Category: Fellowship (page 2 of 16)

Holy Spirit Community

Spirit-ArtThe proclamation of the inaugurated Kingdom of God is expressed through Holy Spirit community. Following the Resurrection of Jesus, God’s Spirit creates a brand new community of all people, all nations, all languages, all brought to perfect unity under the Lordship of the Messiah. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel:

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved… Repent and be baptized, every one of you… The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” ~Acts 2:17-39

The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people, he destroys the walls between all people and brings us together in Christ.

“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace… [he] has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… his purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” ~Ephesians 2:13-18

HolySpiritThe Berlin wall was erected by the Soviets to separate East and West Berlin. In Bethlehem today, there’s a 27-foot wall that divides the Palestinians from the Israelis. We know all about dividing walls. Not all of them are physical. There are social and racial barriers. There are gender and economic walls. We’re divided by language and ethnicity and education and politics. But the blood of Jesus brings all of us together and the Spirit of God holds us together so that our unity in diversity becomes an unmistakable testimony to the true Prince of Peace!

We have to practice this tearing down of walls, we have to be committed to demolishing the things that separate us. We must do the very, very, very hard work of reconciliation because it is such a vital component to the Christian witness.

Peter slipped up in Antioch. He was under some social pressures there and he stopped eating with Gentiles. He wouldn’t associate with them in public. And Paul called him on it. He told Peter he wasn’t acting “in line with the truth of the Gospel.”

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

If these barriers have been set aside by Christ — the walls between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women — if these distinctions have been abolished at the cross, then what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism, if all people are created by God in the holy image of God, if God’s great purpose and goal is unity in his Son, if we are to love even our enemies, if Jesus took the hostility into himself to destroy it forever, on what grounds can we justify keeping in place any barriers?!?

Peace,

Allan

Torn in Two

TempleVeil

“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” ~Mark 15:37-38

The curtain of the temple was a beautiful and imposing barrier between the people of God and the visible, physical presence of God. The Creator lived in the temple’s Holy of Holies. His glory dwelled there, behind the veil. That’s where God was. And only the high priest of Israel could enter. And he could only go in there once a year, on behalf of the people.

The curtain is described by Josephus as being 80-feet tall, “…a Babylonian tapestry with embroidery of blue and fine linen, of scarlet also and purple, wrought with marvelous skill, woven with the whole panorama of the heavens.”

It was beautiful. Historical. Precious. It was a national treasure. But the curtain was a barrier that separated a holy God from an unholy people. Direct access to the presence of God, to his glory, had always been denied.

But not now. The curtain that shielded God’s glory is now ripped wide open at Jesus’ death. The veil is lifted and now everybody can see the face of God and bask in his glory and love. The barrier between the Creator and his created has been torn away. Religious leaders can’t rope God off from the people anymore. Everybody in the world now has direct access, “through a new and living way,” to a gracious God who has sacrificed so much for our salvation.

No more sacrifices: the Lamb of God has been offered. No more exclusive priests: now all of God’s people are priests and worship and serve together in his actual presence. Even Gentiles are allowed in now. Even women!

This “torn in two” curtain now lets people in. But it also lets something out. God’s glory can’t be confined anymore to a national shrine made of stone and brick. God’s glory now floods the earth. Just like the heavens were ripped apart at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at his baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended on him, now the temple veil is torn open and the Holy Spirit of God is now freely available to all!

Peace,

Allan

Maundy Thursday

On this fifth day of Holy Week, the “4 Amarillo” churches are assembling together at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening for a traditional Maundy Thursday service. “Maundy” comes from an old French word (mande) and a Latin term (mandatum) that mean “command,” and point to Jesus’ words around the table with his disciples on that night he was betrayed: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Tonight we are reminded of the sacrificial and self-giving love demonstrated by our Lord as he washed the feet of his followers. We’re reminded of his faithfulness and obedience as he went willingly to his death that very night. And we’re inspired to imitate our Savior in living lives of service to others, considering their needs more important than our own.

And they’ve asked me to preach it again.

Still not sure why. It probably has something to do with the fact that Howie and Howard and Burt all have Good Friday services and multiple Easter Sunday services they’re preaching this weekend. And I don’t. So I get the Maundy Thursday gig.

Regardless, I’m very, very honored and excited to do it. This is a communion service. And there’s nothing more distinctly Christian we can do than to share the Lord’s Meal with a bunch of different disciples from a bunch of different denominations and backgrounds and interpretations. Christ died to destroy all the things that separate us from God and from one another. He died to tear down the walls, to annihilate the barriers, to rip the veil in two from top to bottom so that we all have equal access to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all his people. So that we can all eat and drink together in his everlasting face-to-face presence. That’s why he died. And the only thing that keeps us from enjoying little slivers of that eternal feast here in this life is our refusal to love one another as Christ loved us.

Our own prejudices. Man-made lines of distinction. Our own arrogance and pride. Our unwillingness to practice the same love and acceptance and forgiveness and grace to other Christians that God in Christ showed and continues to show to us — that’s the only thing that keeps all God’s churches from expressing and practicing the kind of unity that would flat-out change the world.

I am grateful to belong to a faith community that understands this. I praise God that the leadership of our four downtown churches is pushing us to do more together, not less. And I cherish my partnership and friendship with Burt, Howard, and Howie. I pray that our Maundy Thursday gathering tonight encourages our churches, that it testifies boldly to the transforming work of Christ Jesus, and that it results in praise and glory to God.

