Keep It Between Yourself and God

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oneheartwings“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” ~Romans 14:5-7

Paul tells the fractured house churches in Rome that each Christian or group of Christians should be fully convinced that the things they believe and practice are the right things in the eyes of God, but don’t you dare bind those things on other disciples who don’t feel the same way. If my brother or sister believes or practices something different from me, we assume he’s doing it to the Lord, she’s doing it before the Lord, they’re doing it in the presence of the Lord with a clear conscience. We assume that my sister with a different belief or a different practice is not believing or practicing arbitrarily. She’s not doing it with a bad attitude or with bad intentions. She’s doing it with careful study and serious prayer and reflection. And she’s fully convinced she’s doing the right thing. So everything’s fine, Paul says. Don’t judge her.

“For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord.” ~Romans 14:9

But what if we’re talking about a “salvation issue?” OK. You already know how I feel about the term “salvation issue.” Besides, in this Romans context, Paul never once categorizes the issues and practices in terms of saving or condemning anybody. “Disputable matters” seems to be almost anything about which Christians might argue. And, in Paul’s words, Christians should keep those beliefs and practices between themselves and God.

“As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that nothing is unclean in itself.” ~Romans 14:14
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” ~Romans 14:19
“Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” ~Romans 14:22

Paul clearly identifies himself as one of the strong — he says it: “We who are strong!” But let’s notice that he doesn’t say the weak need to change their minds or their opinions or their practices. These Christians who disagree with him on church traditions and worship practices? He doesn’t call on them to change. In fact, Paul goes so far as to command them not to change their practices unless their minds are fully convinced.

Paul’s prayer is not that all the Christians in Rome come to the same opinion on these things. No. He’s praying that they may possess a unity of Spirit that transcends their differences.

Peace,

Allan

Confession at the Cross

Central Church Family, Confession, Forgiveness, Psalms, Repentance, Worship No Comments »

Beware of exploring the spiritual disciplines. Practicing the traditional disciplines will force you to confront your sins. I know this first hand. Silence before God or a prolonged meditation on a Psalm tends to bring out the honest truth of your relationship with the Father. Fair warning. There’s no hiding it when you’re in that place with our God.

Yesterday at Central, we explored a few of the historic spiritual disciplines together. We began with our middle school and high school students reciting a prayer of invocation written by Walter Brueggemann in 1996 and ended with a benediction penned by John Newton in 1779. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer together at the table and we observed two moments of silence around Psalm 32. And we confessed.

The inner life is about being in a place with God where he can work on you. And as we commit as a church family to pursuing a more holistic discipleship, which includes the traditional disciplines, confession just seemed like a good thing to do. If we’re going to be in that place with God, we’ve got to be up front with him about our sins. So we wrote down on pieces of paper the things that are wrong in our lives that need to be fixed by God, the attitudes of our hearts that need to be redeemed by God, and the situations in our lives that need to be given completely to him. And then we placed them on a large wooden cross at the front of our worship center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cross of Christ represents forgiveness and restoration and new life. It stands for a trust in God that he is bringing to completion that thing he has started in us. It reminds us that our Father has promised to make all things right — if things aren’t right in my life, it means that God’s not finished yet, he’s still working. So, after dwelling in Psalm 32 (“I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”) we brought our sins and our attitudes and our lives to the cross and left them there.

And they’re still in there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve walked in to our worship center twice already today to spend some time at that cross. I read the confessions, I see the lists of sins and attitudes that plague our people, and I can relate to a bunch of them. Reading the words on that cross today, praying for the people who wrote those words and placed them on the nails on the cross, brings to light sins and attitudes in my own life that I haven’t written down or even acknowledged yet that need to be forgiven and transformed by God.

I don’t ever want us to come into the worship center on a Sunday morning Just As I Am and leave an hour-and-a-half  later Just As I Was. Part of that corporate assembly experience is to be changed by God. Confession is good. Silence is good. Embracing a contemplative posture in the holy presence of God is good. You can’t hide anything when you get into that place with God. And it’s impossible to stay the same.

Peace,

Allan

Putting On Christ

Resurrection, Romans, Worship No Comments »

“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.

Peace,

Allan

Bring It With You

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I want to ask you to stop saying something to your brothers and sisters in your church. If you’re a preacher or a prayer leader or a communion guy table talker or a call to worship person or an announcement maker in your congregation, I want to ask you to consider never again saying the following in front of your congregation:

“Let’s clear our minds of our worldly troubles and just focus on our worship.”
“Let’s put everything out of our thoughts and concentrate only on the sacrifice of Jesus.”
“Let’s get out of our heads everything that’s happened this week and just think about why we’re here.”
“Let’s leave the cares of the world out there and turn our attention to God.”

These are certainly well-intentioned phrases uttered by well-meaning men and women in our Christian assemblies. And I know most of us have heard them in church for most of our lives. But they don’t make any sense. They’re not only impractical suggestions, they’re actually contrary to what our Father asks us to do.

Truthfully, it’s impossible for most people to put their struggles out of their minds. How do you ask somebody to not think about their deep loss or their painful trial or their debilitating disease? Imagine for a moment…

“You want me to just forget about the fact that I’m in a wheelchair while we pray?”
“My wife’s got cancer; you want me to just put that aside while we sing Firm Foundation?”
“I’m supposed to block out the fact that I’ve been out of work for four months or that my daughter is in rehab or that my husband just left me while we read Philippians 2?”

We may as well be asking people to hold their breath for 60-minutes. Or to just stay home. It’s impossible. Why burden people by expecting them or asking them to do the impossible?

