Easter Thanks

Brothers and sisters, 
I am sitting here amazed (after a 2 hour “power nap” 🙂 ) at all of the wonderful work accomplished here today and in our revival services. I am trying to think of everyone to thank. 
Thank you to:
  • The men who came early to set up chairs for the sunrise service (about 120 people!)
  • Sis Debbie, Sis Musi and all the teachers and nursery workers who made our guests feel safe and taught their kids
  • The musicians who brought us such beautiful and powerful music (especially the AMBC Angels Girls’ Choir)
  • The food teams who made a wonderful breakfast
  • The Ostroms for going and buying more food because I drastically underestimated the number of people God would send
  • Sis Angela and the egg-cellent egg hunt she put together, and the massive team who showed up to stuff eggs, hide them and direct the kids
  • Those who knocked on doors to hand out flyers (we had about 275 in our main service this morning, plus teachers and kids in the nursery and other buildings – thanks to you inviting!)
  • Those who invited friends and family personally and through social media
  • Brother Bradley for helping with my sermon 
  • The media and audio teams, who did an awesome job (and Bro Todd, Bro Tom and Bro Scott for training them)
  • The greeters and valet parkers (my computer says that is not a word) who received people as they came, directed them and made them feel welcome
  • The small army of ushers to receive the offering
  • The prayer warriors who paved the way for the revival and the resurrection celebration
  • Our great evangelists, Bro Darrel Owens and Bro Bobby Bryant for the revival week (and the generous offerings for them!)
  • Sister Colleen for calming me down, praying for me, supporting me and keeping things in perspective
  • Sister Julie for being my brain outside of my brain here in the office
  • Jesus for dying, rising again and showing up this week.
If I left you out, I am sorry. I do appreciate all of you! 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Thank you for showing up as Christ’s body this week. We are having at least 3 baptisms next Sunday as the fruit of your labor. It is amazing to see all of the pieces come together and I look forward to seeing what God does next. 
To God alone be the glory, for He is Risen!

Request for Schedules

If your kids are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities, would you mind e-mailing those calendars to me at justin@alvinmbc.com? I would love to support them and get to know all of you better. Although I can’t make it to every game, I would really like to try and hit one or two for each kid.
I appreciate your help and patience.
– Brother Justin

The God We Can Know

This picture is 9 months old, but I still like it a lot. The little bald baby is my daughter Anastasia and the fluffy white dog is my loyal companion Zorro (right and left, respectively). The story of why our dog’s name is Spanish for “fox” will have to wait until another day.
These two are best friends, and they have an awful lot in common. They both love to play with balls and other brightly colored objects. They both love to lay down on us. They both love to eat things off the floor and try to snatch things from each other. 
But there are also some big differences. Ana knows me now and learns more about me all the time. As she gets older, her capacity to understand me grows, and as we spend more time together, our intimacy deepens. Zorro, on the other hand, knows about me, but can never really know me.  How could he? He is a dog, and I am a human. He loves me and I love him, but there is a gulf between us which can never really be overcome. 
Still, the chasm between Zorro and me is a hairbreadth compared to the gap between God and me. While I have left my chewing-on-things-I-found-on-the-floor phase several years in the past, I am still prone to make foolish decisions. I cook my food and he receives it in a bowl (or from Anastasia), we are both dependent on others outside of ourselves. Although I am the owner and he is the dog, we are both creatures who owe our entire existence to something Other. 

Meeting God

So if Zorro could never truly know me, how could I dare to believe that I could ever truly know God? How could a holy, eternal, infinite Creator ever be truly known by a sinful, mortal, finite creation? It feels like something both pious and thoroughly millennial: “I’m spiritual, but not religious. I don’t think we could ever really understand God anyway, these are all just people’s opinions.”
It sounds like a big view of God, but it is actually a very small view. It also sounds humble, but the person who is saying you can’t know anything about God is claiming to know that God is unknowable. The person who says this is really confessing that they believe God is unable to make Himself known. Christians do not think God is knowable because He is small enough for us to comprehend (Isaiah 40:18), but Christians do think that God is great and powerful enough to introduce Himself (1 John 5:20). Here is a theological principle worth learning: we can know God truly, but not fully. It is not really so strange. My daughter is still a toddler; fully thinking adult thoughts and understanding adult motivations are beyond her capacity. But the Daddy she knows is the real Daddy, even though that knowledge is incomplete. She wants to think like I think and act like I act (Psalm 139:17).
Psalm 145:3 is helpful: 

