Category: Confession (Page 1 of 5)

Ash Wednesday Wrap

Putting the wraps on our first GCR – First Pres Ash Wednesday service last week at First Presbyterian Church in Midland. I didn’t know if we’d get a dozen people to show up or maybe thirty or forty. I didn’t know if our folks would be really blessed by participating in something so foreign to our typical Church of Christ service or if they’d be turned off. I didn’t know if this was going to be a one-time thing for us as two churches worshiping and serving God as the unified Body of Christ or the first of many cooperative events and ecumenical times of worship to come. We do understand that breaking down the walls between our Christian denominations and coming together as his people is fully within our God’s will. And we did ask God to be with us as we took this step together. So why are we surprised that it was such a glorious, life-changing, soul-filling experience?

 

 

 

 

Corporate confession is not something we normally do in Churches of Christ – we never do it. But this Ash Wednesday service reminded us that regular confession and repentance and absolution of sins is good for us. And necessary. Responding aloud to the Word of God being read – it’s formative. Observing the Christian calendar and preparing for Easter Sunday in fasting and prayer in unison with disciples of Christ all over the world – it’s powerful.

Now, about the ashes. I’ve been told that my line was moving much slower than Steve Schorr’s line. You see, that was the first time I had ever imposed the ashes. I’ve participated in seven or eight Ash Wednesday services in the past and always received the ashes but, until last Wednesday, I had never been on the other end. So, yeah, cut me some slack. There’s an ashes-to-forehead distribution process to work through. The first few parishioners I received walked away with very, very dark crosses on their foreheads; they’re probably still trying to scrub them away today. The next few each required a couple of takes because I didn’t get enough ashes on my thumb. It’s not as easy as it looks! Also, I wanted to use the phrase, “Repent and believe the Good News” instead of “From ashes you were created and to ashes you will return.” It just feels more like an invitation and more like the Gospel to say the first phrase, more of a blessing. But First Pres uses the “ashes” phrase. And they’re the experts. So I used both. To each worshiper, I applied the cross with, “From ashes you were created by God and to ashes you will return; repent and believe the Good News!” That seems more appropriate. It also slows down your line.

Plus, when members of my own GCR family approached, I wanted to call them by name. I wanted to bless themĀ  personally. Acting as a pastor and priest in that moment, I wanted to connect them by name to the truth of their own lives and to the truth of what God has done and is doing for them through Jesus. It was a very powerful experience for me to be a conduit of God’s truth and blessing in that very different way. And it slowed down my line a little.

We had as many Church of Christ’ers there as they had Presbyterians. I have not stopped receiving emails and texts from GCR folks who are so thankful for the way God spoke to them Wednesday night in somebody else’s church. And it was definitely not a one-time thing. Steve leaned over toward me before the service was even over – we were singing the next-to-last song before the benediction – and said, “What are we doing next?”

Peace,

Allan

 

Putting Away and Taking On

“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” ~Romans 13:14

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and prayer that precedes Good Friday and Easter Sunday on the Church calendar. Going back to the early years of Church history, Lent has traditionally been a time for personal abstinence and self-discipline. In the Middle Ages, it became particularly associated with a fast from eating meat. It developed into a teaching tool for the Church and a reminder for all Christians: In your hunger, be reminded of all that Jesus suffered and sacrificed to win your salvation.

As you enter this season of Lent on your own or together with your family or community of faith, allow me to suggest that it’s not just about giving something up. It’s not only about sacrificing a certain type or amount of food or some other regular pleasure in order to participate in the sufferings of Christ or to remember his selfless preparation for the cross. At least as important is the idea and practice of taking something on, adding something new to your life in Christ.

Not only the surrender of material things, but the taking on of spiritual things, eternal things that draw us closer to Christ and, by the power of the Spirit, transform us more into his image is the best way to prepare for Easter. A new ministry. A new discipline. A new work for the benefit of others. A new prayer. A new friend. A new passage of Scripture. While you’re cleaning out your house over the next six weeks, pay attention to what you’re moving in to the empty spaces. Add something important. Commit to something Spirit-filled.

Our church at GCR is observing Ash Wednesday tonight with our brothers and sisters in Christ at First Presbyterian here in Midland. The joint worship service begins at 630pm. There will be corporate confession and repentance. There will be an imposition of ashes. For most of us Church of Christ’ers, it will be brand new, mildly uncomfortable, and sort of strange. And powerful and beautiful and holy.

