Category: 2 Thessalonians

Mission Ignition

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, people will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the Gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you, their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” ~2 Corinthians 9:12-15

Two years ago the shepherds and ministers presented to the Central church a bold undertaking, a truly ambitious campaign: The Ignite Initiative. We wanted to fund our church vision, we wanted to light a fire under our mission. We wanted to impact our church neighborhood by enhancing the Christian ministry we’re already doing in and through our facilities — more and better parking, our main entry and welcome center, repairs and updates in our worship center, a better play space for our children’s ministry, and a large ground-floor ministry space. We wanted to increase and enhance what we already do so well in being generous with our building. We also wanted to partner with local organizations who are already meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people in our city. More money, more volunteers, more time and energy — we really wanted to deepen those partnerships together. And we wanted to bring our foreign missions efforts under the umbrella of the overall vision of Central. Not a separate priority, not a different value, but an equal part of God’s plan to work in and through our church for the sake of the world.

Two years ago we all pledged to give $7.9-million to fund the Central vision. In the past 24-months, we have given $8.3-million!

Two years ago we all prayed together in our worship center about Ignite. We dreamed about giving a bunch of money to Martha’s Home so they could hire their first-ever social worker. We believed that would dramatically increase the ministry they’re doing there.

We imagined giving The PARC a ton of money so they could be open five days per week instead of four, bringing more of our city’s homeless population into Christian community.

We had a vision of giving money to Bivins Elementary to level the playing field for all 550-students there with a goal of changing the at-risk culture of that school.

We dreamed of giving more money to Gratitude House so more women and children coming out of abuse and addiction can receive the Christian support they need while they learn to make it in their new lives.

We imagined giving a lot of money to CareNet to provide more education and resources for young girls and more counseling and training for unwed mothers and more Christian love and support for the devastated families; we thought it might change the city of Amarillo.

We planned to give more money to our foreign missionaries so more preachers can be trained and more churches can be planted and more souls can be saved and more of the world can be reclaimed for our Lord Jesus.

And we had a vision for finally starting to pay attention to our church building again so we can double, or even triple, the numbers of people and groups who use our campus every week; we dreamed of making our building an even bigger and wider on-ramp toward a relationship with God and God’s people.

That was two years and $8.3-million ago.

We cannot out-dream our God. We can’t out-imagine our Lord. We can’t out-give or out-vision or out-mission God.

Today, our Ignite Initiative has come to an end. Praise God for his miraculous grace that has worked in us and through us to his glory. But we don’t look back. And we don’t just sit where we are. We look forward. Over the past two years, our DNA as a church has been fundamentally altered. Our vision as a church has become more clear, our mission is much more focused.

Lots of churches spend all their energy thinking about yesterday and today. Most churches either spend their time talking about the glory days of long ago or putting out the urgent fires of right now. But that’s not Central. Central is oriented toward the future. For 110-years, this church has always looked ahead, we’ve always planned for tomorrow, we’ve always given and prayed and planned for what’s next, what’s coming. With everything we know God is doing in our immediate neighborhood, with everything we know God is doing in our city and around the world, now is not the time to back off or sit tight. Now’s the time to hit the gas.

“We constantly pray that our God may count us worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of ours and every act prompted by our faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, and us in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Peace,

Allan

The Gain is Worth the Pain

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” ~Hebrews 12:10-11

Our Father is at work during the hard times in our lives, training us to share in his holiness, righteousness, and peace. The preacher in Hebrews is telling us, look, we ought to recognize the pattern here. We experienced this with our own parents and, if we’re parents ourselves, we do the same things. Good parents, including God, exercise discipline because they want their children to grow up to be like them, to share their values and commitments and way of life.

We sent one of our daughters to college in Oklahoma City and we told her, “You can only date boys from Texas.” Why? Because we have standards — standards related to our values and way of life. I check our youngest daughter’s phone from time to time and I see that almost half her playlist is Tom Petty and Aerosmith. And I say to myself, “Ah, we raised her right.”

God’s like that, too. He wants us to grow up to be like him. He wants us to love what he loves, to think what he thinks. He wants us to be holy like he is holy, to treat people the way he treats people, and to be righteous in the ways he is righteous. So he trains us. He conditions us. He uses discipline. And it’s not always pleasant. But it is always for our good.

“We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” ~Romans 5:3-5

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” ~James 1:2-4

“We boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God.” ~2 Thessalonians 1:4-5

We know what God is doing through our struggles. We know it’s for our ultimate, eternal good. This character forming, this kind of relationship building with God, is proof that you belong to him as his child. It’s proof that he cares for you and he’s committed to you.

