Formed in Community

I was looking through my closet this week for a 56-year-old piece of paper I want to read to our church this Sunday when I came across the first Bible I ever owned. My parents gave it to me on my sixth birthday, almost fifty years ago. This is the Bible I had when I was a kid growing up in the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas. I wrote a lot of notes in the margins of this Bible. Back then it was two Bible classes and three sermons per week – no children’s worship. We sat through all of it. And I looked up every Scripture and I wrote a lot of notes. You can read the notes in my Bible and tell how I was raised.

Next to Psalm 51 I wrote, “This is not original sin.” In a couple of places that describe the musical instruments in the tabernacle and the temple I wrote, “Doesn’t mean we can use them now.” Every single page of the New Testament in this Bible is highlighted, marked up, or underlined. There are also lots of handwritten notes.

“When we work God’s plan, God’s plan will work.”
“You can’t kill time without injuring eternity.”
“You can’t die in Christ unless you live in Christ.”
“A fellow wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”

There’s a picture of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and I’ve circled the Lord’s long blonde  hair. On the other side of the page is a picture of Jesus standing before Pilate. I’ve circled his long hair there, too, and written, “I Cor. 11:14 – God wouldn’t go against his own writings so Jesus must have had short hair.”

I don’t make fun of the notes in my first Bible. I’m not ashamed of them. Everything in this first Bible reminds me of growing up in that Pleasant Grove church and brings to mind really happy memories for me. This Bible reminds me that I was raised by people who loved me and taught me and cared about me and passed the Christian faith on to me.

This excellent reproduction of a Joe Malone sermon illustration, drawn when I was fourteen, reminds me of the sayings he would repeat on rotation at least every four or five sermons. Little ditties like, “Let one drop the sidewalk smirch, and it’s too wet to go to church.” I also remember the good-natured teasing he gave me when I wore that arrowhead necklace from Avon when I was eleven or twelve. I remember bugging him in his office during those summer days while my mom was working as the church secretary. I don’t remember him ever being annoyed.

I wrote, “Mike made me mess up” next to a really crooked underlining. That reminds me of my friend Mike Cunningham. His dad, Chuck. They hosted our youth devos. I traded a magic kit to Mike for his ELO “Time” album in 1981.

I remember Aaron Welch. He’s the guy who picked people to pass the Lord’s Supper trays. He always did it the same way. He’d come up to you before church started and say, “Old man, you wanna help us with the Lord’s Supper?” It didn’t matter that I was twelve. He thought it was funny to call Todd and Mike and me old men.

Jim Martin was one of our regular song leaders and I can still see him leading “Trust and Obey” as I walked down the aisle to be baptized when I was eleven. His middle finger was always oddly set a little lower than the rest of his hand.

Tillie Prosser was a high school music teacher who taught us boys how to lead singing in an upstairs classroom at 5:00 on Sunday afternoons. Her favorite song was “He Keeps Me Singing” and we all led it together at the start of every class. When we sing it today, I still hear Sister Prosser’s voice, counting the beats, reminding us to hold it out, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, two, three, four.”

Kayla Casebolt was the Sunday School teacher who had a giant sandbox in her room where she used little plastic people and animals to tell the stories.

Van and Laura Simpson drove us to youth rallies and Summer Youth Series.

Glen Burroughs taught our high school class and taught me how to drive a stick.

The first time I ever led a prayer during Sunday night church I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the microphone. It was the closing prayer and I was extremely nervous. I must have been eleven or twelve. I couldn’t see anything over the massive podium. When it was over, Johnny Cobbler approached me in the long hallway from the worship center to the south parking lot doors. Johnny Cobbler was one of the cool teenagers. He had a car and I perceived him to be the alpha leader of the youth group. I was both obsessed with him and frightened of him. He laughed at me and said, “Did you lead the closing prayer? Somebody said you led the prayer, but I couldn’t see anybody up there!” And then he shook my hand and said, “It was a good prayer.” There must have been four dozen people who told me I led a good prayer that night. But I remember Johnny Cobbler.