Secondly, our Father begs us to bring ourselves to him in our worship. All of ourselves — all of our hurts and pains, all of our wounds and scars, all of our sin and sickness. These things are a genuine part of who we are as people, these things have worked to shape us and form us into the men and women we are. Our theology says God is actually using those tribulations, he’s working in and through those very tough things, to teach us, to transform us, to make us more like his Son. In the Christian assembly, Philippians 2 should speak to a person’s doubts and fears. Our time at the Lord’s table should speak into a man’s sickness and shortcomings. The Church’s prayers and songs are intended to give meaning and purpose to a woman’s struggles and trials. Why would we ask people to put that aside or ignore those parts of us while we’re in the holy presence of our God who desires that we give all of ourselves to him?

I know you mean well when you say those things. But, please, stop.

Peace,

Allan

I Worship the Lord

Evangelism, Jonah, Worship No Comments »

“I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land.” ~Jonah 1:9

I imagine that when Jonah paid his fare and collected his ticket and boarded that ship to Tarshish, he never dreamed of talking to the boat’s crew about God. They would never listen. If he asked them to respond to his God, they would just say “no.” These kinds of people — these pagan sailors with their different gods and values, different cultures and beliefs and lifestyles — are not interested in the Lord.

But in the middle of that violent storm, as the wind and the waves grow increasingly stronger and the ship begins to break up, the sailors begin to fear for their lives. They’re drawing straws, casting lots, trying to figure out who or what is to blame for this great trouble. And Jonah, in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the turmoil and fear and noise and anxiety and panic — he answers their questions with a confession.

“I worship the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

And that’s all it took.

Jonah confesses the Lord. The sailors reluctantly acted on Jonah’s instructions by throwing him overboard. And they begin calling on the name of the Lord. Praying to God. Begging God for forgiveness. And when the storm goes away and the seas grow calm, they greatly fear the Lord. They revere the Lord. They’re in awe. And they’re moved. They offer sacrifices to God and they make vows. They make commitments to him right there on the spot.

Jonah confessed the Lord to these pagan sailors. The sailors saw the great power of God. They experienced the merciful salvation of God. And their lives were changed.

This part of the story tells me that the world we live in is not closed to our faithful witness. Even if it’s a weak witness.

Hey, this world is in a crisis. This world is desperate. It’s hopeless. It’s grasping at straws, rolling the dice, shaking the magic 8-ball, grasping for truth, dying for something solid to believe in, anxious for something stable to hold on to. And so many people we run in to are wide open to the truth of our God. If we’ll just confess it in front of them.

The sailors were not looking for this witness. They weren’t looking for Jonah’s statement of faith. They weren’t looking for the Creator of Heaven and Earth. They didn’t know what they were looking for. But through Jonah’s witness — as weak as it was — they encountered our God and experienced his salvation. They acknowledged their helplessness in rowing against the storm on their own. They believed in God and his Word and they acted on it. And they worshiped him in reverence and in awe.

Your witness may be weak. But your God is strong. Your testimony may not be much more than “I worship the Lord.” But your God is ready to use that testimony to change the lives of the people around you.

Peace,

Allan

Christ is Preached and I Rejoice

4 Amarillo, Church, Jesus, Luke, Philippians, Worship No Comments »

While Paul is in jail in Rome, there are other Christian preachers there in the city piling on. They’re preaching Christ out of “envy and rivalry.” Their motivations are all wrong. They’re involved in power plays and intentionally trying to hurt Paul and discredit him in the eyes of the church and in the city. It’s selfish. It’s insincere. But Paul writes to the concerned brothers and sisters in Philippi that it doesn’t really matter.

“What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” ~Philippians 1:18

What a wonderful perspective! At the end of the day, after all their efforts to oppose Paul, they’ve only succeeded in doing the one thing that to Paul matters the most: they’re preaching Christ!

Paul’s not concerned about identifying this group. In fact, it’s impossible to know who he’s talking about because, to Paul, it’s not important. These other preachers are mean and selfish and they’re using Paul’s chains to promote themselves. But they’re doctrinally orthodox. They’re preaching Christ and him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. So Paul’s attitude is that it doesn’t matter. Christ is preached. Period. And I rejoice.

If we’re all going to grow more into the image of Jesus, if we’re really going to partner with our God in Christ’s mission for the world, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that God’s salvation work is bigger than us and what we’re doing. His work to redeem the world is bigger than the Churches of Christ. He’s using us, no question, praise God. He’s using Churches of Christ to some wonderful things for the Kingdom, no doubt, amen. But he’s using all kinds of people in all kinds of ways in all kinds of churches in all kinds of places to reconcile all of creation back to himself!

This is the part of Paul’s perspective that we both admire and, honestly, have a very difficult time practicing. And, I suppose, we’re in good company. When John and the apostles came running to Jesus in Luke 9, they were very exclusive and sectarian in their understandings about who God was using to do his will and who he wasn’t.

“‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he is not one of us!'” ~Luke 9:49

Jesus’ reply to his disciples was something like, “Don’t! Don’t stop him! Just because he’s not with you doesn’t mean he’s not with me!”

When our identity is in Christ, and not in our own particular brands or preferred practices, we won’t complain or argue or bicker about Christians who don’t do things the way we do things. We don’t talk bad about them. We don’t question their motives or their sincerity. We don’t look down on them in any way.

We rejoice. We rejoice because, hey, look, here’s another group boldly proclaiming the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord!

Christ is preached. And I rejoice.

Somebody ought to put that on a T-shirt.

Peace,

Allan