Paying the Price

Discipleship, Faith, Hebrews 1 Comment »

Being a disciple of Jesus is costly.

Sometimes we pay financially. There are jobs Christians will not do. There are deals Christians won’t make, promotions they never get, strategies they can’t use.

Sometimes the cost of following Jesus is social. Sometimes a family will bail on a new Christian convert. You mention the Lord Jesus more than twice at a party and you might not be invited back. There are entertainment and pastimes disciples of Jesus won’t be a part of.

Sometimes it’s an intellectual or emotional price. It’s a whole lot more demanding mentally and emotionally figuring out how to love your enemies than it is trying to get even. Being different from the culture, always swimming upstream, takes a toll. the cross is the heaviest piece of furniture to move, and Christians are called to pick it up and carry it every day.

And Christians pay the price politically. There are appointments Christians will never be considered for. There are powers Christians refuse to use, lords they refuse to serve, and compromises they refuse to make.

Commitment to the faith carries a cost — we know that. But Christians are not always willing to pay that cost. The price can seem too high in some circumstances. Or maybe we just get tired of paying it every single day. Most of the time, though, what chips away at our confidence and erodes our strength is a loss of hope. We keep paying the price and making the sacrifices, but nothing changes. The problems don’t get fixed, the powers against us still seem to be in control, and none of the issues go away.

It’s a struggle.

We grow weary and lose heart. We get tired of serving other people. Tired of trying to keep the church going. Tired of being different and pointed at and whispered about. We get tired of trying not to sin, tired of reading the Bible, tired of praying. Tired of battling our own cravings and addictions. Christians grow weary of walking the walk.

And Christians who are tired and losing hope don’t usually do something dramatic. They don’t become atheists, they don’t join a witches coven, they don’t start suddenly rooting for the Red Sox. They just give up. They just quit.

The sermon in Hebrews is addressed to Christians on the verge of quitting. The preacher in Hebrews is concerned about people who stop coming to church. He’s worried about people who pour their lives into the collection plate but never receive the blessing. He’s concerned about people who have all the scars, but none of the hope.

I want to spend the rest of this week looking at some really encouraging words from Hebrews 12 that speak directly to those who are losing hope in the midst of terrible pains and hardship. Tomorrow, Hebrews 12:5-9, our suffering has meaning. Friday, Hebrews 12:10-11, the gain is worth the pain. And then Saturday, Hebrews 12:12-13, healing comes in the running.

In the meantime: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful people, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” ~Hebrews 12:2-3

Peace,

Allan

Pay Careful Attention

Faith, Hebrews No Comments »

“We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard so that we do not drift away.” ~Hebrews 2:1

We’re struggling against boredom and a waning interest in things associated with church. We’ve lost our fire, we’ve plateaued. Maybe we’re drifting.

I think this can be deceptively subtle for Christians who were born and raised in the Church. I wasn’t born on a church pew, but my parents got me there as fast as they could. A lot of us have been in God’s Church for a long, long time. And I think it’s easy for us to drift. I’ve already done the work. I’ve already been saved. I’ve been doing this my whole life.

It’s really easy to think we can just take the pressure off. We can let other people do the praying and the thinking and the ministry. We can just go along for the ride. We can just go with the flow. We can just drift. Or we can think we already know it all and spend most of our time telling other people what to do and never spend a moment sincerely examining ourselves. We’re drifting.

One of the problems is that we live in a world of all signposts and no destination. The world is changing; everything’s shaking; and the culture says you’ve got to get off the path you’re on and do something different. We’re more and more mobile and less and less stable when it comes to extended families and where we live and where we worship.

And we are consumers. We’re constantly shopping for new material goods and for new experiences. And that can easily add up to drifting, just kind of floating around from one thing to another. We look for better preachers and better churches. We chase after practical books and helpful videos. We fall in with the shallow stuff at Mardell or fall for the power stuff on Fox News. We line up with science or we sell our souls to technology. We sprinkle on some new age and sample some Eastern philosophy. The spiritual reference points keep shifting as we attempt to navigate the chaos of our lives and the uncertainty of this world. And it’s all distractions! If we’re not careful, we’ll wind up making a bad trade like Esau: we’ll trade our salvation connection to Christ for the affirmation and acceptance of the culture. Of the “I want it all” attitude can turn into “I’m overwhelmed and paralyzed in the face of it all!” We can wind up being overcome in a cloud of meaninglessness or powerlessness. Shrouded in the mist. Hemmed in by the fog. Drifting.