Peace,

Allan

A Week Late & 50 Degrees Warmer

Due to COVID restrictions and our desire to try something completely different, we had planned an Ash Wednesday Drive-Thru event in our church parking lot. But on Ash Wednesday last week in Amarillo, it was four-degrees and there were nine inches of snow on the ground. So we postponed the event until last night when it was 50 degrees warmer and 100-percent drier.

As a church family last night we joined our Lord on his way to the cross. We participated with Jesus, we walked (drove) with our Christ as he willingly traveled to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of all humanity. It was a come-and-go event with four different stops or stations to remember and reflect on Christ’s baptism, his triumphal entry into the Holy City, the supper he shared with his followers on that last night, and his crucifixion. We read the biblical texts and prayed focused prayers at each stop. We had meaningful conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

Last night we remembered that, while he was in the water, God publicly declared his eternal love for Jesus. In the same way, our heavenly Father acknowledges us as his precious children and commissions us for service in his Kingdom. We looked each other in the eyes last night and said, “You are loved by God and he is well pleased with you.”

 

 

 

 

We waved palm branches outside our car windows and shouted “Hosannah!” as we drove our vehicles over other palm branches and robes and coats. That’s where our people did some double-takes. “You want me to drive OVER the robes?” We discussed the differences between the way Jesus rules and the way worldly kings rule. We told each other, “God saves you.”

We shared the communion meal together last night. We thanked God for meeting our deepest needs in Jesus. We thanked God for washing away our sins in the blood of Christ.

And then we parked our cars facing the floodlit cross Leon Wood and Tom Grant had built and erected in front of our ancient chapel. Our shepherds met each car with words of blessing and prayers for peace. Holy moments. Sacred conversations. Nobody was in a hurry. Blessings were being given and received. God’s Spirit was comforting and transforming all of us. As the cars departed the event, our elders painted a gray cross on the window of each driver and passenger, reminding us that we are human – we are made of dust and to dust we will return – and that we need God and each other. The ash-colored crosses on our car windows acknowledged that the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus far surpasses in glory the burnt offerings made by the priests.

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the essence of the Gospel. God created us out of his great love, we have sinned and fallen short of his glory, we are in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation, he forgives us and restores us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

 

I am so grateful for our ministers and shepherds, for our church staff, and every member of this wonderful Central congregation. We have found creative ways to remain connected over the past year and we have seen our Lord at work in everything and everybody around us. May our faithful God continue to bless us during the days and weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. May we remember. May we walk with Christ. And may his will be done in and through this church and our city just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

Ash Wednesday Confession

A few of us attended the Ash Wednesday service today with our brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian. This is the prayer of confession we prayed together near the beginning. You know, every day as a Christian is a dying and a rising, a dying to self and a resurrection with Christ, a putting down and a taking up. I trust this will bless you as you begin or continue your own journey with Jesus to the cross.

Holy and merciful God, we confess to you and to one another and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven. Have mercy on us, O God.

We confess to you, O God, all our past unfaithfulness: the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience in our lives.

We confess to you, O God, our self-indulgent appetites and ways and our exploitation of others.

We confess to you, O God, our anger at our own frustration and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves.

We confess to you, O God, our negligence in prayer and worship and our failure to commend the faith that is in us.

Have mercy on us, O God. And in your mercy, cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The Only Way That Works

I love Whataburger. I could eat at Whataburger twice a day every day for weeks. I think I’ve done that a couple of times. They know me when I walk in. They know my order: Number One with cheese and everything on it and extra onions. Hot french fries and spicy ketchup. A big booth with my Texas Monthly or Sports Illustrated. That’s my happy place. It makes me feel good.

But it’s not good for me. In fact, it’s probably killing me. I know it. My doctor knows it. My whole family knows it. Whataburger is bad for me.

So Carrie-Anne lays down this law: No more Whataburger. Eat at Subway. Get a six-inch Black Forest Ham, no cheese and no chips. Get the apple slices. Now, that’s a good rule. That’s a good law. That commandment is holy, righteous, and good. If I eat at Subway, it’ll benefit me greatly. I’ll enjoy greater peace with my body and the freedom to tuck in more of my shirts.

