Category: Church (Page 2 of 56)

We Need a Prayer

We need a clear solution for what’s wrong in our broken world. We need a vivid picture to make it real. We need a bold call for what’s necessary. We need the courage for what’s demanded. We need a vision for what’s really possible.

We need hope. We need a prayer.

“I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All the ones I have are yours, and all the ones you have are mine. And glory has come to me through them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world… I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe… May they be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:9-23

Uniting as One is the prayer of our Lord and the hope of the world.

This is God’s goal and our destination. This is at the core of God’s covenant promise that his people would live and serve and worship together in joy and peace. It’s at the heart of who we are as followers of his Son, that we are all one together. It’s the very reason Jesus died on the cross, to destroy all the barriers that divide his people.

It doesn’t need biblical explanation as much as it needs fearless proclamation. We don’t need to read it and believe it as much as we need to preach it and practice it. Uniting as One brings glory to Christ and it testifies to the truth about Jesus and his claims. It validates who Jesus is as the Son of God and the eternal and reigning Prince of Peace.

This is the solution given to us by God. This is the vivid picture that makes it real. This is the bold call for what’s needed. This is the vision that can invigorate our imaginations and our witness in a world that’s groaning for what God’s Church has to give. Uniting as One is the prayer of our Lord and the hope of the world.

The time is right now. The opportunity is right here. And it’s not going to be easy. The racial division among Christians and the racial injustice in this country is territory our Enemy has had for a long, long time and he’s not going to give it up to a bunch of Christians like us without a fight.

But our faith is in God through our risen and coming Lord Jesus. And our trust is in his promise that the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit flows through us to equip and encourage and embolden and heal us when we’re together. When we’re united as one. Then the whole world will believe. May that day start right now.

Peace,

Allan

Uniting as One

More than one-thousand followers of Jesus from at least sixty-three churches in Amarillo gathered on the downtown Potter County Courthouse lawn last night to praise God together and to pray to him for healing for our land and harmony for his people. “Uniting as One” was a city-wide, all-church, interracial, interdenominational event meant to express our unity as one Body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

It was not a protest, it was not a demonstration; it was a Christian worship service. Black and white and Hispanic churches, young and old, the overly-demonstrative and the too-laid-back, folks from both sides of I-40 — together in Spirit and in truth. We sang Gospel hymns and contemporary praise (for a brief moment when the power went out, we even sang acappella!), we read Scripture about unity and humility and obedience, we prayed for our city and our churches, and we met a lot of people. We prayed for God’s justice and peace for the state of Texas, for the United States, and for all of God’s creation. And we showed all of Amarillo and anybody else who’s paying attention that all Christians are united together in Jesus, that we are committed to living and serving and worshiping together in peace and love and unity, that we are resolved to tear down walls and build bridges. Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was not a photo opp (although many pictures were taken and posted) and this was not a box to check for what a church is supposed to do when racial strife makes the news (Remember? We had that worship service!).  No, this was a stand. This was a Christian line in the sand that the followers of Jesus in Amarillo, Texas will not be divided over anything. Not race, not color or ethnicity, not zip codes or geography, not language or culture or national politics — nothing is going to divide God’s people in this city!

 

 

 

 

There was also a call to action last night, a serious challenge for all in attendance. Pastor Anthony Harris, from St. John Baptist Church, asked all of us to sit down to a meal with somebody of a different color sometime in the month of July. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, whatever. Go to their house, invite them to your house, meet at a restaurant, doesn’t matter. But everyone was challenged to commit to sharing a meal together with somebody whose skin is a different color sometime in the next five weeks.

Because if we all do that, things will change.

 

 

 

 

Our God chose a table, he chose a common meal as the way to show his oneness with his people. Around the table is where you experience unity and fellowship. Sharing a meal is how you strengthen family and develop friends. Being at the table together expresses acceptance and presence. To eat and drink a meal with someone is a show of solidarity: “We have things in common!” And if all the Christians in Amarillo do this, things will change.

 

 

 

 

I was honored to be asked to speak at last night’s historic event. I was humbled by the sheer enormity of what God seems to be doing in our city and grateful to be involved in some small way.  I was encouraged by the spirit of the gathering, the mutual love and acceptance, the combined eagerness to do something significant “that the world may believe.”  And I was reminded why it’s so great to live in Amarillo and so great to be at Central.

I praise God for the new friends I’ve made in the past six weeks and I thank him for whatever is coming next.

Peace,

Allan

Let Us Go To Him

We know this in our heads. We understand the call and the logic to leave our comfort zones, to sacrifice our status and security, to minister to the marginalized and forgotten. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what his followers do. We know all this. But it’s difficult to feel it in our hearts. It’s even more difficult to embody it in our lives. But here’s the truth: Christians live with Christ as outsiders in this world.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

Christians learn how to resist power and influence. Disciples of Christ avoid the centers of wealth and success and learn to feel more at home on the margins. Christians hang out with the outsiders, they become outsiders, they embrace living outside the city gates for the sake of the Kingdom that’s coming.

