Black Thursday?

Cowboys No Comments »

My practice has been that if I can’t say something ugly about the Cowboys, I don’t say anything at all. Hence the silence here since my pre-season game-by-game analysis and forecasts, including my 6-10 prediction for the Cowboys’ record. Just a few hours away now from the unquestioned pivotal game of the Cowboys year, I feel compelled to throw out a couple of opinions. As with Job’s loquacious friend, Eliphaz, I cannot keep from speaking.

First, let’s acknowledge that it is very difficult to get wins in the NFL. Just ask the Saints, the Texans, the 49′ers, etc., It’s tough to get wins in this league. They don’t come easy. And the Cowboys this year have racked up a bunch of wins. With five games to play, they’ve already accomplished more Ws than in any of the last three complete seasons. So, you can’t deny that the team is much improved in many crucial areas. I hate to admit it; but I can’t ignore it. This team, this year, is vastly improved over previous seasons. The offensive line really is the envy of the league. They really do have a running game. (Let’s face it: Romo looks better this year because it’s hard to intercept a handoff!) While the defense has major deficiencies, they are a pack of ferocious head-hunters who fly around the ball and swarm to the action like the great Dallas defenders of the mid-90s. There doesn’t seem to be a selfish player on the team; at least, the overall team-first attitudes are keeping the problem egos in check. And the Cowboys this year are really fun to watch. They’re entertaining. They enjoy playing together. They’re all blocking downfield on every play. They’re having fun. And it translates through the screens into our living rooms. If you’re not careful, you could be caught up into thinking this group actually has a chance to do something grand.

(OK, this is where I take a final stab at writing this group off just like the Cowboys teams from the past 17 seasons.)

I believe they’re going to get beat today. As much as Chip Kelly’s offense is celebrated for its frantic pace and scoreboard-bursting numbers, the Eagles really do run the ball very well with LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. And, as we’ve already seen, if the Cowboys lose the time of possession battle, they lose. If the Dallas D is on the field for too long, they’re exposed. With the exception of Scandrick and McClain, who’s having a career season, the Cowboys defenders are only marginal players who are being led by a coordinator who’s coaching way, way, way over the talent he has on the field. And they have absolutely no depth. Over the past four games, the Cowboys defense is ranking in the bottom three in the league in 3rd down stops, yards per play, red zone scores, and several other key categories. Other teams are beginning to discover the weakness: if you run the ball on Dallas, you win. And the Eagles run the ball very well.

So, let’s assume they lose today. The Cowboys are now 8-4, in second place in the division, behind in the tie-breaker with the Eagles, with four games to go. Three of those last four games are on the road. They have to turn around to play the Eagles again in two weeks, this time in Philly. And if they lose that game, the only way Dallas qualifies for the post-season is as a Wild Card. Maybe they squeak in at 9-7. The only guarantee is if they go 10-6.

How do you see the last four games playing out?

at Chicago – I don’t know; what’s the weather going to be like?

at Philly – How does Dallas win this one?

vs Colts – It’s a home game but can the Cowboys D stop Luck and the Colts?

at Washington – for the past three seasons in a row, Dallas has needed to beat a divisional opponent in the last game of the season to qualify for the playoffs; in all three years, they’ve lost that game and stayed at home for the postseason. Would you bet on them in the exact same scenario this year?

Bottom line: if the Cowboys lose today, they have to win two of their last four games to guarantee a playoff spot. And that will not be easy. If they win today…

Regardless, I’ll admit again, this Cowboys team is vastly improved and much more fun to watch play. Whether they win or lose today, the game will be close, the atmosphere will be electric, and it will be a blast to watch. But, I think they lose today. And I think the loss today starts the familiar December slide into playoff oblivion.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Thanksgiving in Christ

1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Jesus, Romans, Thanksgiving No Comments »

In good times and bad, we have much for which to be thankful. Much. Odds are that you personally rank in the top ten percent of the wealthiest people in the world. And, yes, we are thankful. We are thankful for all the wonderful blessings of our lives: our families, our children, our friends, our jobs and houses, our cars and money. And that’s good. It’s very good to acknowledge God as the giver of all good gifts. Everything you have is a gift from God. We thank him for every good thing we see.