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;

And his greatness is unsearchable.
We know that God is great. We understand that fully enough to praise Him; yet one of the things we must praise about Him is that we can never know him exhaustively. Like my daughter knows me better all the time, we come to know God better all the time. But unlike one human being getting to know another, God is a never-ending staircase where the higher we climb, the higher we can go. People ask what we could do forever in Heaven; coming to know God more and more fully is certainly one of the answers.

Soon, I hope to write a little more on the different ways that God has made Himself known, but this post is already a little long, so let me major on this: We can know God, and that is something to celebrate. Jeremiah 9:23–24 says:

23  Thus saith the Lord,

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,

Neither let the mighty man glory in his might,

Let not the rich man glory in his riches:

24  But let him that glorieth glory in this,

That he understandeth and knoweth me,

That I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth:

For in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

Corporate Worship

Yesterday, I preached on the cosmic significance of corporate worship. For the sake of time, we dropped in the middle of the argument in Hebrews 12, but I thought it might be interesting to look at the immediately preceding verses, that give the practical need for corporate worship. What are some things we should seek from our time worshiping together? I am going to bold the commandments, and underline the things to avoid:

Hebrews 12:12–17

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

Encouragement from Corporate Worship

As we worship together, preparing for the incredible experience of encountering a holy God, we must work together. When some of us come discouraged, exhausted and ready to quit, we must lift our brothers’ and sisters’ drooping hands and wobbling knees. Some of our time together is about the warm encouragement that we can share. Life is hard, and it is easy to be a critic. It is hard to be a friend, hurting together and rejoicing together – but as the church, we must!
To truly worship God as we should, we have to be at peace with one another. This requires a real relationship, not just membership in the same club.  If you are not in our corporate gathering, you cannot be encouraged or be an encourager. 
Image result for twisted ankle

Accountability through Corporate Worship

We must resist sin, making straight paths to walk in, so our brokenness will not be made worse, but be healed. The sin that is not dealt with does not get better on its own. Like walking on a sprained ankle, it will not heal until the normal rhythm of life is broken and it is dealt with directly. As Christians, this is even harder and even more painful. We must be involved in each other’s lives, even when it requires a painful change of direction.
If we are serious about pursuing holiness, we will accept the pain of conviction. If we realize that there comes a moment when it will be too late to avoid the consequences of our actions (like Esau), we will want to be stopped now. The problem is that we tend to love sin! We would rather do what we know is worse in the long run, because of the pleasure we get now. So we keep walking on a broken foot, and the problem stays. When you’re not here for corporate worship the problem will not get better, but worse and worse. 

Diligence in Corporate Worship

It is too easy to let things in our lives drop without the accountability of corporate worship. We know from Matthew 7:22-23 that there are lots of people who believe they are Christians but are not. We have to be diligently together, examining our lives and asking those who love us to examine our lives with us. Nothing could be more foreign to the highly independent culture of our world. But we need each other! When we are following God as we should, we can help many. When we are not, “many [may] be defiled.”
Are you the kind of person other people can count on? Worship together matters. It is only by corporate worship that we can be everything God intended us to be. When we gather together, it is not just our money, our time, our voices, or our attention that we offer God: it is ourselves. The time we spend in community prepares us to be an acceptable offering for Him. 
Take some time to read the entire chapter (Hebrews 12) and see how it all fits together. 