It’s hard for us to see the truth. It’s hard to see the present, much less eternity. We can’t see it. But we can hear it.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3

God has spoken to us by his Son! And God is still speaking to us by his Son! Like a clarion blast sounding through the thick fog, God’s Word pierces the gloom, cuts through the mist, to announce what we can’t yet see but what we can certainly trust. God’s Word assures us that even though we’re being killed all day long, we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. We can’t see it yet. But we can hear it. And the preacher of Hebrews wants us to hear it.

“We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” ~Hebrews 2:1

Peace,

Allan

More Than Meets the Eye

Carley, Carrie-Anne, Faith, Hebrews No Comments »

For twenty straight years I’ve woken up my child or children on the first day of school with a loud, over-the-top, “extra” rendition of “School Bells.” At 6:05 this morning, in the pitch dark, I opened the door to Carley’s bedroom and laid into it one more time.

One last time.

Today is the first day of our youngest daughter’s senior year at Canyon High School. She’s got the ring, she’s had the senior yearbook picture taken, and now she’s starting class. Her senior year. Her last year.

For twenty years I’ve taken that first-day-of-school picture: new clothes, backpack, lunchbox, and three Wal-Mart bags full of crayons, paper, pens, and a box of Kleenex. Today? Carley might be wearing new clothes — I can’t tell. But there’s no backpack, no books, no supplies, and definitely no lunch box. She allowed me to take her picture with Carrie-Anne, who is starting her fifth year today as the Culinary Arts Director at Canyon High, and then took off in her little green car. Gone.

I don’t think “School Bells” is going to sound as good or be as irritating next year over the phone.

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We’re tired. We’re bored. You can see it in the way we look down when somebody’s asking for volunteers. You can see it in the way we straggle in to worship and complain about it when it’s over. We’re traveling more and playing more sports and assembling together with the Church less. The problem is just getting us to admit it. If we could admit it — we’re bored, we’re tired, we’ve lost our fire, we’re plateaued — then we could deal with it honestly and get some help. And maybe we’d understand that this spiritual fatigue is understandable.

It’s in the very nature of the kind of commitment we’ve all made. Following Jesus isn’t an inspiring baptism and then it’s done. It’s not a spectacular mission trip or a set of summer service projects or a two-year Ignite Initiative and then it’s over. Following Jesus is a grueling marathon. It takes great endurance. Continual focus.

It’s hard.

The people at work, the non-Christians at school, they all seem to be living pretty good lives. They seem fulfilled. They’ve got good families. They read the latest books on marriage and parenting and they seem to be doing well. They go to parties, they take weekend trips, they’re doing great. They have great attitudes and a real enthusiasm for life. Who are you to tell them they need Jesus to have a meaningful life? In fact, your life seems to be much more difficult since you took on Christ so long ago.

The problem is that we have so little to show for our hard work. Where are the results? Religious people always want visible, tangible results. Whether it’s burning a bull on a remote mountain altar or sliding into a pew at the local temple of positive thinking, people want a religion that pays off in ways we can see — bigger harvests, healthier bodies, more security, instant peace of mind. That’s the problem with the Christian faith. In this world of religious show-and-tell, in this world of “seeing is believing,” we don’t have much to show. Or see. All we’ve got is a cross that has to be picked up every day.

But hold on. Isn’t the Gospel about God’s great victory over sin and Satan and all the bad things that oppress human life? Isn’t the good news of the Christian faith about the resurrection triumph of eternal life over death? Yes, of course. But that victory is hidden right now. One day every eye will see that victory, it’ll be clear, it’ll be glorious. But not today. We don’t see it today.

