it! God is going to work through this man’s particular circumstances and God’s name is going to be praised!

The disciples are asking the wrong questions. They’re looking to point fingers and to lay blame. Their instinct is to criticize and complain. But Jesus refocuses their perspective. He reframes how he wants his followers to see a crisis. What can God do with this? What is God going to do with this? Those are the right questions. That’s the proper perspective.

I know every five minutes it seems like more places are closing down, more events are being cancelled, and more activities are being suspended. But the Gospel is not suspended. Jesus Christ has not been stopped. The Church has not shut down and the mission has not been slowed down. Our God is still very much at work and his name is still to be glorified and praised.

Do you see God at work in this virus? Have you seen evidence of his love and grace in the middle of this mess? Are you looking for the proof of his presence in this crisis? Are you looking for it?

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

While we’re not physically meeting together right now, we’re doing everything we can to keep connected as a church family at Central. We’ve started a weekly podcast of Central people talking about Central things and each morning we’re livestreaming our church staff’s regular Word and Prayer time. We’re making lots of phone calls and producing lots of videos and resources on the fly. Most of this is new, some of it is quite challenging, and all of it is being used by God’s Spirit to draw his people closer to him and closer to one another in a really strange time.

Peace,

Allan

Prayer of Petition

For the past two years, my mornings with the Lord have been guided by my little blue book. I was given the book, “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants,” at the Transforming Community in Chicago. For each week of the year it contains the Lectionary readings, some inspirational writings, a hymn, and some prayers. (When I don’t know the hymn, I sing it out loud to the tune of “Amazing Grace” which, somehow, usually works.)

What follows here is the prayer for the week offered in my little blue book. I have prayed this prayer out loud every morning this week and I used it to close out the podcast we recorded yesterday for our church family. It seems divinely-ordained to be used by God’s people this week. It’s attributed to William Barclay. And I’d like to share it with you.

O God, our Father, we know that the issues of life and death are in your hands, and we know that you are loving us with an everlasting love. If it is your will, grant us to live in happiness and peace.

In all our undertakings,
grant us prosperity and good success.
In all our friendships,
grant us to find our friends faithful and true.
In all bodily things,
make us fit and healthy,
able for the work of the day.
In all the things of the mind,
make us calm and serene,
free from anxiety and worry.
In material things,
save us from poverty and want.
In spiritual things,
save us from doubt and distrust.
Grant us
in our work, satisfaction;
in our study, true wisdom;
in our pleasure, gladness;
in our love, loyalty.

And if misfortune does come to us, grant that any trial may only bring us closer to one another and closer to you; and grant that nothing may shake our certainty that you work all things together for good, and that a Father’s hand will never cause his child a needless tear.

Hear this, our prayer;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

You Can’t Beat the Devil

The stuff we’ve been talking about here for the past two posts are things you’re going to be dealing with at some level for most of your life. The seeds of doubt, the questions about your own worth and salvation, the lack of assurance — you can’t defeat the devil. But Jesus defeats the devil for you. That’s the really good news: Jesus is your Savior and he defeats the devil for you.

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work!” ~1 John 3:8

Look at how Jesus does this during that face-to-face in the desert. Jesus counters the devil from his solid position as God’s beloved Son and he uses the blessings and the promises of Scripture to defeat the devil for you.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8. I live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. I live and thrive on who God says I am, not in who you say I am. I believe what God says about me, not what you’re saying about me.

Then Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6. Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Don’t question my identity in God. If he says he loves me and that I belong to him and that he’s well pleased with me, don’t you doubt that for a second.

Then Jesus says, “Away from me! I’m done with this! There’s only one God, the One who loves me and accepts me, the One whose image I share!”

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” ~Hebrews 4:15-16

We don’t just have the Word of the Lord, we also have the Lord of the Word. We don’t just have the book, as beautiful and as powerful as it is, we also have Jesus, the Holy Son of God himself.

Jesus is the One who crushes the head of the serpent. He’s the Savior lifted up on the stake, the One we look to for healing from the viper’s bites. He’s the One who throws the dragon into the fiery abyss.

Jesus Christ is not just a good man who shows us how to live. He’s also not just a King who destroys all evil in one mighty stroke. Evil is all around us, it’s inside us, we’re all infected. If Jesus came here to destroy all evil on the spot, he would have ended all of us, too. No, Jesus is a King who came to a cross.

Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave vindicates God’s blessing and validates God’s promises and destroys forever the work of the devil and his lies. Jesus tells us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.” And Jesus is the One who delivers.

If Jesus is who he says he is, you should believe him when he says who you are. What he says about you is true. What he’s placed in you is true. He wants you to view yourself and understand yourself, not through your past or even your present, but through his promise.

“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true — even in his Son Jesus Christ.” ~1 John 5:19-20

Peace,

Allan

You Are Blessed By God

You are blessed by God. This is first and it’s foundational and it’s forever. You are blessed by God. This goes all the way back to the very first chapter of the Bible, the very beginning. The very day God created the first man and woman.

“God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them…” ~Genesis 1:27-28

God blessed them. The very first words God ever spoke to people at creation is blessing. Before God gives any command or any law, before he gives out jobs or guidelines for behavior, God gives his blessing. God’s blessing is not based on performance or on meeting some expectations. God’s blessings are based solely on the fact that you are created in his holy image, you bear his likeness, he made you and put himself into you. You belong to God and your are loved by God and God is very pleased with you because you are his child.

That is your identity. First and foremost and forever. That’s not just what you are, it’s who you are: blessed by God. And God speaks that blessing over and over and over to you, from that first day of creation glory to this very moment right now while you’re reading these words.

“This is what the Lord says — he who created you, he who formed you, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine… Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.'” ~Isaiah 43

“I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands!” ~Isaiah 49

Jesus says there’s not one little bird in the sky that goes down without the Father being aware of it. What about you? You’re worth more to God than all the little birds in the world! God knows the exact number of hairs on your head!

Jesus says you know how to give good gifts to your children, and you’re not even that good yourself. How much more does your Father in heaven give to his children! How much more grace does he have for those who belong to him!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” ~ 1 John 3:1

Over and over and over again, every page of Holy Scripture reminds you of the blessing.

“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 will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?… [Nothing} in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” ~Romans 8

You are blessed by God. And it’s not based on your performance. It’s not founded on what you do or how well you do it. God loves you because you are his child. God commits to you and publicly accepts you and approves of you because you are his child. You are blessed by God.

And that’s exactly where the devil attacks you.

Man, this is so important.

Ephesians 6 tells us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. 1 Timothy 3 warns us not to fall into the devil’s trap. And we know what it is. The devil attacks the blessing. The devil wants to undermine your confidence in Christ, he wants you to doubt your identity as a beloved child of God, he wants you to lose your assurance — your certainty — as saved by Jesus Christ and sealed forever by God’s Holy Spirit.

I believe the devil wants to keep you from believing that Jesus really is the Son of God and the Savior of the World. Maybe Jesus was just a really wise and moral teacher. Maybe Jesus wasn’t really physically raised from the dead — those are just stories. Maybe there are other ways to get to heaven. I think the devil starts there. But his most subtle, most dangerous, and most effective attacks are on your blessing from God, your status as a beloved child who belongs to God.

If the devil can get your brain to believe that God loves you, but your heart to feel like God only loves you if you’re good enough — that’s his goal. If the devil can get your brain to believe that Christ’s death takes care of all your sins, but your heart to feel like that won’t cover the super big sins or the sins you can’t shake — that’s what he wants. If the devil can get your brain to accept that you are saved by God’s grace, but your heart to feel like you haven’t done enough…

The Bible calls the devil the tempter, and he certainly is that. But much more than that, the Bible calls the devil the accuser, the liar, the father of lies. Jesus says lying is the devil’s native tongue.

I’m convinced that most of the trouble in my world and in your world — whatever trouble you find in your heart and your soul, whatever’s not good inside you — is a result of knowing and believing in God’s love for you in your brain, and confessing his mercy and grace for you with your lips, but feeling something different in your heart.

All the research shows that when you ask Christians how they believe God thinks about them — “When God thinks about you, how does he feel? — more than two-thirds of Christians say “disappointed.” God is disappointed with me. Not “I belong to God.” Not “God loves me.” Not “God is well pleased with me.” We don’t feel what the Bible says about God and me, we feel what the devil says about God and me!

Brilliant, huh? And evil.

Peace,

Allan

The Devil’s Scheme

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” ~Matthew 3:16-17

Jesus is a 30-year-old man making his first independent appearance in the Gospel at the Jordan River. He’s being baptized. In Matthew, this is the very first thing Jesus does. And right out of the gate, right out of the water, God blesses Jesus. Jesus is blessed by God.

