Category: Christ & Culture (page 2 of 33)

Uniting as One

More than one-thousand followers of Jesus from at least sixty-three churches in Amarillo gathered on the downtown Potter County Courthouse lawn last night to praise God together and to pray to him for healing for our land and harmony for his people. “Uniting as One” was a city-wide, all-church, interracial, interdenominational event meant to express our unity as one Body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

It was not a protest, it was not a demonstration; it was a Christian worship service. Black and white and Hispanic churches, young and old, the overly-demonstrative and the too-laid-back, folks from both sides of I-40 — together in Spirit and in truth. We sang Gospel hymns and contemporary praise (for a brief moment when the power went out, we even sang acappella!), we read Scripture about unity and humility and obedience, we prayed for our city and our churches, and we met a lot of people. We prayed for God’s justice and peace for the state of Texas, for the United States, and for all of God’s creation. And we showed all of Amarillo and anybody else who’s paying attention that all Christians are united together in Jesus, that we are committed to living and serving and worshiping together in peace and love and unity, that we are resolved to tear down walls and build bridges. Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was not a photo opp (although many pictures were taken and posted) and this was not a box to check for what a church is supposed to do when racial strife makes the news (Remember? We had that worship service!).  No, this was a stand. This was a Christian line in the sand that the followers of Jesus in Amarillo, Texas will not be divided over anything. Not race, not color or ethnicity, not zip codes or geography, not language or culture or national politics — nothing is going to divide God’s people in this city!

 

 

 

 

There was also a call to action last night, a serious challenge for all in attendance. Pastor Anthony Harris, from St. John Baptist Church, asked all of us to sit down to a meal with somebody of a different color sometime in the month of July. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever. Go to their house, invite them to your house, meet at a restaurant, doesn’t matter. But everyone was challenged to commit to sharing a meal together with somebody whose skin is a different color sometime in the next five weeks.

Because if we all do that, things will change.

 

 

 

 

Our God chose a table, he chose a common meal as the way to show his oneness with his people. Around the table is where you experience unity and fellowship. Sharing a meal is how you strengthen family and develop friends. Being at the table together expresses acceptance and presence. To eat and drink a meal with someone is a show of solidarity: “We have things in common!” And if all the Christians in Amarillo do this, things will change.

 

 

 

 

I was honored to be asked to speak at last night’s historic event. I was humbled by the sheer enormity of what God seems to be doing in our city and grateful to be involved in some small way.  I was encouraged by the spirit of the gathering, the mutual love and acceptance, the combined eagerness to do something significant “that the world may believe.”  And I was reminded why it’s so great to live in Amarillo and so great to be at Central.

I praise God for the new friends I’ve made in the past six weeks and I thank him for whatever is coming next.

Peace,

Allan

Let Us Go To Him

We know this in our heads. We understand the call and the logic to leave our comfort zones, to sacrifice our status and security, to minister to the marginalized and forgotten. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what his followers do. We know all this. But it’s difficult to feel it in our hearts. It’s even more difficult to embody it in our lives. But here’s the truth: Christians live with Christ as outsiders in this world.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

Christians learn how to resist power and influence. Disciples of Christ avoid the centers of wealth and success and learn to feel more at home on the margins. Christians hang out with the outsiders, they become outsiders, they embrace living outside the city gates for the sake of the Kingdom that’s coming.

And I know we’re tempted to grieve the loss of our secure city. The tendency is to be troubled when we see and feel more evidence that the Church in the United States is being shoved to the outside. But the good news is that there’s tons of opportunity here. We’re actually finding ourselves where God has intended us to be all along: outside the gates! Instead of working from a position of power and authority, the Church in the U.S. is being forced now to work like it did in the first three centuries, from a position of weakness and marginal standing.

And we shouldn’t spend too much time and energy attempting to reverse it back. Trying to prop up the Church with power isn’t going to work. It’s time for all Christians in this land to follow Christ outside the gates. Let us go to him outside the camp, to the place of sacrifice and redemption. Let us renounce the world’s ways of power and wealth and be more at home working and ministering among the marginalized outside the camp. Like our Lord Jesus, let us go to and identify with those outside the city gates.

