More Than Meets the Eye

Carley, Carrie-Anne, Faith, Hebrews No Comments »

For twenty straight years I’ve woken up my child or children on the first day of school with a loud, over-the-top, “extra” rendition of “School Bells.” At 6:05 this morning, in the pitch dark, I opened the door to Carley’s bedroom and laid into it one more time.

One last time.

Today is the first day of our youngest daughter’s senior year at Canyon High School. She’s got the ring, she’s had the senior yearbook picture taken, and now she’s starting class. Her senior year. Her last year.

For twenty years I’ve taken that first-day-of-school picture: new clothes, backpack, lunchbox, and three Wal-Mart bags full of crayons, paper, pens, and a box of Kleenex. Today? Carley might be wearing new clothes — I can’t tell. But there’s no backpack, no books, no supplies, and definitely no lunch box. She allowed me to take her picture with Carrie-Anne, who is starting her fifth year today as the Culinary Arts Director at Canyon High, and then took off in her little green car. Gone.

I don’t think “School Bells” is going to sound as good or be as irritating next year over the phone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We’re tired. We’re bored. You can see it in the way we look down when somebody’s asking for volunteers. You can see it in the way we straggle in to worship and complain about it when it’s over. We’re traveling more and playing more sports and assembling together with the Church less. The problem is just getting us to admit it. If we could admit it — we’re bored, we’re tired, we’ve lost our fire, we’re plateaued — then we could deal with it honestly and get some help. And maybe we’d understand that this spiritual fatigue is understandable.

It’s in the very nature of the kind of commitment we’ve all made. Following Jesus isn’t an inspiring baptism and then it’s done. It’s not a spectacular mission trip or a set of summer service projects or a two-year Ignite Initiative and then it’s over. Following Jesus is a grueling marathon. It takes great endurance. Continual focus.

It’s hard.

The people at work, the non-Christians at school, they all seem to be living pretty good lives. They seem fulfilled. They’ve got good families. They read the latest books on marriage and parenting and they seem to be doing well. They go to parties, they take weekend trips, they’re doing great. They have great attitudes and a real enthusiasm for life. Who are you to tell them they need Jesus to have a meaningful life? In fact, your life seems to be much more difficult since you took on Christ so long ago.

The problem is that we have so little to show for our hard work. Where are the results? Religious people always want visible, tangible results. Whether it’s burning a bull on a remote mountain altar or sliding into a pew at the local temple of positive thinking, people want a religion that pays off in ways we can see — bigger harvests, healthier bodies, more security, instant peace of mind. That’s the problem with the Christian faith. In this world of religious show-and-tell, in this world of “seeing is believing,” we don’t have much to show. Or see. All we’ve got is a cross that has to be picked up every day.

But hold on. Isn’t the Gospel about God’s great victory over sin and Satan and all the bad things that oppress human life? Isn’t the good news of the Christian faith about the resurrection triumph of eternal life over death? Yes, of course. But that victory is hidden right now. One day every eye will see that victory, it’ll be clear, it’ll be glorious. But not today. We don’t see it today.

“In putting everything under Christ Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” ~Hebrews 2:8

What we see is chaos and violence and disease. It’s everywhere in everybody around us. Abuse and brokenness and addiction and loneliness and loss. In our family. In my own life. All things are under Christ? I don’t see it.

The preacher of Hebrews knows this.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1

Everybody in that Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11 is commended because they displayed great faith when they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see. Moses was looking ahead, he says. Noah acted on things not yet seen. All these people, the preacher says, only saw the promise from a distance. It’s hard to get excited about a faith where all the final results are hidden. No wonder so many of us would rather spend our Sundays watching football where at least we can see who’s winning.

There’s a gap. And it’s real. Everybody’s got it: this gap between faith and sight. We’re all there in this gap. Somewhere in that gap, I’ve got to have a conviction about God. I’ve got to believe that, yes, God is bringing all things to completion, even though I can’t always see it.

The victory of the Gospel cannot yet be seen. But it can be heard. The truth, today, can be heard.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful Word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3

The preacher calls this a “word of encouragement.” And it’s crystal clear from these opening lines that his spoken word is all about God’s spoken Word which is now made complete and fully known in the incarnate Word, Jesus, the Son of God. The Son of God is not a metaphor. It’s not a figure of speech. This Son of God is the heir of all things, he’s the one through whom God created the world, and he upholds us and everything we see and don’t see by his mighty Word of power.

“If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:7
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” ~Hebrews 12:25
“He who has ears, let him hear!” ~Jesus

Peace,

Allan

Hearing and Speaking the Word

Faith, Hebrews, Preaching, Promise No Comments »

“We are God’s house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” ~Hebrews 3:6

We don’t know exactly how it happens. But we do know that, when all is said and done, the goodness of God is going to prevail over evil. The love of God is going to win in the end, not hate. The beauty of God is going to overcome and transform everything that’s ugly. And the risen Son of God will be on the throne, not the powers of darkness and death.

