Salt

Christ & Culture, Evangelism, Love, Matthew No Comments »

“You are the salt of the earth.” ~Matthew 5:13

SaltShakerNot pepper. Some of us act like Jesus called us to be pepper. Some Christians feel like they’re called to behave in such a way as to irritate people. Some followers of Jesus just walk into a room and people’s eyes begin to water. Some Christians cause people to make funny faces and start sneezing.

No, we’re supposed to be salt. We bring out the very best of what’s already there. We bring out what’s possible. We season life and the situations around us so there’s more flavor. More to savor. By our lives we help make everything around us as good as our God always intended it to be.

So, when the world acts to condemn, we move to forgive. When the culture says you don’t matter, we say you’re a child of God. When society says I don’t care about you, we say what can I do for you? Where the world seeks to injure, we seek to heal. When the culture declares I hate you, we say I love you.

Everywhere we go, everywhere we are, we shine the light of love and forgiveness, we bring the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, the light of Jesus shines in us and through us with love and mercy and truth.

We bring it. We live it. And people around us are blessed and the world is changed.

We are the salt of the earth. Not pepper.

Peace,

Allan

Let Your Light Shine

Central Church Family, Matthew No Comments »

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before all people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:14-16

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This short passage has become a theme of ours at Central as we get into the beginning stages of our new Ignite Initiative. We’re calling this the Church’s beautiful vision and glorious mission.

The light of the world. The city on a hill. The lamp that gives light to everyone. Let your light shine. Jesus is quoting from the prophets here. The beautiful vision Isaiah gives us: 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. Isaiah’s glorious mission: I will make you a light to all nations that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.

Jesus teaches us our role as his people to shine this light of life into the dark corners of the world. And he also shows us what it looks like. His life and ministry are singularly about shining that light.

He lays his hands on the crippled woman and heals her. He eats dinner with the Pharisees and the prostitutes. He interacts with and serves those Samaritan lepers. He stays with Zacchaeus and calls him a son. Jesus looks at the sinful woman in Simon’s house and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” He says, Let the little children come to me with their sticky hands and their runny noses and they crawl all over him and he holds them and hugs them and blesses them.

When the world acts to condemn, our Lord moves to forgive. When the culture says you don’t matter, Jesus says you’re my child. When society says I don’t care about you, Christ says what can I do for you? Where the world seeks to injure, Jesus seeks to heal. When the culture says I hate you, Jesus declares I love you.

Everywhere our Lord goes, everywhere he is, he shines the light of love and forgiveness, he brings the Kingdom of grace and hope. In a culture of hate and violence and lies, Jesus is love and mercy and truth. He brings it. He lives it. And people are blessed and the world is changed.

What a beautiful vision! What a glorious mission!

FlameYellowCentral Church of Christ is announcing a renewed commitment to this beautiful vision and a bold invitation to join together in the next stage for us on the glorious mission. The Bible tells us that without a vision the people will perish and without a mission the people will lose their way. Our clear vision has shown us new directions and new opportunities for the mission. We have new ideas in our determination to be that bright city on the hill for Amarillo and the world. And the vision is giving us the courage to speak and to ask when it would be a whole lot easier to just stay where we are.

Click here for more information on Ignite. Click here for directions on how best to pray for what we’re doing. Click here if you want to give. And may our Lord bless us to boldly shine his light into the dark places of our city and, by his grace, throughout his world.

Peace,

Allan

The Love of God and Your Group

1 John, Christ & Culture, Jesus, Love, Matthew 1 Comment »

loveperiodblueIdolatry of self is a root problem that keeps us from a supreme devotion and love of God. But a sin that’s just as dangerous, if not more so, is group narcissism. Idolatry of the group. Whatever the group — a political group, a religious group, a racial group — it’s an idol if it steals any of your allegiance away from God. A political party, a nation, a socio-economic group, a language, a Christian denomination — any man or woman belonging to any group is at least susceptible to thinking his group is superior to all other groups. My race is superior, my political party is righteous, my church is correct, my nation is best. If we’re not careful — better, if we’re not diligent — our devotion to a group can very easily compromise or even displace our primary love for God. When God’s platform comes into conflict with the group’s platform, we’re tempted to uphold the values and methods of the group over the ways and means and values of our God.

