Category: 2 Peter (Page 1 of 2)

Act Six – New Creation

FourFingers

Drew Stubbs’ running, leaping catch of Ian Kinsler’s drive to the center field wall with runners on the corners in the 9th inning snapped the Rangers’ three game skid and increased their lead in the A.L. West to two games now over the Angels. The magic number is four now, instead of three, because the Halos have moved past the ‘Stros for second place in the division. The rubber match with the Tigers is tonight, but then L.A. comes into Arlington for a season-ending four game series that will determine the division champion and the playoff seedings. What looked like a sure thing one week ago now comes down to every inning in these last five games.

Is there a way to leave Josh Hamilton out of the lineup? Even as a pinch hitter?

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NewHeaven&Earth“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” ~Revelation 21:1-5

As the great Yogi Berra once said, “This is deja vu all over again!”

A new creation. A new heavens and earth. The sea that separates the heavens from the earth is no more. Heaven and earth become one, just as intimately and beautifully as a new husband and his lovely bride become one. God is living again with the humans. Men and women are living again in the immediate presence of God. No more sorrow, no more heartache, no more death. Everything that’s gone wrong has now been fixed. The old order of things has passed away. I am making everything new!

I am making everything new!

And we’re so worn out with “new.” We don’t even know what “new” means anymore. They say it’s a new cereal, but it’s not. It’s the old cereal, but instead of yellow marshmallow stars they have blue marshmallow hearts and a different stripe on a smaller box that costs more money. They say it’s a new detergent, but it’s not. It’s the old detergent with a few added purple cleaning crystals and the words “maximum power” on a smaller box that costs more money. They say it’s a new iPhone, but it’s not. It’s the old iPhone with two features removed and three features added that costs more money and will be obsolete in three to six months. We’re so worn out with “new.”

But the Creator of Heaven and Earth says, “I am making everything new!” This is not a different label or a brighter color. This is not about a longer lasting battery.

The last act of the Story of God is not about people’s souls escaping from their bodies and rising up above the earth to go to heaven. What we see is heaven descending to the earth. This is not “I’ll Fly Away!” It’s not “This World is Not My Home.” God shows us the final act, the end of the Story, and it’s heaven coming down into the world, uniting with the world to purify it of its brokenness. This is what the prophets talked about:

NewH&E

“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create… the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more… The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy… says the Lord.” ~Isaiah 65

This is the new Garden of Eden. Men and women living in perfect relationship with each other together in the holy presence of God. Absolute peace and harmony with nature. No more injury or disease or death. No more hatred or violence or war. No more poor or needy or slaves or criminals. Everything is new. Everything is perfect. Everything is fixed.

Jesus predicted this in Matthew 19 when he spoke of “the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne.” The apostle is given credit for this same vision in 2 Peter 3: “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” Paul foresees the same thing in Romans 8: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God!”

The whole world will be healed as it is drawn into the fullness of God’s glory. Evil will be finally, ultimately destroyed. And all the potential of creation will explode in glorious fullness and beauty.

Peace,

Allan

Dung It!

“Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.” ~Luke 13:8-9

FigTreeShovelThe Greek phrase for what the farmer wants to do to the tree is literally “Dung it.” Most English Bible translations say “Fertilize it.” A couple of them, including the Revised Standard Version, use “manure.” But the old King James and American Standard Versions go with the literal “Dung it.” It’s a weird little line in a short little parable. But the solution to the barren fig tree is to give it more time and spread around a little manure (No, that doesn’t mean preach to the tree).

Manure is not a word, especially back then, that anybody would use in a religious illustration or religious teaching. It’s just not polite. It’s gross. In fact, this is the only place in the entire New Testament this word is used. Why do you think Jesus said “manure?” He could have said, “Let me bring in some better soil” or “Let me water the tree” or “let me prune some branches.” Why did he say, “Let me dung the tree?”

Well, there’s nothing glamorous about manure. It’s not exciting. It’s messy. Smelly. And it takes time. It’s not a quick fix. Digging around the tree, mixing in the manure, caring for the tree, nurturing the tree, paying careful attention to the tree — that takes patience. And great restraint. It’s going to take a while to see if it makes any difference.

