Month: March 2013 (page 1 of 3)

Sunday

“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…

Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!”

~Acts 2:29-36

May God’s people today proclaim and rejoice in the earth-shattering, history-altering, mind-blowing truth of the Resurrection.

Peace,

Allan

Let Us Walk Through the Door

I’ve been in a really confessional mood this week. So indulge me one more time: I’ve almost got this Sunday’s sermon finished, and it’s not that great.

The Easter sermon is the hardest one to write. It’s nearly impossible. And I struggle with it every year. It’s not for lack of effort. I began planning this year’s Easter sermon way back in the fall when Bill Humble was taking us through the seven churches of Asia on Wednesday nights. He used racks and racks of pictures and slides from his numerous trips to those ancient sites to capture our imaginations as he taught us. And it occurred to me then that, if I showed you pictures from my tour of the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem, I could stir you to experience the thrill of the Resurrection that I experienced. But it’s not working like I thought it would. The pictures are great. They’re spectacular. Powerful. But my words… my words are not enough. Not even close.

Reinhold Niebuhr is quoted as saying that he would always attend a “high” church on Easter Sunday where there would be great music but very little preaching. In his estimation, “No preacher is up to the task on Easter.” I think he’s probably right.

John Updike’s poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” beautifully and perfectly identifies the cause of every preacher’s frustration leading up to Resurrection Sunday. One of the lines is: “Let us not mock God with metaphor, / analogy, sidestepping transcendence… / let us walk through the door.”

Yes, it is a waste of time to try to explain the Resurrection. Some things can’t be reduced to an explanation and are greatly diminished in the process of trying. The task on Easter is proclamation, not explanation. On Easter, the preacher should only offer an invitation to “walk through the door” into a brand new world where the ultimate reality isn’t death, but everlasting life in the One who brought our Lord out of the grave. Accept it in all of its mystery and wonder. Rejoice in the powerful love and gracious blessing we experience at the empty tomb. Proclaim the Resurrection, don’t explain it. Proclaim it. That’s what the apostles did. And that’s what I’ll attempt to do this Sunday.

Peace,

Allan

Pray More and Dispute Less

Last week’s Tulsa Workshop (excellent, as always!) has put me a little behind on tracking in this space with our adult Bible classes here at Central as we study together “Renewing God’s People.” I’ll try to get caught up here before the weekend hits.

Chapter three of Doug Foster’s concise history of the Churches of Christ, Renewing God’s People, introduces us to Barton W. Stone, a co-founder of what has been called by historians the Stone-Campbell Movement or the American Restoration Movement. Stone was a college-educated Presbyterian minister who, in August 1801, participated with other Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist preachers in the largest and most famous camp meeting revival in American history. The success of the Cane Ridge Revival added fuel to the restoration fires of the time and influenced Stone to withdraw from the Transylvania Presbytery to begin the non-denominational Springfield Presbytery. It was an effort to promote Christian unity, to tear down the denominational walls that divide disciples of Jesus, to faithfully express the Gospel as it’s described in Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”

But after just a few months, it became apparent to Stone and his colleagues that their Springfield Presbytery was just another sectarian division among many. It was working against the Christian unity they so strongly desired. So they broke it up. And the document that proclaimed the dissolution of their organization became one of the two most important founding documents for Churches of Christ. The opening lines of The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery quoted from Ephesians four and declared that they would “sink into union with the Body of Christ at large.” They renounced all denominational names of distinction; no more Baptists or Reverends, no more Presbyterians or Fathers. They called for a return to the Bible as the only authority for Christians and God’s Church, “the only sure guide to heaven.” The document affirms the autonomy of each congregation of Christian believers, liberating all churches to “adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” They claim that no governing body has the authority to decide anything for a group of churches, that “our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease.”

Above all, Stone used the document to call for the unity of all Christian believers. “We will,” he writes, “that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forebearance; pray more and dispute less.”

Pray more and dispute less.

Sigh.

