Win Them By Our Life

Discipleship, Evangelism No Comments »

“Let this, I say, be our way of overpowering them, and of conducting our warfare against them; and let us, before all words, astound them by our way of life. For this is the main battle, this is the unanswerable argument, the argument from actions. For though we give ten thousand precepts of philosophy in words, if we do not exhibit a life better than theirs, the gain is nothing. For it is not what is said that draws their attention, but their enquiry is, what we do. Let us win them therefore by our life.”

John Chrysostom
388 AD

Strong Christians

Church, Discipleship, Giving, Grace, Romans No Comments »

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“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” ~Romans 15:1-3

As children of God and followers of his Christ, the Church takes its example from Jesus. The Son of God is the one who calls us to live with each other the way we do. We realize that Christ Jesus never once did a single thing to please himself. Instead, he gave up everything, he sacrificed everything, to benefit others. And by choosing to serve others instead of please himself, Jesus sets the pattern that we must accept as our own: Putting others first, considering the needs of others more important than our own, never about me, always about you.

And Paul puts it on the strong. It’s up to the strong Christians, not the weak, to make sure this happens in God’s Church. It’s on the strong to bear with the failings of the weak sister or brother. That’s hard. It’s on the strong to make the concessions to our weaker brothers and sisters and that’s not easy. It’s easier to be the weaker Christian, drawing the lines and insisting that everybody cater to me. It’s the strong, Paul says, who are able to grasp the truth that our love and mercy and grace to others is like Christ.

“But I can’t stop doing this certain thing; not for him.”
“I can’t give up practicing this particular thing; not for her.”
“I can’t sacrifice this behavior or this privilege or this freedom; not for them.”

You call yourself a follower of Christ? Jesus gave up everything! Jesus sacrificed it all for you and me, for all our brothers and sisters, for the strong and the weak! That’s what makes a strong Christian strong: a faith that comes to the realization that a lot of the things you care so much about are really not that important to God. You love your weaker brother so much, you care about your weaker sister so much, you’re willing to keep those things between you and the Lord and sacrificially carry the burdens of the weak. And the stronger your faith, the easier it becomes. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. You can do this.

Bottom line, here’s what separates the strong Christians from the weak Christians: Strong Christians with strong faith know that the more you sacrifice and the more you give up for others, the more like Christ you are. The more you insist on your own way, the more you assert yourself for your own interests, the less like Christ you are. Pretty simple.

So, what if all of us, to a person, decided that we would put ourselves at the back of the line? What if we all vowed to bend over backwards to make everybody else happy and sacrifice our own feelings and opinions in order to build up others? What if we all did that?

If we all accepted each other like Christ accepted us, if we all bore the failings of the weak just like Jesus does, it still wouldn’t result in a perfect Church. It wouldn’t eliminate our differences of opinion. It won’t do away with our arguments and debates. But it would mean figuring out how to live together in the Gospel. And we’ll know for sure that the Jesus who unites us is greater by far than the differences that may divide us. And our grace-filled conversations and our mercy-laden interactions with each other will reflect and strengthen that conviction.

Peace,

Allan

The Vision

Central Church Family, Christ & Culture, Church, Discipleship, Luke No Comments »

This is our two-part vision at Central. Transformation and mission, discipleship and ministry. Being formed into the image of Jesus in order to bless those outside ourselves. Paying close attention to what God is doing in us and what he is doing through us. We’re committed to it here. We believe in it. We’re sold on the truth that the more we think like Jesus, the more we talk like Jesus and act like Jesus, the more we behave and respond like our Lord, the more naturally we’ll come to consider the needs of others more important than our own. The more we’ll sacrifice for others and serve others and show the love and grace of God to others.

That is not the goal of other institutions. That’s not what the schools are doing. That’s not what your neighborhood Property Owners Association is doing. That’s not the government’s vision. And it’s not the goal of Apple, Fox News, or the Texas Rangers. Becoming Like Christ for the Sake of  __________ is only the mission of the Church. Disciples of Jesus are the only ones committed to this vision. In fact, this Gospel vision actually opposes the vision of most all other worldly establishments. This vision makes us an alternative community. We’re the oddballs, the weirdos. We stick out. What we’re committed to as a group doesn’t make sense to the world.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters — yes, even his own life! — he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” ~Luke 14:26-27

We’re called by Jesus to break free from all the ties of society, he wants us to shake loose from this world’s way of thinking and doing so we can live in this radically new kind of life as a follower of Jesus.

And we do it together.

As disciples, we’re called to forgive others as Jesus forgave us. That means we have to forgive everybody, even people who hate us and want to do us harm. We’re called to suffer and serve instead of use our power and influence to get our way. We’re told to give up our freedom and rights, not fight to preserve them. We’re called to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to willingly die to ourselves every day. And that is so opposite of what everybody in the world besides Jesus is saying, that we can’t do this by ourselves. We have to do it together.

That’s Church. That’s us. Together. Committed to his vision of Becoming Like Christ for the Sake of  __________.

