Precious in the Sight of the Lord

Allan's Journey, Death, Ministry, Preaching, Teenagers 2 Comments »

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” ~Psalm 116:15

I know he didn’t tell me every week. It wasn’t even every month. Couldn’t have been. But it was frequent. It was many times over the course of my childhood and into my high school years. Jim Martin, the head elder (I know there’s no such thing) at my church in southeast Dallas, was emphatic when he told me. I remember him telling me while we were standing on the brown speckled industrial tile in the hallway down the classroom wing of the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. He told me out in the church parking lot. He told me near the front of the auditorium right after worship services. I feel like he told me all the time. And he meant it.

“Allan, if you’ll go to preaching school, I’ll pay for your tuition.”

Of course, he was talking about the Sunset or Preston Road schools of preaching. At the time, I didn’t have much of an idea about money or how much that kind of an education might cost. I knew Sunset was in Lubbock, somewhere out in West Texas, a million miles from Big D. I had been to several graduations at Preston Road as our church financially supported students there every year. Those things, though, didn’t really matter. I didn’t want to be a preacher. I couldn’t imagine being a preacher. I wanted Brad Sham’s job doing radio play-by-play for the Cowboys.

Jim — sorry; he was always “Brother Martin” — was a giant in my home church. In my mind, he stood taller even than his six-foot-four frame. He was a Bible class teacher, a song leader, and an elder in our congregation. He was always standing in front of the church. Teaching. Leading us in worship. Leading us in prayer. Baptizing. Announcing important decisions. He was our home and auto insurance guy, a successful businessman with his own office on Buckner Boulevard. I never saw him without a coat and tie. In every setting, he carried himself in a deliberate and professional manner. For these and many other reasons I always looked up to Jim.

My sister, Rhonda, and I found some of his mannerisms… umm… humorous. He wore his pants almost a little too high; not quite “above the navel” as Matthew McConaughey’s character says in “Bernie,” but still a little too high. When he sat down on that little short pew on the stage in-between songs on Sunday mornings, his pants legs would rise up incredibly high. His cuffs would be almost at his knees. And, to our constant amazement, so did his socks! We always privately assumed his socks were somehow connected to his underwear. We could perfectly imitate the way he led singing, his right arm extended with barely any crook at all in the elbow and his middle finger on that right hand dipped slightly below the others. The way he paused a little too long between the first and second words of a lot of songs. “When….. …. …. I survey the wondrous cross.” For some reason, Jim pronounced “dollars” as “dah-lahs,” like he was from London or something. We imagined he mowed the lawn and changed the oil in his cars wearing his slacks and wing tips.

He and my dad were best friends. They sang together, taught Bible class together, and served together as shepherds at P-Grove. Jim and Polly Martin were at our house a lot when we were kids and we spent a lot of time at their place on Alhambra Street. On those rare occasions when we got to eat lunch at Wyatt’s Cafeteria after church, it seems the Martins were always there with us. Jim and my dad were equals in almost every sense of the term — including most of their quirkiest mannerisms — but Jim was older. My dad asked for and highly valued Jim’s opinions and insights. He talked about Jim a lot. He looked up to Jim. And that was huge for me. Jim always seemed very important to me. And, looking back, a big part of that is probably because I sensed my dad looking up to Jim, too.

When Brother Martin told me I could preach and that he would pay for my training, he was telling me two things:  One, that preaching the Word of God was really, really important — maybe even more important than selling insurance; and, two,  that he believed in me, he really believed in me.

Jim and Polly’s daughter, Becky, and her husband Glen were our youth ministers at the Pleasant Grove church when we didn’t have youth ministers. Glen hired me to work at his roofing company the summer before my sophomore year in high school. He taught me how to drive a stick shift. He taught me how not to cut ridge with a Skil saw. He taught me a lot of things. For a period of four or five years I spent more time at Glen and Becky’s house than I did my own. I bought my first car when I was sixteen: a long, white 1974 Monte Carlo with a burgundy Landau top. I paid for it with roofing money. Bought the insurance policy from Jim Martin with roofing money. When I was re-baptized over Thanksgiving break of my senior year in college, it was Jim Martin who buried me with Christ. And when I finally decided to leave sports radio to enter a full time congregational preaching ministry, I called my parents. And then I called Jim Martin. He expressed to me his great delight upon hearing that news. And he told me God was going to use me to expand his Kingdom.