But beyond that — way, way, way beyond that — we enjoy the blessings of a righteous relationship with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything we’ve been given, all our possessions, every blessing you could possibly count this week finds more significance because of Christ. Every blessing is richer, it’s better, it’s deeper, it’s more significant, it’s more meaningful because of Christ. In fact, all thanksgiving is because of, related to, and in the name of Jesus.

The things the Scriptures long for, the blessings the psalms yearn for, the promises the Bible begs to be delivered are all fulfilled for us in Christ Jesus. He is our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption.

So, you’re thankful today? “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

You’re thankful for a particular person today? “I always thank God for you, because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus!” (1 Corinthians 1:4)

You’re thankful today even in tough times? “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus!” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

You’re thankful for salvation? “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

In Ephesians 5:20, Paul tells us to give thanks to God “for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We have a whole lot for which to be thankful today. Let’s be reminded that all thanksgiving — all of it — finds its source and its meaning in our Savior and Lord.



The Silver One

Allan's Journey, Carrie-Anne, Marriage No Comments »

Twenty-Five years ago today, Carrie-Anne and I hopped on a tiny little plane at the Amarillo airport and flew to Las Vegas where we were married at 11:30 that evening by a J.P. in the basement of the Clark County courthouse. I remember standing in a fairly long line at the marriage license counter late that night and thinking it odd that there were so many people doing what we were doing. Then we noticed that we were the only two sober people in the building. Which was funny. And kinda sad.

I wonder how many of those people in the room with us that night ever have any regrets about getting married in Vegas on a Saturday near midnight?

Not me.

Carrie-Anne, I’ve always felt like it’s appropriate that we got married over the Thanksgiving weekend because I am so thankful to God you said ‘yes’ to me that day. And I’m eternally grateful that you keep saying ‘yes’ with every new day. With every new challenge. In every new phase. With every move, every heartache, every kid, every celebration, every setback, and every victory. You are such a constant and consistent presence of God in my life, a faithful reminder of how blessed by him I am.

Over the months and years, my love for you has grown deeper. It’s richer. It’s more significant. It’s more meaningful. More grateful. It’s stronger. Better. We’ve been through a whole lot together. Together. Together. Together. And I’m so glad.

Thank you, Carrie-Anne, for every hour of every day of every year for the past twenty-five. Even the sad hours. Even the tense moments. Even the tough stretches. I’m so thankful for every minute that you and I have been “one.”

I love you,



It Can’t Get Old

4 Amarillo 1 Comment »

Last night we participated in the future. Last night we all joined together in the fulfillment of prophesy. We actually became an answer to our Lord’s prayers in Scripture last night. The four downtown churches — First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Polk Street Methodist, and Central Church of Christ — gathered at our building last night as an undeniable witness to God’s power and grace and as his partners in the great work of reconciliation. All of that wonder and promise took place within the very comfortable confines of our worship center here at Central last night where the walls between our denominations are coming down and the things that divide us are being erased for the sake of the Kingdom.

People began arriving a full hour and a half before the joint worship service began to hear the 130-member combined choir rehearse in our balcony. There were warm welcomes in the concourse, friendships renewed in the pews, and a strong sense of anticipation that you just don’t get before most worship services. By the time Howie jumped up to welcome everyone and lead our invocation, the house was just about full — nearly a thousand of us lifting our voices and our hearts to God together as one people.

