Category: Ministry (page 1 of 29)

Lining Up

Jesus invited people to follow him, to walk with him along the way. He ate with people he wasn’t supposed to eat with. He hugged people he wasn’t supposed to touch. He forgave people who were unforgivable. And they saw God.

People would experience God in us if our priorities and God’s priorities were the same.

Peace,

Allan

Show People God

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” ~Luke 11:52

The teachers of the law were guilty of prioritizing the letter of the law over the spirit of the law. They knew God’s law front and back, they had it memorized – book, chapter, verse. They could tell you exactly what you could and couldn’t do and what you could wear, what you could say, what you could eat, and who you could be with as you were doing it. Or not doing it. They were strictly enforcing the rules on others and felt no obligation to obey those same rules themselves. They would require certain things of others, but exempt themselves. They acted this way to improve their own position and increase their own power. There’s no love of God, no justice for neighbor.

Jesus says you are keeping people from knowing God. You’re blocking people from knowing who God is and what God is doing in the world. You yourselves don’t know God and the way you keep your thumb on people in the name of religion keeps anybody around you from ever experiencing God.

Jesus came here to reveal to the world who God is and what God is doing. If you want to understand God, you look at Jesus. He said it himself: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” And we join him in that work. We, too, are called to reveal God to others. But these teachers of the law are doing just the opposite. They’re so concerned about keeping the letter of the law, they’re so consumed with following every tiny detail and making sure others are following it exactly the way they interpret it, they miss God. They turn the commands into their God, they make the Bible their God, and they beat everybody over the head with it.

This could also be a problem for us if we’re not careful. Sometimes we are capable of fostering an environment in our churches, our Bible classes, and our small groups – sometimes you can create this culture just around yourself – so that everybody has to believe everything and practice everything the same way we do. Or the same way you do. We can demand uniform compliance with the way we do things. Or the way I do things. People can walk into our settings and just feel like they’re being watched.

Just like the religious leaders were checking to make sure Jesus washed his hands exactly like they think he should, we can make it our goal to catch people. We catch people doing something wrong so we can wag our fingers in their faces or tell on them behind their backs. We can suffocate the people around us. If we’re not careful, we can straight up condemn people. How in the world are these people going to experience the love and grace and forgiveness of God if we’re acting like this in his name? That’s not him! But we make people think it is.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen? Is that what you call a fast? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him?” ~Isaiah 58:5-7

Our Lord and the Scriptures tell us again and again that it’s not about the fasting or the sacrifices or the details of our worship. It’s not making sure the people around you know the law, it’s making sure the people around you know the Lord.

Show them God. Bring them into the presence of God. Show them his mercy and love. Express to them his grace and forgiveness. Extend to them his joy and acceptance.

Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, forgive without limits, walk the extra mile, give up your coat, and love your enemies. Why? Because, he says, that’s the way of our Father in heaven. Live like this because that’s how God is. Join Jesus in his revelation. Show people God.

Peace,

Allan

Make People Holy

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.” ~Luke 11:44

Around the dinner table at a Pharisee’s house, Jesus calls out this group of religious leaders for prioritizing outward appearances over inward godliness. They’re paying too much attention to the details of the religious rituals and their hearts and souls are left untouched by any of it. Everything looks great on the outside — it’s clean, it’s shiny, you could eat off of it, literally — but on the inside it’s greed and selfishness. They practice their religion to boost their own self-importance. They give their money and they tithe meticulously – right down to counting out the mint leaves and mustard seeds, so they look good to others. They go to church to be seen by others as doing the right thing. They become religious leaders to be seen by others as being the right people. None of it is done to benefit anybody but themselves. It’s done to increase their own status and improve their own standing. There’s no love of God; there’s no justice for neighbor.

Jesus says they are unmarked graves, full of death and decay.

The Jews clearly marked their graves so people could avoid them. If you came into contact with a grave, it would make you religiously and ceremonially unclean; it would defile you. Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, you don’t look dangerous, but you are. You’re keeping up appearances, but you’re deadly. When people come into contact with you, they expect to be made more holy, but you’re killing them. They come into your church hoping to be made clean, but your very presence with them makes them dirty.

Jesus is the Redeemer. He came here to buy back what we’ve lost. He came to heal and forgive, to reconcile and restore. He came to make people holy. And we join him in that work. We, too, are in the business of making people holy.

But the Pharisees are doing the opposite. They’re making people unclean. They’re so concerned with how they look on the outside, they’re neglecting their own hearts on the inside. They’re not nurturing their own souls and minds in compassion toward others, or in empathy, sympathy, or justice for others. They’re more worried about making sure everything is done just right at church.

I think this can be especially hard for us in the Churches of Christ. At the very least, it’s a temptation we battle within our Church of Christ heritage. Our whole movement is built on restoring things to the way they were in the New Testament. So when we do land on something, we’re typically convinced that it is right. We’ve done the hard work of figuring it out and it is correct. We’re pursuing truth and we’re pursuing the ways of the Lord, and those are good and faithful things. But in our enthusiasm for being right and dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s, we can lose our hearts. Our insides can become dull to the real Gospel needs of the people around us.

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~Micah 6:8

Our Scriptures are very clear about God’s priorities. Act in justice for the people in your community. Help the poor, protect the foreigner, take in orphans, feed the widows. Those are the top concerns for our Lord. Take care of the people in society who cannot take care of themselves, just like God takes care of me when I am completely unable to take care of myself.

Love mercy for everybody all the time. Don’t just be merciful to some people some of the time, but love mercy consistently. Love mercy as a strategy, as a way of living, as a way of being and doing. Love mercy as an inner-life quality of God’s character he is forming in you.