I remember one Sunday night during my senior year of high school when I accidentally wore a Huey Lewis and the News t-shirt to serve the Lord’s Supper to the reprobates who had been providentially hindered that morning. One of the elders, Kenneth Lybrand, told me after church that it wasn’t right. I shouldn’t wear a shirt like that to serve the Lord’s Table. And I remember Elaine Titus overhearing Brother Lybrand and telling me a few minutes later that it was fine. She told me she could tell I was up there to serve the Lord and it didn’t matter what I was wearing. That meant so much to me. I also remember that Brother Lybrand is the one who gave my parents the money to adopt my little sister Sharon. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

That church raised me. Those people shaped me. A lot of my ideas about God and Christ, a lot of my understandings about salvation and love, a lot of what I believe and some of what I push back against goes back to the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. A lot of who I am in Christ today goes back to that community of faith at P-Grove that raised me and shaped me in Jesus.

You’ve got a lot of little kids in your church. I know you do. Lots of boys and girls between the ages of five and fifteen who will never forget the things you say to them. The attention you pay to them. The way you make them feel. The time you went out of your way to assure them they are an important part of your church family. Or those other times. Those other things you said.

They’re all paying attention this Sunday. And they remember.

Peace,

Allan

This is Eternal Life

“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” ~John 17:3

In the Bible, knowledge is not some special understanding or deep insight reserved for the spiritually elite. It’s not about unlocking the secrets of the universe. In Scripture, knowledge means understanding who God is and what he is doing through Jesus. It’s not knowing the kings of Israel in chronological order or how many generations are in Matthew’s genealogy or having a well-researched argument for why Adam does or does not have a belly button. Scriptural knowledge means knowing God in Christ.

“We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” ~Colossians 1:9

Jesus rebuked the Jews for diligently searching the Scriptures, but not knowing him. He accused them of looking for eternal life in the Bible, and missing it because they didn’t see him, the source of eternal life the Bible points to. According to Scripture, knowledge is knowing that Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s salvation promises and plans.

The Word of God in its fullness, according to Colossians 1, is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom… that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” ~Colossians 1:25-2:3

Knowledge is understanding that all of God’s redemptive purposes are fulfilled in Jesus. It’s not gaining more biblical facts. We don’t read the Bible to bolster our arguments or to prove somebody wrong or to get my day started off right. Christian knowledge is understanding that God’s salvation is available to all people through Christ Jesus.

And that keeps us from being sucked into the world’s opposite kinds of knowledge and understanding. The beliefs and values of our culture are powerful forces. And without biblical knowledge, we can wind up buying into a mushy sentimentality or following a pathway of power and success or just kind of following the herd. You know, whatever is hanging on the wall this week at Mardel.

Christians may not know more than others. But we ought to know better.

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The Cowboys play their first division game tonight at the Meadowlands against a team they’ve beaten by an average of 12 points nine of the last ten times they’ve met. Dallas swept the Giants last year by a combined score of 67-26 in two games. But not tonight.

All signs point to a Cowboys loss.

This is the first road game for a struggling offense. The Cowboys have scored a total of two field goals in their past three quarters. This is the first time Cooper Rush has ever played an NFL game when the other team can watch film of him from the previous week. The Cowboys still don’t have Michael Gallup. The Giants do have Saquon Barkley, the NFL’s leading rusher after two weeks, averaging over six yards per carry. It’ll be close tonight. It’ll be a one-score game. And it’ll be decided by a Cowboys turnover. Delicious.

Peace,

Allan

Breakthrough Breakdown

Church visions are typically too broad and too generic. Most churches have focus statements and vision plans and strategies, but are they too vague? How do people in our churches know whether we’re accomplishing what we’ve set out to do or not?

A vision must be concrete and specific. We have to be able to clearly articulate our vision and goals. We have to be able to recognize it when we see it and point to it. THIS is why we’re a church! THIS is what God is doing in us and through us. THIS is why we’re at Golf Course Road! We have to own it.

Our church here in Midland is spending the next five Sundays talking very specifically about our vision and our goals. These are the things we believe our God is doing in us and through us as a community of faith. These are the concrete things we want to accomplish for the Kingdom of Christ in West Texas and beyond.

I certainly want everyone at GCR Church to be informed during this exciting season of vision and opportunity. So, allow me to direct you to a couple of helpful places – this is mainly for GCR members.

Here’s a link to all the Breakthrough information: the vision statement, the formation zones, the giving goals, the Breakthrough video, the topics and titles of the upcoming Bible classes and sermons, and a schedule of informational meetings and Breakthrough events.

