Category: Church (Page 1 of 56)

Spiritual Formation by Church

I’m having some of those standard conversations with Cowboys fans today. The main theme today with the Star-gazers is that the team should be 2-0. They ought to be 2-0. They could very easily be 2-0. It’s simple to argue back that it’s just as likely that this team would be 0-2. In many ways, they ought to be 0-2. They could very easily be 0-2. That’s the way it is every week with an eventual 8-9 or 9-8 football team.

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There is no spiritual formation without the Church.

“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” ~ Colossians 3:12-14

How? How do we do this? How do we put on these virtues, these Christ-like qualities, these fruits of the Holy Spirit? How do we add them to our lives and develop them as critical components of our nature?

“As members of one body… Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” ~ Colossians 3:15-16

This sounds like worship. This passage is about worship in and with the Church. It shapes us.

And I know becoming like Christ is a full-time, all-the-time, seven-days-a-week lifelong journey. I know. But our formation radiates from and is nourished by the worship of the Church, gathered together every Lord’s day around the Word and the table. There is no spiritual formation without the Church. Not because there’s anything magical or superstitious about the church building, but because the Church is the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ, given life and sustained by God’s Spirit and formed by our Christian practices together. Worshiping together every week makes us more like Jesus.

We have publicly welcomed 32 new members to the GCR Church here in Midland over the past two Sundays. I’m certain your church has added a few new members over the past several months. You don’t get to interview these new members. Nobody gets to vote. All these new men, women, and children – nobody asks you if it’s OK to make them members of your church. God chooses people and moves them in and requires us to love each other. Our worship forces us to sing other people’s songs, to listen to other people’s opinions, to pray over other people’s cares, to forgive other people’s wrongs, and to eat and drink a meal together every Sunday. And it shapes us. It clothes us with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness. And patience. You know it does.

So we are devoted to the Church’s worship. We’re committed to it. We don’t miss it or skip it. We don’t quit on it or give it a lesser priority in our lives. We know our worship together makes us more like Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

The Flesh and Blood Church

You’ll hear people argue that when Jesus called people to follow him, he had something else in mind other than Church. Something spiritual and pure. Non-corporate. Non-institutional. Lofty. Divine. Not of this earth. The Church, as we experience her today, is not what Jesus intended. Christ’s salvation and transformation work is happening somewhere other than at Church.

No. Jesus is a flesh and blood person and his Church is a flesh and blood people.

That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation: our God didn’t just come to us, he became one of us! That’s God’s salvation plan, that he would put on our flesh and blood. And when Jesus comes, it’s the messy flesh and blood part of it that’s so compelling.

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 uplifting ideals, he’s about fishing nets and mustard seeds and lost coins and lepers. Our Lord is more about tears and frustration and spit mixed with dirt and sheep and synagogues and sermons and suppers than he is about theological abstracts and disembodied ideas. Jesus is all about weddings and funerals, betrayal and forgiveness, thunderstorms and olive trees. The flesh and blood reality of Jesus as a real human person is in your face in the Bible.

And it’s beautiful! It’s magnificent! We praise God because 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 you experience, that he knows you intimately and understands completely what you’re going through because he went through it, too. It’s awesome and mysterious and wonderfully glorious! What other God would do that?

Jesus the Christ, the Holy One of God, is a flesh and blood person. So, of course, his Church is a flesh and blood people.

I think churches long to throw off their flesh and blood nature and soar like Superman. Or supersaints. But that’s not going to happen. We’re a body. When people complain about the Church being too preoccupied with money or buildings or doctrine or prestige, when people gripe about the Church being closed-minded or boring, what they’re telling you is that they don’t like that the Church is a body. Bodies sweat. They get sick and require maintenance. Bodies produce weird smells.

But the Church is the Body of Christ. This is the flesh and blood form our risen and reigning Lord has chosen to be present in the world. It never fully meets our expectations; we can become disappointed in Church, or even embarrassed. But this is exactly how our God intends it.

