Palm Sunday at Central

Central Church Family, Delta Gamma Sigma, Jesus, Psalms, Salvation, Valerie 1 Comment »

We celebrated Palm Sunday at Central with palm branches and prayers, songs of praise and times for reflection, the sacred meal and the Holy Word.

We attempted to capture the enthusiasm and expectation of that day when our Lord Jesus rode that donkey into the Holy City, surrounded on every side by throngs of cheering followers. The people of Israel were looking for a king. They were expecting a divine liberator, a deliverer sent by God to free them from the yoke of the Romans. They were praying for a Messiah who would save them and restore the throne of David back to Israel and establish the Kingdom of God right there in that land. The prophets had spoken about that day and it looked like for all the world that long-anticipated day had finally come.

Jesus is that promised Messiah! Jesus is our King sent by God, empowered by God to save us! All the signs are there! He’s healing people, he’s teaching the Law, he’s raising people from the dead, and feeding people in the desert! These are the signs the prophets told us about! God is saving us!

All this energy. All this excitement.

Our great-grandparents always told us about this day, and now it’s finally here! Our synagogue teachers have been reading to us about this day for generations, and now it’s come! We’ve been praying to God about this day for as long as we can remember and, praise God, he’s allowed us to live long enough to see it!

That’s us. That crowd of disciples, walking with Jesus on his way to the Holy City — that’s us.

Jesus is our King. We know Jesus is sent by God, he’s empowered by God’s Spirit — we know he IS God! And he is saving us.

And like those Israelites then, we long for the day when our King returns to completely and fully restore the Kingdom of God in our land — right here in Amarillo! We praise God for the salvation he delivers in our Messiah Jesus. The “hosannas” are on our lips today as we recognize that salvation for us and for the whole world.

May our God bless us during this Holy Week to faithfully remember and reflect on our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the events of those last days before his loving and history-changing sacrifice.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

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Valerie helped design a sweatshirt for the 21 female students at Oklahoma Christian University whose dads belonged to Delta Gamma Sigma. They’ve had an informal fellowship for most of the school year; now they have a formal sweatshirt. You’ll recognize Val on the far right in this picture. On the far left is Kenzie Minor, whose dad, Shawn, was a Delta freshman my senior year. The young lady in the middle is Savannah McMillon, whose dad, Jeff, was a great friend of mine, two years my senior, a Delta vice-president, and current OC Bible professor.

Good looking kids, huh? But then, again, everybody looks good in maroon and gold.

Peace,

Allan

Good for the Soul

Confession, Prayer, Psalms, Repentance No Comments »

Has it been awhile since you openly and honestly confessed your sins to our Father? When’s the last time you got down on your knees, alone in the presence of our Holy God, and confessed your shortcomings and failures? These days between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday of Lent are a good time to re-engage this scriptural, historical practice.

Maybe you have a hard time getting started. If so, I would humbly suggest something like this. It’s both a terrible and beautiful experience for me. It’s devastating and liberating. Not easy at all, but needed. Desperately needed.

Block out twenty minutes when you can be totally alone with our Father. Not in the back bedroom of a crowded house, I mean in the back bedroom of an empty house. Totally alone. Nobody around. If you have to go to the shed in the backyard, do it.

Now, physically get down on your knees and physically open your hands with your palms up toward heaven. Now, just sit there in silence for a full five minutes — no cheating! —- in the presence of God. After those five minutes, read one of the penitential psalms to the Father out loud. I’m partial to Psalms 32 and 51, but you could go with Psalm 6, 38, 102, 130, or 143.

At this point, I am acutely aware of the presence of God and my own sinful soul. Like Peter, my first thoughts are, “Get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” My feelings are like those of the prophets who proclaimed their own demise in God’s presence. I am ruined. I am dead. I am not worthy. And then I confess my sins out loud to God. And they are many.

I believe the silence and the physical posture of humility and prayer and the holy words of the psalms work together to prime the pump so that what’s in the deepest part of my soul comes gushing out.  It can’t be stopped. And it needs to come out. I need to be open and honest about my sins with my loving and forgiving Father. I need to experience his forgiveness and his blessing, his pardon and approval.

You do, too.

Whatever it takes. Don’t let Sunday come without spending some time in personal confession with our God.

If you need another suggestion, you might consider the words of this prayer of confession we prayed together with our brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian during yesterday’s Ash Wednesday service:

Holy and merciful God, I confess to you that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed by what I have done and by what I have left undone. Have mercy on me, O God, and in your mercy, cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Hear me now, as I continue to confess my sins to you…

Most Christian traditions begin every worship assembly with a time of corporate and personal confession. We don’t. We have to work on it. Now’s a good time.

