In All Circumstances

1 Thessalonians, Prayer, Thanksgiving No Comments »

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

There’s a difference between giving thanks FOR all circumstances and giving thanks IN all circumstances. You don’t give thanks for all the dirty dishes in the sink at the end of the day — unless you’re some kind of sicko; you do thank God for the food he gives you to dirty all those dishes. You don’t give thanks for the car accident; you do thank God that nobody was seriously injured. You don’t give thanks that Molly White is in the hospital; you do thank God for the opportunity to minister to Molly and her husband Pete and for deeming you somehow worthy to minister in the name of Jesus. You don’t give thanks that Vernon died; you do thank God that death is not the bottom line, death is not the last chapter. Thank you, Lord, that God in Christ is the ultimate power with the ultimate authority and he always writes the final word! Thank the Lord that resurrection and life belong to us in Jesus!

I always get a kick out of listening to little kids pray — I’m talking about little kids: three, four, five years old. They give thanks to God for everybody and every thing. If we’re at the table, they thank God for everybody around the table and every food item, the plates, the napkins, the silverware, the Kool-Aid, and what they hope is for dessert.

If we’re praying in the living room, they thank God for the couch and the fireplace and the TV and the remote. If we’re in the bedroom, they thank God for the bed, their pillow, their blanket, their clothes, their shoes, and they name every single stuffed animal and every doll and lift them each to God in praise. It’s everything.

Everything they see is a gift from God. Everything in the world, everything going on around them right now, at this moment, all of it is a blessing from God and he is to be thanked profusely.

Why do we lose that?

Joyful souls and prayerful spirits and grateful hearts — that is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

The Closing Prayer

1 Thessalonians, Faith, Legacy Church Family, MLB, Prayer, Salvation No Comments »

Carter Karels was a cute little middle school kid in our youth group at Legacy when our family arrived in Northeast Tarrant County in 2007. He knew then he wanted to be a sportswriter. Now today, after a couple of key internships, a successful stint as the sports editor at Texas A&M’s Battalion, and a few medium-profile run-ins with SEC football coaches, Carter is a sports reporter for USA Today. His very first story, on the season-ending injury to the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, can be found here. He’s also written a popular profile of Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge, which can be accessed here. Congratulations, Carter! I’m very proud of you, man. And I know your dad is probably impossible to live with now…

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“May God himself, the God of Peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

As a family formed by the future, it’s appropriate that Paul would end his letter to the Thessalonian church in Jason’s house by pointing them again to what is to come: the finished work of our God.

Sanctification, the continual process of being made holy, is both a gift from God and a goal. It is both experienced right now and still to be accomplished. Holiness is given to disciples of Jesus at the point of conversion, when we pass from death to life and become new creations in Christ. But it is also a goal that we strive to live out in our daily lives. This life of discipleship to our Lord is “between the times,” because he hasn’t finished yet what he began.

But he will.

During this short letter, Paul has talked a lot about himself and the church in Thessalonica. But his closing prayer reminds us that all of it is truly about our God. The last thing Paul wants on his hearers’ minds is our God, the One who has called us and saved us in Christ Jesus, the One who gives us his Spirit in power and holiness, and the One who will bring us into his Kingdom and glory when Jesus returns.

Paul wants to reassure us, he wants to remind us, that not only is God able to do all that he has promised, but because he is trustworthy and reliable, he will in fact do it. Our future rests entirely in the power and faithfulness of God. And that should inform and enable us to live lives of power and faithfulness ourselves as we wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship, Holy Spirit No Comments »

Allow me to pick up where we left off yesterday and conclude this short conversation on holiness.

When you put on Christ in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified, everything becomes brand new. It’s panoramic. It’s all-inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. You’ve got new desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no room for other gods, no place for selfish behavior, no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness. Holiness has to be pushed into the room and dominate what I do and say and think. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

But, I can’t.

I find myself on a holiness roller coaster, some days great, some days awful, some weeks in tune with God and his will, some weeks or months living for my goals instead of his. I want to be holy, I want to live a pure life all the time. But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes 1 Thessalonians 4:8 sound scary: “He who rejects this instruction does not reject man, but God.”

But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes the rest of the verse a word of divine grace: “…God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Being holy is powered by God’s Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit living inside each one of us that works in us to make us holy. The Spirit is given to us to root out the sin in our lives and lead us in this process of sanctification. Yes, we’re called to be holy; but, praise God, we’re also equipped to be holy! It IS possible, only by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in holiness. God is the one who makes it happen — not you, not me. God does it through his Son and by the power of his Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t merely provide the holy standard we’re to live by based on his character and holiness. He also provides us with the power and the resources to live that way.

