Category: John (page 2 of 25)

Virus Priorities

“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” ~John 9:4

When the grocery store shelves are empty, when your work hours have been cut in half, when the banquet has been canceled, and you don’t even want to look at your 401k — when the news is always breaking, always urgent, and always bad — it’s easy to think only of yourself. It’s tempting to concentrate on your safety, your security, your possessions, and your lifestyle. But Jesus resets your priorities.

Jesus walks into Jerusalem and gives this blind man his sight and brings glory to God. Jesus repairs what is messed up and points to God’s work in the world. Fixing what is broken, making right what has gone wrong — that brings glory to God. Notice how this man’s healing, his circumstance, becomes a display for God’s work. The man publicly testifies that Jesus is from God. He confesses his faith: “Lord, I believe.” The Pharisees accuse and criticize this man. “Give glory to God!” they say. And the healed man responds, “I am! Look what Jesus did for me! I was blind, but now I see!”

Our elders at Central made the decision nine days ago: No matter what happens with this virus, our priority is to love our neighbors, to protect the vulnerable and those at risk, and to minister to the marginalized. That’s the Christian thing to do. That what our Lord Jesus does and that’s what brings glory to God.

Not meeting together as a church right now is a way to love our neighbors. Even if you’re in your 20s and you run a half-marathon twice a month, even if you’re young and completely healthy and you think the national and state response is a bit overblown, not meeting for a while is a faithful attempt during this uncertain time to love neighbors you don’t know and protect vulnerable people you may never meet.

It’s like getting a flu shot. You don’t get a flu shot just for you. You get the shot so you won’t get the flu and pass it on to somebody who might not be able to handle it. If you get the flu, it may only knock you out for a couple of days; but you could then pass it on to somebody it might kill. So you get your flu shot because you love those vulnerable people. You do whatever you can to keep from getting it and spreading it to others.

That’s what we’re doing as a church right now. We are joining our community in trying to flatten the curve. We want to work together so that the peak of the infections will be smaller and more spread out. I’m not sure it’s ultimately going to keep people from getting the disease. But it might slow it down long enough to save more lives.

So we’re not meeting as a group right now. Our Sticky Buddy event for this Sunday night has been canceled (that was a no-brainer; it was at the bowling alley, probably not the most sanitary place in Amarillo). The Evening of Chocolate for tonight has been postponed (there’s a whole bunch of chocolate in this building somewhere; I just haven’t been able to find it). But that doesn’t mean we are not still the Church.

Church is not a building we use once a week on Sunday mornings. Our gatherings are suspended, but our ministries are not. We’re still providing dinner at Martha’s Home and studying and praying and encouraging our sisters there. Loaves and Fishes looks a lot different, but we are still handing out a bunch of groceries on Thursdays. The procedures for Snack Pack for Kids has been modified, but we’re still getting food to the students at Bivins Elementary. Our Sunday morning prayer breakfast was tweaked, but everybody who showed up got a free meal. Our Care Central process is not the same, but we’re still paying water bills and getting state I.D.s and giving out gas cards and praying for everybody who walks through the doors.

We made the decision last Monday. The rule of thumb for us is if it protects the vulnerable, if it comforts the grieving, if it ministers to the marginalized, we’re going to keep doing it. Absolutely. “We must do the work of him who sent me.”

Peace,

Allan

Virus Perspective

I’m not sure any of us knows exactly what’s happening right now or what’s driving it. I spent over two hours last Sunday going to more than twenty stores looking for toilet paper and I couldn’t find a square! Carrie-Anne actually ordered toilet paper online. I’m not kidding. That’s actually a thing. And we did it.

My daughter’s college graduation has been postponed, March Madness has been canceled, and the Whataburger’s closed! We were two people away from me singing soprano on the praise team yesterday! What kind of a world are we living in?

Now, I do believe that everybody’s doing the very best they can. I really do. I believe everybody who’s making decisions for us are doing so with pure motives and in the best interests of the most people. But, still. I don’t feel like I actually know anything. Do you know anything for sure?

Is it just the older people who are suffering or are younger people beginning to get sick? How exactly is this thing transmitted? Do we have testing kits or not? Is this going to be a two-week thing or a two-year thing? Is all of this virus scare and the shutdowns and closings overblown or underappreciated? Is the government doing too much or not enough? Am I going to have any money left when this is over? And what about this tickle in my throat? What’s that all about? You know? These are anxious times. Things are unstable at best, and maybe even chaotic. People are frustrated. And nervous. And scared.

There’s a lot we don’t know for sure. A lot. But I believe our Lord Jesus gives us the proper perspective for dealing with this outbreak.

