Love First

1 John, Christ & Culture, Love No Comments »

We all know what’s happening in our world, in this country. It’s not new. It’s just amped up to eleven on the ten-point scale and it’s louder than normal and it’s all around us all the time. There is division and strife and conflict. You can’t get away from it. Black and white, left and right, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative — it’s splashed across every screen and blaring from every set of speakers. You can’t eat a Twix bar without being forced to choose left or right. And you can’t turn on a football game on Sunday afternoon to escape from it.

And we’re all experiencing this together — all of God’s children, all of Christ’s disciples, all asking the same questions.

How do we handle this? What are we supposed to do? How do Christians engage this volatile culture? What do we say? How do we act?

I think most of us wish there was a third option, a different way, a way to be above all the conflict but still engage what’s happening in ways that matter.

May I suggest love?

Completely love. Love completely. Sharing the immeasurable love of God with others lifts us above the strife.

The world is squeezing us to make a choice between two options and we get in trouble when we don’t recognize that third way, that third and very different option that takes us high above anything else being offered: Love. Committing to love as our guiding principle, as our continuous posture, actually fulfills or completes God’s purposes for the love he’s lavished on us.

The Bible says we love because he first loved us. We love completely because we are so completely loved.

Peace,

Allan

Completely Love

1 John, Central Church Family, Love No Comments »

It’s Missions Month here at Central — probably my favorite recurring season on our local church calendar — and our focus during these five Sundays is on the purpose of God’s great love.

“If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” ~1 John 4:12
“Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete in us.” ~1 John 4:16-17

God’s love is what saves us. The matchless love of God transcends the barriers of time and space to reach into our hearts and draw us in to a righteous relationship with him. God’s love achieves for us total forgiveness and absolute peace. Praise God! But God’s love, which existed for us “before the foundations of the world,” only realizes its true mission, it only accomplishes its eternal purpose, when you and I show that same divine love to others.

That’s the cycle. That’s the ultimate point of God’s great love for us.

This divine love that’s existed for all time comes from God. It is showered lavishly on us through Jesus Christ. We experience that love, we are saved by that love. But that love isn’t complete until we show that same love to other people. Or, to say it positively, like John: The whole point of God’s perfect love is fulfilled — it’s made complete — when we live to love others.

We love completely because we’ve been completely loved.

“We love because he first loved us.” ~1 John 4:19

When the world is hurting, God’s people should be healing. When the world is afraid, disciples of Jesus should be bold. When the world is confused, the Church should be clear. When people are surrounded by hate, we should be where they encounter God’s love. Completely.

Peace,

Allan

I Miss Tom Petty

Allan's Journey, Carley No Comments »

I had just turned thirteen-years-old in the fall of 1979 when I heard Tom Petty for the very first time. It was either “Refugee” or “Don’t Do Me Like That,” I’m not entirely sure. I know it was on The Zoo, 98FM in Dallas, and I know it was on my almost brand new stereo / turn-table / receiver with the smoky gray dust cover. But I don’t remember which song it was because the radio was rotating several cuts from Petty’s third studio album, “Damn the Torpedoes.” I wanted to buy the album. My parents wouldn’t allow it because of the profane title. So I bought all the singles. “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Even the Losers.” All on 45s. I’ve still got ’em.

Van Halen and Aerosmith take me back to high school. It’s nostalgic. Listening to those two bands reminds me of all the stuff most people like to be reminded of: their carefree youth and all those firsts. I love listening to Van Halen and Aerosmith. But it’s only relevant to the 80s. It’s a little silly, actually.

Tom Petty, however, has been my constant musical companion from my junior high “Zoo Freak” days to right now on this sad first day without him. Tom Petty kept writing and recording the songs and the songs kept maturing along with me. His music kept speaking to me, reflecting me, giving voice to my heart and my thoughts in our current context. His songs never hearkened back to the good ol’ days. “Wildflowers” and “Learning to Fly” would never have contained songs like “Anything That’s Rock n Roll” or “Rockin’ Around (With You).” His past four or five albums have been packed with wistful and reflective songs, lyrics that speak to past regret, mistakes made, broken promises, a realistic (some might say cynical) view of the present, and a very hopeful look to the future.