Jesus hasn’t healed anybody, he hasn’t fed anybody, he hasn’t taught anybody, and he hasn’t raised anybody from the dead. Jesus hasn’t preached a single sermon, hugged a single child, or rebuked a single Pharisee. As far as we can tell, Jesus hasn’t done anything yet. But he is blessed by God.

This is my Son. He belongs to me. He is part of me.
I love him. I am committed to him. I cherish him.
I am proud of him. I’m happy with him. I approve of him.

Jesus is blessed by God before he can do anything to earn it or deserve it. God’s blessing is not predicated on Jesus’ performance or on Jesus’ abilities to live a good life or on Jesus’ works on behalf of the Kingdom. God blessed Jesus because he is his Son. God loves Jesus because he is his Son. He commits to Jesus and he publicly affirms Jesus because he is his Son.

“This is my Son, whom I love” is a quote from Psalm 2, which is about God’s messianic King who’s going to put down all rebellion in the world and destroy all evil. “With him I am well pleased” is from Isaiah 53, which is about God’s suffering servant, the one who will die for the sins of the people. God gives Jesus his great blessing, he declares his eternal love and his deep approval of Jesus before Jesus does any of this. God’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ identity as God’s precious child is not tied to what Jesus does or accomplishes. Jesus is first and foremost blessed by God.

And the devil attacks that blessing.

In the very next verse, the opening of Matthew 4, Jesus is dripping wet from his baptism and led by the Spirit into the desert for a face-to-face meeting with the devil. And the very first words out of the devil’s mouth are, “IF you are the Son of God…”

He says it in verse three and he repeats it in verse six: “IF you are the Son of God…”

IF you are really loved by God… IF you really belong to God… IF you are really who God says you are… IF God is really pleased with you…

This is how the devil operates. This is his strategy.

God has just assured Jesus that he is God’s beloved child. God has just promised Jesus that he loves him and that he accepts him. And the devil immediately and directly attacks Jesus at that very spot.

Turn these stones to bread! Let’s see if you REALLY belong to God!
Jump off this building! Let’s see if God REALLY loves you!

The devil is asking Jesus to make God prove he really loves him and he’s really pleased with him. But you don’t need to ask God for demonstrations or proof unless you doubt. And that is the devil’s main goal. He wants Jesus to doubt the certainty of God’s unconditional love. He wants Jesus to lose the assurance of God’s eternal blessing and his approval. He wants Jesus to question it.

Do you see how the devil works?

It’s brilliant. And evil.

Peace,

Allan

So What?

One-hundred-eighty of us from the four downtown Amarillo churches and beyond spent most of yesterday together at Polk Street United Methodist for the first ever 4Amarillo Preachers Conference for Everybody. Each of us four churches brought in the best preacher from our own traditions to preach his/her favorite Easter sermon and then to give us 15-20 minutes of whatever they had burning in their bones to tell a room full of preachers from Canadian and Borger to Plainview and Tulia.

The theme of our two-day worship and preaching seminar was “Easter’s Coming. So What?” And it was fabulous.

Ron Scates took us on an imaginary bus tour across the state of Texas and helped us see our communities as if Jesus had never been raised. Alyce McKenzie described the shock and awe of the resurrection to those first followers who should have seen it coming, but didn’t. Chris Seidman, our CofC guy from The Branch in North Dallas, inspired us by pointing out the significance of the seal on the tomb of Jesus and the breaking of that seal to boldly proclaim that the situation does not belong to Pilate or the soldiers or to even Caesar himself, but to Almighty God who breaks the seal and does exactly what he wants to save the world. And then Joel Gregory reminded us that Jesus appears to the downsized characters on the road to Emmaus, he meets them and us right where we are, in the middle of our doubts and fears and shattered hopes.

The ecumenical spirit was turned up to eleven at First Baptist Sunday night. And the unity and fellowship was even stronger Monday because it included so many from at least a dozen other congregations of God’s people throughout the panhandle.

On top of all that, the optional offerings added up to $1,500 we’re donating to Amarillo’s Heal the City free clinic in the name of the Christian unity our Lord prayed for on that last night.

I am so grateful to Chris for joining us up here for this incredible event. I am thankful to God for the friendship and partnership I share with Howard, Howie, and Mark and our four churches in this city. And I pray that when we worship and serve together, it remains an undeniable witness that our Lord really is the Prince of Peace, and he is bigger than anything that might possibly divide us!

Peace,

Allan

« Older posts Newer posts »