Seeing the Risen Christ

Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Luke, Resurrection, Salvation No Comments »

There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. There’s a lot to see and experience there. The soldiers saw the angel and experienced great fear. The women saw the stone rolled away and experienced great confusion. Peter and the apostles saw the burial cloths and came away with a lot of questions. There’s a lot to see at the empty tomb. But nobody saw Jesus there.

Jesus isn’t there.

I want to see Jesus. I want to experience Jesus. I want to touch Jesus and know Jesus and be in his presence and hear his voice.

You know where that happens? At the table. The disciples do not see or experience Jesus in his resurrection fullness and glory until later that Easter Sunday when they are sharing a meal together. Jesus revealed himself during the meal. He appeared to his followers and spoke to them at the table. That’s where we see our risen Lord.

When we are around the table together with the risen Messiah as our host we experience forgiveness and belonging, unity and sharing, acceptance and fellowship. We see Jesus in the changed lives of the people with us around the table. We Jesus in that there are no walls, no barriers between us and God and us and each other; nothing separates us at the table. We Jesus when we remember that we have forgiven those around the table with us and have been forgiven multiple times by those same people. We see Jesus in the joy reflected in the faces around the table. We experience Christ in relationship with others.

Our salvation from God is not a system. It’s not a theory. And it’s certainly not a five-step plan.

It’s a sacrifice and a meal.

Peace be with you,

Allan

Our Tools Are Weak

Central Church Family, Luke, Ministry No Comments »

At Central, we’re doing whatever it takes to join God’s pursuit of the people in Amarillo. “Ignite” is funding the vision and sparking the mission. The pledge cards keep trickling in and the total is up to $7.93-million and growing. Last Sunday’s “Launch” witnessed our Lord provide more than $1.53-million in checks and cash. The momentum is building. The church is focused. This is exciting stuff! We’re committed to it because our understanding is that when we do participate in God’s pursuit, God will increase the harvest.

When Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the Good News, he gives them a parting prayer request: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).

This is Jesus’ prayer request: ask God for more workers. We need more workers for the harvest. Not for plowing or sowing, not for preparing soil or weeding or watering or waiting. Workers are needed for the harvest. The time is right now and, apparently, the harvest is huge. Who’s going to get in on it? We are! We’re determined to.

And our tools are weak.

The tools we use are not very impressive by the world’s standards. We’re not using power or politics or threat or force. Our tools for the harvest are love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness. God’s heroes in the Bible used terribly weak weapons: a torch and a jar, a sling and a rock, a morning walk and a trumpet.

We’ve got a church building and some small groups. We’ve got a sack of groceries and a paint brush. A bag of diapers and a prayer.

Remember, Jesus healed ten lepers, not a hundred. He fed five thousand hungry people, not every starving person in the world. Our Lord mostly ministered to the people in the tiny villages around his home town. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Central.

Peace,

Allan

 

I Saw Satan Fall

1 Peter, Central Church Family, Luke No Comments »

LightningIn Luke 10, Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples. He sends them to every town and place, it says, to declare the Kingdom of God is here. He sends them with his power and authority: “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” And they go and they testify and they proclaim, “The Kingdom of God is here!” And they’re blown away by the power of their testimony. They return to Jesus with great joy. They’re amazed by the response to their witness, “Lord, even the demons fall down to us in your name!”

And Jesus says, “I saw it.”

“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” I sent you out to go with my authority. And when you proclaim my truth and declare my Kingdom in my name… I saw it. Satan falls.

And now Jesus is overcome with joy by the Holy Spirit and he thanks God in prayer, “I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth.”

And then he says to his disciples:

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” ~Luke 10:23-24

We are so blessed by God to be alive today during this particular time. We are so supremely privileged to be alive during this current chapter of God’s story. Right now, today, we are living during the last days of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. Because of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on all people, through the Church, we get to see things and experience things nobody else got to. We get to participate as co-workers with God as he restores and redeems his creation. We get to experience God’s Spirit moving into and re-creating people. We get to watch as God moves into a place and reclaims it for his glory.

The prophets could only speak of such things; we get to live it! Israel’s kings could only imagine the worldwide spread of God’s Kingdom; we get to help fund it! Peter says angels long to see such things; we get to see them and live them every day!

Our God gives us the opportunity to join him in creating new possibilities, in changing the potential in people’s lives, in participating in his new creation. We are highly favored by our Father!

The prophets gave us the beautiful vision from God: You will be a light to the nations, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, to release those who sit in darkness. The prophets gave us the glorious mission from God: I will make you a light for the nations that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. And now WE get to be that light! He’s chosen US to shine his light!

Here at Central, we’ve seen that chapel that was built in 1929 become a sacred space for five generations of Christian worship and countless numbers of baptisms and weddings and funerals and a launching pad for nearly 90 years of Gospel ministry. We’ve seen it.