Peace,

Allan

 

 

We Use the Same Book

I was reminded again last weekend that our God is a God of reconciliation and that our Lord’s great prayer is that his people be unified. Further, I was awakened all over again to the great joy we feel when one of the last holdouts of Christian one-ness, our denominationalism, is put aside for the sake of unity and faithful witness.

At the ACU preacher’s workshop in Abilene, I found myself in energetic conversation with Ken Holsberry, the preacher at the Edgemere CofC in Wichita Falls. The severe drought in their city, which made them a national punch line of sorts when they began treating toilet water for use as drinking water, has led to a cooperative prayer and ministry partnership between them and other Christian churches. Edgemere has helped orchestrate a couple of prayer services at a downtown theater and a community worship service at gigantic Memorial Stadium in collaboration with a Presbyterian, a Baptist, and a community church congregation.

Wes Crawford, the preacher at the Glenwood CofC in Tyler, reminded me that in the tiny town of Stamford, Texas, the small churches there have gone in together to pay for a youth minister. The CofC, the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches are funding a collaborative youth group that worships and learns, plays and ministers together. They’ve been doing it for years.

And it’s fun. It’s exciting. It just feels right — it feels like the Gospel — to put aside our differences, to tear down the walls that divide us, to come together as children of God and disciples of his Son to better witness to an unbelieving world.

Those of us who haven’t quite figured out how to transition from “We’re the only ones who’ve got it right” to “By the grace of God, all those who follow Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord” focus mainly on our differences. Those who want to make the move but don’t know where to start, also, I think, are hung up on the differences.

The differences are minor and few. The things we have in common as those redeemed by the love and grace of God are many and huge.

I would suggest just starting with the Bible. You know, we all use the exact same Book. Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, all the grace churches and community churches, Disciples of Christ, and Christian churches, and the Churches of Christ — we all use the exact same Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures as the authority and guide in the ways we submit to God and follow his Christ.

Bonhoeffer points to the Bible as the great starting point for Christian unity:

“It is really the biblical text as such that binds the whole Christian community into a unity. It assures us of our being bound together in one family of brothers and sisters not only with the Christian community of all past and future ages but with the whole church of the present. As such, the biblical text is of enormous unifying, ecumenical significance. This consciousness of being bound together into one family is clearly strengthened among hearers of the biblical text, since this is an awareness that every deep insight and experience they encounter in this text is the agelong substance of Christian thought and life and so is heard and learned with gratitude and profound awe.”

When you listen to a Methodist preacher and then think, “Why, that could have been a Church of Christ sermon!” don’t be so surprised. When a Baptist minister talks about faith and grace and good works, don’t be shocked. When the Presbyterian guy speaks passionately about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, don’t be caught off guard. We’re all using the same book. We all hold it tightly and defend it fiercely as the revealed and holy Word of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. And, in a run-down of the many things all Christian churches and all disciples of Jesus have in common, this one’s very near the top of the list.

Peace,

Allan

Flesh and Blood

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 6:12

To me, flesh and blood means people. Flesh and blood is a person. It’s a man or a woman. Skin and corpuscles. Tissue and cells. Epidermis and marrow. Mortal. Humankind. People.

Our struggle is not against people.

Our struggle is not against people across the street, people in other countries, or people in other churches. Our battle is not against preachers or politicians or pundits. Our fight is not against family members, our employers, or our persecutors. It’s not against actors, authors, or athletes. It’s not against political parties or social organizations or even your country’s enemies. Our struggle is not against our elders or ministers or the people who sit three pews over.

Our struggle is not against people.

Our struggle is against Satan and the demons of hell. Our battle is against the kingdom of darkness. Our common enemy is the prince of liars who convinces us to fight against one another while he advances unchecked against our families and our churches and the rest of God’s magnificent creation.

Taking our stand against the devil’s schemes means refusing to struggle against people. It means declining to engage in division. It means we never fight each other or our neighbors. It means having no enemies other than the enemies of Christ Jesus, our risen and coming Lord.

Grace & Peace,

Allan

Members of God’s House

People are looking for a connection. We have a human need to belong to something, to be a part of something, to be a part of some group. We get our identity, in large part, from the groups to which we belong. And that something, or some group, should be successful and popular. Even if it’s only a sports team, that drive to identify with something is enormous.

So we buy the jerseys. We refer to “our” teams as “we” and “us.” We have a need to belong, to connect, to have some sense of fitting in this world. And it’s from this sense of belonging — at work, at school, at the club, at the football stadium — that gives us the confidence and ability to relate and accomplish things. Our own families, of course, are foundational in giving us a true sense of belonging.

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” ~Ephesians 2:19-20

We do belong. We belong to God and to God’s family. That’s our connection.

Christ has brought us home to God. We live in God’s house as his much-loved sons and daughters. We belong with God and are involved in what he is doing. The other people in the house are family with us. This home defines us. Christ gives us a place in this world. And from that connection, that sense of belonging, we grow in our abilities to relate to each other and accomplish great things for the Kingdom.

Remember where home is. Remember who’s your family.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The “4 Amarillo” cooperative coalition among the four downtown Amarillo churches made the list of the year’s top “headliners” in the local Amarillo Globe News. You can read the article in yesterday’s paper by clicking here.

Peace,

Allan

« Older posts Newer posts »