Like minorities. By the very definition of the word in conjunction with the broken ways of this world, minorities, generally speaking, do not experience status anywhere near the same level as others. In this country, because of past history and current structures and a thousand other very complicated factors, African-Americans do not have the same chances. The playing field is not level. In our city, Amarillo, African-Americans make up less than six-percent of the total population. They are marginalized. And there’s a confederate statue in Ellwood Park and there’s a Lee (Robert E.) elementary school in a black neighborhood in North Amarillo and there are confederate flags flying out the backs of pickup trucks from Pullman Road to Soncy. Where are the followers of Jesus?

Slippery slope arguments about erasing history and heritage are missing the point. The question for Christians is, will you identify with the city that’s fading away or with the enduring city that’s coming? Will you go to Jesus, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore? Will you love your neighbor more than you love a flag or a statue? Will you love the African-American men and women of our city and this country more than you love the history and the heritage of the South?

My question for Christians who display that flag is this: If you know how African-Americans read that flag, if you know how that flag makes them feel vulnerable and oppressed, why would you continue to fly it? Why would you insist? Why would you actually fight with your words and your good name for a statue that you know causes others deep pain?

Scripture says be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, people who do not enjoy the same status or success. These are the very people chosen by Christ, remember? Not influential, not of noble birth, weak people, lowly people, despised people, vulnerable and oppressed people. Have we forgotten who we are?

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Let us go to Jesus outside the camp.

Following Jesus means going where Jesus is. Our Lord went outside the city gates to offer the sacrifice of his own blood to make people holy. We follow him outside the camp to also make sacrifices, the sacrifice of praise (v.15), the “fruit of lips that confess his name.”

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” ~Hebrews 13:16

Doing good to others and giving praise to God. Making sure we’re not setting up shop in the wrong city. Going where Jesus is, outside the gates. Where there’s no status, no security. Where it’s dangerous and intimidating and threatening. Where we’ll face certain opposition and accusation and persecution. Where just about all we’ve got is faith, hope, and love.

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More than fifty Amarillo churches are coming together outside the downtown courthouse this Sunday evening for a praise and prayer service to express our Christian unity. “Uniting as One” will be a powerful testimony to our city and to anyone who’s paying attention that disciples of Jesus here are not going to be divided by race, by geography, by national politics, or by anything else this world uses to draw lines and build walls between us. We’re going to cry out to God for healing and for harmony and we’re going to sing to the Lord in spirit and in truth.

James Tudman, the Lead Pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church here in Amarillo, and I are quoted in today’s Amarillo Globe-News story about this city-wide, all-church, interracial, interdenominational worship assembly.

If you’re a Christian in the Texas panhandle, you’re invited to join us. Black, white, Hispanic, young, old, all races, all colors, all ages — bring your friends, bring your lawn chairs and blankets, grab some free parking, and let’s show this city that we really do belong to the Prince of Peace and he’s bigger and stronger than anything that might possibly divide us.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Also Suffered

The preacher of Hebrews ends his sermon by showing Christians a different way to view their position in the world. He tells us to go outside the camp, where Jesus is. He encourages us to bear the same disgrace Jesus did. Why? Because this ain’t our city. We’re living for the city that’s coming.

Earlier in Hebrews 13, he eludes to this radical shift in priorities by reminding us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The stranger, the foreigner, the alien — open your door to them and an angel might walk in! They may look homeless and hungry when you invite them in, but for those who have the conviction or the certainty of things not seen, you’re inviting in the very presence of God!

We’re also told in that same context to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Those in prison, those who are mistreated, some translations say “victims of abuse.” Put yourselves in their shoes. Empathize with them. Act like what’s happening to them is happening to you. Feel it.

This is our calling. Why? Because Jesus also suffered.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

This is our missional mandate. This is the great commission. If Jesus went outside and suffered public abuse to make his sacrifice, then his disciples should be willing to follow him outside to make ours. The question here, and the decision we Christians have to ultimately make, is do you find your identity in the safety and security of Judaism and the pagan temples, or the Empire with its government and military and law, or is your identity grounded in Christ Jesus and the ways of the Lord? It can’t be both. It’s really the choice.

Going where Jesus goes will cost you status and security.

