Category: Church (page 2 of 52)

Winterfest Superstar

When six thousand teenagers packed the Arlington Convention Center this past weekend for the largest annual gathering in the Churches of Christ, our daughter Valerie was on stage rocking her artistic abilities to glorify God and inspire his people. The story is long and the details are many when describing how Valerie came to be the artist selected to paint the murals in real time, on stage, to illustrate each of the keynote themes for the three day event. The bottom line is that our Lord has brought our daughter into holy community with  Dudley Chancey, the genius and driving force behind nearly 40 Winterfests, and there she is!

Carrie-Anne and I had so much fun from the fifth row, watching Valerie paint, listening to her interact with the likes of Jeff Walling and Eric Wilson and The Skit Guys, and watching her legions of fans from Edmond CofC and Pleasant Ridge CofC flock to the front of the stage before and after each session to talk to and take pictures with her. Eric Wilson was effusive in his praise for Valerie’s skill, interrupting his own Saturday night presentation to step over and marvel at her work. Jeff Walling was more than generous in his interactions with Valerie during his keynote Sunday morning, acknowledging her talents and her growing fan base. It was just so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Six thousand teenagers! Worshiping God! Our students! Committing publicly to telling others about the Lord! Our kids! Promising to live for Christ! This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

God’s Church has seen a terrible decline in this country during my generation’s turn at the wheel. It’s our fault. We’ve messed it up. We’ve gone about church in the wrong way and it’s time we admit it. We’ve compromised our allegiances. We’ve pursued power and glory, control and fights. We’ve shied away from suffering and sacrifice and peace. We’ve lost our way. We’ve embraced a distorted version of discipleship and communicated to the world a twisted vision of our Savior. We’ve lined up with the ways and means of the world and totally turned off everybody my age and younger. People are rejecting the Jesus our generation has expressed, they are leaving the Church we’ve modeled. And we deserve it.

God is going to use this upcoming generation to get his Church back on track in this country. These young men and women are going to show us how to embrace the way of Jesus, how to pledge allegiance to only one Lord, how to sacrifice and serve, how to live the eternal life we’ve been given right now instead of only after we die. This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Valerie is right in the middle of them. Painting and singing and serving and encouraging, smiling and laughing and giving and loving in the name and manner of our Lord.

Go Rams,

Allan

Church People on Church Days

Jesus heals the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. The man was instantly cured. His life was eternally changed. Jesus made him well. Jesus made him whole!

But it was a church day. And because it was a church day, some of the church people got upset. The guy at the pool is not the only sick person Jesus ran into this day. There are some really sick church people in this scene.

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat!'” ~John 5:9-10

The church people, the self-appointed guardians of the truth, immediately put this man on trial. They’re in his face. This is an interrogation. “You’re not supposed to do that! Why are you doing that? Who said you could do that?”

It’s quite incredible, huh? A man is made whole and given new life by the will and power of God, and the opposition comes from church people. Not evil people, no. Good people who mistake their religious traditions for the will of God. These church people are sicker than this paraplegic ever was.

The Law of Moses was very clear that the Sabbath Day is a holy day and it needs to be recognized as part of the covenant between God and his people. It needs to be a sacred day and nobody’s supposed to do any work. But the Jewish teachers and scribes had added to it. It wasn’t specific enough for them. It wasn’t strict enough. It was too gray. How can we judge people, how can we know for sure who’s right and who’s wrong unless we make this more black and white?

So, to make themselves really happy and everybody around them really miserable, they came up with their own rules and restrictions as supplements to God’s Law. It came to be known as Mishna — pages and pages and books and volumes of their own interpretations they bound on all the people. Regarding the Sabbath Day alone, they had 39-different categories of things a person could not do. And they used these interpretations — and that’s all they are — to control people. It gave them power and authority. And if you threatened their interpretations, you were in for a fight. These church people were willing to kill to protect their interpretations.

So, after they publicly berate this guy, they go after Jesus. How dare you work! How dare you heal! How dare you help this man on the Sabbath! And Jesus’ defense is simple: “My Father is working today and so I am working today.”

