It’s About Today

Bible, Ephesians, Jesus, John, Luke, Matthew, Preaching, Promise, Salvation No Comments »

“Today this Scripture is fulfilled.” ~Luke 4:21

The good news of the Gospel is not just helpful advice or even truthful statements. Scripture is all about what God is doing right now. Right here. Today. I think Jesus’ sermon in that synagogue in Nazareth really hits home when he says “Today! Today this Scripture is fulfilled!”

It’s one thing to say God will move. God will act. God will save. It’s quite another thing to say God is moving today! God is acting right now today! God is saving right here today!

Today!

That’s exciting. It’s immediate. It’s right now, in your face, all around you, in your space, and it demands a response. Look at it. God is speaking, he is doing, he is disrupting things, he is changing people, he is saving men and women, he is renewing the world! Today!

Do you read the Scriptures the way Jesus and his disciples read them? Do you look in the Bible for what God did back then or for what it says God is doing today? It’s all about today. Do you see his potential in your today? Do you feel his possibility in today? Do you know what he is doing in you and through you right now today?

Take a minute today and read a psalm or two out loud. Real loud. Pray a passage from Matthew 5-7 or John 17 or Ephesians 1-2 out loud. Real loud. Ask God to speak to you. Ask him to show you. Now praise him. Give him thanksgiving and honor. He is not distant or aloof. Our God is not uncaring or inactive, hesitant or restrained. He is gloriously at work right now today!

Peace,

Allan

Preaching the Word

Bible, Isaiah, Jesus, Luke, Preaching No Comments »

“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.” ~Luke 4:17

When he took the pulpit that day in his home church, notice the congregation at First Nazareth didn’t ask Jesus to share his feelings or talk about the news or quote a best-selling author or show a movie clip. They handed him the Holy Scriptures and demanded that he work from that. Jesus preached God’s Word.

God’s Word.

The same Word that created everything out of nothing. What else would we possibly want to preach?!?

When God speaks, things happen. God’s Word gets things done. God’s Word accomplishes the impossible. It defeats the invincible. It moves the unmovable. God does things — mighty things, eternal things, unbelievably wonderful things — with his Word. He can do anything just by saying a word.

And that’s one reason I preach.

I think I can shake you. I think I can change your life. Sometimes I think I can make you jump up out of your seat and shout “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” with nothing but the Word of God. I preach because I think Christ Jesus can get a hold of you with nothing but the Word of God.

God’s Word is just as powerful and transformative today as it was when Jesus opened it up in front of his church two thousand years ago. And I get to do it again tomorrow.

How cool is that?

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is for All

Bible, Jesus, Luke, Mark, Matthew, Preaching, Salvation No Comments »

Jesus was a preacher. Jesus preached all the time. And, like every preacher I’ve ever met, he had a couple of common themes he returned to over and over again in his sermons. His favorite was the Kingdom of God. Jesus preached the coming of the Kingdom of God. Constantly.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!” ~Matthew 4:17
“The time has come! The Kingdom of God is near!” ~Mark 1 :15
“I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God !” ~Luke 4:43

As he heals the blind and the deaf and the crippled, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God is near. As he sends his disciples to preach all over Israel, he directs them to declare the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was the steady beat that drove Jesus’ preaching, it was the flag at the front of his sermons: the good news of the Kingdom of God.

So, what was Jesus trying to show us in these sermons? What does he want us to know about God and the eternal Kingdom of God? What are we supposed to see?

I think Jesus’ main point in all his sermons is that the Kingdom of God is for everybody. The Gospel is for all. It was a radical idea then, and it’s still very much a dramatic idea today.

In his very first (and, I assume, last) sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was for all people. He reminds the listeners that there were many poor widows in Israel during the great famine, but Elijah didn’t feed any of those good Jewish women. He only fed the one alien woman of another nation and race. He points out that there were lots of suffering lepers in Israel, but the only person Elisha healed was a violent, non-Jewish army officer of the occupying Syrian forces. Jesus preaches that, yes, God has come. But he’s not really come in exactly the ways you expected. God really enjoys working the other side of the street.