Why was Jesus crucified? Not because he was powerful, not because he was violent, not because he was exclusive and judgmental. Our Lord was rejected and mocked, he suffered and was killed, because he loved so unconditionally. Because he was so liberal with his forgiveness. Because he ate with prostitutes and partied with sinners and hugged the lepers. He was killed because he gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, because he worked so hard to tear down walls that divided people, because he refused to label people. And the world was offended by the way he lived. The government tried to shut him down, the religious leaders tried to shut him up. In the end, they all decided that Jesus was unpatriotic, that he wasn’t working in the best interest of society’s law and order. And they killed him.

And then he was raised. Romans 1 says Christ Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!” The resurrection and the ascension to the right hand of God validate this Jesus Way as the right way. It’s the eternal way. It’s the only way to live.

So show hospitality to strangers and aliens, show empathy for prisoners and victims of abuse. Share the shame. Bear the disgrace.

Peace,

Allan

Outside the Camp

Preachers are fond of saying Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is not a letter, it’s not written by Paul, and it’s not addressed to Hebrews. I tend to agree. It’s clearly a sermon, not a letter; it doesn’t sound like anything Paul ever wrote, and it’s directed to a church that’s made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

We know this church was enduring some pain. At the end of chapter ten, the author/preacher makes explicit what’s been implied throughout the whole sermon: You’re experiencing some trouble. He reminds this congregation that, so far, they’ve stood their ground in the face of suffering. They’ve been publicly exposed to persecution and insult, they’ve been thrown into prison, some have had their property confiscated. In chapter twelve the author says, yes, you haven’t had to shed any blood yet, but you’re enduring some significant hardship.

See, for Jews, embracing Jesus Christ as the Messiah means leaving the security of Judaism and the temple in Jerusalem. For Greeks, it means leaving the safety of the gods and pagan temples of the national religion. These Christians were feeling isolated and shut out. When it comes to their neighbors and families, to their government and their culture, these Christians were living in danger. They had no status, no security, no nothing.

That’s why a lot of them wanted to quit. A lot of them had stopped coming to the worship gatherings and some of them had stopped confessing that they were Christians. They didn’t like the way it felt. It scared them. The whole sermon of Hebrews from start to finish is about perseverance. Don’t give up. We’re not quitters. Keep running the race. Don’t throw away your confidence or your salvation. Don’t drift away. Hang in there.

Don’t. Give. Up.

It’s easy for Christians to feel like outsiders because the world isolates us and insults us, the culture minimizes and marginalizes us, and the government persecutes and imprisons us. Followers of Jesus have always been on the wrong side of government and culture.

But today in the United States, we Christians resist being pushed to the margins. We don’t quit, we fight!

For the past fifty years, the Church in America  has had less and less influence, less and less power, less and less status and standing. The society doesn’t prop us up, the government doesn’t encourage us, and our neighbors don’t care. Christians in this country feel betrayed by the culture, we feel discarded by the powers, and ignored by the masses. The Church is losing its influence and its status in the United States and that’s got a lot of Christians really shook up. So we push back!

Because we like being in control. Being on the margins may be fine for the Church in the Bible, but we’re not going to be shoved out today! The Church in the United States has not intention of being irrelevant to the government or the culture. We’re resisting. You can hear the fear in our conversations, you can feel the anger in our forwarded emails and Facebook posts, you can see the determination in our posture and in our positions. We’re not going there. We like being mainstream and important. We like being the ones in charge. We like making and enforcing the rules. We are not going to be shoved aside and ignored like outsiders. We are Christians!

“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:11-14

Those verses sound really important, don’t they? The language is strange, a little provocative. And it just sounds important, like something we should pay close attention to.

The preacher of Hebrews is giving Christians a different perspective. He’s telling them about a better way to view their place in the world. He calls these Christians to follow Jesus, to go where Jesus goes, to live and die the way Jesus lived and died. The preacher calls them/us to reject the safety and security of the city and go to the place of sacrifice and service outside the gates. Out where Jesus is. Outside the camp.

These four verses have some very important implications for where God’s Church is right now. There is some holy instruction here we dare not ignore. We’ll spend this week in this space — in the middle of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and racial injustice and demonstrations — exploring what it means for disciples of Christ to go outside the camp.