I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Exodus 31
I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Leviticus 20
God in Christ makes us holy – Hebrews 2
Christ Jesus is our holiness – 1 Corinthians 1
We’re made holy through Jesus – Hebrews 10

The Christian life is not about working to become something you’re not; it’s about being what you already are. God’s Spirit is in us, working to sanctify us, working to make us holy — if we’ll just stop fighting it.

Paul doesn’t tell the Thessalonians to start loving each other and acting right. They already are. He acknowledges how well they’re doing in their walk with Christ. He just encourages them to do more. Take it further. Be so completely wrapped up in God’s claim on your life. Be so totally dependent on Jesus Christ for your salvation. Be so thoroughly led by the Spirit inside you to holiness and sanctification. Ride it, don’t fight it. It’s God’s will, let him do it.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. It’s what he wants to do. Let him do it.

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

Peace,

Allan

Holy Life

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship No Comments »

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:7

Can we take Paul’s instructions regarding our sexuality and sexual expressions and apply them to every part of our lives? The way you handle your money? The way you deal with jobs and career? How you treat your parents? What you do when nobody’s watching? Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica to think about their sexual conduct, not as a separate part of their lives, but within the larger framework of their walk with Christ.

Everything you do, everything you say, everything you think, from the moment you wake up until the minute you go to sleep — God claims all of it! His will is that all of it be holy. We don’t belong to ourselves. Every second, every square inch — we belong to the Holy Creator of the Universe. We need to change the way we look at things. It’s bigger than we think.

Christianity is not, “Hey, God does exist and he makes some demands on me through Jesus.” The Gospel is not a systematic approach to ethics, it’s not a rational understanding of morality. Jesus does not bring a new teaching or a new ethic or a new set of morals. He brings a brand new reality!

If anyone is in Christ: New Creation! Everything’s new. All of creation is brand new. Everything looks new. Everything’s re-interpreted. Jesus is not an add-on to the story; he IS the story! Jesus is not the missing piece to the puzzle; he IS the puzzle and the box it came in! And the card table and chairs and bag of chips and whatever else is in the room! That’s our reality. Our conduct is attached to how we see the world. We act according to our understanding of reality.

Think about what happened to your conduct the day you learned you were pregnant with your first child. Everything you know as reality shifted dramatically. And your priorities change. You spend money differently. You start saving money differently. The things you look at in the store are different. You’re checking consumer reports on baby strollers and car seats. There’s a baby coming! You’re painting your study or your workout room in warm pastels because you want the baby to feel welcomed. You’re buying little things to stick in the plugs and latches for the kitchen cabinets because you want the baby to be safe. Your wife starts eating differently and you can’t find Dr Pepper in the house anymore. The things you talk about and think about are different. Everything’s a little more serious. Your outlook on life becomes a little more big picture.

Why?

Most of this stuff had never occurred to you before. But now you’ve got a brand new reality. New creation. You’re seeing things you’ve never seen before. And your behavior changes to reflect it.

When you put on Christ Jesus in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified and like his, everything’s new. It’s panoramic. It’s all inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. New desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no place for selfish behavior. There’s no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness.

God’s claim on my life in Jesus has to be pushed into the room and dominate everything I do and say and think about. It has to. It must be at the very core of my being and the very reason for everything I do.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Sex

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship, Sin 6 Comments »

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

Of the many ways that holiness or sanctification impacts us, Paul focuses on sex. Why? In this particular context, with this specific group of Christians, as far as the apostle is concerned, this is the definition of holiness: Avoid sexual immorality. Why?

Think with me about this first century Hellenistic society in Thessalonica. There’s no real connection between religion and morality. The culture was such that as long as you provided for your wife and you didn’t abuse her physically, it didn’t really matter who you had sex with. No big deal. In this culture, as long as nobody got hurt, anything goes — wherever, whenever, whoever. Culturally, socially, mistresses, concubines, even religiously. Consider what was happening down the street at First Aphrodite Church: Naked priestesses and temple prostitutes — pagan worship rituals were based on and drenched in sex.

Now these brand new Christians are meeting in Jason’s house in Thessalonica for songs and prayers, words of encouragement and a meal. And these new converts to Christ have no understanding of a right or wrong way to behave sexually. This was the main issue for Christians back then.

And it’s the main issue for Christians in the United States today.

We live in a completely sexualized culture. I don’t have to tell you, I don’t have to point it out. It’s everywhere. And don’t think for a minute it’s not a problem in your church. In this country, three out of every four 4-year-olds has his or her own iPad or some kind of device with a search engine. We’re throwing our youngest into the line of fire and calling it good. In middle school, what they’re nonchalantly sharing with each other on Instagram and Snapchat is disturbing. The clothes we let our daughters wear — it’s a problem.