This sermon and all the others like it didn’t go over so well in front of congregations full of people who believed they were the only ones who had gotten it right. When Jesus says God is doing a new thing, it doesn’t fly with a bunch of people who are holding tight with a white-knuckle death grip to things that are old.

The Kingdom of God is for everybody. That’s what Jesus wants us to see.

Jesus made friends with the poor and oppressed. And we celebrate that. But he also made friends with the rich and the oppressors. And that’s maddening to us because we’re always trying to divide the world up between us and them. Good and bad. Worthy and unworthy. Called and not called. Those who might accept the Lordship of Jesus and those who never will. Those who are a good investment of the church’s money and energy and those who would be a waste of the church’s time and resources.

Jesus wants us to see that his Kingdom is for everybody. Everybody! The curtain is torn! The walls are down! The barriers are destroyed!

That’s the message. It’s what Jesus preached. It’s what he lived. And it kept him in hot water. It got him disfellowshipped from his home church and nearly killed.

And Jesus sends us out to preach and to live the exact same good news. In the exact same ways.

As you go, preach this message: the Kingdom of God is near!” ~Matthew 10:7
“He sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God.” ~Luke 9:2
“Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God!” ~Luke 9:60
“Tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you!’” ~Luke 10:9
“The gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations!” ~Matthew 24:14

Jesus calls us to speak and to live this same message. We spread this word around liberally. Lavishly. We live it out with others generously. Abundantly. We forgive. We love. We share. We help. We compliment. We bring the gospel to everybody without reservation. We treat everybody like Jesus the Christ came to this earth to save them. We treat them like the Kingdom of God is for them. We speak to a mean neighbor like they belong in God’s Kingdom. We talk about the terrorists like God loves them. Like the rain that falls on the just and the unjust, whether they want it or not, whether they ask for it or not, whether they accept it or not, here it is! The love of God. The forgiveness of Christ. The mercy of the Holy Spirit. Freely and joyfully we proclaim and live the good news of God’s Kingdom with all.

Because that is God. That is the Kingdom of God. It’s the truth. And if we live it, it will truly set us and everybody we know free.

Peace,

Allan

Ordained by the Community of Christ

4 Amarillo, Allan's Journey, Central Church Family, Legacy Church Family, Marble Falls, Preaching No Comments »

Larry Lemmons of channel 7, the ABC affiliate here in Amarillo, produced a nice piece on the “4 Amarillo” churches that aired on Christmas night. You can view the three minute video by clicking here.

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Worshiping with the Legacy church last Sunday got me to thinking all this week about my ordination as a proclaimer of God’s Word. Yeah, I believe with all my heart that our God has been preparing me my whole life to preach the gospel. Yes, I went to seminary and studied Greek. And, of course, I do feel ordained by the Lord to do what I’m doing. But I don’t think those things alone give anyone the right to preach. I’m beginning to understand more and more that the community of faith must ordain its preacher in order for the relationship between proclaimer and listener, preacher and congregation, to work.

So, who ordained me? The elders hired me and prayed over me. But how does a preacher really become ordained to minister with a particular church family? It has become clear to me this week, especially since seeing all those wonderful people at Legacy and visiting with all those dear friends. It’s both a one time event and a lifetime progression. It’s both formal and relational.

At Legacy, Tom ordained me when he asked me to baptize his daughter Sarah. She was the first person I baptized at Legacy. I asked him why he wanted me to do it and he replied, “She needs to be baptized by the preacher; and you’re our preacher.” A similar thing happened with Brooklyn, who greeted me this past Sunday with happy tears in her eyes. Don ordained me when, after a particularly tough sermon in which I challenged a couple of long-held practices of ours, he told me, “Allan, you are my friend, you’re my brother, and you’re my preacher!” Louise ordained me from her wheelchair when she promised me, “I pray for you every single morning.” And I believed her. Jim and Elvera ordained me when they asked me to marry them. This widow and widower had more than 90 years of marriage experience between them when they asked me to preside over their wedding. Dan ordained me when he walked in to my office one day and asked if I could help him with some specific spiritual questions he had. He’s older than me, been a Christian much longer than me, but he said he needed my wisdom. Paul and Jean ordained me when their son was killed in that car accident. Alene ordained me when she asked me to do Bob’s funeral.