And they will come into conflict.

In fact, loving God is a gigantic threat to group narcissism. The groups can’t handle it. To love God first and most is to say there is another Power, there is a greater Authority, there is another One to whom all groups must bow. That flies right in the face of the idolatrous values of our society.

As disciples of the Christ, we declare that God has no equal, he has no peer. God alone is God. We cannot seek to find our worth or our identities by rooting ourselves in ethnic or political or geographic groups. We find our true identity in loving God. Period.

Loving God first will always mean loving others, too. It will always lead to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. That’s not going to sit well with your “group,” either. This is why followers of Jesus can’t base their value on the political or social or cultural groups of the world: selfless, sacrificial love has almost nothing in common with the strategies and goals of the world’s groups. In fact, the two exist in constant conflict.

loveperiodglassWhen Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, we’ve got to remember that Jesus ate and drank with lepers and prostitutes. He spent his time taking care of the foreigners and the poor. He protected the vulnerable people on the margins and stood by those who had been accused. Jesus reminds us of the command to not kill and then he says, “You’re not even supposed to get angry.” He tells us when somebody hits me in the face, I’m supposed to turn the other cheek. He tells us not just to tolerate our enemies, but to actually love our enemies.

These are fierce teachings. This is a very difficult way to live. Christ Jesus has put before us a very hard path, a path that few have really tried to follow. To paraphrase Chesterton: “Christianity has not been tried and found lacking; it’s been found difficult and never really tried.”

It’s been so loud in this country lately, so angry and mean and hateful and loud, the idea of loving others has mostly been set aside.

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us…” ~1 John 4:15-17

The life-giving love that begins with the Creator flows to the Son. Jesus then takes that love and showers it upon us. And he tells us to show that same divine love to others. This heavenly love is completed, it’s fulfilled, when we give it to others. We’re the last link in this eternal chain of love. God’s love has not fulfilled its purpose, it’s not finished, until it’s coursing through his people and being lavished on every man, woman, and child around us.

God is not a man. He is not a state. God is not an institution or a party or a possession. He is the divine Creator and Father of us all. And he calls us to share his limitless love extravagantly with everybody.

Love doesn’t tear down, it builds up. It never divides, it always unites. It’s not terrified by terrorism. It doesn’t hate those outside the group. And love does not follow leaders or groups who promote hate and bigotry and division and violence as a way to get things accomplished.

Whatever you do as a child of God and follower of Jesus, make sure you love. If anybody tells you to do otherwise; if you get any email insisting that you forward something that’s not loving; if any leader or group urges you to act in any way toward anybody that’s not loving; you know that person or that group is not under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let anybody ever stop you from loving. Don’t let anybody kill your love for anybody. Love everybody whether they like it or not. Love the people you’re told not to love. If you let anyone or anything keep you from loving, you’re cutting off the proof and the expression of God’s nature in your body and soul.

Peace,

Allan

Unfair Grace

Grace, Matthew No Comments »

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The idea that God’s love comes to us free of charge, no strings attached, goes against all our human nature and instinct. Buddhism has its eight-fold path to salvation, Hinduism has karma, the Jews have the covenant, and Islam has its code of law as ways to earn God’s approval. But only Christianity teaches that God’s love is unconditional. It’s different. And it’s scandalous.

Jesus tells a story about a farmer who hires men to work in his vineyards. Some of them clocked in at sunrise and worked all day. Some didn’t show up until the morning break, some came to work at noon, some showed up during the afternoon break, and some of the lazy men clocked in one hour before quitting time. And every single worker received the exact same pay!

Of course, that made some of the early arrivers angry.

The boss’s actions go against everything we know about employee motivation and fair compensation. The whole thing is very unfair. Because it’s grace. You can’t calculate grace like a day’s wages. Grace is not about finishing first or last. Grace is not about counting. Grace is not math. It’s a gift.

“Friend, I am not being unfair to you… Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” ~Matthew 20:13-15

God gives us gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit because none of us comes close to deserving it. If God were fair to us…

If God were fair to me…

I don’t even want to go there. And you don’t, either.

You know, in the world, yes, some workers deserve more than others. But in the reality of God’s grace, the word “deserve” doesn’t even apply!