Normally we want immediate results. So chopping down the tree seems like the best thing to do. We clear the ground out and get ready for a new tree. A new start. A new beginning. We love new beginnings: new efficient programs, new shiny buildings, new attractive members, new exciting projects, new fulfilling jobs, new shock-and-awe wars. But spreading manure has none of that exhilaration. It’s not dramatic. It doesn’t get anybody’s admiring attention. Manure is a slow solution. And it sounds a lot like our Lord, huh? Jesus is very much about the small, the slow, the unglamorous: yeast and salt and seeds. And manure.

This is how our God deals with people. Patience and restraint. Slow. I don’t care what 2 Peter says, God is slow. He’s not in a hurry. Scripture tells us over and over again we need to wait on God. And Scripture also tells us that God spends a lot of his time waiting on us.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as Allan understands slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance… Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” ~2 Peter 3:9, 15

The holy God of Heaven and Earth holds off on his judgment, he delays his punishment, he refrains from putting the ax to the root because he loves us. He gives us time. And while he gives us this time, he nurtures us and takes great care of us. He carefully digs around us and blesses us with love and mercy and forgiveness. God keeps coming to us, keeps sparing us, keeps giving us opportunities and unlimited chances to respond. He never gives up on us. He keeps forgiving.

For me not to respond to that grace, for me to go through my life every day and not make changes, not start bearing Kingdom fruit for his glory — I’m without excuse.

“Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” ~Romans 2:4

If God dealt with us strictly by his holy justice, we wouldn’t stand a chance. But he doesn’t. He is patient with us. He gives us time and second chances and third and fourth and fifth and sixth chances to repent. That’s patience. Grace. The Master’s been digging around you for years. He’s been reaching out to you and taking loving care of you for a long time. You’ve responded, right?

Peace,

Allan

Our Lord’s Patience Means Salvation

For some reason — from the very beginning, in fact; check Genesis 3 — we have always decided that we know better than God.

We decided that God’s limits on us were oppressive. We rebel against our Creator and we sin. We blame Satan. We blame each other. We rationalize our actions and justify our sins. We argue with God about it. And in our sin, he clothes us. He covers us. He protects us and provides for us.

We kill our brother. And God puts a mark on us so we won’t be destroyed.

Every other chapter in Judges paints a dark picture of the rebellion of God’s people. They only do what’s right in their own eyes. They’re worshiping Ba’al; this is no little thing; this is full-blown apostacy. They forsake the Lord. They turn their backs on him. And God delivers them again and again and again. Even the deliverers are lousy. Barak refuses to obey God so Deborah gets the credit. Jepthah was a fugitive outlaw who sacrificed his daughter. I can’t find one redeeming thing about Samson. Even Gideon made a golden idol out of the people’s earrings. And God keeps rescuing his people. Again and again.

We see it all through the kings and the prophets: idolatry and rebellion and sin, pride and arrogance and defiance, doubt and disbelief. And, again, it’s been this way from the start.

After God makes a covenant with Noah, Noah gets drunk and naked. After the covenant with Abraham, Abraham panics and takes Hagar so he can have a son. God makes vows to Israel and they respond by building a golden calf before the words on the tablets can even set. After the covenant with David, the great king attempts to break all Ten Commandments in one weekend — and nearly does!

After 1,500 years of these adulteries, surely the Lord our God is going to sue for divorce. Certainly he’s going to destroy these ungrateful, unfaithful, stubborn people and start over. Or just quit.

No. The Lord our God sends Jesus. In an act of astonishing grace and incredible patience he sends his Son.

He. Sends. Jesus.

“He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” ~2 Peter 3:9

Our God is eternal. He always was and always will be. God is more than willing to let entire centuries go by, to let whole milennia pass, as he carefully works out his eternal purposes.

God is still patient. God is still waiting. He is patiently waiting for people to repent. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wants everybody to be saved. In Romans 2, Paul says it’s this patience of God, the richness of his kindness and tolerance and patience that leads to repentance. God’s patience is a big part of what saves us! In 1 Timothy 2, we’re told that God wants everybody to be saved. That’s why he waits. Praise God for his patience!