I’m convinced that one reason we in Churches of Christ got so far off track with the initial and Holy Spirit-inspired vision of Christian unity is that we so horribly distorted that Ephesians 4 passage that’s quoted in Stone’s Last Will and Testament. Consider…

I belong to a 750-member congregation in Amarillo; my parents belong to a 400-member congregation in East Texas; my friends David and Olivia belong to a twelve-member congregation that meets in their apartment in Kharkov, Ukraine; my friends Rick & Jaime Atchley belong to a 4,000-member congregation in Fort Worth; my friends Alaor and Miriam belong to a 90-member congregation in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Many, many different expressions of the one church. Those different expressions don’t diminish the truth of “one church” or “one body.”

I was baptized at eleven years old in a heated baptistry in a church building in Dallas; others are baptized as teenagers in a freezing creek at Camp Blue Haven; others are baptized at the age of 80 in crowded apartment bathtubs in Beijing; others are baptized in swimming pools. Many, many different expressions of one baptism. Those different expressions don’t diminish the truth of “one baptism.”

Most Sundays I eat a cracker crumb and sip some grape juice while sitting in a pew and call it communion. Most Sunday nights, I break off a huge chunk of bread and chug a big swig of juice around my kitchen table with our small group and call it communion. During a flu outbreak or a bird virus scare, we’ll eat little pre-broken chicklet-size pieces of cracker. Tortillas at a camp out in Colorado. Peta or flat bread in Peru. Many, many expressions of our Lord’s one meal. Those different expressions don’t diminish the truth of the one Lord’s Supper.

So, when did we start reading Ephesians 4:3-6 like this: “There is one expression of the body and one expression of the Spirit… one expression of faith, one expression of baptism?” And when did we start ripping this foundational passage completely away from its powerful context of unity? When did we start ignoring the opening lines: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love?”

Is our mighty God, who is One, not the God and Father of all this? Is he not over all this? And through all this? And in all this?

Yes, there is only one baptism; and God is over it, not you. Yes, there is only one Church; and God is in charge of it, not you. Yes, there really is only one faith; and our God is delighted that there are so many different expressions of that faith out there. Barton Stone called on all Christians to see the big picture of God’s eternal Kingdom, to see the beauty of divinely-ordained diversity, to experience the power of his love that destroys all the barriers that separate his children. The only way Stone believed we would ever get close to realizing it this side of glory would be to pray more and dispute less.

Peace,

Allan

Stay Put

Every now and then I’ll let my guard down and turn this space into a self-therapy session that I like to think reads more like serious reflection. I know it doesn’t; I just like to tell myself it does. Sometimes, honestly, my writing here is only for me. It helps me process. It helps me think. It helps me articulate better what I want to say to you or to God’s Church later. I’m OK with that. I’ve stated from the very beginning that one of the purposes of this blog is to help me wrestle and think out loud. Those of you who know me and who read this regularly are already aware of that. Those of you who are kind of new here: You’ve been warned.

Yesterday’s reflection here got me thinking about the little book by Mitch Albom, Have a Little Faith. It’s a true story in the style of Tuesdays with Morrie about the author’s faithful visits with his rabbi, Albert Lewis. Until his death about five years ago, the old man had been Albom’s rabbi since his birth. Albom has only been an official member of one synagogue his whole life, and Lewis his life-long spiritual director. For his first 50 years on this earth, Albom only had one rabbi. And the book, given to me as a gift by Steve Rogers last winter, explores the great beauty and depths of a long and faithful relationship between a pastor and his congregation.

I started the book at about 6:30 one evening last December because it looked like a quick and easy read that would serve as a departure from my normal reading. Something I wouldn’t have to think too seriously about, maybe find some good illustration ideas, but that’s it. No, it wasn’t like that at all. The book actually drove me straight to the floor of my bedroom to God in prayer, confessing, begging, promising, thanking; and then it kept me awake for a while. Way to go, Steve. Thanks a lot.