I think ordination is both positional and relational — it must be both. Tom didn’t really know me when he asked me to baptize Sarah, but he trusted it was the right thing to do because I was the preacher. Louise didn’t really know me at the time, but she vowed to pray for me every day. Don and I had disagreed about several things during my first couple of years at Legacy, but when he called me his preacher, it was a sign of love and respect that had taken some time. Brooklyn’s ordination of me was in relationship. So was Jim and Elvera’s. Paul and Jean’s was through a shared experience of tragedy. Alene’s affirmation and trust was forged in hours of prayer together.

It’s both. I think the congregation has to say — collectively and individually — this is my preacher, given to us by God, and we’re going to support him and love him and trust him because he’s been placed here with us by Christ. In the same way, the preacher must make the same commitments: these are my people, my church family, given to me by God, and I’m going to support and love and trust these people because Christ has brought us together for his purposes. It’s both formal and relational.

It’s been very helpful to me this week to recognize the many ways I’ve been ordained. Here at Central, Eldrena anointed me with oil one hour before I preached my first sermon here. John Todd and Kami ordained me by bringing us dinner and providing a microwave for our apartment the first night we spent in Amarillo. Lanny ordained me by asking me to perform Judy’s funeral. Nick and Sara ordained me by asking me to do their wedding. Jim and Becky ordained me through some tough conversation and prayer in their kitchen. Wesley ordained me by reflecting on our sermons with emails and cards. Every week I’m ordained by these faithful Christians at Central in living rooms and hospital wards, at lunch and in my study, through phone calls and emails.

And I could keep going. All the dozens of people throughout my childhood and teenage years who told me how wonderful my prayer or my sermonette or my devo talk or my communion meditation or my song leading was, even when it really wasn’t very good at all. The Room 208 class in Mesquite. Kevin’s pushing me to leave radio and pursue preaching and putting his money where his mouth was. Jason and Dan encouraging me through that stressful transition. Donna Steward asking me to baptize her gardener, my first. Lee Ann Clark asking me to do her mother’s funeral, my first. God himself ordaining me by thrusting me into pastoral situations whether I was ready or not: praying over an unconscious Berrilyn Daniel at that WinterFest, moving David Griffin out of that horrible situation in south Marble Falls.

Play with the semantics all you want: God ordains and the congregation affirms, the elders ordain and the church family confirms, whatever. But I know now that it’s both a one time event and a lifetime progression. It’s both formal and relational. And a preacher in God’s Church couldn’t do the job with it being any other way.

Peace,

Allan

A Preacher’s Honor

Allan's Journey, Legacy Church Family, Preaching 2 Comments »

Preachers are a blessed bunch of people. We don’t deserve our blessings, we don’t earn them, we don’t seek them. But the blessings from our God and his people fall on us and overwhelm us quite regularly. We are honored above most other groups of people. And we would do well to be more aware of those blessings and honors, to recognize them and appreciate them when they arrive.

The people in our churches honor us by sharing their lives with us. They give us glimpses into their hearts that other people never see. They allow us to look into their very souls, they open up their emotions to us, they come clean with us about their struggles and doubts, and they share with us their greatest joys.

And, why?

God only knows.

