Category: Repentance (Page 1 of 2)

A Week Late & 50 Degrees Warmer

Due to COVID restrictions and our desire to try something completely different, we had planned an Ash Wednesday Drive-Thru event in our church parking lot. But on Ash Wednesday last week in Amarillo, it was four-degrees and there were nine inches of snow on the ground. So we postponed the event until last night when it was 50 degrees warmer and 100-percent drier.

As a church family last night we joined our Lord on his way to the cross. We participated with Jesus, we walked (drove) with our Christ as he willingly traveled to Jerusalem to suffer and die for the sins of all humanity. It was a come-and-go event with four different stops or stations to remember and reflect on Christ’s baptism, his triumphal entry into the Holy City, the supper he shared with his followers on that last night, and his crucifixion. We read the biblical texts and prayed focused prayers at each stop. We had meaningful conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

Last night we remembered that, while he was in the water, God publicly declared his eternal love for Jesus. In the same way, our heavenly Father acknowledges us as his precious children and commissions us for service in his Kingdom. We looked each other in the eyes last night and said, “You are loved by God and he is well pleased with you.”

 

 

 

 

We waved palm branches outside our car windows and shouted “Hosannah!” as we drove our vehicles over other palm branches and robes and coats. That’s where our people did some double-takes. “You want me to drive OVER the robes?” We discussed the differences between the way Jesus rules and the way worldly kings rule. We told each other, “God saves you.”

We shared the communion meal together last night. We thanked God for meeting our deepest needs in Jesus. We thanked God for washing away our sins in the blood of Christ.

And then we parked our cars facing the floodlit cross Leon Wood and Tom Grant had built and erected in front of our ancient chapel. Our shepherds met each car with words of blessing and prayers for peace. Holy moments. Sacred conversations. Nobody was in a hurry. Blessings were being given and received. God’s Spirit was comforting and transforming all of us. As the cars departed the event, our elders painted a gray cross on the window of each driver and passenger, reminding us that we are human – we are made of dust and to dust we will return – and that we need God and each other. The ash-colored crosses on our car windows acknowledged that the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus far surpasses in glory the burnt offerings made by the priests.

 

 

 

 

 

That’s the essence of the Gospel. God created us out of his great love, we have sinned and fallen short of his glory, we are in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation, he forgives us and restores us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

 

 

 

I am so grateful for our ministers and shepherds, for our church staff, and every member of this wonderful Central congregation. We have found creative ways to remain connected over the past year and we have seen our Lord at work in everything and everybody around us. May our faithful God continue to bless us during the days and weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. May we remember. May we walk with Christ. And may his will be done in and through this church and our city just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

House Call: Redemption

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” ~Luke 5:32

When you are in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, there finally comes that moment when they call your name. You put your magazine down or your phone away, you stand up and walk over to the door, and the nurse always addresses you this way: “How are you doing today?” And my instinct is always to reply, “How do you think I’m doing today? If I were okay, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you! If things were good, if I were well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”

When I go to the doctor, I know three things: I am sick, I need to be healed, and I cannot heal myself.

That’s what Jesus is saying in Luke 5. “I’m coming for people who realize they need help, people who know they’re in trouble, people who know they don’t have all the answers.”

But Jesus doesn’t come to give you a placebo. Jesus doesn’t make this house call to give you a pep talk or good advice. He calls you to a radical life of repentance. I have not come to call the righteous, he says, or the people who think they are righteous. I’ve come to call the sinners, the women and men who know they need help. I’ve come to offer them repentance.

The word “repent” literally means to change directions, to go the other way, to get on a different path and head toward another destination, to change your mind and your actions and commit to living differently.

In Luke 3, John the Baptist is preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins and the people in the crowd question him about what it means practically. Of course, he answers them plainly. He tells those who have two coats to share with those who have none, and to do the same thing with their food. He tells the tax collectors to stop collecting more than they are supposed to and to be fair with everybody. He tells the soldiers to stop extorting money and lying about people, stop using power and position for your own good. Here in Luke 5, Jesus is reaching out to Levi because he sees the potential for Levi’s repentance and redemption.

And he says just two words to Levi: Follow me.

That’s the radical call. This is the Great Physician’s prescription for redemption: Follow me.

And only Jesus can say stuff like this. Look at the great power of his Word. So far in Luke, we’ve seen that Jesus’ Word drives the devil away in the wilderness. His Word drives evil spirits away from the demon-possessed. His Word drives a million fish into Peter’s nets. Jesus’ Word heals the paralyzed and the lepers and all kinds of sickness, Luke says. His Word forgives sin and proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God. And his Word invites Levi into healing repentance and eternal redemption. “Follow me.”

Levi is a very wealthy man with lots of power and many friends and he is confronted by the Word of Jesus inviting him to a completely different life. Why don’t we talk to the rich and powerful about Jesus? Somehow we’ve decided that rich and powerful people won’t listen to Jesus, so we don’t even bother. We wait for something bad to happen to rich people, we wait for them to fall and hit rock bottom, we wait for their fortunes to reverse before we think they’ll be open to Christ. But notice how these two words from Jesus actually create that reversal!

“Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.” ~Luke 5:28

Next thing you know, Jesus is inside Levi’s house at Levi’s table, eating and drinking with Levi and his friends. Levi has repented and now he is in intimate relationship with the Lord. There’s only one way to explain how something like that happens: Jesus knows who he is calling and his radical invitation is life-changing.

Peace,

Allan

Father, Forgive

The Hatred which divides nation from nation,
race from race,
class from class;
Father, forgive.

The Greed which exploits the labors of men
and lays waste to earth;
Father, forgive.

Our Envy of the welfare and happiness
of others;
Father, forgive.

Our Indifference to the plight of the
homeless and the refugee;
Father, forgive.

The Lust which uses for ignoble ends
the bodies of men and women;
Father, forgive.

The Pride which leads us to trust in
ourselves and not in God;
Father, forgive.

Peace,
Allan

I Trust You Now

Lord Jesus, I believe that you are able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe you did die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe you are stronger than sin, and that you can keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling in its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And Lord, I am going to trust you to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed, most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust you. I give myself to you. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to you as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything your love and your wisdom shall choose. And now I am yours. I believe you do accept that which I present to you; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by you, and that you have even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure. I trust you utterly, and I trust you now.

~Hannah Whitall Smith

Repent! It’s Happening!

It’s happening. John the Baptist is standing out in the desert, right there in the Jordan River, where the world’s resistance to God is meeting the irresistible force of God’s coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees! It’s happening. Get ready. You’d better re-think your priorities. You’d better re-order your lives. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance! Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!

Jesus is coming. And he’s coming to judge. And Jesus is going to judge us according to our fruit that’s in line with our repentance. And repentance doesn’t just mean saying “I’m sorry.” We know this. We experience this when someone we’re close to says “I’m sorry” one too many times and we flip out in frustration. “Stop saying you’re sorry! I don’t want you to be sorry! I want you to change your behavior!”

When I was roofing houses a million years ago there was an old crusty guy who worked with us. We just called him Tommy. I don’t remember his last name. He was originally from New York  and I always felt like he had mafia ties. Anytime anybody ever said “I’m sorry” about anything, Tommy would say, “Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it no more!”

The word “repent” means to turn around, to start going in a different direction. It means to make a brand new start.

What John the Baptist is preaching sounds a lot like the Old Testament prophets, calling God’s people into a right relationship with the Lord that has to impact every part of their lives. Repentance is a change in your attitude toward God that changes all your actions and the overall direction of your life. But as much as this sounds like the Old Testament, there’s a distinctly new element to this. He calls the people to repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is near. The Messiah is coming. The Kingdom is here. It’s happening. Repent.

But if I’m told over and over again I need to repent, I need to change, I need to orient my life toward God, nothing significant ever happens. Nothing really changes. It’s like being told I need to exercise and lose weight. I know those things. My doctor tells me. My family tells me. I know I need to exercise and lose weight. But I still wind up at Whataburger twice a week!

I don’t need a preacher telling me to change. I don’t need some prophet telling me to get my life right, or else. I need some power from outside myself to make me different. It’s got to be something besides me. Because with just me, it’s not happening. I can’t do it.

Thank goodness this is not about New Year’s resolutions. This is about change.

You can’t do it. I can’t do it. This change we need is not tied up in your commitments or your identity. This is not about your family or your nation or your church. It has nothing to do with your education, your zip code, or your bank account. I was raised in the Church; I’m a Christian. Give me a break! Out of these stones God can raise up as many Christians as he wants! This call to repentance is universal. It’s not just for sinners or backsliders or non-Christians. This is a call to repentance for all of Israel, including the religious leaders. Including you. And me. All of us.

And, praise God, John the Baptist points to that great power from outside us that is coming. He isn’t talking about some new self-help promotion or a New Year’s resolution. He points us to the only source of real, lasting, significant change: the Holy Spirit. The coming Lord who is more powerful than me will baptize you with the promised Holy Spirit! A power that can make a new creation out of stubborn people like us, stones like us, who have no way to save ourselves. The power that is coming is not our power — not the power of our deeds or our inner resolve or our spiritual disciplines or even our faith and repentance. It’s God power. We are able to repent and bear fruit because of God’s power in the coming Lord Jesus and his Holy Spirit!

We can’t trust the powers of this world to make us children of Abraham. We can’t tell ourselves we have better genes or better morals or better theology or better attitudes or better humility or better works. It is God through Christ who is making children of Abraham. He is making people brand new for his Kingdom. Stones like you and me. It’s happening.

We are being changed. We are being weaned away from our possessions and turning more toward being possessed by the everlasting love of God. We are becoming less interested in blessings for ourselves and more interested in serving others with the grace and mercy of our Lord. We are in the process of becoming more thankful and less self-righteous and sure. We are gradually becoming less preoccupied with our own privileges and prejudices and seeing ourselves more and more in solidarity with all human beings who, like us, can receive grace only from the hand of God.