In John 9, Jesus and his disciples come upon a man born blind. When the disciples see this guy, they view his situation in a certain way. What’s their perspective? They want to blame somebody. They want to point fingers. They want to turn this guy into a theological case study. Who sinned? Whose fault is this? This is a bad thing that’s happened here — who messed up? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Let’s get after it!

And while the apostles are pulling out their commentaries and word studies and their grandfather’s lectureship notes, Jesus completely reframes the whole conversation. Jesus says nobody sinned. Nobody did anything wrong. That’s not why this man is blind.

“It happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” ~John 9:3

Jesus says this man born blind is going to be a banner, a display, a huge billboard for the glory of God and everybody’s going to see it! God is going to work through this man’s particular circumstances and God’s name is going to be praised!

The disciples are asking the wrong questions. They’re looking to point fingers and to lay blame. Their instinct is to criticize and complain. But Jesus refocuses their perspective. He reframes how he wants his followers to see a crisis. What can God do with this? What is God going to do with this? Those are the right questions. That’s the proper perspective.

I know every five minutes it seems like more places are closing down, more events are being cancelled, and more activities are being suspended. But the Gospel is not suspended. Jesus Christ has not been stopped. The Church has not shut down and the mission has not been slowed down. Our God is still very much at work and his name is still to be glorified and praised.

Do you see God at work in this virus? Have you seen evidence of his love and grace in the middle of this mess? Are you looking for the proof of his presence in this crisis? Are you looking for it?

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While we’re not physically meeting together right now, we’re doing everything we can to keep connected as a church family at Central. We’ve started a weekly podcast of Central people talking about Central things and each morning we’re livestreaming our church staff’s regular Word and Prayer time. We’re making lots of phone calls and producing lots of videos and resources on the fly. Most of this is new, some of it is quite challenging, and all of it is being used by God’s Spirit to draw his people closer to him and closer to one another in a really strange time.

Peace,

Allan

Church People: Part 2

Our Lord Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person. That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation, that our God didn’t just come to us, he became one of us. This is God’s salvation plan, that he would put on our flesh-and-blood.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~John 1:1, 14

What’s the covenant God made with us? From Genesis through Revelation, from the Law and Prophets and Psalms through the Gospels and Letters, God says it dozens of times, the same promise over and over: “I will live with you, I will walk among you, I will make my dwelling with you; you will be my people and I will be your God.” That’s the covenant.

And when Jesus comes, it’s the messy particularity of it that’s so striking. As you read the Gospels, you can almost taste the dust. You can smell the animals. You can hear the people arguing. Jesus is not so much about inspiring concepts and theological abstractions, he’s about fishing nets and mustard seeds and coins and lepers and spit mixed with dirt and sheep and synagogues and sermons and suppers and tears and frustrations and heartaches and forgiveness. The flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus as a real human person is in your face!

And it’s a beautiful and magnificent thing. We praise God because he became one with us, he became one of us, in Jesus Christ. Our eternal salvation is grounded in the fact that Jesus is a flesh-and-blood person, that he experienced everything we experience, that he knows us intimately and he fully understands everything we go through because he went through it, too. It’s awesome and mysterious and so amazingly glorious! What other God would do this? Jesus the Christ, the promised holy One of God, is a flesh-and-blood person!

So, of course, his Body, the Church, is a flesh-and-blood people.

Our God has always called people. He always calls his people to be people — certainly more than just people, but not something other than people.

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God!” ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Just like individuals, I think churches long to throw off their flesh-and-blood natures and soar like Superman. Or super-saints. But that’s a childish wish and it’s not going to happen. When people complain about the Church being too preoccupied with money or buildings or doctrines or prestige, when people gripe about the Church being closed-minded or exclusive or lazy or boring, they’re usually revealing their discomfort that the Church is, indeed, a body.

Bodies sweat and get sick, they produce weird smells and require varying levels of maintenance. That’s the Church.

Some churches are the bodies of infants — they’re crawling and stumbling and falling down and uncoordinated, but so full of potential. Other churches are like the bodies of teenagers — they’re full of muscle and energy and they’re tripping over each other in their enthusiasm to save the world with no appreciation for how difficult that really is. Some churches are really old bodies — they have a distinguished heritage and some really great memories, but they’re about ready to keel over. For better or worse, whatever kind of body we encounter, this is the Body of Christ. This is the form our risen and reigning Lord has chosen to be present in the world.

And it never meets our high expectations. We can be disappointed by the Church. Embarrassed.