Before I led us in a responsive reading of Jesus’ great prayer for unity in John 17, I reminded all of us that we can’t ever let this grow old; we can’t ever take this for granted. Not every church — and you know this, too — gets to experience the tangible breaking down of barriers between Christian denominations and the sweet fellowship that results from a gracious understanding that our Lord is bigger than our differences. We can’t let this partnership with the downtown churches ever become old hat. We need to continue to embrace this coalition of congregations in the hope and prayer that our coming together to do anything — especially to worship! — provides a powerful testimony to our city that Christ Jesus really is the Prince of Peace.

Kevin led the congregational singing of mostly older and familiar hymns: ”Come, Thou Almighty King,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” and “It Is Well With My Soul.” He even got us all to sing “Love, Love, Love, Love,” in around, a very Church of Christ thing to do. Dan Baker and Norman Goad directed the choir in special selections “We Believe” and “We Are the Body of Christ.” And it was just good. Rich. Robust. Inspirational. One voice. One body. All disciples of our Lord Jesus. And the music just filled our massive worship center. I believe even our “vortex of death,” where all our songs go to die, was powerless against the enthusiastic praise of our God. Four or five people told me afterward, “You don’t need an organ in here; the singing is so beautiful.”

Then Burt preached. After taking a panoramic picture of the packed worship center with his phone. After making a joke about our super thin steel pulpit. After disparaging the good name of Howie Batson. Burt preached from Mark 2 where the story of the four friends lowering their paralytic friend down through the roof to Jesus is recorded. Burt said our four churches are the four friends. We have each grabbed a corner of the mat and we are together bringing people to the only One who can heal, Christ Jesus our Lord. And just as the roof proved to be no obstacle to the determined friends, we four churches will not be deterred by our denominational differences in working together for the sake of the Kingdom in Amarillo.

In the middle of the sermon, Burt did actually try to call a public vote on putting a clock in our worship center. Ours is the only sanctuary of the four churches without a big clock on the back wall. And Burt’s always been jealous of that. It didn’t help that he declared all Central votes counted as three or that Kevin stood up when Burt made the call for a vote and shouted a long and loud “AAAAAAA-MEN!!!” I protested, but my voice was drowned out by the will of the people. I’m not sure if the motion carried or not. But it was fun.

Howard Griffin challenged us with an inspirational and very Presbyterian benediction, calling us to remember that as we leave this place God is the One sending us. And that we are to be his witnesses, his instruments, his willing partners in the redemption work he wants to do.

Whew! After all that, you would think “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” would be anti-climactic. But it wasn’t. As Kevin led us in this beautiful closing song, everyone in the worship center began to spontaneously hold hands and put their arms around each other. Across the aisles and up and down the room, by the time the song was over, we were all holding hands in a physical demonstration of our unity in Christ.

What a night! What an honor to host it here in our place. A blessed honor.

I still believe it is good for different denominations to come together in service projects to build houses and feed the poor and clean up the parks. I think God is praised and the Kingdom is advanced when different groups of Christians join forces to provide medical assistance and Snack Pak for kids. But I think the most powerful thing we can do is worship together. I believe our most effective witness comes when we worship together in one another’s buildings on Sundays. We don’t have to set aside any theological differences when we pick up trash together, but we do when we read the Bible and pray. We don’t have to necessarily sacrifice or show grace to anyone when we serve together in a soup line, but we do when we sing and preach. Your particular views on salvation and atonement, your particular practices in worship and church structure don’t impact me at all when we’re standing side by side working on a Habitat for Humanity House. But it matters a great deal when we’re sitting next to one another in your church building.

When we can put those things aside, when we can discount our differences and accentuate our oneness, when we can come together in perfect harmony and unity in the name of Jesus, I believe that sends a powerful message to our world that Jesus really is the Prince of Peace,

Oh, what fun last night! Oh, what a blessed privilege to belong to a church family that is so eager to embrace all who follow Jesus as Lord. What a thrill to live into God’s promised future right now today. Let’s not ever let this get old.