“In putting everything under Christ Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” ~Hebrews 2:8

What we see is chaos and violence and disease. It’s everywhere in everybody around us. Abuse and brokenness and addiction and loneliness and loss. In our family. In my own life. All things are under Christ? I don’t see it.

The preacher of Hebrews knows this.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1

Everybody in that Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11 is commended because they displayed great faith when they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see. Moses was looking ahead, he says. Noah acted on things not yet seen. All these people, the preacher says, only saw the promise from a distance. It’s hard to get excited about a faith where all the final results are hidden. No wonder so many of us would rather spend our Sundays watching football where at least we can see who’s winning.

There’s a gap. And it’s real. Everybody’s got it: this gap between faith and sight. We’re all there in this gap. Somewhere in that gap, I’ve got to have a conviction about God. I’ve got to believe that, yes, God is bringing all things to completion, even though I can’t always see it.

The victory of the Gospel cannot yet be seen. But it can be heard. The truth, today, can be heard.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful Word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3

The preacher calls this a “word of encouragement.” And it’s crystal clear from these opening lines that his spoken word is all about God’s spoken Word which is now made complete and fully known in the incarnate Word, Jesus, the Son of God. The Son of God is not a metaphor. It’s not a figure of speech. This Son of God is the heir of all things, he’s the one through whom God created the world, and he upholds us and everything we see and don’t see by his mighty Word of power.

“If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:7
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” ~Hebrews 12:25
“He who has ears, let him hear!” ~Jesus

Peace,

Allan

Hearing and Speaking the Word

Faith, Hebrews, Preaching, Promise No Comments »

“We are God’s house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” ~Hebrews 3:6

We don’t know exactly how it happens. But we do know that, when all is said and done, the goodness of God is going to prevail over evil. The love of God is going to win in the end, not hate. The beauty of God is going to overcome and transform everything that’s ugly. And the risen Son of God will be on the throne, not the powers of darkness and death.

God wins in the end. Right? God wins!

How do we know that? Because we have heard his Word. We have heard God’s voice. We have heard the words of Jesus. We have the Word proclaimed by faithful witnesses and preserved for us in the holy Scriptures.

If we trust only what we see, we’re lost. We’re going to fall asleep at best, and quit the story altogether at worst. But if we hold firmly to what we have heard, if we live and believe what we have heard, then we enter the rest of God and we increase in confidence and courage and hope. And we boast. We start talking with great confidence.

We all turn into preachers.

Think about the way we talk. Think about the way hearing the Word and believing the Word causes us to speak. Why else would we say the things we do?

At the waters of baptism, we’re dealing with very risky and very unpredictable human beings. We can be baptizing a 12-year-old child we know nothing about or a 35-year-old adult we know way too much about. But when that human being comes up out of the water, we say,” All your past and future sins are forgiven! You are now sealed for eternity by God’s Holy Spirit who now lives inside you! You belong to God in Christ Jesus for all eternity!” We say it because we have heard the Word. And we believe it. It’s bold.

Around a hospital bed we say, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation; I will not be afraid!” Why? Because we have heard the Word.

In the cemetery at the graveside we say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Death has been swallowed up in his victory!” Why? Because we have heard the Word. It’s courageous.

To people who pollute the air, the water, or the land we say, “Stop it! The earth belongs to the Lord and everything in it!” To those who want to construct walls between people and do hateful things and use hateful words and forward hateful emails in Virginia or in Amarillo we say, “Every single man, woman, and child on this planet is created by God in the image of God and is loved deeply by our God! Cut it out!” And in moments of personal or even national crisis, we can proclaim, “We are not afraid! We’re not worried! We have been to the mountain top! We have beheld his glory! We have heard his Word!”

That way of talking boils up from a deep conviction and confidence in the promises of our God.

We’re not jumping into the dark here, we’re stepping into the light. We know what to do and what to say because God has spoken to us by his Son. He is still speaking to us by his Son! And we do hear that faithful Word.

Peace,

Allan

Joy in the Lord

Carley, Carrie-Anne, Central Church Family, Faith, Giving, Ministry, Valerie, Whitney No Comments »

You don’t necessarily have to turn on the evening news. In fact, do people even turn on the evening news anymore? All you have to do is not have your head buried in the sand to know that there is a great deal of anxiety and worry in our society. The state of things right now can very easily drag you down and steal your joy. How is it that the Bible commands children of God and disciples of Christ Jesus to always rejoice?

