Category: Matthew (page 1 of 18)

Where He Leads

For the past several years it’s become clear that the word “evangelical” has very little, if anything, to do with Christianity or religion. It’s not a Christian term anymore. It’s been misused and redefined by the politicians and media in the United States for so long now that it’s become a purely secular word. A national political term.

One of the more obvious manifestations of this is in the way African Americans are left out. Have you noticed that the media will not refer to African Americans as “evangelicals?” Christians of color may have a high regard for the Bible, they may focus on the atonement of Christ through the cross, they may be committed to proclaiming the Gospel, they may believe the Gospel changes lives and changes the world — they may embody every facet of the classic definition of “evangelical.” But because African Americans vote heavily for Democratic candidates, the media will not call them “evangelicals.” The term is strictly political now. “Evangelical” means Republican. “Evangelical” means guns and lower taxes and immigration reform and repealing Obamacare.

There are a lot of reasons this matters so much. One of the main reasons is that our young people now identify traditional Christianity with right wing American politics. This development has been analyzed and discussed in every “unchristian” and “You Lost Me” type of book that’s been written in the past twenty years. Young people are not leaving the Church because they reject Christ Jesus as Lord, they’re leaving the Church because they reject the national politics that appear to go with it.

That’s a problem for all of us. Whatever our national political beliefs and practices — left or right, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal — they shouldn’t be wrapped up in God’s Church because they all eventually come into conflict with God’s ways. And our young people see right through it.

I was privileged to be in attendance at Hope Network’s Preacher Initiative in Dallas last month when Dr. Mallory Wyckoff delivered a powerful sermon on the disconnect between what we teach our young people in our churches and what they actually experience in and through us who do the teaching. Her sermon was gut-level honest and penetrating. Eye-opening. Inspiring. The language soared and the message cut straight to the heart of the Gospel.

Mallory has graciously provided me with a manuscript of her sermon, “Where You Lead I Will Follow” from Matthew 23. You can find the entire sermon posted to her website here. But I’d like to share a couple of excerpts in this space.

Mallory began by praising the church and the church people who raised her in the faith. She expressed her admiration and love for those men and women who shaped her as a child of God.

“To be sure, I was loved. I was loved really well. I was made to believe that I had worth, that I could pursue the dreams that surged within, that God would guide me as I took each clumsy step. I was nurtured in the Christian faith from the womb, loved and cared on by my community, educated in their schools, formed in their churches. I attended their youth groups and summer camps, wore their T-shirts and sang their songs. These people invested in me, gave of their time and resources to help me grow into the woman I am now. For all of this and for more, I am grateful.”

Mallory then moved to unashamedly hold the mirror up to the troubling inconsistencies she noticed when she actually began to read the Bible her church told her to read and follow the Christ her church told her to follow.

“[I] observed that Jesus seemed to care an awful lot about the poor and marginalized, giving them food and dignity, binding their wounds and healing their bodies. But when I named the gross inequities between the rich and poor in our country and asked what we might do to overcome this, they called me a socialist…

They told me about the cross of Christ and insisted this was a central feature of our faith. So I spent time reflecting on the cross and observed it as the culmination of Jesus’ consistent refusal to employ violent means. I took to heart his teachings that the swords we live by surely are the ones by which we will die, that we are to love our enemies and, perhaps, this might mean to not kill them. I wondered how I could follow this Christ with any integrity in my heart if I also carried a gun in my hand or on my hip. But when I asked my church about these things, they told me this was unrealistic, that Jesus’ teachings are for individuals but have nothing to say to nation-states, and that I should fear the nation-state taking from me the very weapons Jesus warned against.

They took me to the baptismal font and buried me with Christ beneath the waters, calling on me to live into the newness of life in Christ, proclaiming that my identity is found therein, and I swore my allegiance to Christ. But when I began asking about all of the myriad allegiances we seem to hold in conflict with the lordship of Christ, that perhaps nationalism is the most dangerous kind of idolatry, they told me I was not a good patriot.

They taught me about the early church, a marginalized sect seeking to live into the Kingdom in the midst of empire. They told me stories of the church’s courage, even in the face of persecution and death, and of their commitment to the way of Christ. But when I began wondering about how the empire in which we find ourselves dehumanizes black and brown bodies, they told me I didn’t show enough respect for the flag and for country and for every other symbol that bears Caesar’s image even while the body count for image bearers of God keeps climbing…”

Mallory’s critique comes straight out of Scripture, directly out of the prophets’ mouths and our Savior’s heart. She articulates so well what stirs my own soul and what burdens my shoulders and my mind, but what I have such difficulty describing. She perfectly says what I’m thinking.