These lines from “Anything That’s Rock n Roll,” from Petty’s first album:

“Some friends of mine and me stayed up all through the night / rockin’ pretty steady ’til the sky went light / didn’t go to bed, didn’t go to work / I picked up the telephone, told the boss he was a jerk / Your mama don’t like it when you run around with me / but we got to hip your mama that you got to live free / don’t need her, don’t need school / you don’t like your daddy and you don’t like rules…”

are a whole lot different from these lines from “All You Can Carry” on his last album:

“I saw a ghost by the road tonight / and then my mind ran away with me / I had a vision in the changing light / something saying that it’s time to leave / Take what you can, all you can carry / take what you can and leave the past behind / take what you can, all you can carry / take what you can and leave the past behind / we gotta run / There’s something moving in the dark outside / I gotta face it when it hits the light / no one can say I didn’t have your side / no one can say I left without a fight / Take what you can, all you can carry / take what you can and leave the past behind.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Every one of his albums contains a whole lot of what every one of his albums contains. You’re going to find some rebellion and some hard rock guitar riffs. And, yeah, there’s plenty of cynicism or realism in those early records, too. The first lines of “American Girl” from their debut album in 1976 tell you right away that Tom Petty’s going to call ’em like he sees ’em.

But his latest works over the past quarter century have grown up with me. Or I’ve grown up with them. Both.

He always communicated a realistic look at the problems all around us. But he underscored most of his songs with hope. I wouldn’t carry this too far, but Petty’s work is like the Psalms in that sense. Here’s what’s going on in my life / the world / this country / my relationships that feels bad and wrong. But we all know there’s something better waiting for us around the corner.

His latest, and now last, studio album, 2014’s “Hypnotic Eye” is unapologetic when it comes to pointing out the problems with the power structures in the United States, the political corruption and polarization that’s dividing the country, the senseless violence, and the unfulfilled promises. Check out these lyrics from the album’s first offering, “American Dream Plan B”:

“My mama’s so sad / daddy’s just mad / ’cause I ain’t gonna have the chance he had / my success is anybody’s guess / but like a fool I’m bettin’ on happiness.”

“Burnt Out Town,” “Power Drunk,” and “Shadow People” are blistering declarations of the problems in today’s society. But mixed into the middle of all that are cuts like “Full Grown Boy,” “Sins of My Youth,” and “Fault Lines.”

“See these fault lines laid out like land mines / it’s hard to relax / a promise broken, the ground breaks open / love falls through the cracks / and I’ve got a few of my own / I’ve got a few of my own fault lines / running under my life.”

There’s baptismal imagery in “Red River” and so much self-reflection and regret — an acknowledgment of past mistakes and current weaknesses — in “Full Grown Boy” and “Fault Lines,” that it sounds like the heart of an honest man nearing the last laps of his race.

And he was.

Tom Petty had just completed his 40th anniversary tour with three shows at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. and was telling reporters that he was done with long tours. He’s got a granddaughter now and he can’t be a good grandpa if he’s on the road all the time. He wanted to quit touring and start this last part of his life with his family and, especially, his granddaughter.

That stinks.

And I miss him already.

I always bought every Tom Petty album the moment it was released. I’ve got ’em all. And I’ve been listening to them back-to-back-to-back since last evening. When the news broke, I was on the Oklahoma Christian University campus in OKC for their annual lectures. My sister Rhonda had texted me the news, forwarding a text from her husband Geoff, because he knew I would want to know. As soon as I verified it, I called Carley.

That phone conversation did not go well. Carley shares my love for Tom Petty’s music. It’s her soundtrack, too. She and I saw him perform from really great floor seats at American Airlines Center for her 16th birthday two years ago. We were planning to see him together in Dallas and / or Oklahoma City every single time he played until the day he died.

The last lines Tom Petty sings on that last album come at the very end of the most brutally honest and brilliant song he ever recorded on the state of things in this country. The song is “Shadow People” and it’s tough. It’s about our political and social divisions. It’s about how nobody thinks anymore, nobody talks anymore — we just react. And we stockpile water and canned goods and guns. And everybody’s afraid. We’re all hiding our true selves behind our political positions. And you can’t tell who’s who because nobody seems interested in real conversation. But, in true Tom Petty fashion, he ends the song and the album and, now, his life catalogue by expressing and renewing our hope.

“Waiting for the sun to be straight overhead, ’til we ain’t got no shadow at all.”

Peace,

Allan

Praying Like Petty

Prayer No Comments »

There’s a dream I keep having where my mama comes to me
and kneels down over by the window and says a prayer for me;
got my own way of prayin,’
but every one’s begun
with a southern accent
where I come from.

~Tom Petty

What Have You Heard?

Hebrews, Worship No Comments »

In wondering this week whether Hebrews 12:18-24 has anything to say to us today about what happens in corporate worship, I’ve recounted three of my most memorable and impactful worship experiences: in Jerusalem in 2007, at the Tulsa Workshop in 2004, and at the first “4 Amarillo” service in 2013. Of course, our attitudes and our expectations have a lot to do with our worship experiences. But there’s also a whole lot happening in us, to us, and through us every Sunday, regardless of our own individual engagement. That’s what the preacher in Hebrews is talking about.

