Category: Hebrews (page 1 of 7)

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

God at Work: Sacrament

Sacrament: A physical symbol that acts as a means of God’s grace by which we participate in a spiritual reality.

This Sunday at Central we’re beginning a 13-weeks Bible class series on the sacraments of baptism, communion, and the Christian assembly. Our intent is to move more toward viewing these special moments together as places and times when our God is redemptively present and seriously at work. We want to learn how to focus more on what God is doing and less on what we are doing in these practices. And the word “sacrament” is significant for our understanding and growth.

The definition above is my own version of how the Church has understood the term for centuries. Let’s explain it using each of the divine ordinances.

Baptism – The physical symbol is the water. The water is real, it’s tangible. You can see it, you can feel it, you can experience it. It’ll ruin your phone, it’ll go up your nose — it’s real. But the water also represents a reality beyond itself. It points to something bigger. The water symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What makes baptism a sacrament is that, by God’s Spirit, we actually participate in the reality it symbolizes. In baptism, we are buried and raised with Christ Jesus. Baptism connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Lord’s Supper – The physical symbol is the bread and the cup, the cracker and the juice. Those are concrete, real things, physical things. You can smell the juice, you can crunch the cracker; it gets stuck in your teeth, it can stain your slacks — it’s real. But the meal represents Jesus eating and drinking with his disciples. What makes the communion meal a sacrament is that, by God’s Holy Spirit, we actually are participating in the thing it represents. We are literally eating with the Lord. Somehow, mysteriously, yes, he meets us at the table and eats with us.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” ~1 Corinthians 10:16

Christian Assembly – The physical symbol is the people in the room. It’s us. Real men, women, and children, wearing clothes, laughing, singing, whispering, chewing gum, praying; babies crying and people sneezing — it’s real. And it symbolizes something bigger. It represents the heavenly assembly around the throne of God. By God’s Spirit, we join that heavenly chorus — we are actually participating in what we can’t see yet. We are singing and praying with all the saints of all time in heaven, in the eternal presence of God. That’s what makes the Sunday morning worship gathering a sacrament.

“You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all people, to the spirits of righteous men and women made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

God is present with us, saving us, nourishing us, changing us. When we view these three ordinances as merely commands to obey, we’ll focus on what we are doing. When we understand them as sacraments, we’re better able to focus on what God is doing.

Peace,

Allan

Putting It On the Line

“Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:13-14

In this world, just about all we have as Christians is faith, hope, and love. That’s it. As followers of Jesus, we really don’t have much status or security. We don’t mean a whole lot in the eyes of this world. We know as disciples of Christ we’re going to face opposition and accusation and persecution. That’s where we live. All we have is faith, hope, and love. And we put those things on the line every day.

We put our faith on the line every day. Think about it. We’ve never seen God. We live in a world where everything can be seen and studied and weighed and measured and explained and subjected to psychological analysis and scientific control. But we insist on making the center of our lives a God we can’t see or touch. That’s risky.

We put our hope on the line every day. We don’t know one thing about the future. We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen between now and tomorrow morning — we’re not guaranteed there will be a tomorrow morning. We don’t know about future sickness or pain in store for us, loss or rejection we might or might not experience. Still, despite our total ignorance about the future, we say with confidence that God will accomplish his will and nothing can ever separate us from his love and promises. That’s dangerous.

We put our love on the line every day. There’s nothing we’re less good at than love. We’re much better at competition. We’re better at responding by instinct and ambition and selfishness than at trying to figure out how to love people. We’re trained to go our own way. Our culture — the whole world! — rewards us for trying to get our own way. Yet, we make the decision every day to put aside what we do best and try to do what we’re not very good at: loving other people. And we open ourselves wide to hurt and frustration and rejection and failure. That’s tough, huh?

We declare our words of faith in an unbelieving world. We sing our songs of victory in a city where things get messy. We live our joy among a people who don’t understand us or encourage us. But this isn’t our home. Not this current city with the current structures and current methods of doing things and current ways of judging failure and success.

We have been made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ. We belong to God in Christ — where there’s a whole lot more happening than meets the eye.

Peace,

Allan

What Have You Heard?

In wondering this week whether Hebrews 12:18-24 has anything to say to us today about what happens in corporate worship, I’ve recounted three of my most memorable and impactful worship experiences: in Jerusalem in 2007, at the Tulsa Workshop in 2004, and at the first “4 Amarillo” service in 2013. Of course, our attitudes and our expectations have a lot to do with our worship experiences. But there’s also a whole lot happening in us, to us, and through us every Sunday, regardless of our own individual engagement. That’s what the preacher in Hebrews is talking about.

I point to my worship experience at the Western Wall in Jerusalem because God was there. But we can say the same thing about the place where we worship God together every Sunday. We gather with the saints who’ve gone before. We gather in a building that exists because a group of Amarillo Christians started worshiping together in 1908. We stand on the shoulders of the older Christians in the room. All of that is evidence that God himself was here! He met with his people right here!

I point to my experience in Tulsa because I felt at that time God is here. He’s speaking to me here. But we can say the same thing about worship in our church. The forgiveness and the restoration that happens here, the baptisms and the prayers, the salvation and the meal, the reconciliation, the changed lives, the Christian service — all of that is proof that God himself is here and present and active with his people.

I point to that “4 Amarillo” assembly because it felt like we were truly worshiping in the experience of the perfect will of God. It felt like heaven. But the same is true in our church every Sunday. When we come to God together in his holy presence with no fear and no guilt, that is God’s will for all of eternity. “I will dwell with you” — that’s his covenant — “I will live with you and I will be your God and you will be my people.” What better place to experience that than in worship?

God’s everlasting will is to bring his people to perfection or completeness. To do that, our sin had to be dealt with totally and completely, our consciences needed to be purified all the way through, so our lives could be brought into joyful conformity with God’s design. Jesus has done that. His blood has purchased and established that sin-forgiving covenant that gives us God’s holiness and righteousness and peace.

That’s what’s so wonderful! That’s what makes the Gospel such good news!

If we’re in Christ, we’re perfect. If we’re in Jesus, we have no sin, no guilt. The Scriptures say in Christ we have fully met the righteous requirements of the Law. So when we come to God, it’s not to a physical, earthly mountain we can see. We come to Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the true spiritual dwelling place of the Lord. We come to angels and heavenly saints and we come to God himself — not just lights and noise and smoke and a thundering voice. Through our perfect mediator, we’ve got full and complete access to God in heaven, not on an earthly mountain, but on his heavenly throne.

And we’re not afraid. We come to him in boldness and confidence, right into his presence, together, because we come as perfect and sinless and holy. No fear. Instead, overflowing with thanksgiving and joy. Not darkness and gloom and dread and guilt, but with celebration and song and praise.

How do we know? Because that’s what we’ve heard.

How was church? Well, what have you heard?

Peace,

Allan

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