Category: Hebrews (page 1 of 7)

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

Looking for the Wrong Things on Sunday

Until the day our faith becomes sight, until that day of glory finally comes and we see with our eyes what God in Christ promises us is true, we’ve got to lean on the Word of the Lord. We’ve got to trust and depend on the Word of God. The preacher in Hebrews opens up his sermon by saying, “God has spoken to us. We must pay more careful attention to what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift away.”

What we have heard is that there’s a giant party going on right now in heaven. All the angels in their everlasting glory, all the saints in their eternal holiness, feasting with great joy in the heavenly realms around the throne of God. It’s a never-ending festival. The angels are fluttering around in joy, the saints are swinging from the chandeliers. And on Sunday mornings the floor opens up and the whole scene falls down to earth in the middle of our Christian worship.

I can’t see it. I can’t always feel it. But I’ve got to believe it because we have heard the Word!

But have you seen the people I’m sitting with at church? They don’t look or act like angels to me.

I know. I wish we could all be like Elisha’s servant — remember? The Lord opened his eyes so he could see the invisible realities. He saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire and the Lord’s army all around them, protecting them. I think, though, that if we could see and touch what’s actually happening around us in here — what’s happening in us and through us and all around us on Sunday mornings in church — it would absolutely blow our minds.

That day is coming. In the meantime…

How was church?

I was worshiping with all of heaven’s angels around the throne of God. It was awesome.

How was church?

It was packed! There were millions and millions of Christians there, all of God’s people — past, present, and future. It was awesome.

How was church?

I ate the communion meal with my grandmother. She finished her race 17-years ago and she’s with the Lord, but I eat and drink with her every Sunday. And it’s awesome.

I know this is not easy. I’m not telling you it’s easy. I’m telling you when we walk into the church worship center on Sunday mornings, we’re looking for the wrong things. Close your eyes. Don’t trust your eyes. Your eyes are deceiving you. Hear the Word.

You have not come to the worship leader and the songs we sing; you have come to God!

You have not come to the preacher and the sermon we preach; you have come to God!

You have not come to a church building because the elders have asked you to; you have come to God!

You have not come to an obligation or a responsibility, you have not come to a Church of Christ or any particular brand of Christianity, you have not come to videos or bulletins or parking lots or crackers and juice; you have come to God and to Christ and to angels and saints and to the salvation blood of Jesus that gives you direct and guilt-free access to all of the Father’s eternity in heaven right now!

Somehow we’ve got to slip through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia so we can learn to experience and feel what’s really happening. God is here! You have come to God!

Peace,

Allan

You Have Come to God

I think Christians were having worship service disappointment issues even back when Hebrews was preached/written. There have probably been worship issues for every generation of God’s people that go all the way back to expectations that we set after that very first worship assembly at Mount Sinai.

That first worship service was crazy awesome! There’s thunder and lightning and smoke. God himself appears in a great fire. There’s the sound of a heavenly trumpet. The whole mountain is shaking. The people are trembling. God’s people are in the holy presence of God with all the smells and bells you would expect. This is a worship experience you can see and hear and smell and touch — something for all the senses!

How was church? Did they bring the Word?

Yeah, the Ten Commandments! Everybody came forward! They didn’t even get through one verse of Just As I Am!

I think this little church in the middle of the first century in the Roman Empire longed for that kind of worship. They wanted a worship experience where something happens — something transcendent, something powerful, something that moves me. Something.

These Christians were gathering on Sundays to read or recite from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, to sing a song, to share a meal, and to pray. And I wonder if some of them think, “You know, they do worship better at the old temple in Jerusalem. The priests in the decorated robes, the smells of the incense, the sounds of the Levitical musicians and choirs, the dramatic spectacle of the sacrifices — now that’s a church service!”

Or, maybe, “My friends seem to have a really good worship experience at the pagan temple down the street. There’s rituals and chants and dancing and music and blood and sex and it’s loud and there’s lots of energy. Something happens there.”

The preacher in Hebrews knows these Christians are growing weary with worship. Some of them have stopped coming. They don’t go to church anymore. Or, not like they used to. So he reminds them what’s really happening at church. He tells them again about the unseen realities of what’s going on at worship. There’s more here than meets the eye. And he wants his church to hear it.

“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, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” ~Hebrews 12:22-24

How was church? How was church?!!?

You have come into the presence of God! And when you assemble with the people of God in the presence of God, things happen! Eternal things. Divine things. Salvation things. Whether you feel your pulse race or not, whether you feel moved or not, you have come into the presence of God! And there’s more going on than you can see or touch.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty — the conviction — of things we can’t see. So even if you see and feel nothing at worship, you have come into the presence of God.

The word is proselay in the Greek, to come or to approach. It’s the same word the preacher’s been using the whole sermon. “Let us come to the throne of grace with boldness (4:16). Christ Jesus is able to save all those who come to God through him (7:25). Let us come to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith (10:22). And now this, finally: You have come to God (12:23)!

How was church? Listen and I’ll tell you about church. You can’t see it, but God is at church and Jesus is at church and the angels and saints. And it’s eternal and powerful and it’s personal and relational and don’t you want to be a part of that?! Don’t you want to belong to that? Yes, be a part of the worshiping community of God’s covenant people! Why would you want to be anywhere else?

Peace,

Allan

Older posts