I point to my worship experience at the Western Wall in Jerusalem because God was there. But we can say the same thing about the place where we worship God together every Sunday. We gather with the saints who’ve gone before. We gather in a building that exists because a group of Amarillo Christians started worshiping together in 1908. We stand on the shoulders of the older Christians in the room. All of that is evidence that God himself was here! He met with his people right here!

I point to my experience in Tulsa because I felt at that time God is here. He’s speaking to me here. But we can say the same thing about worship in our church. The forgiveness and the restoration that happens here, the baptisms and the prayers, the salvation and the meal, the reconciliation, the changed lives, the Christian service — all of that is proof that God himself is here and present and active with his people.

I point to that “4 Amarillo” assembly because it felt like we were truly worshiping in the experience of the perfect will of God. It felt like heaven. But the same is true in our church every Sunday. When we come to God together in his holy presence with no fear and no guilt, that is God’s will for all of eternity. “I will dwell with you” — that’s his covenant — “I will live with you and I will be your God and you will be my people.” What better place to experience that than in worship?

God’s everlasting will is to bring his people to perfection or completeness. To do that, our sin had to be dealt with totally and completely, our consciences needed to be purified all the way through, so our lives could be brought into joyful conformity with God’s design. Jesus has done that. His blood has purchased and established that sin-forgiving covenant that gives us God’s holiness and righteousness and peace.

That’s what’s so wonderful! That’s what makes the Gospel such good news!

If we’re in Christ, we’re perfect. If we’re in Jesus, we have no sin, no guilt. The Scriptures say in Christ we have fully met the righteous requirements of the Law. So when we come to God, it’s not to a physical, earthly mountain we can see. We come to Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the true spiritual dwelling place of the Lord. We come to angels and heavenly saints and we come to God himself — not just lights and noise and smoke and a thundering voice. Through our perfect mediator, we’ve got full and complete access to God in heaven, not on an earthly mountain, but on his heavenly throne.

And we’re not afraid. We come to him in boldness and confidence, right into his presence, together, because we come as perfect and sinless and holy. No fear. Instead, overflowing with thanksgiving and joy. Not darkness and gloom and dread and guilt, but with celebration and song and praise.

How do we know? Because that’s what we’ve heard.

How was church? Well, what have you heard?

Peace,

Allan

Looking for the Wrong Things on Sunday

Hebrews, Worship 1 Comment »

Until the day our faith becomes sight, until that day of glory finally comes and we see with our eyes what God in Christ promises us is true, we’ve got to lean on the Word of the Lord. We’ve got to trust and depend on the Word of God. The preacher in Hebrews opens up his sermon by saying, “God has spoken to us. We must pay more careful attention to what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift away.”

What we have heard is that there’s a giant party going on right now in heaven. All the angels in their everlasting glory, all the saints in their eternal holiness, feasting with great joy in the heavenly realms around the throne of God. It’s a never-ending festival. The angels are fluttering around in joy, the saints are swinging from the chandeliers. And on Sunday mornings the floor opens up and the whole scene falls down to earth in the middle of our Christian worship.

I can’t see it. I can’t always feel it. But I’ve got to believe it because we have heard the Word!

But have you seen the people I’m sitting with at church? They don’t look or act like angels to me.

I know. I wish we could all be like Elisha’s servant — remember? The Lord opened his eyes so he could see the invisible realities. He saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire and the Lord’s army all around them, protecting them. I think, though, that if we could see and touch what’s actually happening around us in here — what’s happening in us and through us and all around us on Sunday mornings in church — it would absolutely blow our minds.

That day is coming. In the meantime…

How was church?

I was worshiping with all of heaven’s angels around the throne of God. It was awesome.

How was church?

It was packed! There were millions and millions of Christians there, all of God’s people — past, present, and future. It was awesome.

How was church?

I ate the communion meal with my grandmother. She finished her race 17-years ago and she’s with the Lord, but I eat and drink with her every Sunday. And it’s awesome.

I know this is not easy. I’m not telling you it’s easy. I’m telling you when we walk into the church worship center on Sunday mornings, we’re looking for the wrong things. Close your eyes. Don’t trust your eyes. Your eyes are deceiving you. Hear the Word.

You have not come to the worship leader and the songs we sing; you have come to God!

You have not come to the preacher and the sermon we preach; you have come to God!

You have not come to a church building because the elders have asked you to; you have come to God!

You have not come to an obligation or a responsibility, you have not come to a Church of Christ or any particular brand of Christianity, you have not come to videos or bulletins or parking lots or crackers and juice; you have come to God and to Christ and to angels and saints and to the salvation blood of Jesus that gives you direct and guilt-free access to all of the Father’s eternity in heaven right now!

Somehow we’ve got to slip through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia so we can learn to experience and feel what’s really happening. God is here! You have come to God!

Peace,

Allan