Cowboys Rerun

We’ve seen this movie. Three weeks ago the Cowboys were 6-1 with a four game lead in the NFC East and, according to Cowboys fans, serious Super Bowl contenders. Today, after Sunday’s beatdown in Kansas City, Dallas is 7-3 and the division lead is down to two-and-a-half. It’s time for the November fade that precedes the December implosion. Same script.

The Cowboys have lost two of their past three games, going 116-minutes without a touchdown in those two losses. Dak Prescott was sacked five times by the Chiefs and forced into three turnovers. Ezekiel Elliot ran for a measly 32 yards, marking the fifth straight game he’s been held to under 70 yards rushing. And the Cowboys converted only five total third downs.

The Cowboys defense was clearly playing over its head in the early part of the season and, now that opposing offenses have enough tape to study, are being exposed for the middle-of-the-road unit they really are. As for the offense? Injuries to the receivers and along the offensive line aren’t helping, but Dak is not sharp and Elliot is running in quicksand. This offense is struggling against good defenses. And for the remaining seven games, the Cowboys will be facing only good defenses.

I don’t know what to expect on Thursday. The Raiders are a mess and the Cowboys are desperate. But the Saints have the number six defense in the NFL. The Cards have the number two defense in the league and a dynamite offense and the best record in the conference. The Giants defense allows fewer than 14 points per game when they’re not facing Tom Brady. And Washington and Philly both have defenses that are capable of shutting down a run game. The Cowboys still have four division games remaining, three of those on the road in the cold¬† northeast. The last game of the year is against the Eagles in Philly. Today, the Eagles are two-and-a-half games back. The last game of the year is in Philly. Oh, I already said that.

This only ends one of two ways. Either Dallas wins this awful division and backs into a first round playoff loss at home. Or they flop in five of these last seven games and lose the division on a tie-breaker to Philly and miss the playoffs altogether.

We’ve seen this movie, Cowboys fans. And it’s delicious!

Peace,

Allan

First Candle – HOPE

This coming Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season for followers of Christ.¬† The word “advent” is from a Latin word that means “coming.” This is the time when Christians look forward to the coming of Christ. We anticipate his arrival. We prepare for the fulfillment of the promise of our God to send a Savior to rescue us from our sins and restore us into a righteous relationship with him and with one another.

We’ll be celebrating Advent here at GCR with a simple liturgy at the beginning of our Sunday assemblies. Each Tuesday, I’ll post the liturgy for the coming Sunday in this space. Please read this liturgy more than a couple of times. Read it out loud. Meditate on it. Read the passage of Scripture. Out loud. Let these words soak into your soul as we prepare our hearts and our minds together for this most beautiful of seasons.

Today we light the first candle of Advent, the candle that reminds us of our hope.
We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s promised Messiah.
We remember our hope for the promised second coming of Jesus.
We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins.
And we prepare to welcome Christ Jesus into the world and into our hearts.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Peace,

Allan

Potential to be Poised

I was so blessed to spend a quick 21-hours with all our GCR shepherds and ministers at a leadership retreat this past weekend at the beautiful The Way Retreat Center just outside Midland. From 5:00 Friday afternoon until 2:00 on Saturday, we committed to worshiping together, praying for the GCR church family and for one another, bonding through shared mealtimes and a few silly games, and discussing seriously together the call of our Lord for his people at Golf Course Road.

 

 

 

 

The main topic of the weekend was fostering a culture at GCR so that we more regularly experience the transforming power of our God. How do we facilitate an atmosphere in which we are more aware of God’s Spirit and the work he is doing to change us into the image of Christ? Can we create more opportunities, can we lean into more circumstances in which our people are drawn closer to God and think and behave more like Christ? We talked and prayed together about the realities of our situation at GCR – the strengths of our congregation, things that might possibly trip us up, questions we have about the present and the future. We shared personal stories about God’s transforming work in our own lives. We dreamed and brainstormed together about what’s next. And we talked realistically about our potential.

The question started out as “What is GCR poised to do better than any other church in Midland?” We were trying to identify our strengths and passions – what we’re good at, what we really enjoy doing, what we’re equipped for – and how it might be used to advance the Kingdom here locally and around the world. Several things were mentioned with enthusiastic and unanimous response. But then something was said that resulted in puzzled expressions on most of our faces. Are we really poised right now to do that? Is it ready right now? Is it really something we can do immediately? To which someone graciously allowed: “Well, we’ve got the potential to be poised.”

And that turned into the catch-phrase of the weekend. The potential to be poised. We’re not ready yet, but the potential is there. We have the potential to be poised to restructure this or re-imagine that. At 10:00 Saturday morning we had the potential to be poised for lunch. I think Mauri’s already designed a T-shirt.

 

 

 

 

I feel very privileged by our God, and supremely blessed, to be the preacher at GCR with so many good shepherds and ministers. It was such an encouragement to hear the hearts of these people who love the congregation so much, who’ve given their lives to serving our Lord Jesus and his precious people, who care so deeply for the great history of GCR and are eager to work hard for the glorious future. These same people who take so seriously their calling and their ordination, who pray so fervently and minister so tirelessly, and who will play a game of musical chairs in which the loser has to eat a big spoonful of a random jar of baby food and the winner gets to choose a book by William Willimon or Eugene Peterson. A great weekend in a beautiful setting with some outstanding Christian leaders.