We’ve seen a modest commitment to Ted and Dot Stewart back in 1961 turn into Great Cities Missions and thousands of new Christians in a hundred new churches in dozens of cities in Latin America. We’ve seen it.

We’ve seen the Upreach Center, the house Central reclaimed and redeemed in 2001, become an outpost for Loaves and Fishes, CareCentral, and Prayer Breakfast, compassionate ministry and outreach to the poor that was un-thought of twenty years ago and continues to grow today. We’ve seen it.

Just in the past year-and-a-half, we’ve seen God change the Route 66 strip club into The PARC where our city’s homeless are being gathered into Christian community around morning Bible studies and prayer in a context of God’s limitless love. We’ve seen the Planned Parenthood building become the regional headquarters for CareNet, where unwed mothers are taught that every human life is precious to God and devastated families are given love and support and resources in the manner of Christ.

We can join our Lord in declaring together, “We see  it!” We see Satan fall from the sky! Praise God, we get to see it and experience it; we actually get to participate in it. The great prophets and Israel’s kings and the angels in heaven are jealous. Who knew God believed you and I were so special!

Peace,

Allan

In Community with Sinners

2 Corinthians, Forgiveness, Luke, Salvation, Sin 2 Comments »

“This son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes!” ~Luke 15:30

brothersangrybroThere’s a problem when we don’t see ourselves in community with sinners. We are all sinners. We’re all stained with sin.

In Jesus’ timeless story, the older brother’s sin is not breaking the father’s rules, it’s the pride he has in keeping all the rules. It’s not his wrong-doing, it’s his righteousness — his self-righteousness — that’s separating him from his father. The younger son wanted to make his own decisions, he wanted control of the wealth, so he left. The older son wanted the same control and he tried to get it by staying. “I’ve never disobeyed you,” he says, “Now you have to bless me.”

Both brothers had faulty hearts. They both resented the father’s authority. They both looked for ways to get out from under the father’s rule. They each tried to do things their own way for their own benefit, not matter how it impacted the relationship. But the older son doesn’t see himself as a sinner.

“This son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes,” he says. “He may be your son, but he’s not my brother. You can claim him as yours, but I don’t want any part of him. And remember what he’s done! Remember his terrible sins! We’re not just going to ignore his sins, are we?”

You’ll never forgive anybody if you think you’re better than they are. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. How do we forget that? Hanging out with sinners isn’t going to accomplish much, if anything, if you can’t see that all of us are in the same boat.

The good news is that the father’s love and grace covers every single kind of sin. Jesus gives us this story so we can see that God’s love and forgiveness can pardon any and every kind of sin and restore any and every kind of broken relationship. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. The father says, “I’m not going to wait until you’ve paid off your debt. I’m not going to wait until you’ve begged. You’re not going to have to earn your way back in to the family. I’m just going to take you back. I will cover your nakedness, your poverty, and your shame with the glorious robes of my love.”

The father pounces on his sinful son before he can clean up his life, before he can prove he has a changed heart, before he can even say his repentance speech. The father is only concerned with getting rid of the sin in order to restore the relationship. And the only way to get rid of sin is to forgive it.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” ~2 Corinthians 5:21

Sin destroys relationship with God. So God took care of it. God made his Son to be sin for us. And our sin died with Christ Jesus on the cross. God is reconciling the whole world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. God takes care of the sin. He forgives it.

“For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation!” ~2 Corinthians 6:2

The Father is waiting for you. He’s looking and searching for you. And he’s waiting, not to condemn you but to welcome you. With a gracious heart, he’s running to you. With compassionate arms, he’s hugging you. With merciful lips, he’s kissing you and speaking to you words of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Peace,

Allan

Sin and Relationships

Acts, Evangelism, Jesus, Luke, Sin No Comments »

brothersheartNearly everybody defines sin as breaking a law or disobeying a set of rules. But in Jesus’ timeless story about the two lost brothers in Luke 15, our Lord shows us it’s possible to perfectly obey all the regulations and still be trapped in sin. Both the younger son and the older son had faulty hearts. One ran away from the father’s house and disobeyed all the rules while the other son stayed at home with the father and kept all the rules. But they both resented the father’s authority. They both looked for ways to get out from under his command. They each tried to tell the father what to do and how to run his business. One rebelled against the father by being very bad. And the other rebelled against the father by being really good.

Sin destroys relationships. No matter what the sin is or what motivates it or who commits it, sin destroys relationship. Neither of the sons wanted the father; they each wanted what the father could give them. They wanted the father’s blessings, they wanted his riches, but they didn’t necessarily want him.

Like the lady talking about her husband and says, “I didn’t want to marry my husband for his money, but I couldn’t see any other way to get it!”

Sin breaks fellowship with the people in your life and with God. Sin wrecks that bond. Remember Adam and Eve hid from God, God didn’t hide from them. The separation doesn’t come from God’s side. The sin and shame and guilt creates the barrier. But even with the sin, God is still reaching out, he’s still seeking that fellowship.

