Category: Matthew (Page 1 of 22)

Put On Your Simla

When Boaz starts taking an interest in Ruth, the meddling mother-in-law hatches a brilliant plan. She recognizes the reality of their conditions and she moves to seize the opportunity in front of them. Naomi instructs her widowed daughter-in-law to “wash and perfume yourself, and put on your simla” (Ruth 3:3). My NIV translates the Hebrew word simla as “…put on your best clothes.” But the word simla just means a regular robe. Your normal everyday clothes. Simla is just a generic robe by both men and women. It’s not a special dress. It’s not a special anything. And that’s the point.

Remember, Ruth is a recent widow. Her husband died like four or five months ago. And Ruth has probably been wearing special grieving clothes. She’d been wearing something that designated her as a grieving widow and Naomi’s telling her to change into an outfit that would send a different message.

The exact same wording is used in 2 Samuel 12 when David is grieving over the illness of his newborn son. For seven days, David was in a state of mourning, fasting, and praying for his son. When the child died, the Bible says David got up, washed, put on his lotions, and his simla, his normal everyday attire (2 Samuel 12:20). He’s signaling that his grieving is over now. I’m back to business.

That’s what Ruth is doing here. She’s changing into another set of clothes that say she’s available for marriage. She’s not grieving anymore. She’s not focusing on what she’s lost. She’s moving forward. She’s prepared and ready to seize the opportunity in front of her.

As children of God and followers of Jesus, we need to put on the right clothes that signal to the whole world that we are ready and prepared to seize the opportunities around us.

“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” ~Colossians 3:12-14

The people around you are seeking what’s really important. They’re searching for something trustworthy and true. The people you’re running into every day are disappointed, disillusioned, and divided. But they’re open to something different. They want something or someone that’s real and solid and dependable. They want an answer to everything that’s gone wrong, they’re looking for a solution to everything that’s broken. That way, that truth, that life is our Lord Jesus Christ and the time is right now to make him known to a desperate world.

Clothe yourselves with Christ!

Your life, your words, your actions, your attitude can be living proof to everyone around you that good overcomes evil. You can show people by how you behave that love is greater than hate, that unity is more fun than division, that forgiveness always beats revenge, and that peace is far more effective than violence.

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” ~1 Peter 2:9

Not just the things you engage in and the ways you act, but also the things you refuse to associate with and the things you say “no” to are a powerful witness to the only One who can truly fix what’s wrong.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” ~1 Peter 2:12

Peter didn’t come up with that. He’s quoting our Lord from the opening lines of his Sermon on the Mount.

“Let your light shine before all people that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:16

Think about it. What if you and I remained calm when the other people around us are anxious and frantic and demanding? Everything is turned up so loud right now. What would it mean to others if you were quiet and calm?

What if you and I spoke with humility and grace? Instead of saying things and forwarding things and reposting things that insult and disparage whole groups of other people so the people like me know exactly where I stand, what if we only said thing that were encouraging to others and the only thing that came out of our mouths was intended to build those other people up? I believe that kind of language would really stick out as special.

What if you and I tried to love everybody? What if you and I were known for how kind and graciously we treated others, even when we disagree? Especially when we disagree! I really think that would get noticed. And what if we committed to that right now instead of later?

“[All the commandments] are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ …Do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here… Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ!” ~Romans 13:11-14

Put on the clothes that signal to the world you take very seriously your vows to the Lord. Wear the simla that communicates a deep commitment to the ways and means of our King.

Peace,

Allan

Be the Light

Light isn’t what you see; it is the very element by which you see everything else. When you walk into a dark room and flip on the switch, you don’t really see the light as much as you see the coffee table let that’ll  kill your toe or the edge of the wall that will take out half your face. The light allows you to see reality, to see what’s really happening.

For us to respond to God’s call that we be the light of the world would, therefore, mean that we dispense light upon the people and things around us. We are not to be praised for being visible light; rather, we are to bring praise to those people and things upon whom and which we shine.

The light isn’t the glory; it’s the brilliance of the person or object seen due to the light.

Don’t be the critic. Be the light.

Don’t be the Scrooge. Be the light.

Don’t be the Bible-banging, Scripture-quoting Pharisee. Be the light.

Don’t be the accuser. Be the light.

Don’t be the naysayer. Be the light.

Life and light is always about how good we can make others appear. And feel. So, we have a lot of good work to do.

Be the light.

Peace,

Allan

4 Midland

Four guys walk into a bar: a Baptist, a Methodist, a Church of Christ, and a Presbyterian… that’s a joke.

Four sets of ministers and elders walk into a church building to pray: Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, and Presbyterian… that’s not a joke. It’s the holy will of our God and a magnificent witness to our city of the power of Jesus! And it’s happening this evening!

