Category: Hebrews (page 1 of 8)

You Can’t Beat the Devil

The stuff we’ve been talking about here for the past two posts are things you’re going to be dealing with at some level for most of your life. The seeds of doubt, the questions about your own worth and salvation, the lack of assurance — you can’t defeat the devil. But Jesus defeats the devil for you. That’s the really good news: Jesus is your Savior and he defeats the devil for you.

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work!” ~1 John 3:8

Look at how Jesus does this during that face-to-face in the desert. Jesus counters the devil from his solid position as God’s beloved Son and he uses the blessings and the promises of Scripture to defeat the devil for you.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 8. I live on every word that comes from the mouth of God. I live and thrive on who God says I am, not in who you say I am. I believe what God says about me, not what you’re saying about me.

Then Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6. Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Don’t question my identity in God. If he says he loves me and that I belong to him and that he’s well pleased with me, don’t you doubt that for a second.

Then Jesus says, “Away from me! I’m done with this! There’s only one God, the One who loves me and accepts me, the One whose image I share!”

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” ~Hebrews 4:15-16

We don’t just have the Word of the Lord, we also have the Lord of the Word. We don’t just have the book, as beautiful and as powerful as it is, we also have Jesus, the Holy Son of God himself.

Jesus is the One who crushes the head of the serpent. He’s the Savior lifted up on the stake, the One we look to for healing from the viper’s bites. He’s the One who throws the dragon into the fiery abyss.

Jesus Christ is not just a good man who shows us how to live. He’s also not just a King who destroys all evil in one mighty stroke. Evil is all around us, it’s inside us, we’re all infected. If Jesus came here to destroy all evil on the spot, he would have ended all of us, too. No, Jesus is a King who came to a cross.

Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave vindicates God’s blessing and validates God’s promises and destroys forever the work of the devil and his lies. Jesus tells us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.” And Jesus is the One who delivers.

If Jesus is who he says he is, you should believe him when he says who you are. What he says about you is true. What he’s placed in you is true. He wants you to view yourself and understand yourself, not through your past or even your present, but through his promise.

“We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true — even in his Son Jesus Christ.” ~1 John 5:19-20

Peace,

Allan

Divorce & Remarriage: Part Four

Before I post the next section of our “Divorce: It’s Going to be OK” sermon from last Sunday at Central, let me direct you to this story in USA Today detailing the successful efforts of Blue Bell Ice Cream to identify the woman who licked the top of a container of Tin Roof last week and placed it back inside a store freezer. It happened in Lufkin, Texas. Behind the Pine Curtain. What’s wrong with those people? It’s sickening to me that somebody would do this in the first place but, more than that, it’s ludicrous that she and her friend would record it and post the video to the internet. More proof, as if we needed any, that the internet in general and our iPhones in particular are making us worse people, not better.

Also, please be aware that you can buy Little Debbie Christmas Tree cakes now in the middle of the summer. It’s a special promotion they’re calling “Christmas in July.” And please do not be surprised that I am participating.

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God forgives all sin through the cross of Christ –

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” ~Romans 5:6-10

Divorces cause many burdens: physical, emotional, sexual, and social burdens. And, of course, spiritual burdens. Well, yeah. Divorce is sin. There are consequences for disobeying God. With divorce, there’s a guilt because we’ve failed at this most important relationship. But God forgives us and restores us by offering his perfect Son to cover our imperfections. At the cross, we’re made perfect in God’s eyes despite our many failures, including our failures in marriage. We look to the love of God and the cross of Christ.

We’ve tried legislating divorce and remarriage by laws and rules. So if a person destroys a God-ordained marriage and can’t fix it, we impose some type of punishment or restitution. If you’re going to be forgiven by God and live in a righteous relationship with God — if you’re going to be OK — then you have to do this and you cannot do that. We try to deal with divorce through laws. Praise God, he deals with divorce at the cross!

The cross of Christ is an eternal symbol of God’s limitless love and amazing grace. When we are forgiven at the cross, we become perfect by God’s love and grace and we are completely released from the burdens of guilt and shame and fear and we’re also released from any requirement to make some kind of restitution. The Church has forced divorced people to stay celibate, we’ve forbidden them to remarry, we’ve demanded they dissolve their second marriages, and we’ve disfellowshipped people who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay those prices.

Know this: Jesus Christ is the only one who pays the price. Jesus Christ makes restitution for all the sins of humanity at the cross and that includes restitution for divorce. Jesus paid it all!

