Category: Repentance (Page 1 of 3)

Ash Wednesday Wrap

Putting the wraps on our first GCR – First Pres Ash Wednesday service last week at First Presbyterian Church in Midland. I didn’t know if we’d get a dozen people to show up or maybe thirty or forty. I didn’t know if our folks would be really blessed by participating in something so foreign to our typical Church of Christ service or if they’d be turned off. I didn’t know if this was going to be a one-time thing for us as two churches worshiping and serving God as the unified Body of Christ or the first of many cooperative events and ecumenical times of worship to come. We do understand that breaking down the walls between our Christian denominations and coming together as his people is fully within our God’s will. And we did ask God to be with us as we took this step together. So why are we surprised that it was such a glorious, life-changing, soul-filling experience?

 

 

 

 

Corporate confession is not something we normally do in Churches of Christ – we never do it. But this Ash Wednesday service reminded us that regular confession and repentance and absolution of sins is good for us. And necessary. Responding aloud to the Word of God being read – it’s formative. Observing the Christian calendar and preparing for Easter Sunday in fasting and prayer in unison with disciples of Christ all over the world – it’s powerful.

Now, about the ashes. I’ve been told that my line was moving much slower than Steve Schorr’s line. You see, that was the first time I had ever imposed the ashes. I’ve participated in seven or eight Ash Wednesday services in the past and always received the ashes but, until last Wednesday, I had never been on the other end. So, yeah, cut me some slack. There’s an ashes-to-forehead distribution process to work through. The first few parishioners I received walked away with very, very dark crosses on their foreheads; they’re probably still trying to scrub them away today. The next few each required a couple of takes because I didn’t get enough ashes on my thumb. It’s not as easy as it looks! Also, I wanted to use the phrase, “Repent and believe the Good News” instead of “From ashes you were created and to ashes you will return.” It just feels more like an invitation and more like the Gospel to say the first phrase, more of a blessing. But First Pres uses the “ashes” phrase. And they’re the experts. So I used both. To each worshiper, I applied the cross with, “From ashes you were created by God and to ashes you will return; repent and believe the Good News!” That seems more appropriate. It also slows down your line.

Plus, when members of my own GCR family approached, I wanted to call them by name. I wanted to bless themĀ  personally. Acting as a pastor and priest in that moment, I wanted to connect them by name to the truth of their own lives and to the truth of what God has done and is doing for them through Jesus. It was a very powerful experience for me to be a conduit of God’s truth and blessing in that very different way. And it slowed down my line a little.

We had as many Church of Christ’ers there as they had Presbyterians. I have not stopped receiving emails and texts from GCR folks who are so thankful for the way God spoke to them Wednesday night in somebody else’s church. And it was definitely not a one-time thing. Steve leaned over toward me before the service was even over – we were singing the next-to-last song before the benediction – and said, “What are we doing next?”

Peace,

Allan

 

Putting Away and Taking On

“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” ~Romans 13:14

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and prayer that precedes Good Friday and Easter Sunday on the Church calendar. Going back to the early years of Church history, Lent has traditionally been a time for personal abstinence and self-discipline. In the Middle Ages, it became particularly associated with a fast from eating meat. It developed into a teaching tool for the Church and a reminder for all Christians: In your hunger, be reminded of all that Jesus suffered and sacrificed to win your salvation.

As you enter this season of Lent on your own or together with your family or community of faith, allow me to suggest that it’s not just about giving something up. It’s not only about sacrificing a certain type or amount of food or some other regular pleasure in order to participate in the sufferings of Christ or to remember his selfless preparation for the cross. At least as important is the idea and practice of taking something on, adding something new to your life in Christ.

Not only the surrender of material things, but the taking on of spiritual things, eternal things that draw us closer to Christ and, by the power of the Spirit, transform us more into his image is the best way to prepare for Easter. A new ministry. A new discipline. A new work for the benefit of others. A new prayer. A new friend. A new passage of Scripture. While you’re cleaning out your house over the next six weeks, pay attention to what you’re moving in to the empty spaces. Add something important. Commit to something Spirit-filled.

Our church at GCR is observing Ash Wednesday tonight with our brothers and sisters in Christ at First Presbyterian here in Midland. The joint worship service begins at 630pm. There will be corporate confession and repentance. There will be an imposition of ashes. For most of us Church of Christ’ers, it will be brand new, mildly uncomfortable, and sort of strange. And powerful and beautiful and holy.

Peace,

Allan

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

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