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We’re seeing issues to be argued instead of people to be loved. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as political conservatives or liberals, and not first as disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses of our race, our zip code, our political affiliations, and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the Christ.

The younger generations coming up behind us see it. And they feel it.

You already know my position on all this. The United States is not going to be changed by votes or parties. It’s not going to be saved by force of numbers or force of rhetoric. It’s going to be saved, along with the rest of the world, by Christ Jesus. And his way is about love and forgiveness, sacrifice and service. And peace. Our Christianity should be defined by those things. Our congregations should be characterized by those things. Our young people need to see that in us first. And last. And every place in between.

Mallory ends her sermon with a genuine humility and grace that are sometimes missing from mine. She expresses her deep love for the ones who’ve gone before and she confesses that she is no better. She sees the hypocrisy and duplicity in her elders, but is self-aware enough to know she’s capable of the same missteps.

“I am neither different from nor better than the ones who taught me to follow Christ and dismissed the places he took me. Like them, I say one thing and do another, unaware of the ones who suffer because of my ignorance. I tell [my daughter] to follow Jesus no matter where he takes her, even and especially when it’s a path I reject or dismiss. I tell her that she will have to differentiate between the heart of God and the ways I do or do not reflect this God. I tell her to follow Christ, wherever he may lead. May we have the courage to follow him, too.”

Thank you, Mallory, for these challenging words. Thank you for your boldness and your grace. May our God bless us all to see more clearly and to follow more faithfully.

Peace,

Allan

Here’s Looking at You

My kids tell me I’ve ripped this off from the movie “27 Dresses” which, as God is my witness, I’ve never seen. But when I’m at a wedding and the bride makes her appearance at the back of the church and begins to walk down that center aisle, I do turn my attention to the groom. I want to watch the groom as he sees his beautiful bride. Because the way that groom looks at the bride is the way our God looks at his Church.

Scripture tells us that God wants to be much more to us than just a mighty king with loyal subjects. He wants to be the groom to the bride. He wants a relationship of intimate love with us as profound and eternal as that between a husband and a wife. God calls himself the groom throughout the Old Testament.

“‘They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 31:32

Jesus calls himself the groom in the Gospels and compares the Kingdom of God to a massive wedding feast.

“How can the guests of the groom fast while he is with them?” ~Mark 2:19

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son… All things are ready! Come to the wedding banquet!” ~Matthew 22:1-4

And at the end of time, when everything is finally made right and all of our Father’s plans have culminated in the new heavens and new earth and perfectly righteous relationships with him and one another, there’s going to be a wedding feast to end all wedding feasts!

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” ~Revelation 21:2

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” ~Revelation 19:9

This coming feast celebrates finally the intimate and permanent union of God and his people. This is how history ends. This is what God is doing.

When God uses a metaphor to help us see him better, it also helps us better understand how he sees us. God calls us his Father, he calls us his children, and then Jesus says, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more…?”

If God is our groom, then he must really love us. He must truly delight in us.

What does the bride look like when she walks down that aisle? How does her groom see her? Have you ever watched the groom?

When the groom sees her, he’s absolutely delighted. You can see the love in his eyes. You can almost feel the commitment in his heart. You can sense the complete devotion to her in the deepest part of his soul. He’ll do anything for her for the rest of his life, he’ll stop at nothing to protect her and provide for her and please her, he’ll dedicate his whole existence to loving her forever — you can see it in the way he looks at her!

How dare our Lord use a metaphor like that! How dare the Scriptures tap into this really powerful image and its accompanying emotions!

Could it be that he really loves us like that? That he really loves you that much? That God is that committed to you?

How different would your life be if you lived every day — hour by hour, moment by moment — in the awareness of God’s great love for you? He’s looking at you right now. He thinks you’re beautiful. He’s proud of you. And he loves you more than our words can describe.