We know how this world works: The early bird gets the worm; No pain, no gain; No such thing as a free lunch; Protect your rights, demand your rights, fight for your rights; Make sure you get what you paid for. We know all this because this is the way we all live. I work for what I earn. I like to win. I like to be right. I want others to get what they deserve, nothing more and nothing less.

But the Gospel tells me I did not get what I deserve. I deserve punishment but I get forgiveness. I deserve wrath but I get love. I deserve prison but I get a banquet feast. Grace means not getting what I deserve. And it’s not fair.

Praise God for his indescribable gift!

Peace,

Allan

I Am the Good Shepherd

Ezekiel, Jesus, John, Leadership, Matthew, Texas Rangers No Comments »

shepherd3Almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Judas Maccabeus put together a Jewish militia and fought the Syrians who had taken control of Jerusalem and had desecrated the temple. Antiochus IV Epiphanes had established Zeus worship inside the Lord’s temple, including the daily sacrifice of pigs. The Maccabean revolution was a bloody three-year struggle that resulted in Jewish oversight of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple to the Lord. You can research the origins of Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication to get the full story. But on the 25th day of Kislev, in the year 165 BC, the temple was rededicated and Ezekiel 34, the passage about Israel’s shepherds was read aloud.

The eight day celebration was not just about rejoicing in God’s great deliverance. It was also a time to reflect on the events that led up to those awful years in Israel’s history. It was a time to ask questions about failed leadership, hard questions about Israel’s bad kings or, as they’re called in Scripture, false shepherds. How did the leadership of God’s people lose its way so badly? Where were the shepherds? And how must we shepherd our people today?

Since that day in 165 BC, Ezekiel 34 has always been a part of the worship liturgy for the Feast of Dedication. In John 10, we’re told explicitly that Jesus attended these worship assemblies.

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonade.” ~John 10:22-23

imyselfYou can bet Jesus heard the readings just like everybody else. And, yeah, Jesus knew about lousy leadership and sorry sheep. So did a lot of God’s people listening to the readings. The man who pays three-fourths of his wages every month to his neighbor who’s paralyzing him with outrageous interest rates. The lady who’s not allowed to come all the way in because she’s divorced. The couple who gets told “You don’t dress right or talk right or act right and why don’t y’all find another temple to worship in!” Ask the woman at the well if she felt like people were staring at her. Ask the lady at Simon’s house if Simon acted like a jerk when she showed up at his dinner party with his well-connected friends. Ask the man in the Gerasenes who was driven away by his own brothers and sisters and chained to a tombstone. Ask the crippled man at the healing pools who always got pushed out of the way by people who were also crippled — just not as crippled as he was. And they all hear the Scriptures being read at Hanukkah. They hear it ever year. God says, “I myself will be their shepherd.”

And the people say, “When?”

“I Am the Good Shepherd! The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep!” ~John 10:11

Right in the middle of the questions and doubts and hopes and anticipation that someday God himself will personally shepherd his flock, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd! It’s me! I’m here!”

imyselfbig“I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I Am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11-16

See, in Ezekiel 34, God says I’m going to personally do what the bad shepherds have failed to do. I’m going to do what my people obviously can’t do. God promises to personally intervene. God says you don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bandage up the injured. You have not brought in the strays or searched for the lost. But I will! I will bandage up the injured and strengthen the weak! I will search for the lost and bring back the strays! God’s solution to the long history of lousy leaders and sorry sheep is not a new model, not a new system. He replaces the bad shepherds with the Good Shepherd. God comes to us in Jesus. Christ Jesus comes here to, in his own words, seek and save the lost. He comes here to comfort the weary and heavy burdened, to heal the sick and bring Good News to the poor. Jesus is our Shepherd, fixing things, restoring things.

Jesus knows how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To those who rely on their own righteousness, those of us fat sheep who’ve been doing this church thing for decades and think we have all the answers, Jesus rips away all the excuses and he forces us to see our desperate need for him and the Gospel. He says, “I Am the only way, I Am the only truth, and I Am the only life! No one comes to the Father except through me!”