Church is not another civic club or social organization, it’s not a non-profit charity or a spiritual retreat. We are a chosen people, a holy nation, chosen by a holy God to be the Body of Christ. Sometimes it may feel irrelevant or past its prime, but we are the very Body of Christ. This is how our God works for the sake of the world.

Peace,

Allan

A Display for the Work of God

In John 9, Jesus and his disciples come across this man born blind. And the followers of the Christ immediately turn this guy into a theological case study. Who sinned? Whose fault is it? This is a terrible thing that’s happened, who’s responsible? Who’s to blame? Let’s start the debate, let’s take sides. Ready? Go!

And while the apostles are pulling out their commentaries and Hebrew word studies and their grandfather’s old lectureship notes, our Lord Jesus completely sidesteps the whole argument. Jesus says nobody sinned. Nobody did anything wrong. That’s not why this man is blind. Then Jesus heals the man. He gives this man exactly what he needs right there on the spot. It’s a great story. Praise God.

But the question remains: Why is he blind? That question is not going away. Why was this man born blind? What’s the reason this happened? It’s so cruel and awful and unfair. Why was this man born blind? Why was this woman abused? Why does that man have cancer? Why am I divorced? Why did I lose my job? Why did bad things happen at my church? What’s the reason?

Jesus answers the question. And his words provide just the perspective we need to increase our imaginations and expand our vision.

“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” ~John 9:3

Jesus says you’re asking the wrong questions, you’re focused on the wrong things. Jesus says this man was born blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. This man’s life is divinely intended to be a display for the salvation work of God. He is to be a huge billboard, a bright flashing neon sign, a massive marquee that proclaims the glory of God and his saving work in the world.

That’s your church, too. Your church is a banner that displays to your whole community what our God is doing in the world. As individuals, of course, but also as a church, we are unfurled before the watching world as a banner that proclaims the goodness and glory of our God. That’s our call. That’s our mission. That’s our purpose. That’s the reason you are who you are and where you are: to be a display for the great power and boundless love of our God.

It’s important that you see your church as the billowing banner it really is. Stop asking the wrong questions. Don’t focus on the wrong things. I’m asking you to see your church the way our Lord sees it. Think about your church the way Jesus thinks about your church. Our God is using whatever has happened in your church or in your life in order to display to the world his eternal salvation and his matchless grace.

Peace,

Allan

Rugged Commitment

My great friend Jim Martin posted this in his weekly email encouragement to a bunch of us ministers who rely on him for regular shots of wisdom and strength. I’m re-posting it here word for word.

I was getting ready to officiate at a wedding in Central Texas. Preparing for this event caused me to think about marriage in general and my own marriage in particular. Beyond this, I had already been thinking about some of the fragile relationships within congregations and the relational challenges we have faced over the last year.

Some of these challenges have resulted in the fragmentation of relationships within congregations. Church members argued about the pandemic, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, the presidential election, racial issues, etc. For many, this has been quite painful.

Yet, as we look to the future of our congregations, it is important that we recommit to one another by loving with a rugged commitment. By “rugged commitment,” I mean a love that is willing to do what is hard and messy. This is a love for another that is much like the steadfast love of the Lord toward his children. This is a love that is willing to go the distance for another.

Can we love each other with a rugged commitment so that we forebear one another in love, even when we strongly disagree?

Can we love each other with a rugged commitment so that we seek to lighten the load of church leaders instead of making life so difficult for them?

Can we love each other with a rugged commitment so that we put our identity in Jesus above any other identity?

This rugged commitment is necessary for a lasting friendship, for a growing marriage, and for any congregation that wishes to stay together, in spite of the pressures that threaten to rip it apart.

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Our outdoor movie night set for tomorrow at Bivins Elementary has been moved because of all the rain – more than five inches in the past seven days and more on the way. Our Children’s Minister described the field at the school today as “swampy.” It looks like a playa lake. The event has been moved now to our west parking lot here at Central. We’re inviting the entire Bivins Elementary community and our whole church family to park on the south side, bring your lawn chairs and blankets, and enjoy Disney’s Moana at 630pm. We’ll be passing out the candy and popcorn and hoping that whatever is forecast for Friday night misses us.