Peace,

Allan

God at Work: With Us

“We are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people.'” ~2 Corinthians 6:16

In Exodus 24, God has come down to his people on a mountain. He comes to be  near them, to be with them. He’s keeping his covenant promise to live with us, to dwell among us. And you see all three of the Church sacraments in this passage. The people have assembled together in God’s presence. It’s the Day of Assembly. And the people are worshiping. They hear the Word of the Lord and they respond, “Everything the Lord has said, we will do!” They’re making burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, and sacrifices to God. The people are being washed by blood. Paul says in 1 Corinthians these people were all baptized when they passed through the Red Sea. But they are certainly being cleansed.

“Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you…’ Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel… They saw God and they ate and drank.” ~Exodus 24:8-11

God comes to his people, he cleanses us, he makes us righteous and whole, and he eats and drinks with us. We see God at the table.

But that’s not enough for our God. It’s not close enough to us. So he makes his dwelling place in the tabernacle in the desert and, later, inside the temple in Jerusalem. But that’s not close enough to us for our Father. So he comes here himself in the physical flesh and blood of Jesus. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He tabernacle with us as one of us.

When Jesus was baptized, Luke tells us “all the people were being baptized.” Matthew says the people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan” to be baptized. And Jesus joins us in the water. He meets us there in our cleansing. God’s presence is there. The dove, the Holy Spirit, the voice of God affirming and commissioning: “You are my child, I am proud of you.”

And Jesus meets us in worship. The Gospels say he went to the synagogue regularly, as was his custom. He went to the temple, faithfully, for the corporate assemblies and festivals. He never missed. And he ate and drank with everybody — rich and poor, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, sinners and saints.  He ate with Mary and Martha and tax collectors in their own houses. He set up a picnic with 4,000 Gentiles out in the wilderness. He got in trouble because he refused to discriminate. He ate with all of us!

That last night with his closest disciples, around the table, he’s eating with us. “This is my blood of the covenant,” our Lord says.

“I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the Kingdom of God… I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” ~Luke 22:15-18

And then on the day of his resurrection, Jesus can’t wait to eat with his disciples. He makes lunch plans with two of them on the road to Emmaus and when Jesus breaks the bread, they “see” him. That evening he shows up where the apostles are, right in the middle of dinner. They’re not sure it’s him — maybe this is a ghost. So Jesus asks for a piece of fish and eats it “in their presence.” Later, when people ask Peter how he knows Jesus is alive, he replies, “Because we ate and drank with him after he was raised from the dead!”

But that’s not enough for our God. He wants to be even closer. He doesn’t want his presence with us to be limited by physical space. So he pours out his Holy Spirit on everybody. By his Spirit, God Almighty takes up residence, he tabernacles, he makes his dwelling place, inside each of us and all of us.

We see all these sacraments on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call… Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day… They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” ~Acts 2:38-47

Look, baptism doesn’t work because we believe all the right things and we say all the right words. Baptism saves us because God is there. God meets us in the water. He forgives us, he cleanses us, he unites with us in baptism. He connects us to the salvation death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord so he can live with us.

And Jesus doesn’t meet us at the table to shame us. It’s not, “Look what I had to do for you — remember it!” It’s his gift to us, this sacred time with him and with one another where God accepts us and affirms us, where he nourishes us and sustains our lives. It’s not, “I had to die for you — be grateful!” It’s, “I love you; I want to eat with you.” It’s an invitation.

And worship doesn’t work because we’ve got it figured out and we’re good at it. Worship works because God is with us and he’s working. His presence is with us. God is speaking to us by his Word. Christ Jesus is eating with us and nurturing us at the table. And the Spirit is interceding for us with words we can’t begin to describe.

Our actions don’t move God to grace; God’s grace moves him to action. These sacraments, these ordinances, are gifts of God’s grace to us. He initiated these things we do together. In baptism and at the table, together with God’s people in holy assembly, God says to us, “We can meet each other here.” That’s his promise: I will meet you here.

He left heaven to give these gifts to us. He came to us and suffered and died for us in order to be close to you. He wants to be near you. He wants to change you and make you whole. He loves you. He wants to eat with you. It’s an invitation.

In baptism and at the table and during the assembly, God promises, “I’m here. You may not see me every time, you may not feel it every time, but I’m here. You may feel far from me, but I am present with you in these special times and places. I am near you. I am cleansing you and nourishing you and changing you.”

This is God’s work in transforming encounter, in the sacraments. Even if you don’t see it or feel it, you can trust it.

Peace,

Allan

Salt

“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

“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

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

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