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the apostles’] 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 that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may 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 and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:20-23

We believe it is God’s will that all his children, all disciples of his Son, be reconciled. We think God’s great desire is for all Christians to be brought together as a powerful witness to the world of his love and peace. You know, this is in our Church of Christ DNA. It was established in the opening lines of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, the charter document for our Restoration Movement, written in August 1809:

“That it is the grand design and native tendency of our holy religion to reconcile and unite men to God and to each other in truth and love to the glory of God; and their own present and eternal good will will not, we presume, be denied by any of the genuine subjects of Christianity.”

The whole document is about reconciliation, the kind of reconciliation that drives God’s eternal plans. The very ministry of reconciliation he’s given those of us who profess our faith in him. The words in this document are bold and aggressive and they ring with undeniable beauty and truth. They call for a swift end to all divisions among those who follow Jesus:

“Has the Captain of Salvation sounded a desist from pursuing this deadly enemy that is sheathing its sword in the very bowels of Christ’s Church, rending and mangling his mystical Body to pieces? Has he said to his servants, ‘Let it alone?’ If not, where is the warrant for a cessation of endeavors to have it removed?”

Campbell claims that tearing down the walls and uniting with all our brothers and sisters in Christ is a matter of universal right, a duty belonging to every citizen of the Kingdom of God. And while the work will be difficult and the opposition will come mainly from within the church establishment, Campbell says it is God’s will. It is the Church’s will. It is the will of those who’ve gone before us:

“Both the mighty and the many are with us. The Lord himself, and all that are truly his people, are declaredly on our side. The prayers of all the churches, nay, the prayers of Christ himself, and of all that have ascended to his heavenly Kingdom, are with us.”

I thank God for the Campbells and the Stones and the other giants of the faith who latched on to God’s holy will as revealed to us in Scripture and would not let go. I thank God for the ecumenical spirit of the GCR Church toward our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches in our city. I’m grateful for the willingness here — the eagerness! — to unite with other Christ-followers.

This evening, the GCR elders and ministers are meeting at First Presbyterian Church with their elders and ministers and the elders and ministers from First Baptist and First Methodist to spend two hours together in dinner and prayer. We are forming an alliance, a partnership. We’re calling it “4 Midland.” It’s a hopefully obvious play on words. Four churches breaking down our walls, putting aside our differences, to unite together for the sake of our city.

We’re not 100% sure what this looks like yet. We know it’s going to be a worship and service partnership that brings our people together side-by-side in order to bless Midland. We want to worship together at least three times a year, beginning this next Spring: Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday/Good Friday, and the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. We’re still figuring out which churches are going to host each worship service. We also want our four preachers swapping pulpits with each other once a year, probably on that Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, November 24, 2024. As for an annual service project in our city, we’re still taking suggestions. That’s one of the things we’re going to pray about together tonight.

We do believe this partnership between denominations will be a powerful witness to our city that Jesus really is the Prince of Peace, that he really does possess the power to reconcile and unite. Jesus says in the middle of Matthew 18 that if two or three of his people will come together and agree on anything, he’ll show up just to see it! And we believe he will.

Whatever good comes from this alliance, we know it must begin in prayer. So that’s what we’re doing tonight at First Presbyterian. We’re going to pray. We’re going to commit to one another — all four churches — as brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re going to pledge in prayer that we will not be competitive, that we will not be territorial, that we will see our area of Midland as the part of the Kingdom of God we’ve been given to serve together. And we’re going to submit the whole thing to him. In prayer, we’re going to give our partnership, our efforts, our projects, all of it to our merciful Father for his purposes and to his eternal glory and praise.

It starts tonight. I have only hopes and dreams for where it might be going. But it starts tonight.

Peace,

Allan

Genuine Authority

This Sunday, we are ordaining four new elders here at GCR Church. These four, plus the seven current shepherds, will be charged by the congregation to shepherd us in the name and manner of Jesus. And the church family will pledge to obey and submit to their leadership so their work will be a joy, not a burden.

Obey and submit?

Well, yeah, that’s what it says in Hebrews 13:17.

Obey and submit? Do we really want to use those words anymore? It makes it sound like the elders are ruling us with some kind of authority. What kind of authority do the elders have over us?

The only kind of authority that matters in God’s Church. The only kind of authority that exists in the Kingdom of God. The genuine authority of sacrifice and service. The authority of a life lived not to be served, but to serve.

In the spirit of the upcoming ordination service at GCR; to all church elders past, present, and future; and for all churches that occasionally select elders, I submit this passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (1938):

Jesus made authority in the fellowship dependent upon brotherly service. Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. The desire we so often hear expressed today for “authoritative personalities” springs frequently from a spiritually sick need for the admiration of men, for the establishment of visible human authority, because the genuine authority of service appears to be so unimpressive.

The bishop is the simple, faithful man, sound in faith and life, who rightly discharges his duties to the church. His authority lies in the exercise of his ministry. In the man himself, there is nothing to admire.