Well, where are your eyes? What are you looking at? What or who are you listening to?

As followers of Jesus, we are very well aware of all the things God is doing in us and through us. We can always rejoice in the knowledge and experience of God working among us. And that’s always constant. That never changes. God is always at work. We see the evidence of his great work, we sense the working out of his redemption and reconciliation plans, we feel his hand at work in us and through us, saving and changing lives all around us. The Lord is always at work among us and that is always reason to rejoice.

I see it in the Central teenagers who stop by my office on the way to Chick-Fil-A for a free promotional sandwich. Ellie and Justin are pouring into those kids the same grace that God has shown them and the kids are eating it up. I see it in the 30 men from Canadian Church of Christ with whom I had the great honor of hanging out with in Angel Fire this weekend. God is on the move with these men — moving in them and through them — and they are on fire for God’s mission in this world. I hear it when Valerie, our middle daughter, calls me from Arlington to tell me she’s changing her major from childhood education to youth ministry. God’s Spirit is changing Valerie forcefully and beautifully into a dedicated servant of the Gospel. I sense it when Carley, our youngest daughter, shows up in all the pictures from the Sao Paulo mission trip — painting, laughing, serving children, worshiping, leading. She’s finding her gifts and settling into her place in the Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I see it when my brothers and sisters at Central join forces to do good deeds for people in downtown Amarillo. We’re making gift bags for the staff and clients at CareNet and Gratitude House. We’re cleaning the carpets and painting the doors at PARC. We’re painting the storage shed and spreading new wood chips on the playground at Elwood Park. We’re giving away 200 books and reading the children at Bivins Elementary. We’re treating the ladies at Martha’s Home to a dinner out at a nice restaurant.

 

Our God is working in and through everything that’s going on around us. That knowledge and that experience gives us a stable and deep-rooted joy — an inner joy — that enables us to not only cope with disappointments, but to see things as they really are. In any and all circumstances God is always at work among his people. And that is always reason to rejoice.

Peace,

Allan

The Closing Prayer

1 Thessalonians, Faith, Legacy Church Family, MLB, Prayer, Salvation No Comments »

Carter Karels was a cute little middle school kid in our youth group at Legacy when our family arrived in Northeast Tarrant County in 2007. He knew then he wanted to be a sportswriter. Now today, after a couple of key internships, a successful stint as the sports editor at Texas A&M’s Battalion, and a few medium-profile run-ins with SEC football coaches, Carter is a sports reporter for USA Today. His very first story, on the season-ending injury to the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, can be found here. He’s also written a popular profile of Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge, which can be accessed here. Congratulations, Carter! I’m very proud of you, man. And I know your dad is probably impossible to live with now…

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“May God himself, the God of Peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

As a family formed by the future, it’s appropriate that Paul would end his letter to the Thessalonian church in Jason’s house by pointing them again to what is to come: the finished work of our God.

Sanctification, the continual process of being made holy, is both a gift from God and a goal. It is both experienced right now and still to be accomplished. Holiness is given to disciples of Jesus at the point of conversion, when we pass from death to life and become new creations in Christ. But it is also a goal that we strive to live out in our daily lives. This life of discipleship to our Lord is “between the times,” because he hasn’t finished yet what he began.

But he will.

During this short letter, Paul has talked a lot about himself and the church in Thessalonica. But his closing prayer reminds us that all of it is truly about our God. The last thing Paul wants on his hearers’ minds is our God, the One who has called us and saved us in Christ Jesus, the One who gives us his Spirit in power and holiness, and the One who will bring us into his Kingdom and glory when Jesus returns.

Paul wants to reassure us, he wants to remind us, that not only is God able to do all that he has promised, but because he is trustworthy and reliable, he will in fact do it. Our future rests entirely in the power and faithfulness of God. And that should inform and enable us to live lives of power and faithfulness ourselves as we wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace,

Allan