Peace,

Allan

He Will Come to Judge

Creation, Death, Jesus, Matthew, Psalms 2 Comments »

“On the third day he rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, from which he will come to judge the living and the dead.” ~from the Apostles’ Creed

RightHandSaintsNobody wants to see a judge. Appearing before a judge is not at the top of anybody’s list of enjoyable things to do. Not even lawyers, as sick as they are, want to go see a judge (sorry, that’s a cheap shot; I should apologize to Utsinger, Flow, the Egglestons, J. Bailey, and maybe even a couple of judges). If you walk into any government building or have a conversation with any government official and she says, “The judge wants to see you” or “You’ll need to appear before the judge” all your organs start to shut down. It’s not fun.

“The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” ~Matthew 16:7

This is a tough topic. The idea of a judgment is offensive to our culture. In this age of uber-tolerance, in this age of “Don’t judge me!” society bristles at the concept of any kind of judgment on almost anything. This might be Christianity’s most offensive doctrine. Our culture has no problem at all with a God of supreme love who supports us and accepts us no matter how we live. But it strongly objects to a God who punishes people. We have no problem with a forgiving God, but we can’t accept a God who judges.

Well, guess what? It’s both. We know it to be both.

Christians believe that God is both a God of love and of justice. Lots of people struggle with that. They believe a loving God can’t be a judging God. I’ve been asked this before, and maybe somebody’s asked you, “How can a God of love also be a God of anger and wrath? If God is loving and perfect, then he should forgive and accept everybody, right? He shouldn’t ever get angry.”

All loving persons are sometimes filled with anger because of their love. I’m grateful to Tim Keller’s insights here from his eye-opening “The Reason for God.” If you really love a person and someone harms that person, you get angry. If someone hurts your spouse or harms your child, you get ticked off. Even if they are the ones hurting themselves, you get angry. Think about how you feel when someone you love deeply is being damaged by terrible decisions or stupid actions or bad relationships. You don’t just tolerate it with kind of an apathetic “whatever” like you would if she were a stranger. Far from it! You get mad. Angry. Anger is not the opposite of love; hate is the opposite of love. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion; it’s his determined opposition to the cancer of sin that’s eating out the guts of the human race he loves with his whole being.

The Bible says God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He gets angry at evil and injustice because it’s destroying his creation’s peace and integrity.

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made… The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” ~Psalm 145:17-20

Another thing I hear is that believing in a God who judges makes Christians very narrow-minded people. We’re exclusivists and we’re divisive and it might even make us violent people because we believe in God’s judgment. Now, hold on. Everyone believes that actions have consequences. Everyone believes that bad actions have harmful consequences. But because Christians believe that souls never die, Christians also believe that our actions affect us forever. Even non-Christians believe that there are terrible moral actions like lying and murder and exploitation and cruelty and self-centeredness. But since they don’t believe in an afterlife, they don’t think the consequences of those bad actions go on into eternity. Does that make Christians narrow-minded, because we believe wrongdoing has more long-term consequences than non-Christians do? It doesn’t make us narrow just because we believe the consequences of wrong actions are more serious.

We believe that today Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty, from which he will come to judge the living and the dead. We’ll unpack some of that here this week.

Peace,

Allan

Rest and Obey

1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy, Death, Psalms 1 Comment »

DeadTrees

We’ve been discussing this week that day in between, the Saturday between the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection; the long, silent, absent Saturday our Lord spent in the grave. We’ve all experienced those Saturdays. You might be in the middle of a Saturday right now. So, what’s the point of the Saturday? Why is there that awful day in between? And how are we supposed to respond?

Well, you could choose despair. Some people do that. Paul writes about this to the church in Corinth:

“How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” ~1 Corinthians 15:12

Some people will tell you there’s never going to be a Sunday. It’s Saturday. Get used to it. This is just the way things are. Nothing’s going to change. Take some disappointment management classes because this is as good as it gets. Some people live in that. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not a good place to be.

You could choose denial. Some people will tell you Friday and Saturday never happened. They just excuse everything away with easy clichés and bumper sticker explanations. Whatever happens, it must be God’s will. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Some people just bulldoze right through everything it means to be a real human being and almost deny that there’s a problem. Maybe that’s where you are. If so, I’m sorry. That’s not going to work.