Genuine authority recognizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority. Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the saying of Jesus: “You have only one Master and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8). The Church does not need brilliant personalities, but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. Not in the former, but in the latter, is the lack. The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

Genuine authority is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possesses. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers, submitted to the authority of the Word.”

Peace,

Allan

Prophesy: Discern the Word They Heard

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1-3

What do you do when that person shows up and says, “I have a word for you from the Lord?” You didn’t expect it, you weren’t asking for it, but a brother or sister in Christ says, “God told me to tell you…” or “God put it on my heart to say…”  How do you discern the word they heard? Let me suggest four questions to ask about the message this well-meaning Christian gives you. How do you know if it’s really from God?

Well, does it lift up Jesus as Lord? The Holy Spirit of Christ will always point to the lordship of Christ.

“No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” ~1 Corinthians 12:3

Remember, there’s more than one voice out there seeking your attention. Any word from anyone that diminishes Jesus or questions his deity or his humanity, any word that reduces the sufficiency of his atonement, any word that questions his uniqueness as the one and only way to the Father – that message is not from God. The voice of God will always exalt his Son as Lord.

Does it hold up Jesus’ Gospel of grace? This is a very important question. Some people want to share words of encouragement or teaching with you, but these words speak to a form of legalistic slavery. The church in Galatia was being upset and divided by a word that was confirming Jesus as Lord, but was also wanting to add circumcision to the Gospel. Any news that undermines the Good News of grace and freedom in Christ, any news that puts an emphasis on human works and rules over freedom and grace in Jesus – that is not from God.

Does it flow from a Christ-like life? No matter how gifted the person might be, the Bible never exalts giftedness over character. A person who hears and speaks words from Jesus should bear the fruit of Christ in his or her own life.

“Watch out for false prophets… By their fruit you will recognize them… A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ~Matthew 7:15-17

If someone tells you they’ve got a word from the Lord for you, and your first thought is, “I don’t know about that,” because of the kind of person he or she is, you’re on to something. If that person is a known liar or a gossip, if that person is a busybody or lacks self control, if that person is divisive or ungrateful, that person is not speaking for our God.

Finally, does it build up the Body of Christ? Remember, prophesy is given to us by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort his people, the Church. Prophesy is not about discovering the mysteries of the end times or predicting the future. It’s not for judging or condemning anyone. It’s intended by God to build up disciples of Jesus. So any words that discourage, insult, criticize, or divide should not be excused with the “God told me” trump card. And they shouldn’t be considered as potentially from the Lord.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” ~Ephesians 4:29-30

Interesting, huh? 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 says you’re quenching the Spirit when you tell people they can’t speak words from God. Ephesians 4 says you grieve the Spirit when you speak words that are ugly or hurtful and claim that God gave them to you.

We need to take care of God’s gifts. And the Bible says one of his greatest gifts is prophesy.

Peace,

Allan

Spiritual Leadership

When a church is selecting its leaders, it needs to look for spiritual leadership, not worldly leadership. The difference between the two is huge. It’s leading by sacrifice and service instead of by authority and power. It’s paramount. If we’re following the example of our Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, this is a non-negotiable.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” ~John 8:28

Jesus says, in other words, “When you see my dying, when you watch me willingly give up my life for others, you’ll know I am the promised Messiah, the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is always completely surrendered to God’s will. He is doing God’s will in God’s ways. The proof of that is in his willingness to humble himself, to make himself the least important person in the room. To die.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” ~John 4:34

My food, my passion, the thing that sustains me, the thing that motivates me, what keeps me going, my everything – is to do God’s work in God’s ways. My Father sets my agenda and he alone determines how I conduct my ministry: with sacrifice and service and submission. That’s how a shepherd leads. Never by power. Never by authority. It’s spiritual, not worldly.

The mother of James and John tells Jesus to ordain them as rulers next to Jesus in the coming Kingdom. He asks if they can pay the price. She says they can. He knows they can’t. The other disciples are indignant. So Jesus gathers all twelve together and gives them a lesson in the differences between spiritual leadership and worldly leadership.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (nations) lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life.” ~Matthew 20:25-28

Jesus is talking about government leaders and business boards and military commanders. The way they lead is not the way we lead. Good shepherds lead from the back of the line, never the front. They lead by washing feet and dying, never by dictating and demanding. No chain of command, no hierarchy, no flow charts. The biblical model of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, turns all that upside down. It’s the exact opposite of the way the world leads.

We mess this up in the church sometimes when we select worldly leaders as our spiritual leaders. It doesn’t work. Our culture tells us to choose successful men which means men who make a lot of money and dress nicely and drive expensive cars and live in massive houses, men who are leaders in the community, influencers in politics, and members of the board. Don’t do it. That’s exactly the opposite of spiritual leadership.

Peace,

Allan

 

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