This world, especially our culture here in the West, has no use for a philosophy or a position that puts others first. David Hume, the Enlightenment Age philosopher who was so influential in the mid 1700’s during the forming of the United States, wrote and spoke continually about the age of reason and logic, the age of the individual. This sample is from his Enquiry Into Morals:

“Fasting, penance, self-denial, humility, sacrifice, silence, solitude, and the whole train of monkish virtues — they are rejected everywhere by men of sense because they serve no manner of purpose. They do not advance a man’s fortune in the world, nor render him a more valuable member of society. They don’t aid him in entertaining company nor increase his power of self enjoyment. We observe, on the contrary, that they all oppose these desirable ends. These practices stupefy the understanding and harden the heart, obscure the fancy, and sour the temper.”

According to Hume and the foundational thoughts that formed this country, the highest purpose of human life is happiness and the well-being of the individual. Everything that might distract from that happiness or compromise that well-being has to be avoided.

Picking up a cross and becoming like Christ makes no sense to our world. It’s incomprehensible. Being crucified with Christ doesn’t compute. Losing your life for the sake of the Gospel sounds silly. But for children of God and disciples of Jesus, this is our calling.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Not Difficult

Discipleship, Evangelism, Mark No Comments »

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” ~Mark 16:8

Untitled-1We’re likely not afraid of being persecuted or of being killed if we’re caught telling the Gospel story. So what are we afraid of? What makes us so reluctant to tell? Yesterday in this space we considered the possibility that we might be afraid the Gospel is old news. It’s not relevant. It’s something that happened a long time ago and may not be practical or helpful for my friends. It’s certainly not new or fresh.

Please see yesterday’s post for a brilliant dismantling of that misguided viewpoint.

Is it possible that we’re afraid we’ll mess it up? If we attempt to share the Gospel, we’ll somehow get it wrong?

If we’re holding back from going and telling because we’re afraid it’s too hard, Scripture has something to say about it. The first four books of the New Testament are not about the foolishness and the failings of the disciples, although there’s plenty of that in there. The Gospel is about the power of God that overcomes our failings. Because the story is being told all over the world today, we know that the good news of Jesus’ resurrection was eventually shared by those fearful women at the empty tomb. That means Jesus’ promises and God’s will are being fulfilled despite our failings and sins. Praise God.

Mark’s ending, which is really a beautiful beginning, shows us that it’s not dependent on us. Our hope for a glorious future rests in the almighty power of the one and only God of the universe. Our God will make it happen, not us. Jesus makes us that promise.

Around the table with his followers on that last night, Jesus tells them: “You will all fall away.” And they do. Later that night, they scatter. They’re gone. Yet Jesus follows this prediction up with a promise: But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you” (Mark 14:28). Then, on that first Easter morning, the angel reminds the disciples, “He is going ahead of you” (Mark 16:7).

Megaphone1Wherever you go and tell, he’s already there. There’s nothing to be afraid of. He’s already there. Our feeble efforts to proclaim the good news are always made successful by the one who goes before us. Our lives are centered on Christ, we are bounded by Christ, our identity is wrapped up in him. And we know by his faithful word and promises and through his divine power that he turns our clumsy stumblings into graceful sprints. He makes our miserable failures into glorious victories.

I’m reminded of something the great Texas theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote almost twenty years go:

“God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Gospel. That seems to me to be great news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.”

What are we waiting for? To get all our ducks in a row? To find all the answers first? To first make sure everybody in our boat is on board with the exact same theology and the exact same practices? Man, I hope not. That sounds really boring.

What’s going to save more people? What’s going to redeem our part of the world for Christ? Not fear! Not anxiety! Not silence! It takes us getting out in the middle of it — sacrificing and serving, forgiving and learning, proclaiming with our lips and our lives that Jesus is Lord and he’s really fixing everything. Not waiting. And not being afraid. It takes throwing our entire selves into the Gospel right now, knowing and trusting that the God of our salvation is going to do something eternally wonderful with it.

Peace,

Allan

Maundy Means Commands

4 Amarillo, Central Church Family, Discipleship, John, Love No Comments »

JesusWashingFeetToday is Maundy Thursday, the day Christians all over the world remember the events of the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed by his disciples. Yeah, remember, it wasn’t just Judas who betrayed Jesus; he was just the only one who got paid. They all fled that night when things got hairy. They all abandoned Jesus (Well, the guys did. According to the Gospels, the women were the only ones who did not flee the scene. They stood by their man, as it were, through the trials, the suffering, the crucifixion, and the burial).

The word “Maundy” is from a Latin word that means “commands.” That word has been used by Christians to describe that last night for centuries because Jesus gave his followers several commands during that last meal:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” ~John 13:14-15

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” ~John 13:34

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” ~John 15:12

Today is a day of solemn remembrance. Easter Sunday — I can’t wait for Easter, I love Easter, Resurrection! — is a day for exuberant celebration. But Maundy Thursday is for individual and corporate reflection. Inspection. Introspection. How have I betrayed my Lord? Am I keeping his commands? In what ways do I continually deny my Savior?