Here’s a link to the weekly prayer guide that, I hope, will keep you close to the Lord and to his working in your life as we approach October 30.

Here’s a link to last Sunday’s sermon that introduced the whole thing.

Beginning this Sunday, we’re taking the individual pieces of this vision and breaking it down into smaller, more digestible chunks. On October 30, we will give more than four-million-dollars to jump start the whole thing: our commitment to transformation and mission, our partnerships with five local missions organizations, adopting three churches through our partnership with Nexus, one-hundred mission trips, twelve Christian practices retreats, twelve new small groups, and the long-needed upgrades and updates to our worship center.

We are at an important time of tremendous opportunity to personally impact thousands of people for Jesus. That’s exciting to me. By God’s grace, GCR is in a position to be a faithful force for the Gospel throughout Midland and way beyond. Not many churches are in our position with our potential. So, let’s be thankful. Think about all the possibilities. Dream about it. Listen to God. Pray and plan and participate. And, starting right now, enjoy these next couple of years at GCR. It’s a blessing. It’s a Breakthrough.

Peace,

Allan

Breakthrough

We rolled out plans yesterday for a comprehensive vision and direction for our church at Golf Course Road. We are newly committed to creating an atmosphere here and fostering a culture in which we pay closer attention to what God is doing in us and through us. The plan includes sending one hundred of our members on short term mission trips over the next two years, significant partnerships with five local organizations that are doing important Gospel work in our city, a renewed emphasis on Christian practices that keep us tuned in to God’s work in our lives, new small groups dedicated to transformation and mission, adopting and supporting three new church plants, and every member of our church family giving two hours per month in sacrificial service for others.

As a church, we’ve been in a holding pattern for a while. We’ve been close… but  it just hasn’t happened for a while. We’ve been waiting. But now is the time for our Breakthrough.

We want to be a church, we want to be a people, who are committed to change – holy change in ourselves and salvation change in the world. We want to know that God in Christ is doing incredible things in us and magnificent things through us. And we want to pay better attention to those things, we want to more faithfully expect those things and praise God for those things, and jump into and participate in those things with everything we’ve got.

To whom much is given, much is required. This church on Golf Course Road has been and is so blessed by God – money, wealth, resources, people, relationships, creativity, energy, connections. God did not build his church here, he did not bring his people together here, just so we could worship and enjoy fellowship and this city not be changed!

Yesterday marked the beginning of a brand new chapter in the ongoing story of God’s presence and power with his saved and called people at GCR. As we enter this new and exciting season of worship and prayer and planning and ministry together, may we lean fully into the faithfulness of our God, the love of our Lord Jesus, and the equipping power of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,

Allan

Time for GCR’s Breakthrough

The last several years have been a very difficult season for this church on Golf Course Road. Some folks would say that’s an understatement. The Adversary has thrown a lot at this community of faith. We’ve endured turmoil and upheaval and chaos that some churches couldn’t have survived. For a long time we’ve been putting out fires and dealing with situations and cleaning up  messes and fixing issues – we’ve been working so hard just to hold everything together, it hasn’t allowed us the time or energy to do much else.

But, now it’s time.

By the grace of God, the Lord has faithfully brought us through that time to this time. This is the time to stop talking about what GCR should be doing or could be doing, to stop looking back to what GCR used to do or wishing ahead to what GCR ought to do. This is the time for all of us to get it in the car together, with each other, and put the thing in gear, and finally get out of the driveway and go. It’s time right now for us to be the people God is calling us to be and to do together what God is calling us to do for the sake of Midland and all of West Texas and maybe even the world.

I’m excited about this time. I hope you are, too.

What we’re proposing is not a re-launch or a re-start. We’re not blowing anything up and we’re not throwing anything away. It’s a Breakthrough to transformation and mission. We start rolling it out at 10:15 this Sunday morning.

You ready?

Peace,

Allan

An Evening with Lonesome George

Blues rocker George Thorogood brought his Destroyers to Midland last night on his “Good  To Be Bad: 45 Years of Rock” tour, and Carrie-Anne and I were sixth row, center stage for the show. It was an hour-and-a-half of Lonesome George’s greatest hits and most familiar songs and I was more than delighted to be there.