“I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more!” ~Hebrews 8:12

We do not offer judgment or condemnation to the world or to each other. We gladly offer the cross of Christ. We don’t fix past sins by adding new ones. Sometimes you truly cannot go back and change what’s done. But you can commit to, in our Lord’s words, go and sin no more. All of us can claim complete forgiveness and perfect pardon through the atoning death and resurrection of Christ and work hard to remain from now on faithful to whatever vows we’ve made.

A church that is anchored in the love of God and the cross of Christ is a church that can say to a couple in crisis, “Don’t divorce; stay married.” We can say to the divorcing couple, “Repent of this sin against your family and against God.” And we can say to the divorced, “God loves you; he’s not angry with you; you are forgiven by God in Christ.”

There will be some who accuse us of preaching cheap grace. My response to that is God’s grace is better than cheap; it’s free!

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 6:23

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God!” ~Ephesians 2:8

There are some who say you can’t be forgiven for divorce and remarriage if you’re already a baptized Christian when it happens. There’s forgiveness if your divorce was before you became a Christian, but if you were already a Christian you knew better. You can’t be forgiven of that. You’re living in sin.

Really? Go back and read Romans 5:6-10.If baptism into Christ forgives a pre-Christian divorce and remarriage, how much more! If God’s grace is freely given to his enemies, how much more for his children! The idea that Christians receive less grace and forgiveness than non-Christians cannot be our guide. The idea that Christians receive less grace because we understand God’s will better distorts grace. All God’s children have grace. Grace has no value if it doesn’t forgive sin. Romans 8 tells us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

Peace,

Allan

Glimpses and Tastes

Using the glorious Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11, we’ve defined “faith” as bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future.

Most of the heroes in Hebrews 11 never received the fulfillment of the promise until after they had died. The Scriptures tell us “They saw the promises and welcomed them from a distance” and “None of them received what had been promised.” They all died first. A lot of them died horribly.

I don’t know why some of God’s faithful children are delivered and rescued and made whole in this life and other children of God, just as faithful, are made to suffer and die. I don’t know. I do know that while none of these faith exemplars received what had been promised until after they died, they were given glimpses. They were all given little peeks of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s Word. A taste. Abraham was given a son. Joseph was told about the exodus. Moses saw the Promised Land.

And we get those same glimpses. Every time a person comes up out of that water, full of God’s Holy Spirit, forgiven and redeemed and restored — that’s a glimpse. Church potlucks and congregational meals are a holy preview of heaven where Isaiah says the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods and the finest of wines, where death is defeated and all the nations are eating and drinking together. Those little glimpses sustain us. They empower us. They fill us with confidence that, yes, our God is alive and, yes, he is faithful to his word and, yes, his promises will all be fulfilled!

Faith is our bold action in response to those holy promises regarding the unseen future.

By faith, eighteen years ago, the Central Church chose to stay in downtown Amarillo and minister to the immediate neighborhood because God says he wants all men and women to come to him, he’s not willing that any should be lost, but that all will be saved.

By faith, in 2013, Central gave more money to foreign missions and committed to sending more missionaries because God’s Word says someday every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

By the faith, the Central Church partners in worship and service with First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Polk Street United Methodist Churches because our Lord Jesus says if we are united together in him, if we’ll tear down the walls between us, the whole world will know.

See, when we live in the verbs of our faith, we treat the future as the present and we treat the invisible like the seen.

By faith, Doug and Mandi Richardson and Shane and Robin Self lead the Senior Huddle.
By faith, Bret McCasland preaches the Gospel in India.
By faith, Scott McNutt teaches the women at Gratitude House how to check tire pressure and oil levels in their cars.
By faith, Becky Nordyke cooks and serves the grieving, whether she knows them or not.
By faith, Ira Purdy shepherds.
By faith, Aleisha Malone prays with Middle School girls.
By faith, Todd Walker passes out candy every Wednesday night.
By faith, Hannah McNeill smiles and serves at Loaves and Fishes.
By faith, Peggy Blanton goes out of her way to complement and encourage everybody.
By faith, Etta Peters invites her friends to church.
By faith, Roger Kyzar and Pam Pearson praise God. Still.

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” ~Hebrews 10:35-36

Peace,

Allan

Faith IS Action

We’ve defined faith according to the stories and examples in Hebrews 11 as bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future. That’s the thing the people and the stories in this Faith Ring of Honor have in common. These people demonstrated their faith by living into and through some powerful verbs.

In each one of these familiar stories, the hero of faith was facing overwhelming odds. They were each huge underdogs. From a human standpoint, they had little or not chance to come out on top. But, by faith, they each took their eyes off the obvious, they turned their eyes away from the physical things they could see, and they did something.