I finished the book at just before 10:00 that night. I don’t think I ever looked up. And by the time I was done, I was a weeping wreck. I seriously could not stop crying. The story put me to shame for all my failures as a pastor/preacher/leader in God’s Church. I’m not sure why yet — I’m still working on it, and may be for a while — but I really felt ashamed at my own efforts to be a Gospel preacher both at Legacy and now here at Central. At the same time, the book inspired me to be better. To try harder. It moved me to do more, to take more time with people, to pay attention more, to be less anxious, to live with more and more Christian integrity.

The guy in the story was faithful to his work and stayed put. That’s Steve’s way of saying it: “the guy was faithful to the Lord and to his congregation by being the same guy everywhere he went and he stayed put.” Yeah. As we discussed here yesterday, there’s something powerful, very powerful in staying at one church. I think I sometimes struggle a little with the fact that I left Legacy after less than five years. Sometimes I feel like I quit on them, bailed on them. I preached funerals and weddings, baptized their kids and did FaithBuilders with their families, lived and died in small groups, wrestled and fought over worship practices and outreach efforts. And then I left. True, I could not continue in my role there, no way. But I sometimes feel bad for leaving. Like I failed there. I worked through some of this with Tim and Gary coming back from ElderLink. But it weighs on me sometimes. And it smashed me like a two-by-four in the throat as I read the book.

I’ve reassured myself that, for lots of young people here at Central, I can still be that preacher they’ve known their whole lives. I can still do those faithful longevity things that I, too, think are so important. And I want to. I really do.

I, too, want to be a better leader. My faults are many. I’m pretty sure my heart is right most of the time, but I’ve got such a long, long way to go.

I highly recommend the book. It’ll move you to thanksgiving and praise of our God who uses holy and sacred relationships over time to redeem this broken world. It’ll force you to evaluate your own relationships within God’s Church. And it’ll compel you to try harder. And to stay put.

Peace,

Allan

Sticking Around

I’ve been told that a preacher doesn’t really start ministering to his church until he’s been there for five years. He can’t really do much until he’s reached that point. The wisdom goes that for the first two years at a church the preacher can do nothing wrong; for the next two years the preacher can do nothing right; and it takes the whole fifth year for him to realize what God’s called him to that particular congregation to do.

I want to be a guy who sticks around a long time.

InĀ  a beautiful ceremony marked by both laughter and tears, prayers and pledges, we ordained our three additional shepherds here at Central yesterday. Scott and Larry and John Todd were charged and blessed appropriately and encouraged vigorously as they accepted the calling and the responsibilities that go with it.

And John Todd Cornett painted an exquisite portrait of the benefits of sticking around. He’s been here a while.

Thirty-three years and one day earlier, as a young boy of 12, John Todd was baptized by his dad in the Central chapel. His parents’ good friends, Leon and Marilyn Wood, were there. Of course, they were always there; always had been. Leon brought his toolbox over to the Cornetts’ house all the time to fix things and make general repairs because John Todd’s dad wasn’t very handy in those ways. John Todd would follow Leon around as he worked on a cabinet or replaced a leaky faucet. When John Todd was given a little toy toolbox for his fourth birthday, he called it his “Leon.”

As a whole lot of us were, John Todd was awarded a brand new Bible by his church when he graduated high school in 1985. Of course, it had the signatures of all the Central elders on the inside cover. And he still carries that same Bible, the one with the names.

Yesterday, our church family publicly acknowledged John Todd as a shepherd at Central, gifted and called by God’s Holy Spirit to this ministry at his home congregation. He and Scott and Larry join an outstanding group of faithful and godly men that includes Leon Wood. John Todd and Leon are now serving God’s church at Central together as elders. Former elder Warlick Thomas read our Scripture from 1 Peter 5 yesterday and led our congregation in a prayer of thanksgiving for our shepherds. Former elder Shelby Stapleton presided over the Lord’s Meal. Former elder Jack Vincent was chosen to lead our benediction. Former elder Bill Johnson’s widow, Sue Johnson, was one of the first ones to hug John Todd after the assembly. Now, John Todd is one of their elders. And, yeah, John Todd would roll his eyes and stop me from even finishing that sentence if he were here in my office right now. But it’s true.