Jim died Sunday evening at 85 years of age. He was surrounded by his family, forgiven by his Savior, and wrapped in the loving arms of his God.

My dad and I talked on the phone together about Jim late Sunday night. A number of us preachers in Texas and around the Southwest who have been personally blessed by Jim’s son, Jimmy Martin, have been exchanging emails and texts. Rhonda and I shared some really funny stories and a few tears together on the phone yesterday. Throughout our childhood, Jim and Polly Martin were always there helping and encouraging. During our most formative years, Glen and Becky were always there helping and encouraging. For the entire seven years of my preaching ministry, Jimmy Martin has been right by my side helping and encouraging. There has never been a time in my life — all 47 years — when Jim Martin and his children were not involved in supporting me and encouraging me.

I’ve written all this —- and I could very easily keep going — to say this: encourage the young people in your church. Tell them you believe in them. Tell them how talented they are, how blessed by God they are. Tell them all the dreams you have for them, all the great things you see for them. Help the kids in your church and encourage them. You have been ordained by God to play an important role in molding and shaping young preachers and ministers, future missionaries and teachers of the Gospel. One word of encouragement to a child can carry her or him for years. One sentence of blessing to a teenager can last maybe for a lifetime.

It’s been sixteen or seventeen years since I’ve been inside the Pleasant Grove church building. My siblings and I all left P-Grove as soon as we could. And so did most everybody else. Our parents retired and moved to East Texas in 2000. There’s not forty people left in that congregation today. But Jim and Polly stayed. Jim was still at that old church building three or four days a week, paying bills, putting the bulletin together, leading singing, and teaching class up until he fell and injured his back over Thanksgiving weekend. I thank God today for Jim Martin. And when we walk into that church building for Jim’s funeral later this week, it’ll be good. It’ll be precious.



Gifted and Still Going

Allan's Journey, Central Church Family, Ministry 1 Comment »

One of the things we missed while hiking and climbing and walking all over the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon was the community cookout Central hosted at Ellwood Park. As part of our “Gifted to Go” summer series, Scott Flow grilled up the burgers and dogs while the rest of our congregation manned different booths around the park designed to serve our Plemons area neighbors. Todd and his crew repaired kids’ bicycles and skateboards; Brent and Duane sharpened lawnmower blades and changed oil in edgers; Leon built dozens of birdhouses with the neighborhood youngsters; Becky flew kites with the kids and untangled lots of string; Matthew organized water balloon volleyball matches, which were a huge hit; Tom and his volunteers took requests from our neighbors for small home repairs they’ll make over the coming weeks; and Adam led a powerful hour of prayer for our community in our historic chapel.

What a night!

According to all accounts, our neighbors were blessed and our God was praised. Those who live in the houses around our church building experienced God’s love and grace, they participated in his great blessings of joy, through the food and fun and gestures of kindness shared by our church family. Almost four hundred people showed up for the event, including Eboni Graham, the faith reporter for the Amarillo Globe-News. (You can read her front page story about the cookout and see a short video featuring Greg Dowell by clicking here.) And the message was fully received that the Central Church of Christ is compelled by the matchless grace of Jesus to love our neighbors. We are concerned about our community. We love the people around us. And we want to serve.

At the same time, our people experienced the true freedom that comes in using our own particular talents and abilities and passions to serve others in the name of Christ. What a joy to realize that we all have spiritual gifts! How liberating to recognize that all our gifts are different, yet, all equal in the eyes of God and in the holy results for his Kingdom. If we’ll just open our hearts to the great potential of doing what we’re good at and what we enjoy for the sake of others, we won’t need summer programs and organized activities. We’ll just naturally keep doing these things, planting seeds, doing good for others, spreading the Gospel of Peace, and our God will turn Amarillo upside down.