Noah refused to focus on the clear skies and sunshine. He took God at his word and focused on the promise. Abraham refused to look at the 100 candles on his birthday cake and the fact his wife had been reading AARP Magazine for 45 years and by faith looked instead to God’s promise. Moses was not deceived by the glitter of the Egyptian palace or the security in his royal position; he acted boldly, motivated only by God’s promise to love him and reward him in the future.

God’s people ignored the archers and warriors perched on the Jericho walls, Daniel walked into a den of lions, the Hebrew exiles stepped into a fiery furnace — not based on what made sense, not based on what seemed smart, not based on anything they could see. They were motivated solely by the greatest reality of all: we serve a faithful God, a God who makes promises and keeps them, a God who is forever faithful to his Word and forever faithful to his people. And for the most part, that ultimate reality is unseen. But people of faith, God’s people of faith, understand — we know — just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. We fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

But the seen things — that seen reality — can be so overwhelming.

I could name a dozen people I know who’ve lost their jobs this year or are afraid of losing their jobs in the next few weeks. They see the numbers and they see the savings account dwindle and they see the dead-end job listings.

I know a dozen people who are battling life-threatening diseases with everything they’ve got. And they’ve tried everything. But every day is more painful than the day before. And less sure. They see the test results and the doctors’ reports and there’s not any good news.

Your family’s a mess. Maybe your marriage. You see the hateful emails and dirty looks and empty chairs.

Maybe you’re in a spiritual desert right now. The Bible’s not speaking to you. Your prayers aren’t getting through. You feel lost. Maybe you’re caught up in sin. You feel a long way from God. You feel abandoned.

Like Abraham: one man and as good as dead. You’re outnumbered, out-muscled, out-smarted, and out of options. Out of luck. You’re staring into the teeth of lions, you’re tiny compared to the giant walls that are blocking you out, you’re feeling the heat of the furnace — all those things.

This is exactly the time for your faith to show itself in some verbs.

See, faith is not belief. It’s not even strong belief. Faith is never: Yes, I agree with those theological points, I believe these spiritual suppositions, these sets of religious principles make sense to me. That’s not faith. Faith is action. Faith is proven by verbs.

“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… I will show you my faith by what I do.” ~James 2:17-18

Peace,

Allan

Definition of Faith

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews gives us the biblical definition of faith: bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future. Any casual stroll through the Faith Ring of Honor in this chapter confirms what a life of faith looks like, precisely the kind of life that pleases God.

By faith, Noah built. That’s action. He built. Noah built when he was warned about things not yet seen. Noah had no physical, tangible evidence that building an ark was a good use of his time and resources. He’d never seen a flood. Most scholars believe he’d never even seen rain. For Noah to build an ark made no sense. But Noah builds. He acts boldly, motivated by what the Word of God told him was going to happen even though nobody had ever seen anything like it before.

By faith, Abraham went. Abraham acted on God’s promise even though he didn’t know where he was going. God had told Abraham he’d be given land in the future and that his descendants would be too many to count. And there was no physical evidence to suggest it might come true. He’s 100 years old! His wife’s 90 and barren! But by faith, Abraham went — bold action. He left the certainties of what he knew to take his family into the unknown, relying only on the Word of God. This is the very essence of faith. This is what faith is: a bold action in response to the promise of god regarding an unseen future.

By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith, Joseph spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. They acted on things that were going to happen in the future. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. The Word of God, the promise, was going to be fulfilled after each of them died. But they each acted by faith anyway.

By faith, Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God. Why? Because he was looking ahead to his reward. It made no sense for God’s people to put blood all over their doors. But they did it because they had faith that God was going to keep his promise. Walking down into the middle of the Red Sea, are you kidding me? But had promised to deliver them, so in they went. Same thing with marching around the walls of Jericho. Their only motivation for doing this thing that made no sense was that God told them to. God was doing something. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

In Mark 2, four men dig a hole through a roof and lower their paralyzed friend on a mat down to Jesus. And the Gospel says Jesus saw their faith. He saw their faith! Faith is not believing that Jesus can heal; faith is digging through the roof! Faith is not believing God can save; faith is walking into the Red Sea, faith is marching around Jericho, faith is getting up and going where God calls you to go and doing what God is calling you to do! Faith is in the verbs: bold action in response to the promise of God regarding an unseen future.

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We received more than six inches of snow overnight here at Stanglin Manor, more snow in the past 12 hours than we’ve received total the past two winters combined! It never gets old; I still get excited about the snow up here.