Peace,

Allan

What Will Happen

The middle of Romans 8 tells us where we are right now: the world is in pain. All of creation is groaning right up to the present time. Because of sin. Because of fallen human nature and the broken world.

This passage also tells us what we’re called to do: the Church shares the world’s pain. We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly. We know how things are supposed to be and they’re not. Not yet. So we share the pain of the people around us.

And this important passage tells us very clearly what will happen when God’s people get involved and share the pain of his world: God’s Spirit works through that pain to glory.

“Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us… The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… Those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  ~Romans 8:18-30

All of creation is groaning. We ourselves are groaning. And God’s Holy Spirit — seeing all this, watching all this, experiencing all this with his creation and with his people — is groaning with groans that words cannot express. God’s Spirit lives and works in the pain.

He who searches our hearts — that’s God. He knows what’s inside our hearts. And I know God comes across things in our hearts we’d like to stay hidden. But God’s looking for the sound of his Spirit’s groaning. When we are sharing the world’s pain, when we’ve decided to embrace the world’s pain, and sit with it, live with it, groan with it, we realize we don’t have any answers. We don’t know what to do. We don’t even know what to pray for. And that’s when God’s Spirit is most obviously at work.

God the Creator, our Father, is always in constant communication with his Spirit who lives in the hearts of his people. God totally understands what the Spirit inside us is saying, even when we don’t. Our God hears and answers the prayers of our hearts, even when they don’t feel like prayers. Even when it just feels like heartache or hopelessness or inadequacy. When the pains and groanings of the world weigh heavy on your heart, you become one with the loving, groaning, and redeeming working relationship and conversation between the Father and the Holy Spirit.

It’s a mystery, for sure. I don’t understand it. But the Bible says God works through that for glory. For our glory. And ultimately for his.

The apostle Paul can’t find the words. He can’t describe the difference between where we are right now and the glory that’s coming. Everything he might say falls short, so he doesn’t even try. It’s not worth comparing! He has called us  and justified us and glorified us! We know that in all things — even in the sharing of pain, maybe especially in the sharing of pain! — God works for our good! For ultimate glory!

“We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory!” ~Romans 8:17

The devil means this mess we’re in right now for evil; God our Father is working in it and through it for glory! By the death and resurrection of his Son and by the power of his Holy Spirit, it’s going to be so good! As Christians, we don’t shake our heads and wring our hands and say, “Look what’s happening in the world.” We say, “Look who came into the world!”

All of God’s plans for the restoration of the world, all of God’s promises for glory for us and all of creation, all of what God wants to bring about for our good, is all “yes” in Christ Jesus. It’s not sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no”…

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20-22

Sin’s dominion is being broken. Our bondage to corruption and decay is coming to an end. And the Church speaks the “Amen!” We say it. We believe it. And we live it. The Holy Spirit guarantees the glory that’s coming because of Jesus. So, when the politicians say “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When the culture says “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When your friends say “No,” when the peer pressure says “No,” when your favorite website says “No,” when your family says “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ. When your gut says “No,” when all the experts say “No,” when your own brothers and sisters in Christ say “No,” God says “Yes” in Christ every time. Every time.

Maybe someday we’ll have a vaccine for the coronavirus. Maybe. But not for the sin that has plunged God’s world into so much pain. Sin is not new. It’s not novel. There’s no shot, there’s no pill, there’s no medicine for this pain that has us and all creation groaning. The only prescription for the pain is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the only cure.

Everything we do and say, everything people do and say about us or to us, every experience we will ever have, is all lovingly used by our God for our good. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always enjoy it. But we know our groanings are not in vain. They serve an eternal purpose that’s being worked out by the Creator of Heaven and Earth who groans right along with us to make it happen.

The pain and the groaning are real. But so is the glory. We’re not finished yet. God’s not done. He has a plan for us and for the whole world and it is glorious. He has established his risen Son on his eternal throne and the whole world which is groaning under the weight of our sin is going to be redeemed. This is our Father’s world and he will do whatever he sees fit. And he sees fit to appoint it and us to glory.

Peace,

Allan

What We Do

I believe Romans 8:18-30 tells us Christians exactly where we are right now, what we are called to do, and what’s going to happen. In a time when confusion reigns and the future is no less clear than the present, we need a Word from God to provide clarity and assurance. And I’m convinced that this middle part of this critical chapter is that Word.

