Category: Mark (Page 1 of 13)

About to Pass By GCR

One of my most favorite passages in all of Scripture is at the end of Mark 6. Jesus has commanded his followers to get into a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida, while he climbs to the top of a mountain to pray. The text tells us that the wind was against the apostles and was blowing them off course. It says, “He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”

I love the imagery of Jesus praying to the Father while he watches his disciples straining at the oars. They’re working with everything they have to accomplish what Jesus has called them to do, and they’re struggling. They can’t get there. No progress. No results. Just frustration. But the Lord is watching. He knows how much they’re working. He sees how hard they’re trying. And he’s talking to the Father about them. He’s interceding.

And then Jesus comes to them, walking on the lake. The end of verse 48 tells us that Jesus was “about to pass by them,” but when they saw him, the apostles thought he was a ghost.

That’s a strange verse, huh? Was Jesus trying to sneak by the disciples without being seen? Was he attempting to beat them to Bethsaida so he could welcome them to the shore with a smug, “What took you so long? Where have you been?” What does it mean that Jesus was “about to pass by them?”

At the end of Exodus 33, after God’s people had worshiped the golden calf in the wilderness, Moses pleads with God to forgive them and go with them to the Promised Land. Moses has been working really hard for the Lord and hasn’t seen any results. He’s seen only bad things, horrible things. Moses begs God to show him proof that he will be with them, to give him some assurance. “Show me your glory,” Moses says. And God responds, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name.” When he gives Moses instructions on what’s about to happen, he concludes with, “When my glory passes by…”

And he shows himself to Moses. God “passed” in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). God used that occasion to renew his covenant with Moses and his people, to lavish on them his love and forgiveness, to lead them on a path to their promised future.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is standing on a mountain complaining to God. Elijah had been working really hard for the Lord, only to find himself on Jezebel’s most wanted list. I’m the only one left, Elijah declares. I’m all alone. That’s when God said, “Stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11).

And God revealed himself to Elijah in a small, still voice. God told Elijah how many thousands of faithful people there were in the land and he promised to take care of Elijah’s enemies.

When Mark tells us Jesus was “about to pass by them,” he means Jesus was preparing to show the disciples his glory. He was about to reveal his true identity to them. The word “pass” in Mark 6 is the Greek translation of the word translated “pass” from the Hebrew in Exodus 33-34 and 1 Kings 19. When God passes by, he reveals his glory. People see God, they recognize God and what God is doing. That’s what happens on the lake with the disciples. Jesus climbed into the boat with them, miraculously calmed the winds, and amazed the apostles with his authority and his grace. Once they landed, Mark says the “people recognized Jesus.” They brought their sick to him and he healed them all. Throughout the villages, towns, and countryside, wherever he went, Jesus healed the people and made them whole. He revealed himself. He showed his glory. His power. His mercy. His love. The mission he came to accomplish. And the disciples “were completely amazed” (Mark 6:51).

Here at the Golf Course Road Church, the winds have been blowing in our faces for several years. The elements have been against us. The shepherds and ministers here, all the faithful members of this church, have been working incredibly hard around the clock, faithfully, trying with everything they have to accomplish what they believe God has called them to do. And it hasn’t always been good. Bad things have happened here, terrible things. Little progress. Few results. Lots of frustration. This GCR Church has been straining at the oars for a long time. But Jesus has been watching. And praying. He’s seen how hard everybody’s working here and he’s been talking to the Father about us the whole time.

And now our Lord Jesus is about to pass by. He is about to reveal himself to us. He is about to show us his glory. People are going to be healed here at GCR, they’re going to be made whole. We’re all going to experience our God’s mercy and grace, his love and his compassion, his forgiveness and new life. He never left us; he’s been here in the boat with us the whole time. And now we’re about to finally see it. His  glory. His power. His mission accomplished in and through GCR, throughout Midland, and around the world to his eternal glory and praise.

“Take courage,”Jesus says to his church at GCR. “It is I, don’t be afraid.”

I believe we’re all about to be completely amazed.

Peace,

Allan

Surely Not I?