Lesson learned: If we ever want rain in Amarillo, we need only to schedule an outdoor church event.

Peace,

Allan

So Straight

“I once was so straight that I leaned a little the other way. I once was so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as I perfect as I supposed myself. In this most unpopular course I persisted until I discovered the mistake, and saw that on the principle embraced in my conduct, there could never be a congregation or church upon the earth.”

~Alexander Campbell in The Christian Baptist, Volume III, 1827

Hope of the World

We noticed yesterday that uniting as one is the prayer of our Lord. Today, I want us to recognize that all Christians living and worshiping and serving together as one united people is also the hope of the world. It’s the only thing that will work.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

That the world may believe. That the world will know. That the world will turn to Christ. That the world will change. May they be one so the world will see it and believe. May they brought to complete unity so the world will see and experience how to love, not hate; how to forgive, not condemn; how to meet the needs of others, not stake out their own claims and rights; how to live in the peace of Christ, not in the violence of this world; how to live in harmony with those who are different, not in conflict and strife.

Jesus does not say, May they worship correctly so the world will believe. It’s not, May they structure their church leadership in such a way that the world will know. It’s not, May they memorize the right verses, pray the right prayers, vote the right party, read the right books, or advocate for the right laws. God’s people uniting as one is the only hope of the world.

I’ve heard people say, “Stop preaching unity and start preaching doctrine.” I’ve got news for you: Christian unity is doctrine! Uniting as one is the prayer of our Lord and it’s the only hope for this world.

What’s going to change the racial division and strife? What’s going to slow down all the violence and death? What’s going to stop all the selfishness and sin that has plunged the world into so much peril and despair?

I’m convinced that God’s Church uniting as one is the only hope. Not better laws or deeper science or faster technology or all of us simply trying harder. It’s been proven for centuries now that none of that works! Any positive lasting change in our world must begin with and go through our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. The Body of Christ. That’s the only way.

This is not just Jesus’ prayer and his plan, this is our mission. As disciples of Jesus, this is our calling.

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” ~John 17:18

Jesus was sent into this world by the Father to show everybody who God is and what God is all about. He said it himself, If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. So Jesus comes here and he loves unconditionally. He is liberal with his forgiveness. He gives everybody the benefit of the doubt. He worked so hard to tear down the walls that divide people. He refused to label people. He stood with the powerless against the powerful. And he ate meals with everybody.

People from different countries, people with different social standings, people with darker or lighter skin, people who differed from Jesus’ group politically — he went into their homes and he met them in public and he ate and drank with all of them.

And God’s people committing to thinking and acting and living that way in the world is the only hope for fixing what’s destroying our society today. It’s the only hope.

But we can’t just talk about it. We have to live it. It’s got to be real or nobody will buy it. And it’s got to be us, the Church, or nothing will really change. Who else will do it? It has to be us!

We’re the ones who believe that every man, woman, and child on this planet is created by God in his holy image. We’re the ones who know so well our God’s heart for the oppressed. We’re the ones who obey our God’s command to love our neighbors. We’re the ones who trust that God is working right now to bring all people of every tribe, language, color, and tongue together around the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This is the solution given to us by our God. This is the vivid picture that makes it real. This is the bold call for what’s needed. This is the vision that can invigorate our imaginations and our witness in a world that’s groaning for what God’s Church has to give.

The time is right now. The opportunity is right here. And it’s not going to be easy. The racial division among Christians and the racial injustice in this country is territory our Enemy has held for a long, long time. And he’s not going to give it up to a bunch of Christians like us without a fight.

But our faith is in God through our risen and reigning Lord Jesus. And our trust is in his promise that the presence and power of the Holy Spirit flows through us to equip and encourage, to embolden and to heal, when we’re together. When we’re united as one. THEN the world will believe. May that day begin this day.

Peace,

Allan

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