Yesterday we looked at where we are. The world is in pain. All of creation is groaning, right up to the present time. The whole world is in pain because of sin. That’s where we are. That’s what’s happening right now.

And the Church shares the world’s pain. That’s what we’re called to do.

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies.” ~Romans 8:23

We join the world’s pain. We bear the world’s pain. We don’t ignore it. We don’t isolate ourselves from it or look the other way and pretend it’s not happening. The Church is called to share the world’s pain.

Wait. Why us? Because we know. We know things are not the way they are supposed to be. We have the firstfruits. We’ve seen glimpses of the eternal glory. We’ve tasted the way things are supposed to be. We’ve experienced a little bit of what God is doing. When we come together around the table and share the communion meal, we are one with God in Christ and we are one with each other. Perfect fellowship. Perfect unity. Perfect acceptance and forgiveness and love and peace. And that’s not ordinary. It’s Christian.

Baby blessings and baptisms, missions work and Loaves and Fishes, small groups and 4Amarillo — we experience up close and personal these firstfruits of the Spirit. We see and hear and taste and touch God’s healing and cleansing, his joy and forgiveness, his power and reconciliation and compassion and love. And it’s not what you find in the ways of this broken world. It’s uniquely Gospel.

To accomplish what’s coming for us, our Lord Jesus had to get out of his comfort zone and put on our pain. That’s the Gospel truth. Christ Jesus left his home in glory, he sacrificed his position and power, he gave up his status and wealth, and he joined us in our pain. He came to where we are, he put on our flesh and blood, he clothed himself in our skin, and he suffered in the dirt with us. He became familiar with our sufferings. He carried our burdens. He healed our disease. He became our sin for us, to rescue us from the corruption and decay.

We all share the common human predicament of pain. Of groaning. So, like our Lord Jesus, we intentionally seek out the pain in others. Where is that pain? You look for it. And you don’t have to look hard because we’re surrounded by it. And we join the pain. We embrace the pain. We live it. We share it. We stand with and for those who are in pain. We speak for and with those who are suffering. The Church is called to share the world’s pain. Who else is going to? And if the Church doesn’t do it now, when will we?

Some of you, I know, the pain is too far away. The problems are just on TV. You’ve never been shot by a police officer, you’ve never been pulled over for no reason, you’ve never been discriminated against at school or work, you’ve not had opportunities taken from you because of your skin color. And maybe you don’t know anybody who has. It’s not something you think about or talk about unless it’s on TV.

For some of you, though, the pain is very close. You do know someone. You’ve experienced it yourself. You’ve spent hours crying in front of the TV the past three weeks. You think about it and talk about it all the time.

And, yeah, there’s no doubt we’re all over the map in our churches. We have lots of different viewpoints and opinions. We probably disagree about what should be done and what ought to work and the steps that need to be taken. We’re not going to be on the same page.

But here’s what the Bible tells us. The world is in pain. The whole world is broken because of sin. And it’s groaning. And, like our Lord Jesus, his Church is called to share the world’s pain.

And you might say, “I don’t know anything about racism. I don’t know how to fix it.” And all the other problems in the world — not just racism. You don’t know anything about drugs or homelessness or divorce. You can’t relate to CPS cases or losing your job.

Well, you do know how to love people. You do know how to sacrifice and serve people. You know how to just sit with people, to just be present with people. If it were your daughter, you’d do it. I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you move heaven and earth, I’ve seen you sacrifice and suffer for the sake of being with your son or daughter. I’ve seen you struggle to build bridges and reconcile relationships with the people you love. I’ve seen you work so hard and give up so much to heal and restore what’s broken in your own families.

The world is in pain right now. That’s where we are. The Church shares the world’s pain. That’s what we’re called to do.

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I had the great pleasure of sharing lunch with two African American brothers today and then recording a podcast together about the upcoming “Uniting as One” city-wide worship service on June 28. Isaac Butler, the associate pastor at St. John Baptist, and Chris Brown, a minister at Temple of Praise Church, honored me with their company and their passion to see all of God’s people come together as one Body in Christ Jesus. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. I’ll be sharing more about the worship gathering in this space later this week.

Peace,

Allan

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