All four downtown churches came together for a Maundy Thursday worship service last night at Polk Street United Methodist Church, continuing a tradition that began with the prayerful formation of our “4 Amarillo” partnership eight years ago. Attendance was about half of what it’s been in the past; we were all pretty spread out in Polk Street’s beautiful sanctuary and lots of us were wearing masks. We didn’t walk down to the front to receive communion as is our practice; we were handed those sad little pre-packaged kits to wrestle with in our seats. But, still, every time we gather across our denominational lines for worship and service in the name of our Lord Jesus, it is a tremendous blessing and privilege. Our “4 Amarillo” events are the highlights of my every year. I remain thankful to God for these opportunities that, I realize, not many Christians get to experience. And I never take it for granted.

I was honored by God to preach last night’s message from the account of the Last Supper in the Gospel of Mark. In this telling of the story, Jesus declares to his disciples that one of them will betray him and, one by one, it says, they ask him, “Surely not I?” Last night we focused on turning that question into a statement of loyalty and allegiance to our Lord. It’s not a question mark for us, it’s an exclamation point!

One of you is going to betray me. Surely not I!

Not me, Lord! Not us, Lord! Not tonight! Not tomorrow! Not ever!

Increase my faith, Father, yes. Strengthen my resolve, Lord, yes. Yes, Holy Spirit, give me power to live more fully for Christ, to be with Christ and for Christ. May everything I say and do and think be in the name and manner of Jesus from right now until his day of eternal glory.

May this be our prayer and may this be our commitment. One of you is going to betray me. Surely not I!

Peace,

Allan

Get the Order Straight

March Madness begins today and there’s a scramble in the church offices as a few folks are making last-minute changes to their brackets. Vickie has scratched Syracuse because of their point guard’s suspension and Mary is still undecided on Kansas State. I’m going with Duke, Kentucky, Purdue, and Gonzaga in the Final Four with Duke beating Kentucky for the championship. Speaking of Kentucky, ACU’s coach, Joe Golding, is making headlines because of his pants. When ACU tips off tonight against John Calipari’s second-seeded squad, Golding will be wearing britches with a hole in the seat. You can get most of this aw-shucks-feel-good-underdog story by clicking here. How is it that Golding only gets a thousand dollar bonus for winning the Southland Conference title and making the NCAA dance? How is it that he won’t see that money until June? And why in the world does he only own one suit? I know it’s Abilene and I know it’s Church of Christ, but come on! Somebody plan a bake sale or something!

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“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” ~Philippians 2:3-4

This is what it looks like to prioritize the realities. This is how we live the Gospel together the way our God intends. You get the order straight. You always place others ahead of yourself. I always place others ahead of myself.

Not really. I’m not very good at this at all. For some really beautiful people I know, it seems natural. It seems really easy for them. But for me and, I would guess, most of us, this is not natural. We have to work at it. It’s difficult for us because we’ve all grown up being taught to assert our rights. That’s how we’re raised. Our culture has told us that our Creator has given all of us absolute rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And somehow we’ve bought into that. We come into church — all of us — believing that we deserve to be made happy, even at the expense of others. Where does that come from?

Not from our Lord.

“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:43-45

The apostle Paul didn’t make this up. This is not Pauline theology in Philippians 2. He got this from Jesus.

So, thinking the same thing and having the same love and being united in spirit and purpose is not an intellectual thing. This isn’t something you accomplish in your brain or up in your feels. This is something you do. This is about concrete expressions and physical actions. You don’t just see everybody else at your church as more important than you, you treat them that way. You don’t just understand that everybody’s needs at your church are more important than your needs, you go out of your way to meet those needs.

Paul is not saying that all Christians in the church have to come to the same beliefs and opinions on everything. That’s impossible. He’s saying, for the sake of relationships and the mission, put the beliefs and opinions of others ahead of your own.

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

The Power of Jesus to Heal

TV game shows have two audiences. The studio audience is the primary audience. They’re right there in the room. They’re seeing and hearing everything, up close, in real time. They’re actually participating, cheering and clapping and trying to help the contestants. If it’s The Price is Right, the people in the primary audience may even be called up to play the game. It’s quite exciting, I guess.

But there’s also a secondary audience, the TV audience, the people watching at home. You’re watching from your couch, you’re watching from a long way off. You’re learning how the game is played, you’re getting to know the host and the contestants, and pretty soon you find yourself wanting to be a part of the show. That looks like fun. Hey, I think I could do that.