Jesus in the Aftermath

So, you made it through Christmas. You reconnected with relatives, exchanged gifts and read Luke 2 as a family. You talked about Jesus being the reason for the season, and really made an effort to keep your priorities in order. But what about now? It isn’t Christmas, it is “National Fruitcake Day.” You don’t have lots of gifts to open, but a faint feeling of guilt at throwing away $80 worth of lightly used gift bags. Jesus has come to visit, but He has not come to abide.
How do you keep Jesus at the center of your life when you feel like keeping work, family and church balanced is like sewing on a unicycle (unsuccessful, ultimately painful and impossible to find a picture of)? If I only talked to Colleen on our anniversary or her birthday, I would have a very unsuccessful marriage. But we are content to live with Christ once or twice a year, plus every-other-weekend visitation.
I hope your heart craves for more. If so, the secret is in John 15:1-10.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
I have bad news for you: your Christmas tree is already dead. When you separated it from the root, it lost the source of its strength. Christians are the same way: if we are not intimately connected to the Savior, we wither and die fruitlessly. There is a lot of depth to this passage which I will not be able to tackle in a short blog post, but let’s keep it really practical. How do you abide in Christ, so you can bear fruit on National Fruitcake Day and every day?

“Abide in Me, and I in You”

The first point is very obvious. You cannot abide in Christ unless He abides in you. You must be a genuine Christian to abide in Christ. Are you just a cultural believer, with some faint sense there is a god and a family affinity for the Christian one? That is not good enough.  You must come to a critical point, where you realize that you have been in rebellion against God, and surrender to Him. Do you realize that, if justice were done, God ought to punish you – but He took the punishment on Himself instead (look for a more detailed post on this soon)? Do you give up all claims to yourself, and let Christ live in you? That is absolutely essential. Superficial Christians will be cut off and cast aside. Make sure you know for sure that you are saved. 

Be Pruned

Second, the Father must prune you. If you are a real Christian, you will not be cut off, but parts of you may need to be. Being pruned is as painful as it sounds, but it is essential to bear fruit. If you are going to be a fruitful branch, there are certain things you will not be able to do.
“…every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

I am not even referring to sin (although repenting of known sin is a key part of abiding), but to the frantic, busy lives we lead. A vine (although we may be more familiar with fruit trees in Brazoria County) can have lots of pathetic fruit, or a smaller quantity of excellent fruit. The secret is to prune some branches, not only those that are bad in and of themselves, but to allow more room and strength for the chosen ones. You are only humanl you can do do twenty things poorly or three things well. What areas of your life do you prayerfully need to let God prune, even if it hurts? What areas are sapping valuable strength, but bearing no lasting fruit? Don’t let good things get in the way of the best things. 

Isn’t is incredibly counter-cultural? but being truly connected to Jesus – like branches and a vine – will mean that you can’t do everything. There is a certain amount of faith required here: do you believe that God is able to take care of the things He has not called you to do? This is not an excuse to do nothing but sit around in holy-looking contemplation. It is the reality that, to live with Jesus in the every day, you will have to make room for a few key things, and aggressively channel His strength into them. 

Let the Word of Christ Dwell in You Richly

Finally, if you are going to bear fruit, you need to let His Word abide in you. It is not enough to read the Bible at Christmas and pat yourself on the back. You need to be in the Scriptures every day. Let’s get really painful here, because it is an area where I fall short as much as anybody.
“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”

You need to be in the Scriptures twice every day.

Once by yourself, and once with your family. How much effort would it take to get on a daily Bible reading plan for yourself (we are launching one on January 1st that will take you in detail through the New Testament in 15-20 minutes a day), and then read a chapter out of Proverbs with your family at dinner? If you have kids, they each get to pick one verse for you to explain to them, and once verse to explain to you. Then trade prayer requests and pray. Sing, if you want! But get God’s Word into your life and into your heart. When His Word abides in you, then you can abide in Him. There is no better time than now to get into the habit, and teach your family how central the Word of God really is to you. Build Jesus into the rhythm of your normal life, and watch your heart change.

Make sure you are genuinely a Christian who really understands the gospel. Prayerfully remove the clutter from your life. Deliberately prepare space for God and His Word. Abide.  


Joy to the World

Have you ever found yourself at work, and wondered how you got there? Or tried to give someone directions to a place you visit often, and found yourself struggling to remember the details of how it happens? 
It is so easy to slip into autopilot, and let the wonders of the world pass us by. 
In the Christmas season, we swaddle evergreen trees in lights and crown them with a star or an angel, then quit seeing them – forgetting how they point to the coming of the Eternal Light of the World. We pay lip-service to gifts being shadows of the Great Gift, but are quickly so distracted by the hustle and bustle of the season that we have checklists and reminders for every gift except the love-gift of the Only Begotten.  Read more…