A sad day for Dallas rock-and-roll radio. Jon Dillon, the long-time disc-jockey and personality at KZPS and original on-air member of the great 98 FM KZEW “The Zoo,” was let go by Clear Channel over the weekend. Another great loss for local radio as the giant communications companies continue to discard regional flavor for a homogenized formula sound. Jon Dillon’s a victim, yeah. But so is anything that any of us remember as local radio.

I was seven years old in the summer of 1973 when “The Zoo” hit the Dallas airways with its brand new album rock format. It was all rock-and-roll. And not just the hits. The Zoo played B-sides and deep cuts. And for an entire generation of people who grew up in Dallas, people who are today in their 40s and 50s, it was THE radio station.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I don’t remember ever NOT listening to The Zoo. I was introduced to Van Halen and Aerosmith on The Zoo. When I got my huge AM-FM stereo and turntable for Christmas right after my 11th birthday, one of the first things I did was slap a Zoo sticker right in the center of the smokey gray dust cover. The Zoo was cool. I listened to LaBella and Rody’s “Morning Zoo” from the moment I woke up every day until we walked out the door for school. And I would beg my dad to tune the car radio from KRLD to The Zoo, which he would do just as soon as Brad Sham’s daily “Cowboys Report” concluded. I fell asleep every night during those years listening to The Zoo. I was what they called back then a “Zoo Freak.”

LaBella and Rody were the funny, over-the-top, irreverent morning guys. My friend Todd Adkins and I cut school twice to attend the “Morning Zoo’s Breakfast Club” at Monopoly’s in North Dallas. We were too young to get into the club legally, so we’d wake up extra early and sneak in at about 5:30 while the roadies were setting up. I still have a couple of the “Breakfast Club” buttons here in my office. Somewhere in a box in my attic is a Mike Rhyner (he was the “Morning Zoo’s” sports guy) autographed picture that says “Nice Huey Lewis t-shirt!” in reference to my wardrobe that first day I met him. My old Zoo pin is prominently displayed in a shadow box in my home along with lots of other treasured items from my childhood.

Jon Dillon was the midday personality on The Zoo, part of the original on-air lineup in 1973, working at KZEW until it went off the air in 1989. His was the voice that went in and out of the Fleetwood Mac and Eagles songs I listened to while doing my homework. He was the one who told me how hot it was and that it was “a skosh” past 4:00 as I drove home from school. He gave me Two-fer Tuesdays with the Scorpions and the Rolling Stones and Elton John. In a day when radio wasn’t nearly as researched and formatted, when DJs themselves — not a corporate play list generated in New York or California — decided what records they would play, Jon Dillon would sometimes talk for several minutes between songs. He gave me the background stories to the lyrics and the bands. He knew the guitar players, he was hanging out with the lead singers. He knew Tom Petty and Randy Bachman and Don Henley and Ted Nugent. Listening to JD introduce a Z Z Top song (“that little ol’ band from Texas”) was a tremendous joy.

The Zoo was the soundtrack for my formative years. From the time I was seven until I graduated college, The Zoo dominated the Dallas airwaves and I never listened to anything else.

Once it disappeared in ’89 — Belo had sold the station and things got weird pretty fast — Jon Dillon hooked on at KZPS and spun classic rock there until this past Friday. For almost 24 more years, he played my Led Zeppelin and Bad Company and The Who on 92.5. When we’ve lived in DFW, I’ve listened to JD. When we’ve not lived in DFW, I’ve listened to him every single time we’ve visited. My kids have listened to Jon Dillon. Yes, it’s mostly nostalgic, I’m sure. But I’m saddened that he’s been let go. I’m not sure why they fired him. Clear Channel’s not saying and nobody’s heard from Jon Dillon yet. He’s 62 or 63 years old, I think. He probably talked too much between songs. He might have refused to do anything overly corporate and cheesy.