I was so incredibly honored this past Sunday to perform the marriage ceremony for Landon Brightwell and Taylor Bates, two precious kids from the Legacy youth group. Honored. My first real exposure to Landon was the day his dad dragged him into my office and asked me to talk to him for an hour about some trouble he was getting in to. Landon and I were both very uncomfortable. He mainly listened and fidgeted in his chair while I tried to inspire him with stories from the gospels and hypothetical situations involving his uncertain future if he didn’t shape up. I was terribly ineffective that afternoon. But his dad trusted me with his son. His dad thought I could help and he trusted what I might say.


 

 

 

 

 

Over the next three years I watched as our Lord began to speak to Landon and his friends and to work in them and through them in astounding ways. These three guys began showing up to the Tuesday men’s Bible study, blessing the old men in the group, asking all the right questions, speaking deeply from their hearts. They began taking regular shifts during Legacy Morning Prayers, blessing our elders and ministers, being blessed by Quincy, growing in their faith in God and in their trust in his Church and in one another. They pranked my house, put live goldfish in the bed of my truck, planted apple trees on my front porch, and put living room furniture in my front yard. And they prayed with me before I left for Amarillo.

I’ve only seen Landon maybe once or twice since we left; I haven’t talked to Taylor at all. And when he called me over the summer to ask me if I’d marry them, it completely blew me away. Why? Why do want me to do your wedding?

“Because you’re our preacher.”

I’m not sure a preacher can hear any more encouraging and affirming and honoring words than those. It’s humbling and it’s flattering. But above all, I believe it’s an honor.

To be able to share this most important day with Landon and Taylor, to be right in the middle of this foundational day with them and their sweet families, was such a blessed honor for me. And I know it has very little, if anything, to do with my sermons or my teachings or the things I believe. It has nothing at all to do with any special talents or abilities. It’s only because I just happened to be their preacher when they were growing up. I was their preacher.

Carrie-Anne and I worshiped with the Legacy church family Sunday for the first time since we left a little over three years ago. And we were honored from the moment we walked in until the moment we drove off to lunch with the Byrnes and Cindy Pope. We were hugged and kissed, appreciated and encouraged. Lots of people expressed how much they miss us. A few pointed out some things we started at Legacy that are still continuing today and are very much a part of the church’s DNA. Several thanked me for something I had done or said in the past. Three people asked me to pray for someone in their family.

Whoa.

What an honor. Because I’m a preacher.

Preachers don’t deserve the trust people put in us. We’re not worthy of receiving the parts of their lives others choose to share with us. All of it is a gracious gift from our God.

Lord, please help us recognize and appreciate those honors as the gifts to us they are, to more fully understand the position you’ve placed us in and how you’re working through us for your purposes and glory.

True Teaching

Holy Spirit, Preaching, Romans No Comments »

“We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is… teaching, let him teach.” ~Romans 12:6-7

Those who are gifted to teach in the Church are called by Scripture to teach the truth. Obviously, teaching won’t bear fruit, regardless of the skills and abilities of the teacher, if the content of the efforts is false. This reminder is especially needed today when it seems more and more people in and out of the Church are much more interested in having their ears tickled than in being challenged by the radical call of God’s Word.

Secondly, teachers are responsible to prepare as well as they can to give their students as much substance as possible. The styles of teachers will vary, of course. But each teacher must be accountable to the community of faith for his or her best. Christian teaching is no place for flying by the seat of your pants. We are called to diligence in our studies.

Third, we use our teaching gifts from God best when we are genuine about how we teach. We must walk the talk. We have to be for real. We have no right to talk about the Scriptures unless we are personally willing to be confronted by them and to invest our whole beings into doing what they say. The impact of our teaching should be that others want to put God’s truth into practice. And we all know the best way for people to learn is through the examples of those who teach them.

God’s Holy Scriptures are such a treasure — bursting at the seams, exploding off the pages with new things to discover about God’s love and our place in his story. And we are all, to some extent, teachers. Parents and grandparents are constantly teaching. Bible class teachers and Gospel preachers qualify. Whenever another person is watching our modeling of our faith, we are teaching. We are teachers. It’s a gift that is to be nurtured by faith in God and in faithfulness to our Christian community.

Peace,

Allan