God wins in the end. Right? God wins!

How do we know that? Because we have heard his Word. We have heard God’s voice. We have heard the words of Jesus. We have the Word proclaimed by faithful witnesses and preserved for us in the holy Scriptures.

If we trust only what we see, we’re lost. We’re going to fall asleep at best, and quit the story altogether at worst. But if we hold firmly to what we have heard, if we live and believe what we have heard, then we enter the rest of God and we increase in confidence and courage and hope. And we boast. We start talking with great confidence.

We all turn into preachers.

Think about the way we talk. Think about the way hearing the Word and believing the Word causes us to speak. Why else would we say the things we do?

At the waters of baptism, we’re dealing with very risky and very unpredictable human beings. We can be baptizing a 12-year-old child we know nothing about or a 35-year-old adult we know way too much about. But when that human being comes up out of the water, we say,” All your past and future sins are forgiven! You are now sealed for eternity by God’s Holy Spirit who now lives inside you! You belong to God in Christ Jesus for all eternity!” We say it because we have heard the Word. And we believe it. It’s bold.

Around a hospital bed we say, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation; I will not be afraid!” Why? Because we have heard the Word.

In the cemetery at the graveside we say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Death has been swallowed up in his victory!” Why? Because we have heard the Word. It’s courageous.

To people who pollute the air, the water, or the land we say, “Stop it! The earth belongs to the Lord and everything in it!” To those who want to construct walls between people and do hateful things and use hateful words and forward hateful emails in Virginia or in Amarillo we say, “Every single man, woman, and child on this planet is created by God in the image of God and is loved deeply by our God! Cut it out!” And in moments of personal or even national crisis, we can proclaim, “We are not afraid! We’re not worried! We have been to the mountain top! We have beheld his glory! We have heard his Word!”

That way of talking boils up from a deep conviction and confidence in the promises of our God.

We’re not jumping into the dark here, we’re stepping into the light. We know what to do and what to say because God has spoken to us by his Son. He is still speaking to us by his Son! And we do hear that faithful Word.

Peace,

Allan

Road Trip with Whit-Pit

MLB, Texas Rangers, Whitney 4 Comments »

We waited until it was a million degrees outside and the Rangers were four thousand games out of first place, but Whitney and I finally made our annual road trip to Arlington to take in a game together this past Friday night. As always, we hit the Golden Chick in Childress, grabbed some chocolate covered pecans in Chilicothe, and enjoyed a huge dinner at Pappasito’s before the game. Cole Hamels went six strong innings, hit the showers with a 6-0 lead, and then Texas held on in a nail-biter 6-4. Thanks to the Rangers’ train wreck of a bullpen, the Astros brought the tying run to the plate in each of the last two innings. And, due to the above-and-beyond efforts of the staff at the pro-shop with their walkie-talkies, we tracked down the very last Joey Gallo t-shirt/jersey in Whitney’s size in the whole stadium!

We were treated to a wonderful bonus when Chuck Morgan announced that the actual Pudge Rodriguez Hall of Fame plaque from Cooperstown was available for viewing and pictures in the first base concourse. Apparently they very rarely ever take a plaque from the Hall of Fame. But with Pudge’s number being retired by the Rangers in an on-field ceremony Saturday, they allowed it to be brought down for the celebration and put on display the night before. We waited in line for a half-inning to see it up close. Very cool.

And this surprising revelation: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK for the Astros to be in the same division with the Rangers.

When Bud Selig ramrodded this thing five years ago — MLB paid the Astros’ new owner $70-million to switch leagues so every division would have the same number of teams — I was more than a little upset. As a baseball fan growing up in Texas, you dream of a Rangers-Astros World Series. The Rangers are your favorite team, but the Astros are your second favorite team. You root for Houston. You want to see them do well. You keep up with their players. Bagwell, Biggio, and Berkman. Larry Dierker. The rainbow unis. The dreadful dome. Enron and Minute Maid Park. It was always good to cheer for the Lastros because, being in the other league, they posed no threat to the Rangers. And they were a Texas team. You always root for Texas teams.

That all changed in 2013. You can’t root for a team in your own division — you need them to lose every night. What do I do with these old Astros’ shirts and bobbleheads and ashtrays and commemorative cups? Major League Baseball claimed it would ignite a fierce inter-state rivalry. I didn’t see how.

Now, I do. The past four seasons, as the Rangers owned the ‘Stros and won division titles and dominated the Silver Boot, it felt kind of flat, kind of one-sided. This season, though, as Houston has run away with the West and put up football scores on all their opponents, it feels different.