But the world being what it is and we being who we are, we are not going to arrive this side of glory. We’re still human pilgrims doing our best to live out the love of God in Christ. And falling way short. But the Church is always more than it appears to be. It’s not another club or social organization. The Church is a chosen people, a holy nation selected by a holy God. What can look like a failing, declining institution for religious folks is, in truth, nothing other than the very Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, united as one with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit right now today and forever!

And it’s real. It’s physical and tangible and flesh-and-blood visible. And real.

God’s Church does not work as an abstract ideal. It’s not a theological concept. It’s intended by God to be visible and authentic and real, warts and all.

Peace,

Allan

Confident Trust

(This is part three of last Sunday’s sermon at Central: “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I posted part one Monday. Part five will be Friday. You get it.)

Confident Trust – We try too hard to protect and even over-protect our children. We try to shelter them. We can’t see their futures, we don’t know what kind of world or school or marriage or health they’re going to have. And we don’t want them to suffer. That’s — I really want to be diplomatic here; I want to be gentle — that’s horse pucky! It’s nonsense!

We are the people of the cross! Jesus promises us we are going to face suffering and trials of every kind. This world is not Disneyland, it’s a boot camp. It’s tough. Our Lord says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

We are not doing our kids any favors by staying in constant contact with them by texting and calling and messaging with them all day from morning til night. We’re not helping them by setting up shields and safety nets around them so they never experience pain or failure or loss. Sometimes they need to figure out on their own how to get out of a jam. How to solve a problem. Sometimes they need to suffer the consequences of their poor choices. How else will they learn? How else will they grow?

We used to tell our girls we weren’t afraid of them ever being kidnapped because whoever took them would bring them right back. Like in less than an hour. That’s a joke. I’m not talking about throwing our children to the wolves. But this continuous hovering and protecting and sheltering and the 24/7 connection with the phones is doing more harm than good. Our kids aren’t growing up. Talk to any college professor. Talk to an HR guy who interviews job applicants.

We need to display a confident trust that our God is taking care of our kids and we shouldn’t be afraid. We need to instill that confident trust in our kids. God gives us his Spirit. God gives us his promises. The parenting text in Deuteronomy 6 begins with, “You are crossing the Jordan into the new land just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.” Verse ten says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land he promised…”

No fear. No worry. No anxiety. Confident trust.

Peace,

Allan

The Pool Guy

One last thing about this invalid at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. I want us to notice today that the ultimate Healer always takes the first step in our salvation. And he always does whatever it takes to save you.

Jesus is heading into Jerusalem for a religious feast, but he takes a detour along the way. He decides to first visit the city’s most sick and disabled. He singles out the most destitute among them, a man who is sick on the inside and the outside. And Jesus heals him. He calls the man to immediate action and heals him! He changed him.

And Jesus initiated the whole thing.

This guy had no faith. There’s no confession. No cry for help. A couple of verses later we learn this guy had no idea who Jesus even was! But Jesus was looking for him. Jesus loved him and healed him. He changed him, made him whole. And then he followed up later with him in the temple to encourage him.

What a beautiful picture of the amazing love and grace and mercy of Jesus. Our Lord Jesus goes against the grain, he moves heaven and earth, he breaks the rules, to reach out to you and heal you.

And he’s the one who takes the initiative. Always. He’ll stop at nothing to save you. That’s his nature. That’s who he is and what he does.

Do you want to get well?

What’s wrong with us and this world is sin. We know that Jesus is the answer to the problem. But do we really want to be healed? Whether you’re experiencing the physical brokenness of this pool guy or his complacency that Jesus challenges with a call to action or the warped attitude of the religious leaders who valued their rules and restrictions over the healing of others, Jesus’ question is the same. So is his will and power to save.

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The construction around our church building at Central is progressing up and out.  There’s a lot of scaffolding in play here.

 

 

 

 

The three arches of our new main entrance have all been encased in brick and the walls and beams of our new ground-level ministry space are almost complete. The chapel steps and wall that went down and then out to the sides have been torn out to reveal the original 1930 steps that went straight down to the street.  And pretty soon the beautiful cast stone will be installed on this west side front.

 

 

 

 

 

If you run into them, be extra kind to Mark and Kevin and Mary and Vickie. They’re losing their office windows in this deal and it’s just now starting to sink in. As the walls go up, there’s less sunshine coming in. Vickie’s is just that little “Laverne and Shirley” window, but she’s still going to feel it. Mark and Mary are going to have to be shown where their light switches are. And Kevin might actually go stark-raving-mad.

Peace,

Allan

 

Church People on Church Days

Jesus heals the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. The man was instantly cured. His life was eternally changed. Jesus made him well. Jesus made him whole!