He told his disciples that night around the table to remain in his love, to obey his commands. At a meal together, he asked them to obey his commands just as he had obeyed the commands of the Father. And then he says it: My command is that you love each other as I have loved you. You’re my friends, he says, if you do what I command (John 15:9-14).

Are we obeying his primary command to love each other? Are we showing Christ Jesus’ sacrificial, servant-hearted, selfless love to other followers? Or do we betray our Lord and disobey his command by judging other disciples and withdrawing from other followers? Are we loving and serving all Christians as Jesus commanded, as he prayed to our Father on that dark night we would, or do we only love and serve Christians who think and behave exactly like we do? Do we reject Jesus’ command by criticizing other churches, even condemning them, because we have different understandings or different practices?

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Here at Central, we’re trying to love all Christians in Amarillo the way Jesus showed us during that last meal on that Thursday night. We’re trying to be sacrificial. We’re trying to be servants. We’re trying to come closer together with other Christians. We’re trying to erase the man-made lines of distinction and focus on the many, many things we all have in common in our Lord Jesus. No judgments. No criticisms. More grace. More forgiveness. More service. More love. We’re not perfect at this yet; nobody’s arrived. But we’re trying.

Tonight, our church family joins with our brothers and sisters at First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Polk Street Methodist for a time of worship and communion with each other and with our risen and coming Lord. We’re going to reflect together. We’re going to inspect our lives together. We’re going to eat and drink together. And we’re going to commit to the Maundy Thursday spirit of paying attention to Jesus’ commands. And obeying them.

Peace,

Allan

Flesh and Blood

Discipleship, Jesus, John, Ministry, Salvation No Comments »

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” ~John 1:14 (MSG)

JesusDisciplesFeet
God doesn’t wave a magic wand and cast a spell on the earth to restore it to its original condition. He doesn’t judge the world as beyond salvation and destroy everything. God comes to us. That’s his answer. That’s our God’s strategy. He enters our humanity with us, he puts on our skin and bones and blood, and participates in our problems. Immanuel. God with us. Jesus joins our mess.

This is how God works in the world. He takes on our humanness. He became one of us. The Son of God not only died for our sins as a human, he lived here as a human, too! He got hungry and tired with us. He laughed and cried with us. He bled. He sweated. He experienced joy and pain with us. He got surprised and he got frustrated. He was tempted. He struggled. He was betrayed by his best friends. He had to make hard decisions. He lost loved ones. He became one of us with us. This is God’s strategy.

Entering. Sharing. Engaging. Participating. All in.

That’s very, very different from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. All the other world’s religions worship a god who stays in the heavens, who has removed himself from creation and demands that his people come to him. People are required to find secret knowledge and spiritual codes and work and strive and struggle to get to these gods. But our God comes to us. He comes here to us.

JesusHealsBlindIt’s important for us to know that Jesus is both 100% God and 100% man. I can’t explain it all, I certainly don’t understand it all. But the Scriptures declare it, the Apostles’ Creed affirms it, and Jesus’ life on earth proves it. He is both God and man. And this is critical to our Christian faith.

If Jesus wasn’t a man, then he didn’t really enter our mess. He came here, yes, but he remained above all the dirt. He didn’t really enter or share or participate in the ugliness of what is our situation. He wasn’t human, he was God! It was easy!

And if Jesus wasn’t God, then he didn’t really sacrifice anything to come to us. He didn’t risk anything. He didn’t really put anything on the line. And it didn’t really make an eternal difference. It didn’t matter in the long run. He wasn’t God, he was human! He was born here, he didn’t have a choice. And then he died. It was unfortunate, that’s all.

No.

Jesus the Messiah, the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator and Lord of Heaven and Earth, equal with God the Father from before the beginning of time, left his home in glory and put on our skin and bones in order to enter our mess. He entered your mess. He did. Jesus Christ entered your situation, he shared in your experiences, he carried all your burdens, he participated in your problems. He got very intimately involved in your situation at a tremendous personal cost. That’s the Gospel! Praise God!

Christ Jesus put on our flesh and lived with us. He entered the fray. And so we disciples of Christ today enter the fray with our money and time and resources and energy and talents and houses and everything we’ve got. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians shine light into darkness, we bring life out of death. We join in the problems. We jump into the ugliness. That’s why so many hospitals are named Methodist and Presbyterian and Baptist-St. Anthony’s — because Christians have been entering the mess and sharing and carrying and engaging and participating since that very first Easter Sunday.

It’s obvious that this is the way of our Lord. God’s Church is not called to just hang on until the uncleanness is destroyed. We’re not called to just pray about the mess so God can take care of it. And we surely don’t lock ourselves up in a gated monastery and ignore the problems. We enter it. We engage it. Heaven and earth, God and humans, present together in the redemption and restoration of the world.

Peace,

Allan