“Our Lord’s patience means salvation.” ~2 Peter 3:15

Peace,

Allan

Change Without Chaos

Leroy Garrett’s “What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved?”  wraps up with two chapters that more or less summarize his thoughts. He spent most of the first 18 essays discussing specific changes in attitude, changes in practice, changes even in belief that we must make as a faith community if we’re to have any impact for Christ in our rapidly changing world. His 19th chapter, which we are considering together today, exhorts church leaders to make these changes carefully:

Effect purposeful and meaningful change, free of undue disruption and chaos.

[The Church of Christ] must become a changing church. I am not calling for change simply for the sake of change. The change must be positive and creative, displacing attitudes and methods that are no longer effective. The change must be in keeping with the mind of Christ, free of gimmickry, pride, and competitiveness. And it must be change without chaos, not unduly disruptive and threatening. It must be a balanced change that shows respect for the traditions of the past, the demands of the present, and the possibilities of the future.

God’s Church is always changing, right? Isn’t it? If your congregation is not changing, it’s not growing. Growth requires change. By definition growth means change. You can’t grow without change; it’s physically and spiritually impossible. Spiritual growth, numerical growth, physical growth — it all demands change.

Scripture commands us to be constantly changing.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on…” ~Philippians 3:12

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” ~Philippians 3:15

“…attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:13

“Make every effort to add to your faith…” ~2 Peter 1:5

I  believe our Lord is calling us to always attain to the ideal, to always strain toward bringing the Holy Kingdom of God in its fullness into our world, to practice the righteous will of God here on earth just as it is in heaven. Knowing it won’t be accomplished fully until our Christ returns, knowing we will suffer many setbacks and disappointments, knowing his Church will never be perfect until that day of glory, we strive, we press on, we attain, we add. We change. We evolve. We grow. We push. We move.

Just holding our own is a sin. Just maintaining your church community is wrong. Our Lord did not come to earth to live and suffer and die so we could maintain. Jesus isn’t calling anybody to be middle of the road. He’s calling us to grow. To mature in Christ-likeness. To change.

Here at Central, I’m proud to say we have bought into this biblical concept of change. I’m honored to serve with a group of shepherds and ministers who obsess over passionate and corporate desires to become more like Jesus. It’s thrilling. And it honors our God who calls us to be a sign of change, a sign of salvation to the world.

Our vision and mission statements present discipleship as an active, verb-driven way of life. In fact, everything we do at Central stems from our commitment to discipleship. That’s the main number one thing. We take the call to be more like Jesus seriously. And we understand it requires constant change. If Christ is to be formed in us, we’ll have to change. If we’re to have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, we’re going to have to change. So we do.

It means partnering with the local non-denominational church and the Assembly of God congregation in a food pantry network for the needy in our downtown community. It means our elders praying with the Disciples of Christ elders. It means working with, not against, multi-denominational evangelism efforts like the Franklin Graham crusades and city prayer breakfasts. It means hosting nurse pinnings and GED graduations and hospice rose ceremonies and marriage enrichment seminars in our building. And, yes, while we’re committed to partnering with God in reconciling all of creation back to him, we still struggle with the nuts and bolts. We still wrestle with it. Growth is difficult.

We play the piano as we worship with our Loaves and Fishes outreach crowd, we run videos in our Sunday assemblies that contain guitars and drums, and we host Christian concerts without compromising our commitment to a cappella one bit. But it’s difficult. We equip and empower our sisters at Central to make announcements and to read Scripture in our Sunday assemblies, to actively participate in the leadership of our church life. But it’s not without its occasional heartburn. We’re wrestling with it. We’re trying.

To be disciples of Jesus means that we put the needs of our community ahead of our own. We must place the needs of the lost ahead of our own traditions and comfort zones. We have to consider the needs of the needy to be more important than our own preferences. And it’s hard. We’re committed to it. But it’s hard.

To do all this without chaos we must lay the proper groundwork for change. We must not surprise people with changes, especially in worship, leading them to respond with, “What’s next!?” We must “talk out” new ideas and methods, involving the entire congregation, before they are tried. And it must not be done at all until the right climate is created and there is general agreement. This can never be realized until the leadership takes the initiative and works for change. Those with objections are to be treated with forebearance. It is to be pointed out to them that they do not have to have their way, and that it becomes a Christian to be yielding. When such ones cannot adjust to changes that are deemed necessary for the good of the church as a whole, the congregation will have to allow such ones to go elsewhere, always of course with a love that is slow to let loose.

