A Quarter Century of the Whitster

Our oldest daughter turns 25 today.

Whit-Pit’s beautiful eyes are just as blue today as they were when she FINALLY decided to be born late, late, late that Wednesday night in Austin. Her enthusiasm for all things related to any sports team in Texas is just as rabid as it was when she was three-years-old and would cuddle up with me on the couch in our first house in Marble Falls to share a bowl of popcorn and cheer on the Rangers and Mavs and Longhorns and Stars. Her love for others is just as infectious, her spirit just as sweet, her joy just as contagious as it’s been her entire life.

When we shared a birthday breakfast at Calico County this morning, we talked about the Rangers’ starting rotation and Dennis Smith, Jr being in the All-Star dunking contest. We re-capped the Stars’ win last night over St. Louis and calculated the ‘Horns’ chances this afternoon against Zero-U in Norman. But we also discussed things you talk about with 25-year-olds: her car, her job, what we’re doing with our/her health insurance, why the breakfast “special” at Calico County comes with a drink but the breakfast “traditional” doesn’t.

So many things about Whitney are exactly as they’ve always been. Her personality, her voice, her speech patterns, her physical features, her unbridled exuberance for others — all of that is exactly the same. Watching a video from when Whitney was eight-years-old is like watching her today. Talking to her on the phone, listening to her voice, it’s easy to imagine you’re talking to a seven-year-old Whitney. She’s different, but it’s subtle. She’s older and more responsible, but it’s nuanced. Her loves are deeper, her concern for others is expressed more outwardly, her tastes are more broad.

And as long as she lives, nobody will ever have a hard time loving Whitney.

Happy Birthday, Whitney. You are a tremendous blessing from our Lord to every person who’s graced by God to know you.

I love you.

Dad

Thoughts and Prayers

The people who are criticizing Christians and politicians for sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida but aren’t doing anything tangible or practical, are exactly right. Such is the backlash against supposed followers of Jesus in this country who offer their prayers but no real work toward real solutions that “thoughts and prayers” is trending. It’s a hashtag.

And they’re right.

When we pray to God we pray through the name of our Lord Jesus.  And we are ordained by God’s Holy Spirit to act as our Lord’s body — his representatives, his ambassadors — on this earth. We are the Body of Christ and it’s on us, Christians, to do something. That’s how prayer works. We ask God for the boldness, courage, and power to do what needs to be done. And then, by his grace, we do it.

I think about Jesus telling his disciples to pray for workers. In Matthew 9 and Luke 10 he tells his followers “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest , therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” And then the very next word is “Go!” Jesus says in the very next verse, “Go! I am sending you!”

Pray for God to raise up workers. Oh, by the way, YOU ARE THE WORKERS!

I think about the inspiring prayer of Paul at the end of Ephesians 3. The apostle prays to our God who, yes, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” But how does God accomplish his will? How does God work in the world? “…according to his power that is at work within us!”

As part of the curriculum for the Transforming Community experience I’m in, I’m finishing up a book this week by Ronald Rolheiser called “The Holy Longing.” He addresses this near the beginning of a chapter on Consequences of the Incarnation:

“Not only God in heaven is being petitioned and asked to act. We are also charging ourselves, as part of the Body of Christ, with some responsibility for answering the prayer. To pray as a Christian demands concrete involvement in trying to bring about what is pleaded for in the prayer.”

We must put skin on our “thoughts and prayers.”

If I pray that more young people would be involved in our church, but I don’t seek out any young people for friendship or don’t give young people any opportunities for service or leadership, I’m not praying like a Christian. I’m not concretely involving myself in trying to bring about what I’m asking God to do. If my daughter is sick and I pray that she gets well but I don’t drive her to the doctor, I’m not praying like a Christian.

So, it is good to pray for the victims of the shooting and their families. It is good to ask our Father to bless those children and their loved ones with his merciful healing, comfort, and peace. It is good to lament the tragedy and it is good to pray for the soul of the shooter. But we’re not praying like Christians, and we deserve the criticism from non-Christians, if we’re not attempting to do something about the problem.