You could pray harder or live better or increase your faith. Paul wrote to Timothy about people like this:

“They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.” ~2 Timothy 2:18

They say it’s already Sunday. The resurrection’s already happened for all Christians. We’re already living the abundant life, eternal life, in Jesus. If you’re having problems, if you’re still sick, if you’re prayers aren’t being answered, then you clearly don’t have enough faith. If you had a stronger faith, if you prayed harder, God would heal you. If anybody ever says anything like that to you, you have my permission to hang up on them. Or unfriend them.

We all have Saturday experiences in our lives. Sometimes they last for a few weeks, sometimes it lasts for decades. Sometimes we feel very, very, very far away from God. I think it means something that our Lord endured a Saturday in the grave. There’s a reason for that day in between the calamity and the rescue.

You might not like this. But I’m convinced this is the lesson. I truly believe the proper response to the Saturday is to wait on God. Wait on him. Work with God even when he feels far away. Talk to God even when it feels like he’s not listening. Rest in God.

I’ve written this week that the only information we have in the Bible about that Saturday is that a guard was posted at the tomb. That’s not true. We have one very short sentence at the end of Luke 23 that tells us exactly what the disciples did on that Saturday:

“They rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” ~Luke 23:56

They rested. And they obeyed. That’s a good place to be. When all is lost, we rest in God and we continue to obey. We pray. We ask. We whine. We complain. And we trust. We trust even on the darkest Saturday that God is right there beside you. Loving and working and saving.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” ~Psalm 22

God never turned his back on Jesus. He didn’t. Not while Jesus was dying on the cross. Not when he lay dead and still in the grave. God never turned his face away from his Son. It felt like it to our Lord. Jesus felt like the Father had abandoned him. But the words of Jesus’ prayer from Psalm 22 are clear. Even when it feels like you’ve been forsaken by God, he’s right there. Right there! Loving and working and saving.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the place of the dead, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you.” ~Psalm 139

If Jesus went to the tomb, if he went to the place of the dead, if maybe he even went to hell, the good news is that this means there’s no place Jesus won’t go in order to save you. There’s nothing you can suffer that our Lord hasn’t already endured himself. There’s no dark corner of despair or suffering or evil or sin where he won’t go to get you. Wherever you are, Christ Jesus has already been there, and is there still. With you. Right beside you. Loving. Working. Saving.

Rest and obey.

Peace,

Allan

What About Saturday?

Death, Psalms No Comments »

DeadDisciples

Why is there a day between the death and resurrection of Jesus? Why does God spread these two salvation events over three days? What’s with this horrible day in the middle?

This just seems to be the way our God works. I have no idea why. But this seems to be his divine pattern. The Scriptures are full of three-day stories. On the first day there’s trouble, on the second day there’s nothing — just continuing trouble. Salvation comes on the third day. Always.

The problem with three-day stories, though, is that you don’t know it’s a three-day story until that third day. When it’s Saturday, you don’t know God’s deliverance is going to come. It doesn’t feel like it. It probably feels like a two-day story and this Saturday is going to last the rest of my life.

Yesterday I wrote that nothing happens on Saturday. That’s not true. Silence happens on Saturday. After the trouble hits, after the awful thing happens, you cry out to God, “Save me, Father! Help me, Lord! Listen to me, God! Do something! Say something! God, help me!”

Nothing. Silence. Absence. You run to God in your despair, you cry out to God in your pain and desperation, and you get the door slammed in your face. The sound of a deadbolt locking on the inside. And then silence.

Let’s stop acting like this never happens. Let’s stop pretending that every day’s a Sunday. If our churches are going to be safe places to talk about sex, we also need to be safe places to talk openly about the realities a whole bunch of us experience with the silence of God during times of despair. Half the psalms in our Bible deal openly, publicly, with the troubling fact of God’s silence. But we never sing them. Or read them. Or pray them.

“O Lord, day and night I cry out before you. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.” ~Psalm 88:1-5

DeadManA husband, a father, wants more than anything else in the world to save his marriage. But his wife won’t listen and she won’t help. He’s not perfect — not even close— and he knows it. But he wants to do what’s right. He doesn’t know why his wife won’t respond to him, why she won’t try, and he can’t stand what this is doing to their kids. And God is silent. Nothing. Dead.

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” ~Psalm 88:6-9a, 14

A mom and dad find out their child has a terminal illness. They pray like crazy. They pray all the time. Nothing. She’s getting worse. And they pray more and they pray harder. Nothing. Again, the Scriptures acknowledge this reality.