A lot of people think God won’t associate with sinners, that God separates himself from sinners. No, God went out looking for Adam and Eve, right? “Where are you? What’s going on?” Our God walks with Enoch, he shares meals with Abraham and Moses, he dwells inside the tabernacle in the wilderness and inside Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. Sin breaks relationship with God; but that’s always on the sinner’s end, not God’s.

God restores those broken relationships. Sin breaks and destroys and separates. But God in Christ came here to the sinners to find what is lost, to heal who is sick, and to fix what is broken. God’s mission is to restore the relationships, to reconcile all sinners back to himself. And he came here in the flesh and blood of Jesus to show us what it looks like.

Notice that at the beginning of Luke 15, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. That really ticks off the religious leaders who think God’s people shouldn’t have anything to do with sinners. But hanging out with sinners — eating and drinking with sinners, talking to and sharing with sinners — seems to be God’s strategy for restoring the relationship.

And sinners love it!

All throughout the Gospels, sinners are attracted to Jesus. Sinners are gathering around Jesus, they’re following Jesus, they can’t get enough of Jesus. And Jesus welcomes them. He eats with them. Exactly like the master of the banquet in the last story Jesus told in Luke 14. God’s strategy is a table. And God is bringing all people to that table. God wants all people to have fellowship with him. Table communion. A righteous relationship with God.

All people.

Even sinners? Yes! Even tax collectors? Yes! Prostitutes? Yes! Blue Jays fans? (……)

Yes, even Blue Jays fans and politicians and bank robbers and murderers and cheats! Everybody is invited! And God himself comes to us to demonstrate in living color what it looks like.

Jesus seeking out sinners and getting to know them. Jesus hanging out with the lost. Peter saw it up close as an apostle of the Messiah and he tells Cornelius in Acts 10:

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts people from every nation… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good… because God was with him.”

No wonder the sinners and tax collectors loved him. Jesus went about doing good because God was with him. Jesus loved them! He accepted them! And it seems like he actually enjoyed their company. Jesus was good to sinners. Jesus showed mercy and compassion to sinners. Jesus shared his great joy and peace with sinners. And the religious people didn’t understand it. They wrinkled up their faces and called Jesus “a friend to sinners.” And Jesus said, “Thank you very much!” That’s the nicest thing you can say to our Lord.

What if we had the same reputation? What if we were known for hanging out with sinners? What if people criticized us because we showed so much mercy and compassion to sinners? What if our churches were known for sharing joy and peace with sinners?

Peace,

Allan

Lost and Found

Evangelism, Luke, Salvation 1 Comment »

brothersembracecloseup

Jesus talks a lot about sin and salvation in terms of “lost” and “found.” His most well known parables in Luke 15 are about “lost” and “found.” Jesus came to this earth to, in his own words, “seek and save the lost.”

The story of the prodigal son is, of course, the masterpiece of all Jesus’ parables. This is the Mona Lisa. It’s the Grand Canyon. It’s the Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla of parables. This is the story to which all other stories are compared. This is the one that grabs our heads and penetrates our hearts.

In this story, the younger brother is lost. It’s obvious. He’s run away from home. He’s left his father. He’s in a pig sty, the absolute worst of all unclean conditions. He has no resources, no community, no family, no friends. He’s far away from home. He’s the ultimate outsider. He’s lost.

But the older brother is lost, too. He’s working out in the field. He’s loyal. He’s committed. But he’s angry and bitter. He won’t be in the same room with his sinful brother. He won’t even acknowledge that they’re brothers. He’s unforgiving and judgmental. He refuses to come into the home. He’s a different kind of outsider. But he’s just as lost.

One of the functions of this provocative story is to show us that lostness comes in a variety of forms. To be lost means to not have a relationship with the father — an intimate relationship, a transforming relationship that’s changing your heart and soul. You might be wasting away in a pig pen in a faraway country or you might be working really hard on the father’s property out in the field. Either way, if you’re not in the home, with the father, you’re lost.

And the Father is looking for you.

Part of the appeal of this story is that the way the father acts with his son seems too good to be true. The way he lavishes his love on his rebellious runaway child, the way he pours out his forgiveness and mercy on his son, the extravagant way the father rejoices — it’s too good to be true.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'” ~Luke 15:20-24

Or, maybe, it’s so good it has to be true.

The whole world is not going to be saved because of what you do. The whole world’s not going to be “found” because of your church’s outreach and mission efforts. But the stories in Luke 15 tell us plainly that as long as there is one single lost sheep wandering around in the wilderness, as long as there is one solitary coin buried in the dark corners of a dusty room, as long as there is one lost child, he will not quit until it’s not lost anymore.

Henri Nouwen, commenting on this timeless story, writes:

“God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.”

Jesus gives us the parables, probably, to show us how to live. Yeah, maybe. More than that, though, he gives us these stories to show us the Father and who the Father loves. And the Father loves everyone.

Peace,

Allan