Jesus goes on in the following verses to explain that every single thing he does, he does because of his Father. Jesus claims he is sent by God, he’s on a mission from God, he’s doing the works of God, he’s obedient to God, and he’s bringing glory to God. And that ticks them off even more! So now Jesus finds himself on trial and he starts bringing out the witnesses in verse 33: The Scriptures testified to me; John the Baptist testified to me; God in heaven testifies to me by these works he’s given me to do. But you…

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” ~John 5:39-40

This is what upset Jesus the most. You know every letter of every word, you’ve interpreted every passage, you’ve memorized it, you argue to the death one verb here and one participle there — you think you have eternal life in the Scriptures. But you don’t!

Dear reader, eternal life does not come from the Bible; eternal life comes from Christ Jesus to whom the Bible points. Our trust and faith and hope is not in the Scriptures; our trust and faith and hope is in the holy Son of God to whom the Scriptures point.

These church people are sick. They know the Word of God frontwards and backwards, but they don’t know Jesus. Their disbelief was deliberate, their diagnosis was severe. They love their church life and their traditions and interpretations, but they had forgotten how to love God and the people God is healing and making whole. Their expression of church had become horribly twisted. They had turned their life-giving and soul-saving faith into something life-taking and soul-destroying. Instead of being a source of joy and light, they were using their religion to suppress and judge. They knew the Word of God, but they totally missed his will. They had counted every letter of the Scriptures, but they had totally missed the truth.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this feel familiar?

I think we’re all — every one of us — susceptible to this sickness. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

Do we want to get well?

Sometimes our vigorous preservation of our church traditions counts more than the openness and spontaneity of faith. We know our Bible, but sometimes we use it to defend all the wrong things. We know our Bible, but sometimes that’s all we know. Our allegiance to the way things have always been done sometimes gets in the way of the healing and saving work of Jesus. We can’t appreciate or applaud the good that’s being done because it’s being done differently.

And Jesus deliberately challenges these rigid traditions. He goes out of his way to do things on the Sabbath, just to make the point. So much so, it becomes his habit.

When the apostles picked grain on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law and Jesus said, “Relax. Look, we’re hungry. We need food. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Remember? In that same chapter, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on a church day, in church, and when the church people tell Jesus, “Hey, that’s not how we do things in church!” our Lord says, “People are valuable to me. People! Their physical needs, their emotional needs, their spiritual needs — their souls are valuable to me. It is good to do good. On the Sabbath or any other day of the week, it’s good to do good for people.”

That’s his attitude.

And we should be constantly re-evaluating our own attitudes. Is our church so well-defined and so safe and so comfortable that if Jesus showed up with his attitude, we’d interrogate him? Would Christ’s attitude be OK in our church?

A Scriptural service is when people are healed and made whole. A correct worship service is when people experience the love and grace and mercy of God. What makes a biblical worship service is when God is praised and salvation from Christ is proclaimed and Holy Spirit people eat and drink together and encourage and bless one another. After that, in church, nothing else really matters much at all.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Last Part

You can talk too much about the Holy Spirit. You can focus on the Spirit too much. We don’t want to give too much attention to the Holy Spirit. That leads to who knows what. Where are you going with this? Where is this headed?

We know exactly where this is headed. We know what this leads to. If we’ll pay more attention to the Spirit, if we’ll listen to the Spirit, if we’ll give God’s Holy Spirit total control over our churches, we already know the result.

“The fruit (result) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” ~Galatians 5:22-23

I’m going out on a limb here, but, I think the Church could use a little more love and joy and peace. I believe Christians need more patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness. Am I wrong? We could all stand to gain and demonstrate more gentleness and self-control. When the Spirit accomplishes that in the Church, that’s so much more powerful than speaking in tongues or healings or spiritual trances. When the Holy Spirit produces this kind of result in God’s Church, the whole world might flip out!