But I’m here in the office and I’m doing meetings and I’m on the phone and answering emails and reading and planning and studying and it’s 12:30 and I’m starving. And I get in my truck and I drive south. When I get to the red light at Washington and I-40, I can go straight and Subway is right there on my left — I can see it from the light. Or I can turn right and Whataburger’s on Georgia Street.

If the light is green, I’ve got a better chance.

If the light is red…

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do; but what I hate, I do! I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing! So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” ~Romans 7:15-21

I can’t keep the law because I’m human and because I’m hungry. That doesn’t mean the law is bad. It’s a good law! It means I’m bad and weak and faulty. And Carrie-Anne’s going to look it up online and see my Whataburger receipt before I can even get back to church. I know all this, but I do it anyway. The law is not bad — it’s just that the law cannot save me. No matter how good and righteous and holy the rules are, the rules can never save me.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” ~Romans 7:24-25

Christ Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. This is the only way that works. And this is a big deal.

In Galatians 5, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” Well, if it doesn’t matter, why’s he making such a big deal about it? It’s the reason for the circumcision. If the Galatians go ahead with circumcision because of the pressure from the Judaizers, then they’ll be confessing by submitting to this ritual that Christ alone isn’t enough. They’ll be saying, yes, you have to become a Jew if you want to be a child of God. Circumcised Christians are better than uncircumcised Christians. They’re more right, they’re more saved. They’re a “cut” above the rest (sorry-bad Scot McKnight joke).

So Paul lays it out: This is the only way that works. If you allow yourself to be circumcised, “Christ will be of no value to you at all.” You’re severed from Christ, you’re alienated, separated from Christ, you have fallen from grace!

This isn’t just a minor ritual requirement that you do right alongside your trust in Jesus. This isn’t a both/and. This is a definite either/or. If you get circumcised as a way to salvation or even as part of the way of salvation, you’re committing yourself to that whole way. You’re putting your trust in that whole temple/synagogue system with the sacrifices and food laws and cleanliness codes — the whole way. Paul illustrates by reminding us that a little yeast, a little leaven, goes all the way through.

You give in on this one extra requirement, you add this one extra ritual as necessary, and you’ve added the whole way of works-based religion, the whole way of law-based salvation. And that way does not save. Christ alone is the only way that works.

I am a recovering legalist. A lot of us are recovering legalists. I was raised a certain way in Churches of Christ and I behaved a certain way for more than half my life.

Less than 20 years ago I was arguing with my friends against small groups. You can’t meet in homes on Sunday nights, that’s dividing the body. Seriously.

We were at a church years ago that was looking to hire its first-ever children’s minister and they put me on the search committee. At our very first meeting, the chairman said, “We need to talk about whether we’re going to consider female candidates.” I said, “Why do we need to talk about that?” He said to me, “Do you think we should consider a woman?” I answered, “Absolutely not — not for a paid ministry position!” He asked the guy next to me, “Do you think we should consider a woman for the children’s minister position?” He answered, “I think it has to be a woman!” And the chairman turned back to me and said, “That’s why we need to talk about it.”

Fifteen years ago we were at the Tulsa Workshop and they were doing some unity stuff with the Christian Churches and the Disciples of Christ. The speakers were dynamic, the worship was inspiring, people were being baptized, and we were standing together and singing on the floor of that huge coliseum. A guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Man, isn’t this great?” And I replied, “Yeah, but I’m not sure about letting these denominations in here with us.”

That was me. I said those things. I believed those things. I behaved that way. Because I thought that’s what saved me! To paraphrase Paul in Galatians 1: I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. I thought my salvation and my righteous standing with God was connected to all that. But it’s not! Praise God! And we know that! We understand that! We’ve been freed from all that! Christ alone is the only way that works!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~Galatians 5:1

Peace,

Allan

Who Am I?

Who Am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1944

Who am I? They often tell me
I step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a Lord from his manor.

Who am I? They often tell me
I speak to my jailers
freely, friendly, firmly,
as though they were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bear the days of hardship
unconcerned, amused, proud,
like one accustomed to winning.

Am I then really that which other men tell me?
Or am I only what I myself know of me?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage
struggling for breath as though hands were compressing my throat,
yearning for colors, for flowers, for songs of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for human company,
quivering with anger at despotism and insults,
anxiously waiting for the next event,
helplessly worrying for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at working,
exhausted, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others
and by myself a contemptible, whining weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
fleeing in disorder from a victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, you know me, O God. I am yours!

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