Naturally, he thanked those men and others in our church family who have had such a profound impact on his life. And it was nice. Touching. But then he addressed the high school kids. John Todd leaned over the stage toward where our young people were sitting, and spoke directly to the young boys. Most, if not all, of these boys, John Todd has mentored and taught over the years in our Muddles program. He knows these boys. All of them. He loves them. And he spoke to them. He urged them to see themselves as God sees them. He begged them to find older men in the congregation who would pour into their lives. He asked them to be open to how the Spirit would use other men in our church to shape them and transform them into the godly leaders our Father wants them to be.He showed them the holy link, his connections to the ones who had gone before him and the ones he was talking to right then who were coming up behind. He told them they had the same connections and responsibilities. It was perfectly beautiful. And we all got it.

There’s something really, really special about sticking around. There’s a symmetry there, an eternal circle that’s evident when one sticks around.

At Jerry Humble’s funeral earlier this month, two of Bill’s former students at ACU, a missionary and an elder here at Central, presided over the service in the same chapel where Bill and Jerry had worshiped on their first trip to Texas from Missouri back in 1946. So long ago Bill had poured his love and knowledge into them. Now they were pouring their love and comfort into Bill.

It happens all the time around here. It testifies to the faithfulness of our God. It’s a witness to our Lord’s loyalty, to his patience, to his enduring promises that never fail. The history of the people in this place together is a gift from our Father. It reminds us of the steadfast nature of his love. It’s an increasingly uncommon thing in our increasingly mobile and individualistic culture and society. I’m so blessed to see it and experience it fairly regularly around here.

I pray our God will work in ways that compel more and more of us to stick around.

Peace,

Allan

So Their Work Will Be A Joy

“Obey them so that that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” ~Hebrews 13:17

During our worship assembly this coming Sunday we will join together in acknowledging three godly men who have been ordained by our Lord to serve as additional shepherds here at Central. We will charge these men to accept this calling with humility and compassion, to devote themselves to the Word and to prayer, and to consecrate themselves to the earnest shepherding of this church.

They will pledge to submit to the Lordship of Jesus and to sacrificially serve in the name and manner of Jesus. We will promise to love and honor them, to support them and work with them in unity and good cheer. They will vow to loyally teach and admonish, to lead and protect our church family. We will pledge to obey and submit to these men so their work will be a joy, not a burden.

And we will pray.

Together we praise God for Shelby Stapleton, Warlick Thomas, Jack Vincent, and other men just like them who’ve gone before, on whose shoulders we stand today. They continue to serve as beautiful models of faithfulness and sacrificial service we’re all trying to imitate. We thank God for our current group of shepherds who so steadfastly lead us with a Christ-like blend of courageous boldness and quiet humility. And we praise our Lord for the three we ordain on Sunday: Scott Bentley, Larry Borger, and John Todd Cornett. They add to the leadership their own mix of gentleness and conviction, of joy and love.

May our Father bless our shepherds and their families with his gracious mercy and strength and peace. And may his will be done in us and through us here at Central, just as it is in heaven.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The church staff is scrambling to get our college basketball brackets filled out before the real tournament games begin this Thursday. Mark is probably picking his teams based on his favorite colors. Matthew is ignoring his wedding plans and spending the next 17-straight hours researching his picks on-line. Elaine might be going with the warmer weather city in each matchup. Hannah’s got Todd on speed dial. And Adam should be begging Connie to fill out his bracket for him.

I have paid less attention to college hoops this year than in any other. Ever. Will that work as an excuse when my picks bomb out? I’ve got Duke, Gonzaga, Florida, and Miami in the Final Four with the Gators squeaking by the Blue Devils for the title in Atlanta. Do not — I repeat! — do not copy those picks unless there’s a booby prize for last place

Peace,

Allan

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