My advice would be to always ask the right questions when grappling with difficult decisions. “Will this decision make this congregation look more like what it’ll look like in heaven?” “Will this choice make us more like Jesus or less?” “Is this a selfless move or a selfish move?” “Does this change expand the borders of the Kingdom or restrict them?” “Are more people going to be welcomed to the table with this move or fewer?” “Is this a sacrificial thing to do or not?” “Are we following the difficult path of Christ or the broader way of the world?” “Will this communicate to the world an accurate portrait of the Gospel?”

And know that growth — spiritual growth, numerical growth, physical growth, God-commanded growth — requires change.

Peace,

Allan

NEXT!

Angels never appear to people in Scripture and say, “God is calling you to do nothing! Thank you!” and then disappear into the sky. It never happens.

“Gideon!”
“Yes?”
“I am an angel of the Lord. Stay put. God bless.”

That conversation never happened. God calls us to constant movement. Children of God are always on the go. Moving. Growing. Changing. Transitioning. Transforming. Advancing. Pressing. Attaining. Maturity. Development.

Always.

If you’re a member of the Central Church of Christ, you received a 4″ x 5-1/2″ card yesterday that contained three challenges to knock you out of your comfort zone and into what’s NEXT. The challenges were all different. They called our brothers and sisters to get more into the Word, to meditate on Scripture, to interact with their neighbors, to practice a spiritual discipline, to sacrificially serve, to give of themselves to others. They were all different; some of the challenges are more difficult than others. But they were all designed to get us out of our comfort zones into a place where we can listen to God’s leading and/or get engaged with other people in the name of Jesus. We asked each person in our church to choose one of the challenges. And then to do it.

Now, I don’t know what God is going to do with these little challenges. I have no idea. I don’t know what kind of an impact this is going to have on our individual members or on our congregation as a whole. I’m not sure if the impact will be immediate or longer range. I don’t know if it’ll result in subtle attitude tweaks that are barely noticeable or in really dramatic changes in our overall church mindset that will blow our community’s doors off. I don’t know.

But I do know this: completing these challenges will definitely have some kind of a positive, transformational, gospel impact on us as individual disciples and as a church family that will impact all of Amarillo. How do I know? Because God promises us that if we give ourselves wholly to him, if we keep adding to our faith more and more each day, if we keep striving, keep attaining, keep pushing and pressing, he will use us to his glory.

“Make every effort to add to your faith… For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive.” ~2 Peter 1:5-8

You might look at these challenges and say, “There’s no way I can do any of these. I just can’t.” You might also say, “This isn’t going to make a difference. If I do one of these challenges, it won’t change anything.”

Not true. Our merciful Father promises: if you’ll give yourself fully to him, he will use you. Sometimes in very surprising ways. However, if you stop moving, stop growing, stop pressing and pushing and attaining and striving, you’ll forget who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing.

Peace,

Allan

It’s the Little Things

That little note your husband left for you on the dining room table as he went to work. “I love you! Have a great day!” It means so much. It may mean more to you than the expensive diamond ring he gave you on your wedding day or the cruise you took together on your anniversary.

That little vase of flowers your friend brought to you while you were in the hospital. “Thinking of you.” It means so much. It probably means more to you than the Christmas gift or the birthday present she gives you every year.

The pat on the back in the crowded hallway. The wink across a busy room. The text message in the middle of the day. The unexpected card in the mailbox.

The little things mean so much because they stand for and point to the really big things. They are tangible proofs of the eternally massive and hugely important things in our lives. The note and winks are reminders of the love your husband has for you that is grand and limitless. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off in your lunch box reminds you that your mother loves you selflessly. Sacrificially.

And it means the world.

God’s little blessings, his everyday graces, mean so much because they point to his incomprehensible love for us. They remind us of his great promises. They are proof of his undying commitment to us. The rainbow. The budding of the trees. A toddler’s laugh. A grandmother’s prayer. Your coffee fixed by a friend just right. Holy communion. Your dog’s loyalty. Congregational singing. They all point to God’s eternal presence and his “great and precious promises.”

Remember the little things. Pay attention to the little things. Practice the little things. Because they mean so much.

Peace,

Allan

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