To those who are burdened and marginalized, Jesus pulls them to God. He shows that God does not delight in their death, but he begs them to come to him for eternal life. He makes it clear that there is a place in God’s flock for all weak and sinful sheep. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He is bold and courageous and single-minded in his mission to seek and save the lost, to restore the lost sheep of Israel. And he’s so committed to it — he’s so committed to us, his sheep! — that he lays down his life for us. He dies for us. He stands in the gate — he is the gate! — between us and the ravenous wolves and murderous robbers who would destroy us. He’s unwilling to sacrifice even one of us to the enemy. He would die first.

And he did.

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bobbywilson6Another walk off win. A two-out, two-run, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth. The 45th come-from-behind win for the Texas Rangers this year. And the magic number is down to six.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus’ Judgment Will Be Fair

2 Corinthians, Jesus, John, Matthew, Ministry, Romans, Texas Rangers No Comments »

JudgmentDay

“A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself, I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” ~John 5:28-30

The first Christians believed that what you do matters. The writers of Scripture all confirm that a fair and impartial judgment day is consistent with the character of God who doesn’t play favorites.

“God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” ~Romans 2:6-11

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that all men and women are someday going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of all their thoughts and words and deeds. Everything. And each of us is going to receive what’s right according to whether we’ve done good or evil.

JudgeSheep&GoatsJesus gives us a compelling picture of this in Matthew 25 with the separation of the sheep and the goats.  To the sheep on the right, Jesus says, “Come!” Come on in. Come close. You belong. You’re in. Come. How cool would it be to hear the Lord say that to you?

Notice the righteous in this story don’t say, “Boom! Nailed it! Yeah! That’s right! We’re feeding the hungry and clothing the naked! Yes! The Kingdom has been prepared for me! That’s what I’m talking about!” No, it’s more like, “What?!? We did what?!? You mean we got it right?” The sheep on the right are surprised.

Jesus explains that the way you regard the poor and the sick and the abused and the hungry shows your high regard for him and his mission. Our King associates himself with the lowly, with people who don’t have any resources. So when you show compassion for the poor, when you extend mercy to the sick, when you show love to the marginalized, that’s proof that you belong to God. These aren’t good works to earn favor from God. You don’t give a cup of water so you can go to heaven. That’s not why these people did these good deeds. They were surprised their kindness to prisoners and aliens had anything to do with it. The way they treated the poor and the minorities proved that they had submitted to the Lordship of Jesus and that his Holy Spirit was shaping their minds and lives. Clothing the naked is not a qualification to get in — it’s an evidence of a saving faith.

To the ones on the left, Jesus says, “Depart!” Go away. Get out of my presence. You don’t belong to me.” How awful and terrible to hear the Lord say that to you.

Notice the unrighteous goats who are eternally condemned are just as surprised as the righteous sheep. “What? When did these things happen? I don’t remember not taking care of you, Jesus, when you needed help.?

I don’t think they were deliberately rejecting Jesus when they turned their backs on the poor and the weak. It’s just evidence that they had not submitted to Jesus as Lord and to his mission to seek and save and make things right. They didn’t see Jesus in the poor and hurting.

Maybe they saw Jesus in their church, so they had perfect attendance. Maybe they saw Jesus in their political candidates, so they voted regularly. Maybe they saw Jesus in their Christian jewelry and T-shirts, so they went shopping. But they never saw Jesus in the poor. They never experienced his character in his mission to the lost. This was proof they had not allowed the Holy Spirit to shape them and transform them into the image of Christ.

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Being faithful, being righteous, doesn’t mean being burned at the stake or becoming a missionary to Yugoslavia. The righteous are just paying attention to the people around them and taking care of real, practical, every day needs. A cup of water. A sandwich. A visit. A coat. Just be faithful with what God puts right in front of you every day. What you do matters. It’s evidence.

The righteous will always produce evidence. You’ll always be able to notice the transformed speech and thoughts and actions and character of disciples of Christ. On that last day, Jesus will distribute rewards and penalties according to the clear evidence. And he’s always fair.

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RangersLogoYesterday, while basking in the glorious glow of another exciting round of last minute deals for the Rangers at the trade deadline, I wrote in this space that, with the additions of Beltran and Lucroy, this Texas team will score an average of more than five runs a game from here on out. Last night, Beltran and Lucroy went a combined 0-6 with three Ks in a 5-1 loss at Baltimore.

I’m sticking with it. Hold me to it. This Rangers lineup will average more than five runs per game the rest of the way. Starting……
Now!

Peace,

Allan