God & Money

Jesus, Matthew, Possessions 1 Comment »

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” ~Matthew 6:24

Senator Phil Gramm once famously said, “I’ve got more guns than I need, but not more than I want.” Most of us might be able to say the same thing about our TVs, our cars, our computers, our books, our bank accounts, or the square feet in our house. More than we need; not more than we want.

Our Lord teaches that we are not to store up treasures for ourselves on earth but, instead, to store up treasures in heaven. He says not to worry about food and drink or clothes and cars, that our faithful Father will provide everything we need. He says to focus on the Kingdom, to seek first and foremost the Kingdom, and then all the stuff we really need will be given to us.

To chase after the things of this world, to spend our time and money and resources securing material things, working at a job we hate to pursue things that won’t last, isn’t a matter of not trusting that God will give us what we need. But it may be a matter of not trusting that God will give us what we want. And what we want seems to be very, very important.

Myself included.

There’s a group of young men in Abilene who are taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously. They have decided to give up the pursuit of material things in order to live together in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town and serve the community with God’s love and grace. Our Bible classes here at Central recently watched a video interview with three young men who are living in this Allelon Community. And I was immediately struck by how my first thoughts about these guys were negative. Why was I feeling negatively about these men who are living out in such concrete ways the teachings of our Lord? They’re sharing everything — the rent, the bills, the food, the clothes, everything — so they can work less and spend more time in Gospel relationship blessing their neighbors. Yet, I found myself judging the blankets hanging over their windows in place of curtains. I caught myself judging the holes in their T-shirts, the unmowed grass in the yard, the unkempt hair, and the terribly messy living room.

Ha. It’s easy to judge others. It’s much more difficult to evaluate my own life as it stands in contrast to Jesus’ teachings.

How might these guys judge me if they were to see the inside of my house? “Why does he have four TVs?” “Why are there four cars in his driveway?” “How many of these shirts in his closet does this dude actually wear?”

The exhortations in the Sermon on the Mount are not intended to bring us down. They’re not unrealistic expectations for a disciple of Jesus. And they’re not commands as much as they are encouragements. Reminders. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer on this particular passage, we have here either a crushing burden, which holds out no hope, or else it is the quintessence of the Gospel, which brings the promise of freedom and perfect joy. Jesus does not tell us what we ought to do but cannot; he tells us what God has given us and promises to continue giving us, so we can live lavishly in him.

It’s not “Stop chasing material things! Stop worrying about your food! Stop hoarding money and buying more stuff!” It’s more like, “Look at everything you have in Christ Jesus! Why are you chasing material things? Look at all the blessings and promises that belong to you in Jesus!Why are you worrying about food? Look at the boundless love of your God! Why are you hoarding money and buying more stuff?”

Come on, I love God. I serve God.  I like to buy things, but I’m not serving money.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~Matthew 6:21

What would the Allelon boys say about you if they toured your house? I’m just asking…



Not That We Loved God…

1 John, Incarnation No Comments »

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” ~1 John 4:10

Jesus is not just a messenger or an ambassador sent from God to the earth. Jesus is actually God in the flesh! Through his Christ, God actually joins us and lives with us on this planet. He’s not just standing a long way off and announcing the way of salvation through a representative. God actually became a man!

And we see in this “Emmanuel,” this “God with us,” our Lord’s deep desire for community. We see his longing for eternal relationship and communion with his people. And we experience our God’s love.

Jesus, in essence, says, “I am God.” Look at me. When you see me, you see the Father. When you know me, you know the Father.

Jesus reveals God. Jesus allows us to see God, to experience God. His compassion shows us God’s compassion; his gentleness shows us God’s gentleness; His mercy shows us God’s mercy; Jesus’ forgiveness shows us God’s forgiveness. And his death on the cross reveals very clearly to us the depth of God’s great love.

If God so loved the world, that means he loves you, too. And it’s that deep love for you that motivates his every action. There’s nothing our God does that is not compelled by his love for you. There’s nothing he allows to happen to you that is not driven by his foremost goal of living in eternal communion with you.

God loves you. Forever.