Author: Allan (page 2 of 329)

Church People: Part 2

Our Lord Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person. That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation, that our God didn’t just come to us, he became one of us. This is God’s salvation plan, that he would put on our flesh-and-blood.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:1, 14

What’s the covenant God made with us? From Genesis through Revelation, from the Law and Prophets and Psalms through the Gospels and Letters, God says it dozens of times, the same promise over and over: “I will live with you, I will walk among you, I will make my dwelling with you; you will be my people and I will be your God.” That’s the covenant.

And when Jesus comes, it’s the messy particularity of it that’s so striking. As you read the Gospels, you can almost taste the dust. You can smell the animals. You can hear the people arguing. Jesus is not so much about inspiring concepts and theological abstractions, he’s about fishing nets and mustard seeds and coins and lepers and spit mixed with dirt and sheep and synagogues and sermons and suppers and tears and frustrations and heartaches and forgiveness. The flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus as a real human person is in your face!

And it’s a beautiful and magnificent thing. We praise God because he became one with us, he became one of us, in Jesus Christ. Our eternal salvation is grounded in the fact that Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person, that he experienced everything we experience, that he knows us intimately and he fully understands everything we go through because he went through it, too. It’s awesome and mysterious and so amazingly glorious! What other God would do this? Jesus the Christ, the promised holy One of God, is a flesh-and-blood person!

So, of course, his Body, the Church, is a flesh-and-blood people.

Our God has always called people. He always calls his people to be people — certainly more than just people, but not something other than people.

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God!” ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Just like individuals, I think churches long to throw off their flesh-and-blood natures and soar like Superman. Or super-saints. But that’s a childish wish and it’s not going to happen. When people complain about the Church being too preoccupied with money or buildings or doctrines or prestige, when people gripe about the Church being closed-minded or exclusive or lazy or boring, they’re usually revealing their discomfort that the Church is, indeed, a body.

Bodies sweat and get sick, they produce weird smells and require varying levels of maintenance. That’s the Church.

Some churches are the bodies of infants — they’re crawling and stumbling and falling down and uncoordinated, but so full of potential. Other churches are like the bodies of teenagers — they’re full of muscle and energy and they’re tripping over each other in their enthusiasm to save the world with no appreciation for how difficult that really is. Some churches are really old bodies — they have a distinguished heritage and some really great memories, but they’re about ready to keel over. For better or worse, whatever kind of body we encounter, this is the Body of Christ. This is the form our risen and reigning Lord has chosen to be present in the world.

And it never meets our high expectations. We can be disappointed by the Church. Embarrassed.

But the world being what it is and we being who we are, we are not going to arrive this side of glory. We’re still human pilgrims doing our best to live out the love of God in Christ. And falling way short. But the Church is always more than it appears to be. It’s not another club or social organization. The Church is a chosen people, a holy nation selected by a holy God. What can look like a failing, declining institution for religious folks is, in truth, nothing other than the very Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, united as one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit right now today and forever!

And it’s real. It’s physical and tangible and flesh-and-blood visible. And real.

God’s Church does not work as an abstract ideal. It’s not a theological concept. It’s intended by God to be visible and authentic and real, warts and all.

Peace,

Allan

Church People

 

Church people are one of the Church’s biggest problems. Church people seem to be what’s wrong with Church. Church people can be an obstruction to the Gospel, a hindrance, an obstacle. The 18th century poet Robert Southey famously wrote, “I could believe in Christ if he did not drag behind him his leprous bride.” In William Willimon’s words, “Jesus has many admirers who feel like he married beneath his station.” You and I know folks who say “Yes” to Jesus but “No” to the Church. They claim to be spiritual, but not religious. And Church people appear to be the reason.

Church people are not perfect. We don’t look like saints are supposed to look. We don’t always act redeemed or restored. In fact, Church people are mostly a mess. But the Bible recognizes that. Nobody knows Church people better than Paul. And in 1 Corinthians, he straight up calls it out.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not…” ~1 Corinthians 1:26-29

That doesn’t make church easy. Paul spends most of his time dealing with Church problems caused by Church people. He’s putting out fires for the elders at the church in Corinth. He’s rebuking a sectarian element at the church in Galatia. He’s encouraging the discouraged Christians at the church in Philippi. He’s trying to bring together the bickering factions at the church in Ephesus. The greatest challenge in following Jesus is his Body, the Church. So a lot of people want to follow Jesus in the safety of their own living rooms with a choir and a preacher on TV. They’d rather worship from a campsite in the canyon or a cabin the mountains or in the privacy of their own backyard.

Church people are an obstruction. That shouldn’t surprise us because our Lord Jesus is a stumbling block! Jesus himself is a problem!

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” ~1 Corinthians 1:22-23

It is a shocking and glorious thing that God Almighty loves us so much that he refused to stay above us or beyond us but came to this earth in our Lord Jesus. He came to be with us in our problems. He jumped right into the middle of our problems. But the way he came is a problem. We’re all ready for God to be the King. We’re ready for Jesus to be Lord of all. Hosanna in the highest! We’re at the front of the parade! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord! But the way he comes is a problem.

