Category: Fellowship (Page 2 of 16)

Surely Not I

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.



The Communion of Saints

“We believe in the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.” ~Apostles’ Creed


The Scriptures make it very clear that if we are one with Christ we are also one with each other. Communion. Fellowship. Sharing. God through Christ restores us into a righteous relationship with him and then, out of that, into a deep and rich life together with one another.

“In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” ~Romans 12:5

God brings us together in his Church and he puts us with people who bug us. He puts us in close proximity to people who irritate us. He puts us with sinful people who bother us and, at the same time, my sinfulness is bothering all those people. But it’s through these close relationships with people who are different from us that we’ll be sanctified. We’ll be made holy.

There are at least 59 times the New Testament uses the phrase “one another” or “each other” in describing how we’re supposed to live. In the Church. Plural. Us.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Live in harmony with one another. Accept one another as Christ accepted you. Instruct one another. When you come together to eat, wait for each other. Have equal concern for each other. Serve one another in love. Greet one another with a holy kiss (3x). Carry each other’s burdens. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Be kind and compassionate to one another. Forgive each other. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. In humility, consider others better than yourselves. Bear with each other. Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Teach one another. Admonish one another. Make you love increase and overflow for each other. Love each other (13x). Encourage each other (2x). Build each other up. Encourage one another (2x). Spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Confess your sins to each other. Pray for each other. Love one another deeply, from the heart. Live in harmony with one another. Offer hospitality to one another….

There are several more, but you get the idea. You can’t work all of that out just by showing up at the church building for an hour and a half on Sunday mornings. If your experience with God’s Church is nothing more than listening to a sermon and getting a crumb and a sip and see-you-next-Sunday, that is not the fullness of what God wants for you in Christ.

We need each other. We need that deep communion.

You need me. Whether you want to admit it or not, you need me. You need me to remind you of how much you are loved by our God. You need me to challenge you and stretch you. And I need you. I desperately need you to encourage me. I need you to keep me straight.

To be saved is not just to go to heaven when I die. Being saved means being in a new relationship with God and with fellow Christians in the community of God’s people right here and now. How can I know that the love and forgiveness of God in Christ are real if I don’t experience them in communion with God’s people? How can I be a Christian if I don’t participate in the life and work of the community gathered by God and empowered by his Spirit to share his love with others?

Whoever tries to do without Church tries to do without Christ. Whoever is too good or too “spiritual” for the Church — with all its faults and weaknesses — is too good or too “spiritual” for Jesus himself and the Father who sent him and the Holy Spirit who continues his salvation work.

The Church in all of its eternal glory, in all of its beauty and truth and power, is right in front of us. It’s right here, all around us. But we miss it. We miss it because we’re only looking at the surface and the immediate. We look at the Church like people started it and people are running it. We look at the Church and we evaluate it as if it were my church or even our church. We make judgments based on the narrowest and most self-centered of criteria.

You know, this is God’s Church. He started it and he’s running it. And he puts us all together just like he planned. God did this. He has arranged us, every one of us, just as he wanted us to be.

And these people… some I like more than others. Some of them I wouldn’t choose to be on a 5th grade kickball team. But if I invest my life together with these people, then by the grace of God he will transform us more and more into what we really are: the holy, universal Church, the communion of saints.



Holy Spirit Community

Spirit-ArtThe proclamation of the inaugurated Kingdom of God is expressed through Holy Spirit community. Following the Resurrection of Jesus, God’s Spirit creates a brand new community of all people, all nations, all languages, all brought to perfect unity under the Lordship of the Messiah. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the prophet Joel:

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved… Repent and be baptized, every one of you… The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.” ~Acts 2:17-39

The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people, he destroys the walls between all people and brings us together in Christ.

“Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace… [he] has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… his purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” ~Ephesians 2:13-18

HolySpiritThe Berlin wall was erected by the Soviets to separate East and West Berlin. In Bethlehem today, there’s a 27-foot wall that divides the Palestinians from the Israelis. We know all about dividing walls. Not all of them are physical. There are social and racial barriers. There are gender and economic walls. We’re divided by language and ethnicity and education and politics. But the blood of Jesus brings all of us together and the Spirit of God holds us together so that our unity in diversity becomes an unmistakable testimony to the true Prince of Peace!

We have to practice this tearing down of walls, we have to be committed to demolishing the things that separate us. We must do the very, very, very hard work of reconciliation because it is such a vital component to the Christian witness.

Peter slipped up in Antioch. He was under some social pressures there and he stopped eating with Gentiles. He wouldn’t associate with them in public. And Paul called him on it. He told Peter he wasn’t acting “in line with the truth of the Gospel.”

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

If these barriers have been set aside by Christ — the walls between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women — if these distinctions have been abolished at the cross, then what other barrier can be justified? If God does not show favoritism, if all people are created by God in the holy image of God, if God’s great purpose and goal is unity in his Son, if we are to love even our enemies, if Jesus took the hostility into himself to destroy it forever, on what grounds can we justify keeping in place any barriers?!?



Torn in Two


“With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” ~Mark 15:37-38

The curtain of the temple was a beautiful and imposing barrier between the people of God and the visible, physical presence of God. The Creator lived in the temple’s Holy of Holies. His glory dwelled there, behind the veil. That’s where God was. And only the high priest of Israel could enter. And he could only go in there once a year, on behalf of the people.

The curtain is described by Josephus as being 80-feet tall, “…a Babylonian tapestry with embroidery of blue and fine linen, of scarlet also and purple, wrought with marvelous skill, woven with the whole panorama of the heavens.”

It was beautiful. Historical. Precious. It was a national treasure. But the curtain was a barrier that separated a holy God from an unholy people. Direct access to the presence of God, to his glory, had always been denied.