I know your sufferings are painful and your trials are terrible. And I know your troubles or whatever you’re going through make you feel lonely and desperate and depressed. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually — I know it’s real. And the Scriptures do not discount how hard this life is. The Bible doesn’t downplay the costs associated with a life of faith. The Scriptures don’t brush off your feelings. Your feelings are real. Your hard experiences are real. But the preacher in Hebrews wants to open our ears and our hearts to the eternal truth, to the everlasting reality of what’s being accomplished.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Jesus stayed focused on the joy in front of him: the joy of doing his Father’s will, the joy of fulfilling his Father’s purposes, the joy of participating in God’s salvation. Jesus endured the agony of the cross, he suffered through an excruciating physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual torture and death. And because he persevered, he reigns today at the right hand of the throne of God.

The preacher in Hebrews knows the people in his church are hurting. And they’re tired of hurting. They’re tired of suffering. To encourage them to keep running the race, he reminds them of the truth of Christ Jesus. Whatever you’re suffering, whatever you’re going through, Jesus went through so much worse, so much more, for the sake of your holiness, your righteousness, and your peace.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit Living

HolySpirit

“We ought to always thank God for you, children loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” ~2 Thessalonians 2:13

We’ve got a lot of rules. Bunches of rules. And while laws and regulations and commandments and edicts do matter, they’re not the main thing. You can tell people they have to obey the rule to be generous. But if someone gives you a present only because he’s obeying a rule or doing his duty, the glory of gift-giving, the beauty in blessing another person because your life is changed, is lost. God came to us in Christ Jesus, God has poured out his Holy Spirit, not to give us more rules, but to change our lives.

The rich young man runs up to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was keeping all the rules, right? Jesus starts listing the ten commandments: “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal…” And this guy interrupts Jesus, “Yes, I’m obeying all the rules. I always have. What else do I need to do?”

He’s keeping all the rules. But he senses, “There’s got to be more.”

And Jesus says, “Yeah, there is.”

“‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” ~Mark 10:21

This young man wants his life to be right. He wants to live correctly now so he can live with God forever in the future. He knows he lacks something. And Jesus says, “Yeah, you need to turn everything inside out.” Your whole life needs to become part of a larger, outward-looking orientation. You need to put God’s Kingdom first. You need to put the needs of your neighbors ahead of your own — especially your poor neighbors. That’s the challenge. It’s not just add a couple more commandments to set the moral bar a little higher, but to become a different kind of person altogether. Jesus says, “You need a transformed life.”

Notice, just a few verses up, in the same chapter, some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes back to God’s original, divine intention for male-female relationships: “If you’re married, stay together.” Right after the rich young man story, James and John ask Jesus if they can sit by him on his throne in the coming Kingdom. And Jesus gives them an answer that goes right to the heart of God’s original, divine intention for how human power needs to work: “If you want to be great, you need to be a servant. I didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.”

As N. T. Wright points out, in this one chapter Jesus talks about sex and money and power and reframes all of it, not in terms of rules and regulations, but in terms of character. In terms of a changed life. Jesus calls us to see ourselves as having a role in the Story of God. And that role is to proclaim the reality of his lordship by the kinds of lives we lead.

Well, Allan I have to cheat just a little bit on my taxes this year. Just a little. I’m not doing anything lots of other people don’t do. But I have to. We haven’t made enough money the past three years. I have to either fudge the lines a little bit on my return or overbill my customers for the past six months. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. In God’s name and by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have a choice. How about downsizing your house or skipping the summer vacation? How about canceling the membership or selling a car? You’ve got lots of options that would declare Jesus is Lord over your money, over every dime and penny that goes into and out of your pockets.

My girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yes, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex, Allan; we can’t wait that long. I’m a 20-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 to have sex or I have to go to pornography. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. In the name of Jesus and by the power of the 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 for his holy purposes?

I’m going to call the police to come run the homeless people away from the park by my house. Either that, or I’m going to start a neighborhood petition to get the ordinance changed. I’ve got to do one of the two. It’s such an eyesore and it’s not safe. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you have a choice. How about praying with and for those people? How about making them a plate of food or delivering to them a couple of blankets? There are lots of ways to serve instead of be served, lots of ways to give up your rights instead of asserting your rights, lots of ways to proclaim that Jesus is Lord over your power, over all the ways you might use your influence.

God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to change us so that all of our lives can be brought under the lordship of Jesus.

Proclamation means bearing witness, giving testimony. If you’ve not experienced a changed life, then the Kingdom of God and the lordship of Christ is only a theory for you. You don’t know if it works or not. If you’re not transformed by the Gospel, how do you know it works? If the Gospel’s not transforming you, how do you know it’ll transform anything? How are you going to proclaim?

Peace,

Allan