I understand it can seem hopeless. We live in a sick society with a fetish for guns. We drink the water and breathe the air of violence in the U.S. — it’s “our thing.” But Christians are a people of peace, not violence.  Followers of Jesus are reconcilers, not dividers. What does that look like in your context as it relates to what happened at Douglas High School on Ash Wednesday and what keeps happening every week in this country?

This is not meant for prescription, but for discussion. And reflection.

If you vote, maybe you cast a ballot for politicians who might change some gun laws. Maybe you stop giving money to organizations that promote the easy access to and proliferation of assault weapons in our cities and neighborhoods. Take the violent and divisive bumper sticker off your car.

If you don’t vote, maybe you stop going to violent movies. Maybe you destroy your own guns. You might speak against violence when the conversation at work turns to war or crime. If you’re praying for peace in the world, maybe you can start doing something real by forgiving your own enemies in your family or at church, being kind to people who are different from you, reaching out to the lonely and depressed people around you with love and grace and friendship.

Thoughts and prayers are good. To be Christian, though, it cannot stop there.

Peace,

Allan

How Long, O Lord?

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. “
~Habakkuk 1

Rising and Dying

Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent, the forty days followers of Jesus use to prepare their hearts and souls in anticipation of Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday is typically a day of fasting and prayer, a day for renewing vows and making promises. Lent is generally a period of fasting and prayer, six weeks of focusing on purity and cleanliness.  A putting away. A taking off. A solemn burial of the habits and issues that get between us and a complete commitment to our crucified and risen Lord.

I’ve suggested in the past that if Lent is for putting things away, then Easter is for taking up new activities in service of Christ. You shouldn’t rid your life of damaging attitudes and practices and not replace them with helpful habits and perspectives. If Lent is dying with Christ, Easter is certainly rising with Christ.

But, I’d like to revise my recommendation.

Don’t wait until Easter to start those new habits. Don’t wait until Resurrection Day to take up that new something that will draw you closer to our Lord.

Every day is a dying and rising with Christ. Every day is a taking off and putting on with Jesus. Living under his exclusive lordship  requires that we die to ourselves and rise to walk with him every hour. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life. It begins with our baptisms — dying and rising with Christ — and continues as our habit, our daily routine. Clothe yourselves with Christ. Put off and take on. Be buried and rise again. Every morning and throughout your day.

In unity with all my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, I’m fasting and praying today. I’ll attend the Ash Wednesday service down the street at Polk Street United Methodist Church this evening. And I’ll not wait until Easter to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus who gives us new life today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.

Peace,

Allan

Since Thursday

We gut-laughed until we were both crying. We laughed so hard we were hoarse the rest of the night and into the next morning. Jerry Seinfeld went an hour-and-fifteen-minutes Thursday evening in Midland/Odessa breaking our common everyday lives down to the finest hilarious details as only he can. The only way it could have been any better is if he had gone longer. Bathroom stalls, marriage as a game show, texting abbreviations, Swanson Hungry Man TV dinners, bucket lists, the U.S. Postal Service, buffet restaurants — he’s a genius! We were dead center, 50-yard-line, on the twelfth row; they were the best seats in the house! What a wonderful Christmas present from my fabulous wife!

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I was honored to speak at Oklahoma Christian University’s chapel yesterday, the most excruciatingly nervous 15-minutes of my year. I love public speaking — you know I do. I like speaking to small groups of a dozen or so in intimate settings, I like speaking in front of a couple thousand in a conference atmosphere, I enjoy speaking every Sunday at Central. I love speaking to little kids and older adults and people my own age. Speaking to a roomful of preachers, to the homeless people at Loaves and Fishes, to business professionals at a Rotary lunch, or to a ladies Bible class never gives me a problem. But talking to college aged young people in the middle of their school day is brutal. They let you know in no uncertain terms exactly how they’re receiving the message. They don’t hide anything. There’s no pretending.

It felt a little better this time than in previous years. I kept it much shorter than normal and I specifically mentioned some key buzz words that spoke to particular hot-button issues in society and tied my message as directly to those issues as possible. Valerie gave me some good advice. It looked like they were paying attention.

I was blessed to get caught up with my sister Rhonda and her husband Geoff. I was privileged to eat dinner Sunday night at Ted’s (!) with our middle daughter Valerie, her friend Paige, and my nephew Asa. And then yesterday it was lunch at The Garage with Rhonda, Valerie, and Delta Gamma Sigma sponsor Chris Adair, who sent me home with OC and Delta gear for the whole family.