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Part Two

Near the end of the fourth Gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his gathered followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I am sending you to do the things I’ve done in the ways I’ve done them. I’m commissioning you to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. I’m charging you to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And, with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We do not have the abilities on our own to do what Jesus did in the ways he did them. Church is the Body of Christ — the real, tangible, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood  presence of Jesus in the world. That’s the call. That’s the charge. That’s the point of the Church, our mission.

But how? We can’t.

He knows. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit transforms our inabilities. God’s Spirit teaches us things we could never come up with on our own. The Bible says we can’t even make the Christian confession — Jesus is Lord! — except by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our inabilities and provides the gifts and the powers to do things we could never do by ourselves.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” ~Mark 13:11

No one naturally loves his enemies. No one naturally turns the other cheek. Nobody naturally lays down his rights or would rather be wronged than to fight for what is hers. Jesus says those are exactly the kinds of things that separate Christians from just good people. Those are the things that are required if we are to be his Church. And the Holy Spirit infuses us with the abilities and the power to do it. The Spirit forms in us the character traits we need to live like our Lord. He gives us strength so we can follow the way of the weakness. He gives us power so we can take care of the helpless. He gives us peace so we can endure the hostility.

If being a Christian is just about being a good citizen and giving to charities and not cussing too much — you don’t need the Holy Spirit for that. This is about following Jesus. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without the fellowship of the Spirit who transforms our inabilities and provides us the power to live like people without the Holy Spirit don’t. Can’t.

And it takes time. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening and other times it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. It’s hard to measure. It’s difficult to track. God doesn’t send us quarterly reports. But we  know his Spirit is working on us. Changing us. Transforming us. We know that we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness in ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Loving your neighbor is different from just being a good guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not the same as the peace of having your mortgage paid off. Turning the other cheek is not even in the same universe as self defense or protecting what’s yours. Doing justice is more than forwarding a Facebook petition. Showing mercy is more than sponsoring a co-worker in a 5K.

The fellowship of the Spirit is where our abilities are transformed together and how the Kingdom of God is made real in a broken and dying world.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: First Part

“I will ask the Father, and he will give y’all another Counselor to be with y’all forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But y’all will know him, for he lives with y’all and will be in y’all. I will not leave y’all as orphans; I will come to y’all. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but y’all will see me. Because I live, y’all also will live. On that day y’all will realize that I am in my Father, and y’all are in me, and I am in y’all.” ~John 14:16-20

Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. God near us. That’s Jesus. Our Father takes that one dramatic step further with his Holy Spirit. God in us. God inside us.

The pronouns used by Jesus are plural, not singular. This is communal. It’s corporate. The Holy Spirit binds us together in a shared fellowship. Together.

Thirty years ago, a sociologist named Robert Bellah wrote an influential book called Habits of the Heart. He documented what he described as an American phenomenon: ontological individualism. It’s this belief, he says, is unique to us in the United States: an individual is his or her own source of meaning. Nobody can tell me what to do. Nobody can teach me anything I can’t learn on my own. I don’t need anybody. I don’t depend on anybody. The whole thing is about me. That’s a very American mindset. Bellah says most Americans barely have the vocabulary, much less the desire, to express commitment or passion for anything other than themselves.

The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is not for individuals. It transcends our identities and surpasses our abilities as individuals. It’s a group thing. It’s the fellowship of the Spirit.

Jesus says, “I will not leave y’all as orphans.” That’s family language. By the Holy Spirit, he says, “I will come to y’all.” Family. Community.

“We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” ~ 1 Corinthians 12:13

When we talk about the work of the Spirit, we usually focus on the Spirit’s relation to the individual Christian. We talk about how the Spirit is active in a person’s life or how a woman or man uses particular Holy Spirit gifts. According to Jesus, though, our emphasis should be on the Spirit’s corporate work. We should pay more attention to the indwelling and empowering of the Spirit in and through the Church.

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in y’all, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to y’all’s mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in y’all.” ~Romans 8:11

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in y’all?” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:16

The Church is a community where no one reaches his full spiritual potential and no one fulfills her true spiritual calling apart from the group. Each member of the fellowship contributes something special to the group so that all together the Holy Spirit does so much more for the Kingdom than any of us could do by ourselves. The Church attains to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ together.