May our God bless us richly with his wisdom and grace as we lead his people at GCR. And may his holy will be done in and through his church here just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

No More Muttering

 

“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” ~Luke 15:2

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” ~Luke 19:7

The religious people are pictured in the Gospels as continually muttering. When they see Jesus eating with tax collectors and “sinners,” when they observe him welcoming and socializing with “those people,” they mutter and grumble and complain. They gripe under their breath. Because a religious person would never say these kinds of things out loud.

These are the people we’re welcoming now? These are the people we’re supposed to eat with now? Those people won’t give. Those people don’t even speak English. Their kids are too rowdy. They’re going to mess things up. He just got out of prison. She has HIV. He cusses. She smokes. We have to protect our kids. We need to be careful here. Maybe those people should just go to another church where they’ll be more comfortable.

Hey, these are the very people Jesus came for! These are the very ones Jesus left his glory at the right hand of the Father to die for!

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we don’t ever dare to look down on, to distance from, to make fun of, or to ignore any person created by God, in the image of God, loved by God, and died for by Jesus. Ever! Just like our Lord, we look for them. We go out of our way to welcome them, to love them, to accept them, to come along side them in relationship – all of them. We stop our muttering and we join our God in his salvation mission.

We look. We search. We seek and we save. We’re climbing every hill, we’re turning over every rock, we’re going into the cloudy days and the darkest nights to welcome the outcast, to bring in the marginalized, to help the helpless, to defend the defenseless, and to protect the oppressed.

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” ~Ezekiel 34:16

Peace,

Allan

A Table Before Me

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” ~Psalm 23:5

The central image in the great 23rd Psalm is the prepared table, an obvious symbol of provision and honor. The fact that our Shepherd/King provides for us and honors us “in the presence of my enemies” paints a beautiful portrait of our God’s protection and blessing while we journey through life on earth. A life lived in the presence and power of God is still life lived in a world not yet restored to the wholeness he intends. So, even though we presently experience his divine presence and reward, we are still among enemies.

We should recognize that being in Christ doesn’t mean the troubles, cares, pains, and dangers of this world are removed from us. We remain “in the presence” of our enemies. However, we should ask ourselves and reflect on the ways, day after day, our Father is setting a table for us in the presence of those enemies.

One of those ways our Lord protects us and provides for us is in acts of love and service done for us by our Christian brothers and sisters. When the culture and the world seek to taunt us and tear us down, we find comfort and strength in the handshakes of friendship, the hugs of caring, the community of fellowship, and unity in the blood of Jesus.

These acts of love toward us become tables prepared by God – through his people – in the presence of our enemies who want to ridicule us and steal away our hope.

God prepares the table of provision and protection and honor. I challenge you, today, to become a caterer at that table. Join our God in setting tables of blessing for those we know and love who are currently surrounded by enemies.

Peace,

Allan

A Moving Weekend

We’re finally moved in to our new digs! Stanglin Manor is now firmly established on the very fancy sounding Castleford Road here in Midland. And while we are still very much living out of boxes, and might be for a while, our hearts are full of thanksgiving and love for the kindness and the sweet generosity of our church family at GCR and our new neighbors who are making this transition very easy and a lot of fun. We spent Friday just getting all the boxes into the garage and then all day Saturday getting those boxes to the rightful areas of the house – and attic!

Speaking of Saturday, we were all three thrilled to participate in KWO’s 12th annual Kick for Kenya 10K, 5K, and 1K run that starts and finishes in our parking lot at GCR. More than 400 good people of all ages and athletic stamina ran to raise over $50,000 for KWO’s work in feeding, equipping, and educating 2,700 widows and orphans in Nairobi. KWO just opened their 16th children’s home in Nairobi this past year and GCR is honored by God to be a partner in this great work. I was privileged to help welcome the runners to this important event and to pray over them before the race. And then we just watched and cheered them on. Most of our new friends at GCR rightly assumed I would not be running. But when I was asked a couple of times Saturday morning if I would be walking, I answered, “Yes. I’m walking from my truck to the breakfast burrito table and then back to my truck.”

Sunday morning at GCR we celebrated all God is doing in us and through us in Kenya with pictures and videos and an inspirational story from Tim, who just returned from a two week visit to Nairobi. Callie and Will blessed us with a dynamic reading from Ezekiel 34 in which our God promises to bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. And Iliana brought tears to our eyes and praise from our hearts with her powerful testimony and moving rendition of “Oceans.” A glorious day with our God and his people.

 

 

 

 

 

Then, after lunch, we came back together in the GCR parking lot to pass out food boxes to more than a hundred needy families in Midland through our great partnership with Mission Agape. It was really cool to distribute the Thanksgiving meals and the gift cards and the cookies to each of these deserving families. But the real joy came in praying over these good people and lifting up their specific and personal needs to our Father. What a sacred time that was. What a blessing that our God would deem us capable of acting as priests on behalf of these neighbors in Midland and the surrounding communities.

 

 

 

 

 

The weekend wrapped up last night the way most Sunday nights end at Stanglin Manor. Whitney and I dueled to the death over a hot backgammon board (she beat me 3-2) and I made popcorn. Yes, the first thing cooked in our new kitchen was my popcorn. And, yes, it felt like home.

 

 

 

 

 

Peace,

Allan

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