It’s no secret that the cities of Dallas and Houston have a long and storied rivalry. People from both cities insult the people, the culture, the food, the music, and the sports teams from the other city. Coupled with the Rangers’ early dominance, this surge by the Astros has fueled some sincere animosity. Have you noticed? Rangers-Astros games get chippy early. It was so one-sided on the diamond for those first four years and the Houston frustration was so built up that now it’s exploding into something noticeable. The frustration is being expelled and expressed with an exuberance that causes players and managers from both teams to want to pitch inside and slide into second spikes-up. You can feel it.

There are enough people from North Texas who have transplanted down to Houston and enough folks from the Bayou who’ve made their way to Dallas-Fort Worth that, when the Rangers and Astros play each other, the stadiums are almost equally split between the two teams. Rangers and Astros fans work together, live in the same neighborhoods together, go to church together — they see each other all the time. So the rivalry is fierce, yes. But we all live in Texas. We all have our history and culture and love of the Lone Star State in common. So we can get really worked up during the game, and laugh about it, take pictures together, and wish everybody well when it’s over. I love that.

My Astros shirts have remained in the back of my closet for the past five years. I haven’t worn them at all. Not once. Not since 2012. But with the Rangers 16-games back and out of it and with Houston making a run for their first ever World Series title, it’s going to happen. I’ll be rooting for the ‘Stros all the way. And, yeah, their success makes the rivalry even a little better.

Peace,

Allan

Burritos, Bounce Houses, and a Band

Central Church Family, Ministry No Comments »

When you’re moving your church’s traditional back-to-school picnic from your building on a Sunday morning to the campus of the nearest elementary school, when you’re inviting that school’s 550-students and their families, and when you’re doing this to communicate to your city that God’s Church is a community partner with them for the sake of good things, how do you guarantee that you’re going to get a crowd? Free burritos, bounce houses, and a live band.

Putting the school’s principal and the church’s preacher in a dunking booth didn’t hurt.


Central’s first “The End of Summer’s No Bummer” bash at Bivins Elementary last Wednesday evening was a roaring success by anybody’s measure. We gave away 450 burritos, ate and jumped and dunked and danced with a ton of people from our nearby community, and shared a whole lot of good will together in the name of our Lord. Principal Benny Barazza has given us almost unlimited access to his school, his students, and their families, and we’re doing our best to use these opportunities to share the generous love of Christ.

Today’s Amarillo Globe-News features a front-page, above-the-fold story about the Bivins event and all the local ministry projects sparked by Central’s “Ignite Initiative” (click here to read the AGN story). Our church has given away $125,000 over the past five months to five different non-profit organizations, we’ve supplied those same organizations with volunteers and summer interns, and we’re beside ourselves with anticipation over what God’s going to keep doing with these new mission partnerships. Lauren Koski’s story in today’s paper captured all of that with great pictures and interviews with Mary McNeill, our children’s minister, Benny Barazza at Bivins, Valerie Gooch, the executive director at Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center, and Tyler Lovett, our summer intern at The PARC.

More and more, “missions” at Central is starting to mean both foreign and local ministry, it’s about both what God is doing overseas and what he’s doing across the street. And our community is taking notice. Christ’s Church is here to make an eternal difference in the lives of men, women, and children in our city. We’re here to serve others in the name and manner of Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

#ValerieArePR

Valerie 1 Comment »

Valerie concluded her twelve-weeks internship with the Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ in Arlington this past weekend and now she’s home for a full ten days before she heads back to Edmond for her junior year at Oklahoma Christian University. Carrie-Anne and I made it down to Arlington Sunday evening just in time for the going-away party the church hosted for Val. We listened for almost an hour while a great mix of students and parents, ministers and deacons, showered our daughter with love and praise for the wonderful impact she had on the youth ministry there. The experience was so good for Valerie — living with the Thatchers, VBS, devos, Bible studies, late-night conversations, church camp, even elders meetings and vampire-ants — that she has officially now changed her major to youth ministry!

Thank you so much to Lance, Ryan, Luann, Jamie, Terry, and everybody else in the student ministry who supported and loved Valerie through the summer. Thank you to Mike and Traci and Bella for doing Valerie’s laundry, keeping her in plenty of Diet Dr Pepper, repairing her car, and being family for her while she was away. Thank you to the Pleasant Ridge church for helping her negotiate the curveballs, for nurturing such a supportive atmosphere for our daughter, and for showing her in a thousand ways the eternal blessings of congregational ministry. Valerie’s love for our Lord and his people grew rich and deep while she was with you. You recognized her gifts for ministry and brought out the very best in her. You loved her like she belonged to you. The words you said to her Sunday night were powerfully encouraging to her and motivated by God’s Spirit. Her mom and I are eternally grateful.