“To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” ~1 Corinthians 12:7

Some religions teach that meditating or praying in solitude is the highest form of spirituality. But that is not Christianity. The fellowship of the Spirit is not about private Christian growth or individual spiritual formation. What the Spirit gives us is intended for serving the common good, the whole fellowship together.

The Spirit is the one who brings us together. And when we’re together, bound to one another by the Spirit of God, the Church is bigger than we think. It transcends our individual abilities. It’s better than we can see, it’s wider and deeper, it’s richer and longer-lasting and farther-reaching. It’s more than our physical senses can begin to detect. It’s holy.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, our down payment of what’s coming. The fellowship of the Spirit is a taste of everything that’s going to be revealed. The Holy Spirit promises us together that, yes, God will act. Yes, God will speak. God will save. God will fulfill. Our God will live with us and in us forever and ever. Hallelujah! Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Body of Christ: Last Part

I love words. I’m in the business of words. I love to write and I love to speak. I believe words are so very important. I think the world of words. But Jesus was not crucified because of his words. His words are not what changed the lives of broken people, his words are not what united fractured groups, his words are not what turned the world upside down. It was his presence. It was the physical things he did in the body. It was the healing and feeding, the forgiving and praying, the eating and sharing — that’s what got him killed. That’s what altered the course of history forever: his flesh-and-blood presence in the world.

Not words. Words are never enough. That’s why the Word became flesh and lived among us. Words are not enough. So Jesus came here and got dirty with us. He has a body, you know.

The things we say in the safety of our sanctuaries aren’t going to change the world. Abstract truth doesn’t stir anybody’s heart. Theological concepts don’t compel faith or love, even when they’re true. But when that truth becomes embodied, when it’s up close and personal, flesh-and-blood truth, cup of cold water truth, that’s when truth gets interesting. That’s when we know for sure the Kingdom of God is near.

In Luke 3, huge crowds of people are coming to be baptized in the Jordan River to prepare the way for the Lord, so all can see God’s salvation. And the folks being baptized ask John: What shall we do?

John answers: If you have two coats, give one of them to somebody who doesn’t have a coat. If you’ve got food, give it to somebody who doesn’t have any.

Tax collectors are coming to be baptized. What shall we do? John says: Stop stealing from people, stop taking advantage of the weak, treat everybody equally.

Some soldiers are being baptized. What should we do? John answers: Stop using force and threat to get your way, stop accusing people and lying about people.

People are being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, they’re going into the water for a salvation relationship with God, and the instructions they’re given are not about saying the right words or believing the right things or thinking the right way. The instructions are about doing. The expectation is for real, physical, tangible, concrete, flesh-and-blood actions toward the poor and oppressed; how we act toward the outcast and marginalized, the exploited and weak. Not the words we say in the comfort and safety of our buildings, but the actions we take out there. The real, physical, flesh-and-blood actions in the interests of others — all others! Bold, courageous, Christ-like actions that go against the grain of the world and will cost us our reputations, our relationships, and our resources.

We boldly turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. We faithfully love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so people can see Jesus. We don’t just act on behalf of people who live inside the womb and might be harmed; we courageously act on behalf of all people living outside the womb who might be harmed so people can meet Jesus. We forgive those who sin against us, we lay down our rights for the sake of others, we stand firmly with the oppressed so the world will know the Kingdom of God is here!

The broken world is sick and tired of the Church’s words, words, words! This lost and dying world desperately needs the real, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood actions of the Body of Christ, the saving and life-giving presence of our Lord Jesus!

This world will not see Jesus, people will not experience the truth of our Savior, just because we love Jesus or because we admire Jesus or because we believe all the right things about Jesus. The world will see it, they’ll know, when we are the Body of Christ. When we follow him, when we give our lives to him, when we do the things he did in the ways he did them for the sake of all others.

Jesus had a body, you know. And he still does.

Peace,

Allan

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