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The construction on the west side of our church building at Central is finally going up instead of down. Over the weekend, they framed out the arches for the new main entrance. It’s really starting to take shape. The new ground level ministry space is so much bigger than I could realistically imagine. The new welcome center is going to make a big difference. And the main entrance to our building will be obvious for the first time since the mid ’80s!

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Tomorrow is the day Amarillo baseball fans have been anticipating / dreading for several months. The San Diego Padres AA affiliate, scheduled to begin play in April 2019 at our brand new downtown Amarillo baseball stadium, is announcing the name of the local team. The press conference is at 1pm.  Please don’t be Sodpoodles! I’d rather it not be Long Haulers, Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, or Jerky, either. But please don’t let it be Sodpoodles!

Peace,

Allan

Silence Is Not Approval

I’ve been in more than a couple of conversations lately with Christian brothers and sisters who claim that Confederate flags and statues were never a problem for anybody until the national media began inflaming emotions and generally riling folks up. African-Americans didn’t care about the statues until only lately, black people weren’t bothered by the flags until recently.

How do they know?

Because they never heard anything different. Nobody ever said anything about it. Nobody complained. Nobody made any noise.

My response to that line of reasoning, that black people were not / are not bothered by the Confederate symbols because they did not/ do not complain, has been to attempt to persuade my brother or sister to see the situation from the viewpoint of the African-American.

How do we know unless we’ve been in their shoes? How do we really know?

What if a middle-aged black man walks past the Confederate statue in Elwood Park here in Amarillo every evening on his way home from a lousy job? Maybe his great-great grandfather was a slave in the South. Maybe his grandfather and his father spent their lives in and out of work, on and off welfare. Maybe none of them graduated high school, much less went to college. Maybe he feels the structures and systems in this country keep pushing him down. Maybe he feels oppressed by a government and by a society that has never given people like him a fair shot. He sees this statue every day, his kids attend Robert E. Lee Elementary School in their mostly black neighborhood, there are Confederate flags flying out the backs of pickups from Pullman Road to Soncy.

What are his options? Who’s he going to complain to? What’s this man’s recourse?

Just because he’s silent doesn’t mean he’s OK with everything.

Last week Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, quietly protested as his State Senate publicly and officially honored Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. Fairfax is the Senate’s presiding officer, but he temporarily handed off his duties so he wouldn’t be officially participating in the ceremony. His gesture, though, was so subtle, not very many people even realized it happened.

Isaac Bailey is a member of the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board. He wrote a column last week praising Fairfax’s stand and pointing out the irony and frustration most African-Americans experience in these situations:

“It’s long been a dilemma for black people in the South. If you protest and let your anger be known, you risk being called purveyors of hate or ‘outside agitators,’ and being accused of hardening racial divisions and stirring the pot. If you swallow your anger to get along with white counterparts who revere ancestors who raped and beat and enslaved your ancestors, you risk being accused of not really caring about symbols such as the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments. Your silence is used to suggest you are OK with how things are.”

That’s precisely how I’ve experienced it lately.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and black people have never had an issue with this statue. I know lots of African-Americans in this city and nobody’s ever complained about the name of that school.”

Minorities — by the very definition of the word in conjunction with the broken ways of our world — generally speaking, do not experience a status anywhere near the same level as others. In this country, because of the past history and the current structures and a thousand other very complicated factors, African-Americans do not have the same chances. The playing field is not level. In our city, African-Americans make up less than six-percent of the population. They are marginalized.

Where is the Church in all this? Where are the followers of Jesus?

In the past four or five months, I’ve heard Christians say things to my face, into my ears, about Charlottesville and statues and flags and minority peoples that are decidedly unChristian. Where are we?

I don’t have any advice for the school board or the city council on this. But I do have something to say to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Slippery slope arguments about erasing history and heritage are completely missing the point. The question for Christians is, will you identify with the city that’s fading away or with the enduring city that’s coming? Will you love your neighbor more than you love a flag or a statue? Will you love the African-American men and women of your city more than you love the history and heritage of the South?

My question for Christians who display that flag is this: if you know how African-Americans read that flag, if you know how that flag makes them feel vulnerable and oppressed, why would you continue flying it? Why would you insist? Why would you actually fight with your words and your good name for a statue that you know causes deep pain?

Scripture says be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Romans 12. In this same context, live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, people who don’t enjoy the same status or success. These are the very people chosen by Christ, remember? Not influential, not of noble birth, weak people, despised people, vulnerable and oppressed people. Have we forgotten who we are? That’s us!

Peace,

Allan

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