Don’t carelessly or presumptuously do things your own way. Pay attention to what God is doing and walk humbly with him. Know your place next to God and walk with him – not against him, not in front of him. Walk with God’s vision and God’s priorities. God has shown you amazing love and he’s brought to you life-changing justice because that’s how he treats everybody. Now you walk with him and join him in doing those same things. Join Jesus in his redemption. Make the people around you holy.

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Abilene Christian University’s men’s basketball team has won the Southland Conference Tournament Championship and will face third-seeded Texas in the NCAA tournament opener in Indianapolis on Saturday. ACU will bring their suffocating defense to this tilt against the Horns, hopefully keeping the Wildcats in the game a little longer than they were against second-seeded Kentucky two years ago. ACU’s defense forces turnovers on more than a quarter of their opponent’s possessions — astounding! Their full-court pressure is a beautiful thing to behold and they’ve got a big seven-footer who’s not afraid to D up down low. ACU only lost to Texas Tech by seven earlier this season and only by thirteen to Arkansas.

So…? Upset? Probably not. The Longhorns are rolling right now and they are so much fun to watch. Jericho Sims is playing his best ball of the year as Texas finished the season on an 8-2 run, capturing the first Big XII Tournament title in school history. The guards are driving the paint with supreme confidence right now and Texas is absolutely flying. I don’t know how far the Horns will go – it’s never a good idea to get your hopes up for any U.T. team – but some are picking Texas to make the Final Four.

With their outstanding defense, ACU could keep it close, I’d say within single digits until maybe the 16-minute mark of the second half. Hopefully Wildcats coach Joe Golding has packed more than one pair of pants this time.

Peace,

Allan

Helpful in His Spirit

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” ~Titus 2:11-14

While we wait for the coming of Christ, we are to help others in the name and the manner of the One who came here to help us. During this Advent Season, we notice in the birth of Jesus that our God does not separate himself from the pain of the world. God through Christ enters the pain of others. He takes your pain into himself, he becomes your sin for you and takes it to the cross where he annihilates it forever. He dwells with us today in the middle of our suffering by his Holy Spirit. God has come to help his people. And as a people belonging to God, we join him in helping others. We are helpful in his spirit, in his name and manner, eager to do what is good.

We look to Jesus and we do God’s work for others the way he does it. In humility. No arrogance. No lording it over anybody. No beating anybody over the head with a stick. Or a Bible. Or a doctrine or tradition. Humility and service and love.

Look at the first coming of Jesus. God’s way is to join people where they are, level with them in their contexts, serve their needs, honor their humanity, become one with them, become one of them, even to the point of risking terrible loss. God could have very easily come to this earth to dominate us, to force us, to overpower us, and push us to where he wants us to go, even for our own good. But he didn’t. He came to us in humility and grace. To help.

And helping others is not something we do to get salvation, it is our salvation. We are being saved, we are being taught and shaped; it’s a long process. We do keep our eyes on that final glorious destination, but never at the expense of the journey. You know, Jesus talked all the  time about the Kingdom of Heaven, but all his teachings had to do with living right here, right now, in the present age, with people.

“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus says whenever you feed someone who’s hungry, you’re feeding me; whenever you give a drink to a thirsty person, you’re giving that drink to me; whenever you invite in a refugee or clothe the needy or visit somebody in prison, you’re helping me. That’s not just a metaphor. That doesn’t mean, “Oh, Jesus’ heart is with those kinds of people.” It means Jesus is those kinds of people!

When God came to earth and put on our flesh and blood, he chose to become homeless. He decided to identify with the jobless, the poor and needy, the hungry. That’s our Lord. And when you decide to follow Jesus, when you pray for God’s Spirit to transform you more into his holy image, you’re deciding to help the people without power, the people without beauty, the people without money and wealth. That’s how you help in his spirit.

The same grace of God that has appeared to all people in Christ Jesus and saves us is the same grace of God that trains us how to live in the present age while we wait for his second appearing. His gracious help for us turns into our help for others.

Peace,

Allan

Benediction

Go forth now as God’s servant. Remember God’s presence often and draw strength from the knowledge that the One who calls and sends also sustains. Amen.

Virus Purpose

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

We have a tremendous opportunity to point to our Lord Jesus in the ways we behave during this virus crisis. Our perspective is reframed by Christ. We don’t complain or criticize, we don’t point fingers and blame. Like our Lord, we share and sacrifice and serve for the sake of others. There is such an opportunity right now to really stand out as generous and kind.

Whether you go to Wal-Mart eight times a day or once a week, you could knock three or four doors on your street before you go. Ask your neighbors, “Can I get anything for you? I’m going to the store, what do you need?” Maybe you could give toilet paper away on your street. There’s a Seinfeld episode about not being able to spare a square. Maybe you can start a trend by sharing a square, sharing a whole bunch of squares!

The point is: When this thing is over, do we want to be known as greedy hoarders or as generous sharers? At the end of this crisis, we don’t want people to remember that the Christians were the ones buying up all the toilet paper and hamburger meat. We want people to think, “You know, I may not agree with their position on abortion or divorce or whatever, I may not fully understand everything they do on Sundays and why they do it, but those Christians are so kind. They’re so generous. They kept checking up on me. They shared valuable resources with me. They really care about others.”

That’s what brings glory to God. That’s what displays our God’s work in the world.

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We dropped another podcast here at Central yesterday afternoon: a 15-minute conversation with one of our home-school moms, Danna Lagan. She provides helpful tips and encouragement for everyone who became home-school parents for the first time this week. With our schools shut down across the country,  many folks are now stuck at home with the kids and trying to help them with their online learning. An increasing number of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren are now trying to figure out how to help a grandchild with 6th grade math! Danna addresses these things, as well as schedules, power struggles, and outside resources on this podcast. You can access it by clicking here.

Peace,

Allan

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