George Thorogood is not a mainstream classic rock icon – he  didn’t even sell out the 1,800-seat Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center last night. But it’s hard to imagine rock and roll even existing without “Bad to the Bone” and “Move It On Over.” Especially “Bad to the Bone.” That opening guitar riff. The stuttering “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-baaaad!” It’s one of those songs that feels eternal, like it’s always been there. And to be in the room with the man who wrote and recorded that song, the man who’s performed that song for more than four decades, a song that everybody in the entire world knows, is really some kind of experience.

The show opened with the house lights completely down, the whole room totally dark, except for a single purple light on the back wall of the stage. Then Barry McGuire’s classic protest song, “Eve of Destruction,” began blaring from the speakers. The whole thing from start to finish. That song was recorded in 1965 but, man, the lyrics could have been written this morning. It’s disturbing. “Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’; you’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’.””Handful of senators don’t pass legislation.” “Marches alone can’t bring integration.” “Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace.” It’s unsettling. And real.

Then George strutted onto the stage and the world’s only five-man trio tore into “Rock Party” and it was on. Ninety minutes of hard-core bluesy-boogie rock and roll. “Who Do You Love?” “Night Time.” The cult-classic “House Rent Blues.” The aforementioned “Bad to the Bone” and “Move It On Over.” And two songs from my favorite George Thorogood album, “Maverick,” “Gear Jammer” and “I Drink Alone.”

That “Maverick” album was released over Christmas 1984-85, just a week before my last semester of high school. The Zoo, 98FM, the station we all listened to in Dallas, played that opening track, “Gear Jammer” like crazy that whole spring and summer of 1985. The guitar in that song is just blistering. Fast and frantic. The solo in the middle is borderline heavy metal. And I absolutely ate it up. I wore out that “Maverick” cassette tape in my ’74 Monte Carlo all through my last months of high school and up and down I-35 on my way to and from Oklahoma City during college. And to watch Lonesome George burn that song up last night was exhilarating for me.

It’s not quite as exhilarating for Carrie-Anne. She goes with me and sits respectfully through the whole thing; she’s a trooper. But it’s definitely not her bag. I think she’s amused at my enjoyment in watching a 73-year-old man play guitar and sing an old song. And that’s about it.

It is pretty interesting to watch these old rockers in concert. Some of them age really well. And others not so much. Guys like Tom Petty and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers understand their age and the age of their audience and they act appropriately. They don’t pretend like they’re in their 20s. Or that we are. They sing the songs we all love, show appreciation and grace, self-deprecate about their age and their past, and really connect with the fans. George Thorogood didn’t do as well in that category last night. He acted like he was forty years younger than he is. He was trying too hard to be cool and sexy. “I’m going to do everything I can to get arrested tonight!” It was strange. “I belong to AU! Alcoholics Unanimous!” Don’t say that, grandpa. It was a little uncomfortable at times. A pelvic thrust from a pudgy 73-year-old man who’s sweating and out of breath doesn’t work. At one point, George hollered, “Isn’t it great to be 17 again!” No. Wait. That’s weird.

I wish he would have performed another song or two off “Maverick” and maybe “You Talk Too Much,” but those would have been deep cuts. He could have played a slower, more overtly bluesie song like “The Sky is Cryin'” or “Woman with the Blues” but, again, those would have been deep cuts when last night was clearly all about the rock and roll hits. Overall, it was a tremendous show in an intimate venue and I’m so glad we went.

When the encore was complete and the band exited the stage, the “Star Spangled Banner” began blaring over the speakers. No lyrics, just the music, the familiar U.S. national anthem, a full orchestra recording, big sound. What? The whole song. Empty stage. The audience filing up the aisles and out the doors. While the national anthem played.

“Eve of Destruction.” “Star Spangled Banner.” The show in the middle.

This is the world we live in; be reminded that everything’s pretty awful. Here’s some diversionary fun; have a good time with your music and your friends. Now back to pledging allegiance to the mess. Put your hand over your heart and act like nothing’s happening, like nothing needs to change, like everything’s okay. Maybe? I don’t know. There was no explanation. That’s the thing with art. If it’s done well, it will provoke you to serious reflection and thought. Even at a frivolous rock and roll concert. Or you can ignore it, I guess.

I’m still thinking about it today. Trying to figure it out. Well done, George. Thanks for coming to Midland.

Peace,

Allan

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