It’s happening. God does not sleep. He’s wide awake and he’s bringing his Kingdom to us. The new heavens and new earth where everything that’s wrong is made right and everything that’s broken in you and in those around you is fixed. It’s not some fuzzy, far-off dream. It is the Word of the Lord. The God who came to us in Christ Jesus is unveiling his Kingdom in all its glory. He is bringing justice and joy to the whole world. The Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Peace,

Allan

Prepare the Way for the Lord

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with an unquenchable fire.” ~Matthew 3

I love John the Baptist. I think all preachers love John the Baptist. All preachers want to be as bold and courageous in proclaiming the Gospel. All preachers want to be popular like John the Baptist. We all want to baptize as many people as he did. I think we can all relate to John the Baptist. He didn’t always wear what the people expected him to wear. And when he preached something the people didn’t want to hear, he got his head chopped off.

Only once, though. It only happened to him once.

We’re supposed to talk about John the Baptist during the Christmas season. It’s part of Advent. John the Baptist is the one proclaiming that the Christ is coming. But we never include John the Baptist in our Christmas sermons because it just doesn’t fit with the Christmas season. Not the way we like it, anyway. John the Baptist is loud, unpredictable, and rude. He’s like the crazy Uncle John we’d rather not show up for Christmas dinner. He greets the religious leaders in Matthew 3 by calling them a “brood of vipers!” How would you like to get that on the front of a Christmas card?

We want the soft, romantic glow of twinkling Christmas candles and John the Baptist is talking about an unquenchable apocalyptic fire! We want the baby Jesus in a manger, cooing softly at the docile barn animals around him — the Jesus Ricky Bobby is praying to in Talladega Nights — and John the Baptist gives us Jesus as a judge with an ax in one hand a pitchfork in the other!

The prayer of the early church was “Marana tha,” Lord, come quickly. That is not a prayer for Jesus to come again as a helpless infant; it’s the longing cry of God’s people for him to return in the fullness of his power and glory when every knee will bow in heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father! The prayer is for Jesus to come again to finally put an end to all sin and wickedness forever. The hope is that Jesus will make right all the things that are wrong, that he will finally fix everything that’s broken.

That’s not so scary to the poor and oppressed of this world. But, for those of us with a lot to lose? Maybe it’s a little scary.

John the Baptist is proclaiming a reality that’s coming, a reality that’s going to expose what you and I sometimes think is reality. The coming eternal reality is going to show just how false our earthly conditions and our human endeavors really are. The Holy One of Israel is going to expose all our pretensions for what they really are. In him is life and that life is the light of all people. And that light is going to shine in the darkness.

“Wait til the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of people’s hearts.” ~1 Corinthians 4:5

Luke 8 quotes Jesus as saying there is nothing hidden that won’t be disclosed; everything that’s concealed is going to be known and brought out into the open.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”

John the Baptist is so completely blown away by the reality of the coming Christ. He sees right through the charades of this world and the roles we play and the lines we say and how precious all this is to us. He sees right through all of it to the sheer power and holiness of the coming Lord. John is pointing us to the future, not the past. He’s orienting us away from our religious rituals and toward the person of Jesus Christ; away from our present-day systems and structures to an utterly brand new authority and dominion of our King and his Kingdom.

It’s happening. John the Baptist is standing out in the desert, hip-high in the waters of the Jordan River, where the world’s resistance to God is meeting the irresistible force of God’s coming. The ax is already at the root of the trees. It’s happening. Get ready. You’d better re-think your priorities, you’d better re-order your lives.

How do we get ready? How do we prepare? Where the do the roads need straightening out? What fires need to be lit to burn away the garbage in his path? What dead trees need to be cut down? What roughness in your heart needs to be smoothed?

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It’s amusing to me how “research” and “data” comes out to prove what anybody who’s paying attention already knows. By simple observation — just by looking at the symptoms and the consequences — we all know that smart phones and mobile technology devices are killing us. Socially, mentally, emotionally, academically — it’s hard to find a serious person who believes smart phones make us better. But the research that proves the harmful effects of smart phone technology is just now beginning to come out.

Here’s a link to an article that contains links to some of the more recent studies. Science is telling us that 8-11-year-olds who spend more than two hours on their screens every day are demonstrating “lower cognitive function.” Our mobile devices and social media use share an “unfavorable relationship” with attention, memory, impulse control, and academic performance. Digital technology is proving to slow down the overall development of teenagers. And the smart phones are “stunningly addictive.”

Fascinating!

As the “proof” pours in, elite schools in the U.S. are now beginning to reduce or eliminate the screens in their classrooms. Where once our society feared a technological divide — the rich kids would have access to technology and all the advantages that come with it and the poor kids would not — now scientists and education experts are fearing the opposite. The students in less affluent schools are using the technology and screens and getting dumb while the students in the rich schools are learning without the technology and screens and getting smart.

Shocking!

What emoji do I use to communicate sarcasm?

Peace,

Allan

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