Valerie, I’m so glad I answered the phone that afternoon when you called to tell me you were changing your major to youth ministry. I’ll never forget that conversation. And I’ll never forget how proud I felt and how grateful to God I am right now for the transformational work he’s doing in your life. What Ryan said to you Sunday night is true: if you don’t feel called by God for congregational ministry, don’t do it; if you do feel called by God for congregational ministry, don’t do anything else.

It’s evident to all who know you that God is at work in your life. Powerfully. Obviously. He’s got you right where he wants you. The fact that you are listening to him, following him, and leading people closer to him brings a joy to my heart I cannot adequately describe.

I love you, sweetie.

Dad

The Day the Fire Came

Allan's Journey, Texas No Comments »

I want to draw your attention to a fantastic piece of writing in the current issue of Texas Monthly. Skip Hollandsworth has outdone himself in the way he tells the story of the wildfires that ravaged the Panhandle this past March. The piece is titled, “The Day the Fire Came: A Tale of Love and Loss on the Panhandle Plains.” You can read the whole story, view the outstanding photographs, and see the beautiful videos by clicking here.

Thirty-two different wildfires raged across the Panhandle on March 6, scorching 1.2-million acres, burning to death more than two-thousand cows, and doing tens of millions of dollars in damages. The fires also claimed the lives of four young Texans: 20-year-old Cody Crockett, a cowboy on the historic Franklin Ranch near Lefors; Cody’s girlfriend, 23-year-old Sydney Wallace, a nurse at Amarillo’s BSA Hospital; 35-year-old Sloan Everett, Cody’s boss; and 25-year-old Cade Koch who got caught in the smoke and the fires while driving from Canadian to Lipscomb to check on his pregnant wife.

It was a tragic day. The three main fires that did the most damage each measured up to three miles wide, with flames more than 20-feet high, moving across the plains at upwards of seven-miles-per-hour. It was devastating.

Hollandsworth tells the story through the eyes of those at Franklin Ranch who knew and loved Cody, Sydney, and Sloan — their parents, best friends, church friends, co-workers, classmates. The families gave Skip unlimited access to every facet of the stories. And he writes it with compassion and heart, capturing the grit and the glory, conveying the pride and the pain.

You’ve got to read this story.

We didn’t see any flames that day here in Amarillo, but we saw and felt the smoke. For a couple of days we experienced the smoke and felt the anguish of what had happened just a few miles away. And for the next several weeks, all of us were inspired by the outpouring of love and support from seemingly every rancher in all 26 Panhandle counties. The Canyon E-Way and I-40 were jammed with massive trucks bringing bales of hay and even, in a few cases, some head of cattle to the affected ranchers. It just kept coming. We shared Bell Avenue and Coulter Street red lights and intersections with these ranchers who drove two or three hours to donate their own goods and supplies to help those who had been harmed by the fires. And I was moved.

I was also moved by Hollandsworth’s story.

You know, I’m not a cowboy. I’m a city Texan. I’m as urban as they come. The last time I rode a horse was when I was nine or ten-years-old, on my granddad’s farm in Canton. He would walk along as my sister and I rode his old nags, Dollie and Sookah, around in a slow circle. I’ve only owned one pair of cowboy boots in my life — a pair I received for free as part of a promotion from a Dallas tire dealer when I bought a set of tires for my 1974 Monte Carlo. The boots were uncomfortable. I only wore them once or twice a year as part of a costume or special dress-up day at school. I threw them out when I went to college and can’t imagine any circumstance where I’d ever own another pair. I’ve never roped a calf, I have no appetite for country music, and I think I would absolutely freak if I ever saw a rattlesnake in the wild.

I feel like an outsider in the Texas Panhandle. I have for the past six years.

But let me tell you this. There is something romantic, something transcendent, something unique and extraordinary about the rugged beauty of this place and these people. I appreciate it, and them, more and more every day. Hollandsworth’s story about those fires and the men and women who survived and the four who didn’t brought out of me some strong and surprising emotions.

I first read the story online — I check Texas Monthly’s website at least once a week. Then I read it again last week when my issue arrived in the mail. And I was blessed by a bonus that only subscriber’s to the magazine get. Jeff Salamon gives us five paragraphs, in Hollandsworth’s own words about Hollandsworth’s experience while interviewing real Panhandle cowboys for the story. Here are his last lines:

“It’s easy to buy into the myth that the cowboy life is gone. But in fact, it’s thriving in the Panhandle. There are so many kids whose lives are devoted to becoming a cowboy. Texas has become such an urban and suburban state. But no matter how interesting people are in our cities, there’s nothing like a Panhandle cowboy. They are real and unyielding, and as the story points out, they are honorable. The question I had going into this piece was, ‘Why would these three young people run toward the fire to save those cattle?’ And the answer to that question is what this story is about: the love of, and devotion to, the cowboy way.”

It’s a good story. You should read it.

Peace,

Allan