I’m writing this morning from the library at the Chandler Street Church of Christ in Kilgore, Texas where I’m in the middle of preaching seven times in four days at the church’s annual Gospel Meeting. I was so happy to accept the invitation almost five years ago and I’m thrilled to finally be here this week. I won’t post another article here until Friday. That 1,000th post will contain the names of the winners in our drawing for all the books. In the meantime, I’ll be checking all the comments and engaging in those on-going conversations and you’ll have these three or four days to become eligible for the prizes.
In 2005, when Carrie-Anne and I finally got up the guts or the faith (both!) to leave sports radio and enter full-time congregational ministry, the Chandler Street church way out here in East Texas said, “Yeah, we want in on that!” Chandler Street jumped in early with a commitment to help in financially supporting my family and me while we moved to Austin for a Master’s Degree in Theology. I hope it wasn’t just that my dad and my uncle are elders at this congregation. I know it helped; but I pray that wasn’t the only thing. Even if it was, our God blessed us tremendously through the people at this place. They put a trust in me, they showed some real faith in me, and they barely knew me at all. I’ve always held that trust sacred. I’ve always been grateful to this church for their belief in me. And I’ve looked forward to this week ever since to tell them “thank you” from the pulpit in their church, to let them know how much they mean to me, and to assure them that I’ll never forget.
It’s been so good.
In yesterday’s opening prayer, Archie asked God to give me a “ready recollection.” Seriously. John Kyles promised he’d do his best to stay awake. My dad led singing. Uncle Gerald gave me an introduction that was way too kind. And we dove into the words of our Lord in John 14-16. We have already laughed together and cried. We’ve sung to our God and lifted our hearts in prayer. We’ve eaten a lot of food already at two different congregational meals with at least two more to come. My uncle told me I’d gain five pounds this week and I’m well on my way. I’ve watched this church family gather around a young woman who’d just received some devastating news and was feeling so.very.alone. I’ll watch them later today bring in dozens of children from the nearby middle school to mentor and to help with homework. I was blessed last night to sing with the young people around a fire and underneath some massive oaks trees. Today, I’ll eat lunch with my good friend, Chris Vidacovich, the preaching minister here. Tonight, I’m driving to Tyler to spend the night with Jason Reeves and his family. I’m having lunch with Uncle Gerald tomorrow. My closest family and some of my dearest friends live out here. And I’m meeting so many good, good, good people. In some ways this feels almost familiar.
But it’s different.
East Texas is not a foreign country. Yes, it’s different; very different. I flew out of the flat, brown plains of Amarillo Saturday morning, above the skyscrapers and highways of Big D, and landed a couple of hours later among the hills and lakes and towering pine trees of Gregg County. Very different. The dialect is different; the accents are more pronounced. The food tastes here lean a little more toward Louisiana and Arkansas than make me comfortable. The culture is different; even the church culture is different. I know it’s not a foreign country, but it can feel like one.
It’s so good to be reminded that people in Kilgore worship God exactly like the people in Amarillo. It’s comforting. Different types of songs, yes. Different orders, different styles, different practices, even a few different beliefs and, perhaps, different theological views. But they worship God in Kilgore just like we do in Amarillo. They praise the name of Jesus in Gregg County just like they do in Dallas and Sao Paulo, Brazil. They honor our Father here just like they do in Fort Worth and Kharkov, Ukraine. You know why?
Because Jesus is Lord.
So, it’s not just good. It’s not just comforting. It’s powerful. It’s empowering. It’s everything!
It means everything to be reminded that the Kingdom of God to which we all belong is so much bigger and better than my particular congregation or my specific city or my own country. We all belong to a Kingdom, to a holy and righteous and eternal movement, that transcends all of our individual styles and traditions, cultures and viewpoints. God’s name is praised in Kilgore and it’s praised in Beijing. Our Father is worshiped all over the world, because he alone is God. It’s big. It’s bigger than we usually think. What a blessing to belong!