And I know we’re tempted to grieve the loss of our secure city. The tendency is to be troubled when we see and feel more evidence that the Church in the United States is being shoved to the outside. But the good news is that there’s tons of opportunity here. We’re actually finding ourselves where God has intended us to be all along: outside the gates! Instead of working from a position of power and authority, the Church in the U.S. is being forced now to work like it did in the first three centuries, from a position of weakness and marginal standing.

And we shouldn’t spend too much time and energy attempting to reverse it back. Trying to prop up the Church with power isn’t going to work. It’s time for all Christians in this land to follow Christ outside the gates. Let us go to him outside the camp, to the place of sacrifice and redemption. Let us renounce the world’s ways of power and wealth and be more at home working and ministering among the marginalized outside the camp. Like our Lord Jesus, let us go to and identify with those outside the city gates.

Like minorities. By the very definition of the word in conjunction with the broken ways of this world, minorities, generally speaking, do not experience status anywhere near the same level as others. In this country, because of past history and current structures and a thousand other very complicated factors, African-Americans do not have the same chances. The playing field is not level. In our city, Amarillo, African-Americans make up less than six-percent of the total population. They are marginalized. And there’s a confederate statue in Ellwood Park and there’s a Lee (Robert E.) elementary school in a black neighborhood in North Amarillo and there are confederate flags flying out the backs of pickup trucks from Pullman Road to Soncy. Where are the followers of Jesus?

Slippery slope arguments about erasing history and heritage are missing the point. The question for Christians is, will you identify with the city that’s fading away or with the enduring city that’s coming? Will you go to Jesus, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore? Will you love your neighbor more than you love a flag or a statue? Will you love the African-American men and women of our city and this country more than you love the history and the heritage of the South?

My question for Christians who display that flag is this: If you know how African-Americans read that flag, if you know how that flag makes them feel vulnerable and oppressed, why would you continue to fly it? Why would you insist? Why would you actually fight with your words and your good name for a statue that you know causes others deep pain?

Scripture says be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, people who do not enjoy the same status or success. These are the very people chosen by Christ, remember? Not influential, not of noble birth, weak people, lowly people, despised people, vulnerable and oppressed people. Have we forgotten who we are?

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Let us go to Jesus outside the camp.

Following Jesus means going where Jesus is. Our Lord went outside the city gates to offer the sacrifice of his own blood to make people holy. We follow him outside the camp to also make sacrifices, the sacrifice of praise (v.15), the “fruit of lips that confess his name.”

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” ~Hebrews 13:16

Doing good to others and giving praise to God. Making sure we’re not setting up shop in the wrong city. Going where Jesus is, outside the gates. Where there’s no status, no security. Where it’s dangerous and intimidating and threatening. Where we’ll face certain opposition and accusation and persecution. Where just about all we’ve got is faith, hope, and love.

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More than fifty Amarillo churches are coming together outside the downtown courthouse this Sunday evening for a praise and prayer service to express our Christian unity. “Uniting as One” will be a powerful testimony to our city and to anyone who’s paying attention that disciples of Jesus here are not going to be divided by race, by geography, by national politics, or by anything else this world uses to draw lines and build walls between us. We’re going to cry out to God for healing and for harmony and we’re going to sing to the Lord in spirit and in truth.

James Tudman, the Lead Pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church here in Amarillo, and I are quoted in today’s Amarillo Globe-News story about this city-wide, all-church, interracial, interdenominational worship assembly.

If you’re a Christian in the Texas panhandle, you’re invited to join us. Black, white, Hispanic, young, old, all races, all colors, all ages — bring your friends, bring your lawn chairs and blankets, grab some free parking, and let’s show this city that we really do belong to the Prince of Peace and he’s bigger and stronger than anything that might possibly divide us.

Peace,

Allan

Jesus Also Suffered

The preacher of Hebrews ends his sermon by showing Christians a different way to view their position in the world. He tells us to go outside the camp, where Jesus is. He encourages us to bear the same disgrace Jesus did. Why? Because this ain’t our city. We’re living for the city that’s coming.

Earlier in Hebrews 13, he eludes to this radical shift in priorities by reminding us to “not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” The stranger, the foreigner, the alien — open your door to them and an angel might walk in! They may look homeless and hungry when you invite them in, but for those who have the conviction or the certainty of things not seen, you’re inviting in the very presence of God!

We’re also told in that same context to “remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Those in prison, those who are mistreated, some translations say “victims of abuse.” Put yourselves in their shoes. Empathize with them. Act like what’s happening to them is happening to you. Feel it.

This is our calling. Why? Because Jesus also suffered.

“Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:12-14

This is our missional mandate. This is the great commission. If Jesus went outside and suffered public abuse to make his sacrifice, then his disciples should be willing to follow him outside to make ours. The question here, and the decision we Christians have to ultimately make, is do you find your identity in the safety and security of Judaism and the pagan temples, or the Empire with its government and military and law, or is your identity grounded in Christ Jesus and the ways of the Lord? It can’t be both. It’s really the choice.

Going where Jesus goes will cost you status and security.

Why was Jesus crucified? Not because he was powerful, not because he was violent, not because he was exclusive and judgmental. Our Lord was rejected and mocked, he suffered and was killed, because he loved so unconditionally. Because he was so liberal with his forgiveness. Because he ate with prostitutes and partied with sinners and hugged the lepers. He was killed because he gave everybody the benefit of the doubt, because he worked so hard to tear down walls that divided people, because he refused to label people. And the world was offended by the way he lived. The government tried to shut him down, the religious leaders tried to shut him up. In the end, they all decided that Jesus was unpatriotic, that he wasn’t working in the best interest of society’s law and order. And they killed him.

And then he was raised. Romans 1 says Christ Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord!” The resurrection and the ascension to the right hand of God validate this Jesus Way as the right way. It’s the eternal way. It’s the only way to live.

So show hospitality to strangers and aliens, show empathy for prisoners and victims of abuse. Share the shame. Bear the disgrace.

Peace,

Allan

Outside the Camp

Preachers are fond of saying Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is not a letter, it’s not written by Paul, and it’s not addressed to Hebrews. I tend to agree. It’s clearly a sermon, not a letter; it doesn’t sound like anything Paul ever wrote, and it’s directed to a church that’s made up of both Jews and Gentiles.

We know this church was enduring some pain. At the end of chapter ten, the author/preacher makes explicit what’s been implied throughout the whole sermon: You’re experiencing some trouble. He reminds this congregation that, so far, they’ve stood their ground in the face of suffering. They’ve been publicly exposed to persecution and insult, they’ve been thrown into prison, some have had their property confiscated. In chapter twelve the author says, yes, you haven’t had to shed any blood yet, but you’re enduring some significant hardship.

See, for Jews, embracing Jesus Christ as the Messiah means leaving the security of Judaism and the temple in Jerusalem. For Greeks, it means leaving the safety of the gods and pagan temples of the national religion. These Christians were feeling isolated and shut out. When it comes to their neighbors and families, to their government and their culture, these Christians were living in danger. They had no status, no security, no nothing.

That’s why a lot of them wanted to quit. A lot of them had stopped coming to the worship gatherings and some of them had stopped confessing that they were Christians. They didn’t like the way it felt. It scared them. The whole sermon of Hebrews from start to finish is about perseverance. Don’t give up. We’re not quitters. Keep running the race. Don’t throw away your confidence or your salvation. Don’t drift away. Hang in there.

Don’t. Give. Up.

It’s easy for Christians to feel like outsiders because the world isolates us and insults us, the culture minimizes and marginalizes us, and the government persecutes and imprisons us. Followers of Jesus have always been on the wrong side of government and culture.

But today in the United States, we Christians resist being pushed to the margins. We don’t quit, we fight!

For the past fifty years, the Church in America  has had less and less influence, less and less power, less and less status and standing. The society doesn’t prop us up, the government doesn’t encourage us, and our neighbors don’t care. Christians in this country feel betrayed by the culture, we feel discarded by the powers, and ignored by the masses. The Church is losing its influence and its status in the United States and that’s got a lot of Christians really shook up. So we push back!

Because we like being in control. Being on the margins may be fine for the Church in the Bible, but we’re not going to be shoved out today! The Church in the United States has not intention of being irrelevant to the government or the culture. We’re resisting. You can hear the fear in our conversations, you can feel the anger in our forwarded emails and Facebook posts, you can see the determination in our posture and in our positions. We’re not going there. We like being mainstream and important. We like being the ones in charge. We like making and enforcing the rules. We are not going to be shoved aside and ignored like outsiders. We are Christians!

“The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” ~Hebrews 13:11-14

Those verses sound really important, don’t they? The language is strange, a little provocative. And it just sounds important, like something we should pay close attention to.

The preacher of Hebrews is giving Christians a different perspective. He’s telling them about a better way to view their place in the world. He calls these Christians to follow Jesus, to go where Jesus goes, to live and die the way Jesus lived and died. The preacher calls them/us to reject the safety and security of the city and go to the place of sacrifice and service outside the gates. Out where Jesus is. Outside the camp.

These four verses have some very important implications for where God’s Church is right now. There is some holy instruction here we dare not ignore. We’ll spend this week in this space — in the middle of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and racial injustice and demonstrations — exploring what it means for disciples of Christ to go outside the camp.

Peace,

Allan

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