If the statistics are even close — recent surveys of church-going Christians in the U.S. — 77% of the men in your church are looking at pornography at least once a month. Thirty-five percent of the married men in your church have had an extra-marital sexual affair. Christians! Us! I’m not telling you this to point fingers, I’m telling you this so maybe we can get a better grip on the scope of the problem. We live in a hook-up culture where cohabitation before marriage and casual sex outside marriage are normal and we’re carrying easy and ready access to pornography in our pockets. That’s a problem.

How we behave sexually has everything to do with our Christianity. The two are very much connected. Paul shows us that “holy and honorable” are the opposite of “passionate lust.” He points out that “passionate lust” is self-centered and concerned only with my needs and my desires. “Holy and honorable” is concerned with what’s best for others.

Look at the contrast. The heathen don’t know God and they’re sexually immoral. They don’t control their bodies. If you do know God, you don’t act that way.

We know God. And that obligates us to honor him. With all of ourselves. With our bodies.

God’s will for us — to be holy, to be sanctified — is to enjoy sex only within the confines of holy marriage. Anything else — anyone else, anywhere else, anywhen else — is driven by passionate lust and self-seeking desires and it’s not holy.

But, look, my girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yeah, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex. We can’t wait that long. I’m a 21-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have sex before marriage or I have to go to porn. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you do have a choice! In the name of Jesus and by the power of his Holy Spirit, you have lots of choices! How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created and saved for his holy purposes?

We don’t talk about sex anymore in church because our culture tells us it’s nobody’s business. Sex is personal and private. No! Wrong answer! Sex is not personal or private! Every single sexual thing you do impacts our families, impacts our community, impacts our relationships with God, and impacts his Church. Holy sexual conduct honors and glorifies God and our relationships with each other and our community and our families and the Church. Unholy sexual conduct dishonors all that. It wrongs our brothers and sisters and takes advantage of other people.

God did not call you and save you and come to live inside you so you could live an impure life. We are redeemed and called by our loving Creator to be holy.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching with Tucker

1 Thessalonians, Central Church Family, Intergenerational, Love 1 Comment »

A text this morning from a friend wondered if I had developed some carpel tunnel issues. Yes, it’s been a while since I wrote in this space. No, it has nothing to do with the health of my fingers. I have been out of town three of the past four weeks — in Malibu for the Pepperdine Lectures, on a sabbatical in a nice apartment near the bottom of Ceta Canyon, and in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. I even mixed in a weekend trip to Edmond for my nephew Asa’s high school graduation. So, I appreciate the concern for my physical well-being. Thank you. Consider me back in the groove.

Yesterday marked our summer kickoff here at Central when all our 5th graders are officially promoted into the student ministry. The day is highlighted by the gifting of Bibles and blessings, lunch and a slide show, swimming and bowling, and an all-in youth meeting. But, for me, the best part of my Sunday was preaching with Tucker Haynes.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re a multi-generational church at Central and we are continuously on the lookout for creative ways to experience intergenerational relationships. We want to model and practice church as family. Christian community. Doing life together in Christ. So Sunday we had all of our incoming 6th graders participating in the leading of our worship assembly. Noah Hartman helped Kevin lead our singing. Several of the students read Scripture. And Tucker helped me preach.

The text was 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now about brotherly love…” Tucker worked especially hard the past two weeks on the Greek word for brotherly love, philadelphia, and what exactly Paul means when he tells the Christians in Thessalonica that God has already taught them how to love. And he nailed it! He and I went back and forth — me, trying to remember my memorized manuscript while Tucker read his expertly crafted lines. Tucker had the whole congregation eating out of his hand when he confessed frankly that “brothers and sisters can be annoying.” Then he pulled the rug out from under us with his observation that “We don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters; they are a gift from God.”

Oh, yeah. Central ate him up with a spoon. He was excellent!

I really enjoyed my time with Tucker on Friday, finalizing together everything we were going to do.  I asked him questions about the text and about his relationships with his older brother and sisters.  I listened while he wrestled with using a personal illustration to both connect with the listeners and explain the text. We did a mic check together in the worship center early Sunday morning and prayed together in my office fifteen minutes before the assembly began — he was distracted by the 2011 World Series program on my table and couldn’t hardly pray for lamenting the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz.

Tucker, you were terrific, brother. I’m so blessed by God that you and I are adelphus. And I’d be honored to preach with you any day.

Peace,

Allan