Kings aren’t born to unmarried peasants in a stable in Bethlehem. Kings aren’t raised as a carpenter’s son in Nazareth. Remember Nathanael? Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Kings don’t eat with sinners. They don’t hang out with tax collectors who work for the occupying enemy forces. The Messiah doesn’t break the Sabbath traditions. The Savior from God doesn’t refuse to raise an army, he doesn’t allow himself to be insulted and beaten without fighting back, and he certainly doesn’t die a criminal’s death on a cross.

That’s a problem. An obstruction. A stumbling block.

Several times over the first 300 years of the Church, different groups of Christians were tempted to fall into what’s called Docetism, the idea that Jesus wasn’t really human. He was 100% divine, he was 100% God, and he was zero-percent human. He only appeared to be human. Docetism is from a Greek word that means “to appear” or “to seem.” They thought they were doing Jesus a great honor by this teaching. By saying that Jesus was not flesh-and-blood, they thought they were making him more holy and divine. But really what they were doing was making Jesus more safe. More sanitary. Sterile. If he’s just a disembodied, ethereal spirit, he’s almost irrelevant. Jesus is not so disturbing or challenging if he’s just a being from outer space.

And if you’re struggling with the Incarnation, how much more are you going to struggle with the Church? You’ll admire Christ and you’ll find him attractive and inspiring, but you’ll really be turned off by his Body. The idea of Christ is fine. But the fleshly reality is repulsive.

And you’ll argue that when Jesus called people to follow him, he had something else in mind other than the Church. Something spiritual and pure. Non-corporate. Non-institutional. Not the Church the way we experience it today. Can anything good come out of 1401 South Monroe?  Or wherever your church is located?

The truth is our Lord Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person. And his Church, his Body, is a flesh-and-blood people. That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation. And I’ll fill that out a little more in this space tomorrow. This is a two-parter.

Peace,

Allan

If

Nationally-acclaimed poet David Bowden was at Central last night as part of our “Together@Central” summer Wednesday nights series. David is a powerful proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s a poet, a preacher, a minister, a composer, a performer, and a gifted prophet. And last night he inspired and encouraged us, he taught and challenged us. He opened up the Word of God to us in brand new ways that made an eternal impact on every person in our chapel.

David performed one of my favorites: “If.” Here’s the Youtube version. It’s different, but not better than what he did here last night.

Salvation in Church

While studying for this Sunday’s sermon on the incarnational nature of Christ’s Church, I came across an old blog post by William Willimon. I’m probably going to use these last two paragraphs:

The night I was ordained,  a bishop laid hands on my head, repeating the ancient words of the Ordinal, “Never forget that the ones to whom you are called to minister are the ones for whom he died.”

There I was, wondering, “Will the church appreciate my superior training? Will I get an all-electric parsonage?” And there was the church, once again forcing me to be a Chalcedonian Christian, once again forcing me to believe in the blessed Incarnation, once again telling me, “The often disheartening, sometimes disappointing ones I’m making you fortunate enough to serve, are the ones for whom I died. This is my idea of salvation. Don’t mess it up.”

Peace,

Allan

Sod Poodles and Blind Cows

My brother Keith and his family came through Amarillo last night on their way home to Austin from a vacation in Yellowstone and we took them to their first Sod Poodles game at our new downtown ballpark. We had planned to introduce them to all the really great things about Sod Poodles games: free parking on Fillmore Street, Texas Tea, Dickie’s Frito Pie, six-dollar nachos, wondering why Ruckus wears a belt but no pants, cheering the local players by their first names, loving the evening weather in Amarillo, running into more than three-dozen people from church, explaining “HodgeVision,” expecting at least two or three homeruns, singing that awful song during the seventh-inning stretch, and throwing tennis balls at the target in left field.

What we didn’t expect was for my two nephews to be selected to provide the in-between entertainment during the second inning. Almost as soon as we found our seats (not our seats; Dale Cooper’s awesome seats), Paul and Isaac were asked to participate in the on-field Caviness Beef promotion. And before the young lady in the “Sod Squad” jersey could explain the details, they were both signing the waiver forms.

Paul and Isaac had to put on cow costumes that serve to remind the crowd more about Chick-fil-A than Caviness Beef, put on blindfolds, submit to being spun around about seven hundred times, and then find the staffer standing in left field ringing a cow bell. The winner received ten pounds of frozen beef.

They’re brothers. So Keith and Amanda won either way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Paul and Isaac both simultaneously and blindly assaulted the lady in left field, the P.A. announcer declared it a tie and we walked out of there at the end of the night with a 7-0 Sod Poodles win and a box of fresh regional ground beef. Only in Amarillo!

Peace,

Allan

Going to Chicago

I’m leaving this morning for my quarterly trip to Chicago and the Transforming Community. This image seems appropriate.

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