“I say to God, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?'” ~Psalm 42:9

“You are God, my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning?” ~Psalm 43:2

“Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject me forever! Why do you hide your face and forget my misery and oppression?” ~Psalm 44:23-24

DeadWomanYou lose a friend. You lose your health. Your financial situation changes. Your church has let you down. Your spouse betrays you. A very horrible and particular thing has happened to you and it’s not getting better. It just happened in the past few weeks and you can’t see past it. Maybe it happened 20 years ago and it still feels like every single day is the “day after.” Maybe you can’t point to one terrible tragedy, you just know that you’re living in darkness, you’re dying on the inside, and you feel totally abandoned by the people all around you and by our God.

“I cry to you for help, O Lord. Why, O Lord do you reject me and hide your face from me? I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.” ~Psalm 88:13-18

What do you do on Saturday? How should you behave when you feel like even God isn’t with you?

Come back tomorrow. I promise, I’ll give you an idea from Scripture tomorrow. You might not like it; but I really do believe it’s the answer.

Peace,

Allan

Crucified, Dead, and Buried

Central Church Family, Death, Psalms 2 Comments »

Central’s middle school kids are doing service projects all over the city with three other CofCs this week during the annual “Mission in Amarillo.” Channel 10 did a local piece on yesterday’s projects and featured our very own Tanner Albright. You can click here to see the video.

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DeadJesus

The crucifixion of Jesus happened on a Friday. He was raised from the tomb on Sunday. And in between there was… what?

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are probably the two most studied and most celebrated dates in the history of the world. And the Saturday in between is maybe the most ignored. Even in the Bible, we only get one detail from Matthew telling us that guards were posted on that Saturday to watch the tomb. And that’s it. This Saturday in between is a nothing day. It’s the day with no name, the day when nothing happened. Jesus is crucified, dead, and buried. And… for a full day… nothing.

What does it mean for Jesus to be dead? What does it mean for God incarnate to be in a tomb? What was going on that Saturday? What were the disciples thinking? What were the angels doing? What was that Saturday like?

Doubt. Despair. Hopelessness. Anger. Loneliness. Abandoned. Silence. Fear.

Jesus felt all of that while he was hanging on the cross. He felt abandoned by God. He felt the despair and the loneliness. He felt the silence in his soul, like God had withdrawn his presence, like his Father had turned his back on him. The gospels tell us that our Lord cried out near the moment of his death, “My God! My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus is obeying the will of his Father. He’s extending mercy in the middle of being tortured, he’s forgiving his executioners even while they’re killing him, he’s comforting a man who’s also being killed, he’s making arrangements for his mother — Jesus is faithfully doing every single thing his Father has asked him to do. And now when he needs our God the most, right now at the most unbearable moment of suffering and death, Jesus feels what no person is ever supposed to feel: “My God, why have you forsaken me?!?”

Jesus is praying from Psalm 22.

“My God! My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer.”

That’s what Friday was like for Jesus. The day he died. The day they wrapped his body in a burial cloth and laid him inside a tomb in a cemetery.

And then, Saturday.

We know from Scripture that, after his death, the followers of Jesus lost all hope. Those two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We thought Jesus was the one, but he’s not.” Those women who went to the tomb Sunday morning did not go to worship a risen king, they went to anoint a dead body. There’s no hope on Saturday.

Friday’s a little different. A very horrible thing is happening, the disciples are living a nightmare, but they’re running on adrenaline. You know what that’s like. When the awful tragedy strikes, when the rug is suddenly pulled out from under you, when your whole world gets turned upside down in an instant, it’s all adrenaline. You’re taking care of the crisis, you’re doing what has to be done to get through the event.

And then the next day. The day after the funeral. The day after the Bible class delivers the last meal on the sign-up sheet. When things slow down and it gets quiet. That’s Saturday. Everybody knows Saturday.

Saturday is the day after your dream dies. The day after your husband died. The day after the divorce was finalized. The day after the diagnosis. The day after you lose your job. The day after your child does something you never thought she’d do. The day after your soul gets crushed. You wake up and you’re still alive, it’s the next day and you have to keep on living. But you don’t know how. Maybe you don’t know why.

“My God! My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer.

I am a worm, not a person. scorned by men and women and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.

My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”

Why is there a Saturday? Why is there a day between the death and resurrection of Jesus? It doesn’t further the plot. It doesn’t move the story line at all. If Jesus was going to be crucified and then raised for the salvation of the world, it seems like God would hurry up with it. I would. Why does God spread these two salvation events over three days? What’s with this horrible day in the middle?

Come back tomorrow. I’ve got a couple of ideas.

Peace,

Allan