Then you start to visualize yourself on the show, you can actually see yourself participating. And winning. Come on! Everybody knows the coffee creamer costs more than the ketchup! I could win that Ford Focus and the patio furniture!

Next thing you know, you really are participating in the show, out loud, from your living room. You’re yelling at the TV. What is Bismarck? $935! Come on, baby, light my fire!

I think the Gospels are supposed to work the same way. I think we are intended to see ourselves in these stories, to see ourselves in the scenes with Jesus.

In Luke 5, you are the leper on the side of the road and you beg Jesus: “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus looks you right in the eye. “If I’m willing? Yes! I am willing!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and he touches you. “Be clean!” Is there anything more wonderful, more Good News, than Jesus looking at your deepest hurt and saying, “I am willing.”

In Mark 4, we’re in the boat with those disciples. The storm comes, the boat’s about to sink, and the disciples are freaking out. Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still!” And everything’s fixed. And he says to his followers, “Why are you so afraid? Where’s your faith?” And I wonder: Is he smiling? Is he upset?  Is he disappointed? Maybe he’s amused. “Why are you so afraid? Yes, I control nature, I control everything! I’m willing for you to be clean and I’m able to make it happen. I want you to be well and protected and safe and whole. I have the power. Trust me. Give yourself to me.”

Jairus’ daughter has just died. Jairus’ servants say it’s too late. Tell Jesus not to come. Jesus ignores them and says, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” He walks through all the people crying and wailing loudly. “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead, she’s asleep.”

The world sees one thing. Jesus sees something different. He wants you to see different, too. He wants you to see yourself with him and give yourself to it. “Don’t be afraid. Just believe. My child, I say to you, get up.”

And she did.

Peace,

Allan

Fellowship of the Spirit: Part Two

Near the end of the fourth Gospel, the resurrected Jesus says to his gathered followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I am sending you to do the things I’ve done in the ways I’ve done them. I’m commissioning you to heal the sick and proclaim the Kingdom of God. I’m charging you to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

And, with that, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We do not have the abilities on our own to do what Jesus did in the ways he did them. Church is the Body of Christ — the real, tangible, concrete, physical, flesh-and-blood  presence of Jesus in the world. That’s the call. That’s the charge. That’s the point of the Church, our mission.

But how? We can’t.

He knows. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit transforms our inabilities. God’s Spirit teaches us things we could never come up with on our own. The Bible says we can’t even make the Christian confession — Jesus is Lord! — except by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit transforms our inabilities and provides the gifts and the powers to do things we could never do by ourselves.

“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” ~Mark 13:11

No one naturally loves his enemies. No one naturally turns the other cheek. Nobody naturally lays down his rights or would rather be wronged than to fight for what is hers. Jesus says those are exactly the kinds of things that separate Christians from just good people. Those are the things that are required if we are to be his Church. And the Holy Spirit infuses us with the abilities and the power to do it. The Spirit forms in us the character traits we need to live like our Lord. He gives us strength so we can follow the way of the weakness. He gives us power so we can take care of the helpless. He gives us peace so we can endure the hostility.

If being a Christian is just about being a good citizen and giving to charities and not cussing too much — you don’t need the Holy Spirit for that. This is about following Jesus. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without the fellowship of the Spirit who transforms our inabilities and provides us the power to live like people without the Holy Spirit don’t. Can’t.

And it takes time. This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening and other times it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. It’s hard to measure. It’s difficult to track. God doesn’t send us quarterly reports. But we  know his Spirit is working on us. Changing us. Transforming us. We know that we all reflect the Lord’s glory and are being transformed into his likeness in ever-increasing glory which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Loving your neighbor is different from just being a good guy. The peace that passes all understanding is not the same as the peace of having your mortgage paid off. Turning the other cheek is not even in the same universe as self defense or protecting what’s yours. Doing justice is more than forwarding a Facebook petition. Showing mercy is more than sponsoring a co-worker in a 5K.

The fellowship of the Spirit is where our abilities are transformed together and how the Kingdom of God is made real in a broken and dying world.

Peace,

Allan

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