I appreciate Jeff McMillon’s kind words of encouragement and affirmation; if I were an OC recruiter, I’d make sure every high school senior spent an hour with Jeff. And I’m blown away by our Lord who thinks it’s a good idea for me to speak at OC chapel. His grace reaches even me!

Peace,

Allan

Church Habits

I have no idea why Jerry Seinfeld is playing in Midland, Texas tonight, but I do know Carrie-Anne and I will be on the floor of the Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center in our seats in the middle of Row 12! It’s a Christmas present from my super-cool wife and I’m excited beyond description. I’d drive to Midland to watch Seinfeld read a phone book.

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Once a month our covenant group gets up early and serves breakfast to the folks staying at the League House. We hang out for a couple of hours and pray with people from out of town who have relatives in the hospitals here. A couple of weeks ago we met a guy named Jeff (not his real name) who’s from the Austin area. He and his wife and three kids had come up to be with Jeff’s brother who was in serious condition after suffering a terrible brain aneurysm.  As we’re talking with Jeff and hearing his story, he mentions that his wife is from Vietnam. Then, later in the conversation, Aleisha asked him, “How did you meet your wife?” And he told us a fascinating story.

The company he works for in Austin is headquartered in the D.C./Virginia area and they regularly send a woman from there to train the employees in Austin. This woman’s originally from Vietnam. So Jeff and this woman get to know each other in a friendly, working relationship kind of way. And one day she calls Jeff from Virginia, from completely out of the blue, and says her family is looking for someone to marry her sister so she can come to the states.

“What?”
“Yeah, my sister can come to the U.S. if she has an American husband. So, if you know anybody who might be interested in helping us out…”
“I don’t know anybody who’d actually want to get married.”
“No, they don’t have to stay married. Only for a year or two. Then they can get divorced and she can stay in the U.S.”
“No, sorry, I don’t know anybody.”
“We’d pay him money.”
(short pause)
“Um… How much money?”
“We’d pay him $30,000.”
“Well, I think I might could get interested in that!”

So, Jeff agrees to do it. He’ll marry this lady from Vietnam, pocket the $30K, and they’ll split up later.

Now, here’s the catch. Jeff had to take three or four trips to Vietnam to sell everybody over there that it was legit. The family paid for the trips, but Jeff had to go to Vietnam to spend time with her. They had to go on dates together, eat dinner together, spend time with her family. They had to take a lot of pictures together and post them on social media. And the most important thing: when he’s in Austin, he had to write her letters. He had to call her and facetime her and send her gifts. He had to act like he was in love with her. He had to do things a guy in love would do.

And in the middle of all that, Jeff fell in love with her. For real.

He never would have thought himself into loving this young lady. He never could have studied himself into loving her. But he acted himself into it and he didn’t even know it was happening. He was forced by the circumstances into some habits that actually changed his feelings and his thinking. Doing what people in love do shaped him into a guy in love. They were married 14-years ago, they have three children, and he never took the $30,000.

Why do we go to church? We go to church because it makes us more like Jesus. Church is one of the main habits, one of the critical spiritual practices that shapes us into the people of God.

It’s hard to think yourself into loving others. It’s difficult to study yourself into considering the needs of others more important than your own. Being together around Word and Table puts us in the circumstances and into the habits that will, by God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit, actually change our feelings and thinking. Doing what Jesus does shapes us into the image of Jesus.

So many of us grew up going to church. It’s a habit of our lives that started before we can remember and possibly one that we sometimes see as very ordinary. Maybe even humdrum and boring. We can do church with our eyes closed, and sometimes do.

But what if we understood our church gatherings as sacramental encounters with our Lord? What if we believed God’s Spirit was powerfully at work during our songs and prayers, during the Scriptures and the meals, to transform us into the image of Christ? What if we allowed ourselves to be swept up into the habits of the church as formation practices through which our Lord meets us and moves us into better fitness for eternal life? What if we were filled with awe at the possibilities in front of us? What if we were filled with awe in the face of a vision of how we can be and how the world will be in the future? And what if that awe increases as the power of God’s Spirit heals us and transforms our lives?

Peace,

Allan

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