But not now. The curtain that shielded God’s glory is now ripped wide open at Jesus’ death. The veil is lifted and now everybody can see the face of God and bask in his glory and love. The barrier between the Creator and his created has been torn away. Religious leaders can’t rope God off from the people anymore. Everybody in the world now has direct access, “through a new and living way,” to a gracious God who has sacrificed so much for our salvation.

No more sacrifices: the Lamb of God has been offered. No more exclusive priests: now all of God’s people are priests and worship and serve together in his actual presence. Even Gentiles are allowed in now. Even women!

This “torn in two” curtain now lets people in. But it also lets something out. God’s glory can’t be confined anymore to a national shrine made of stone and brick. God’s glory now floods the earth. Just like the heavens were ripped apart at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, at his baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended on him, now the temple veil is torn open and the Holy Spirit of God is now freely available to all!



Maundy Thursday

On this fifth day of Holy Week, the “4 Amarillo” churches are assembling together at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening for a traditional Maundy Thursday service. “Maundy” comes from an old French word (mande) and a Latin term (mandatum) that mean “command,” and point to Jesus’ words around the table with his disciples on that night he was betrayed: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Tonight we are reminded of the sacrificial and self-giving love demonstrated by our Lord as he washed the feet of his followers. We’re reminded of his faithfulness and obedience as he went willingly to his death that very night. And we’re inspired to imitate our Savior in living lives of service to others, considering their needs more important than our own.

And they’ve asked me to preach it again.

Still not sure why. It probably has something to do with the fact that Howie and Howard and Burt all have Good Friday services and multiple Easter Sunday services they’re preaching this weekend. And I don’t. So I get the Maundy Thursday gig.

Regardless, I’m very, very honored and excited to do it. This is a communion service. And there’s nothing more distinctly Christian we can do than to share the Lord’s Meal with a bunch of different disciples from a bunch of different denominations and backgrounds and interpretations. Christ died to destroy all the things that separate us from God and from one another. He died to tear down the walls, to annihilate the barriers, to rip the veil in two from top to bottom so that we all have equal access to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and all his people. So that we can all eat and drink together in his everlasting face-to-face presence. That’s why he died. And the only thing that keeps us from enjoying little slivers of that eternal feast here in this life is our refusal to love one another as Christ loved us.

Our own prejudices. Man-made lines of distinction. Our own arrogance and pride. Our unwillingness to practice the same love and acceptance and forgiveness and grace to other Christians that God in Christ showed and continues to show to us — that’s the only thing that keeps all God’s churches from expressing and practicing the kind of unity that would flat-out change the world.

I am grateful to belong to a faith community that understands this. I praise God that the leadership of our four downtown churches is pushing us to do more together, not less. And I cherish my partnership and friendship with Burt, Howard, and Howie. I pray that our Maundy Thursday gathering tonight encourages our churches, that it testifies boldly to the transforming work of Christ Jesus, and that it results in praise and glory to God.





We Use the Same Book

I was reminded again last weekend that our God is a God of reconciliation and that our Lord’s great prayer is that his people be unified. Further, I was awakened all over again to the great joy we feel when one of the last holdouts of Christian one-ness, our denominationalism, is put aside for the sake of unity and faithful witness.

At the ACU preacher’s workshop in Abilene, I found myself in energetic conversation with Ken Holsberry, the preacher at the Edgemere CofC in Wichita Falls. The severe drought in their city, which made them a national punch line of sorts when they began treating toilet water for use as drinking water, has led to a cooperative prayer and ministry partnership between them and other Christian churches. Edgemere has helped orchestrate a couple of prayer services at a downtown theater and a community worship service at gigantic Memorial Stadium in collaboration with a Presbyterian, a Baptist, and a community church congregation.

Wes Crawford, the preacher at the Glenwood CofC in Tyler, reminded me that in the tiny town of Stamford, Texas, the small churches there have gone in together to pay for a youth minister. The CofC, the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches are funding a collaborative youth group that worships and learns, plays and ministers together. They’ve been doing it for years.

And it’s fun. It’s exciting. It just feels right — it feels like the Gospel — to put aside our differences, to tear down the walls that divide us, to come together as children of God and disciples of his Son to better witness to an unbelieving world.

Those of us who haven’t quite figured out how to transition from “We’re the only ones who’ve got it right” to “By the grace of God, all those who follow Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord” focus mainly on our differences. Those who want to make the move but don’t know where to start, also, I think, are hung up on the differences.

The differences are minor and few. The things we have in common as those redeemed by the love and grace of God are many and huge.

I would suggest just starting with the Bible. You know, we all use the exact same Book. Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, all the grace churches and community churches, Disciples of Christ, and Christian churches, and the Churches of Christ — we all use the exact same Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures as the authority and guide in the ways we submit to God and follow his Christ.

Bonhoeffer points to the Bible as the great starting point for Christian unity:

“It is really the biblical text as such that binds the whole Christian community into a unity. It assures us of our being bound together in one family of brothers and sisters not only with the Christian community of all past and future ages but with the whole church of the present. As such, the biblical text is of enormous unifying, ecumenical significance. This consciousness of being bound together into one family is clearly strengthened among hearers of the biblical text, since this is an awareness that every deep insight and experience they encounter in this text is the agelong substance of Christian thought and life and so is heard and learned with gratitude and profound awe.”

When you listen to a Methodist preacher and then think, “Why, that could have been a Church of Christ sermon!” don’t be so surprised. When a Baptist minister talks about faith and grace and good works, don’t be shocked. When the Presbyterian guy speaks passionately about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, don’t be caught off guard. We’re all using the same book. We all hold it tightly and defend it fiercely as the revealed and holy Word of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. And, in a run-down of the many things all Christian churches and all disciples of Jesus have in common, this one’s very near the top of the list.



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