But it was a church day. And because it was a church day, some of the church people got upset. The guy at the pool is not the only sick person Jesus ran into this day. There are some really sick church people in this scene.

“The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat!'” ~John 5:9-10

The church people, the self-appointed guardians of the truth, immediately put this man on trial. They’re in his face. This is an interrogation. “You’re not supposed to do that! Why are you doing that? Who said you could do that?”

It’s quite incredible, huh? A man is made whole and given new life by the will and power of God, and the opposition comes from church people. Not evil people, no. Good people who mistake their religious traditions for the will of God. These church people are sicker than this paraplegic ever was.

The Law of Moses was very clear that the Sabbath Day is a holy day and it needs to be recognized as part of the covenant between God and his people. It needs to be a sacred day and nobody’s supposed to do any work. But the Jewish teachers and scribes had added to it. It wasn’t specific enough for them. It wasn’t strict enough. It was too gray. How can we judge people, how can we know for sure who’s right and who’s wrong unless we make this more black and white?

So, to make themselves really happy and everybody around them really miserable, they came up with their own rules and restrictions as supplements to God’s Law. It came to be known as Mishna — pages and pages and books and volumes of their own interpretations they bound on all the people. Regarding the Sabbath Day alone, they had 39-different categories of things a person could not do. And they used these interpretations — and that’s all they are — to control people. It gave them power and authority. And if you threatened their interpretations, you were in for a fight. These church people were willing to kill to protect their interpretations.

So, after they publicly berate this guy, they go after Jesus. How dare you work! How dare you heal! How dare you help this man on the Sabbath! And Jesus’ defense is simple: “My Father is working today and so I am working today.”

Jesus goes on in the following verses to explain that every single thing he does, he does because of his Father. Jesus claims he is sent by God, he’s on a mission from God, he’s doing the works of God, he’s obedient to God, and he’s bringing glory to God. And that ticks them off even more! So now Jesus finds himself on trial and he starts bringing out the witnesses in verse 33: The Scriptures testified to me; John the Baptist testified to me; God in heaven testifies to me by these works he’s given me to do. But you…

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” ~John 5:39-40

This is what upset Jesus the most. You know every letter of every word, you’ve interpreted every passage, you’ve memorized it, you argue to the death one verb here and one participle there — you think you have eternal life in the Scriptures. But you don’t!

Dear reader, eternal life does not come from the Bible; eternal life comes from Christ Jesus to whom the Bible points. Our trust and faith and hope is not in the Scriptures; our trust and faith and hope is in the holy Son of God to whom the Scriptures point.

These church people are sick. They know the Word of God frontwards and backwards, but they don’t know Jesus. Their disbelief was deliberate, their diagnosis was severe. They love their church life and their traditions and interpretations, but they had forgotten how to love God and the people God is healing and making whole. Their expression of church had become horribly twisted. They had turned their life-giving and soul-saving faith into something life-taking and soul-destroying. Instead of being a source of joy and light, they were using their religion to suppress and judge. They knew the Word of God, but they totally missed his will. They had counted every letter of the Scriptures, but they had totally missed the truth.

Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this feel familiar?

I think we’re all — every one of us — susceptible to this sickness. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.

Do we want to get well?

Sometimes our vigorous preservation of our church traditions counts more than the openness and spontaneity of faith. We know our Bible, but sometimes we use it to defend all the wrong things. We know our Bible, but sometimes that’s all we know. Our allegiance to the way things have always been done sometimes gets in the way of the healing and saving work of Jesus. We can’t appreciate or applaud the good that’s being done because it’s being done differently.

And Jesus deliberately challenges these rigid traditions. He goes out of his way to do things on the Sabbath, just to make the point. So much so, it becomes his habit.

When the apostles picked grain on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law and Jesus said, “Relax. Look, we’re hungry. We need food. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Remember? In that same chapter, Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on a church day, in church, and when the church people tell Jesus, “Hey, that’s not how we do things in church!” our Lord says, “People are valuable to me. People! Their physical needs, their emotional needs, their spiritual needs — their souls are valuable to me. It is good to do good. On the Sabbath or any other day of the week, it’s good to do good for people.”

That’s his attitude.

And we should be constantly re-evaluating our own attitudes. Is our church so well-defined and so safe and so comfortable that if Jesus showed up with his attitude, we’d interrogate him? Would Christ’s attitude be OK in our church?

A Scriptural service is when people are healed and made whole. A correct worship service is when people experience the love and grace and mercy of God. What makes a biblical worship service is when God is praised and salvation from Christ is proclaimed and Holy Spirit people eat and drink together and encourage and bless one another. After that, in church, nothing else really matters much at all.

Peace,

Allan

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