I’ve never met the guy; our radio paths never crossed. But I wish to salute him and thank him today. He is radio greatness, one of the very best and last of a dying breed and a fading era. I occasionally say “skosh” when I’m talking about time or distance. When I hear a Z Z Top song, it’s Jon Dillon’s baritone “how, how, how!” that resonates in my head. I’ve been listening to Jon Dillon my whole life. My deep love for local radio is directly tied to this cool cat. My deep lament for local radio also connects sadly. Thanks, JD.



Coming Home

Allan's Journey, Central Church Family 2 Comments »

Time does not allow me to reflect in this space all that has happened for us on this ten day tour of Great Cities churches in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. My plan is to use all of this week to post pictures and summarize my thoughts. Right now we are packing up and getting ready for a few hours of sight-seeing in Santiago before boarding a plane this evening, flying through the night to DFW, and arriving home at AMA at 9:00 Tuesday morning.

It’ll be nice to watch the Spurs wrap up their fifth NBA title tomorrow night on my own TV, from my own micro-fiber couch, with English speaking announcers describing the action. It’ll be nice to drink Diet Dr Pepper again. And we can’t wait to get to Blue Sky and Ruby Tequila’s!

It feels like I haven’t seen my girls in about a year. And it feels like months since I’ve preached. I can’t wait to get home. ‘

Yeah, home. Central. Home, Amarillo.

I believe I just realized that when I say “home,” I’m thinking about Amarillo.




God Bless Delta

Allan's Journey 13 Comments »

I was much relieved last night at the Delta 40th Anniversary Event to learn that the official club archives have recorded the Great Pumpkin Caper of 1988 as the “Scott Williams Knife Incident.” Whew! Thank you. I was thrilled to see David Butts alive and mostly well. I was shocked to hear Alfred Branch actually use the word “jiggle.” Twice. I was beside myself with hysterical laughter as Delta legends Boyd Hale and Tom Burkhart did that email bit. I was surprised to learn that Dewey’s anatomical anomaly is an inverted mole. And I became nervous when I discovered that nearly everybody remembers everything about “that summer.”

Last night was absolutely fabulous. The whole weekend was an unprecedented success. I could write a separate post for every thing we’ve relived together over the past 48 hours. Ozzy’s larceny school. Brian Vickery’s hat. “Viva Dukakis!” Double secret probation. The 100-person party. Sam. Sharing a canoe with Scott. Trips to Dallas and back. Hit-and-run. Wall ball. Crested Butte. The “Flour Incident.” Delta Dolls. Last in line with the Keymaster at Lake Murray.

I was honored to be asked to lead the prayer at last night’s bash. And more than a little nervous. That was a tough room last night. It was like a normal Tuesday night Delta meeting up in the DAH, but with much better food. And the smart-alek comments and jeers from the peanut gallery and heckling magnified by five or six times. I was honored. But I was very acutely aware of the situation. I was in a banquet hall full of incredibly brilliant and wildly successful men, clever and witty men who jump at the chance to insult or the opportunity to heckle, like Nancy Inman leaping to conclusions, who had not gathered this particular night to pray. However, I sensed that this prayer was going to be important. It needed to be important. It would be the only time during the evening when everyone in the room would be completely quiet (except for Brad Robison’s old man noises) and I would have a chance, by the grace of God, to maybe not only set the tone for the evening but also point us to a bigger picture that would honor the guys who’ve gone before, that would inspire the ones who are coming after, and would recognize our God as present and active in all of it.

I worked on it for about an hour at my sister Rhonda’s dining room table yesterday afternoon. A blue pen and a yellow legal pad. I’m giving you all the details because Osburn and Adair and Eugene are telling me today that they want to archive the prayer. You know, I thought it was a pretty good prayer. But the response while I said it, immediately after saying it (emcee Steve Shoemaker suggested high-fives around the room), most of last night (Branch requested I lead the same prayer at Memorial Road on Sunday morning), and continuing sporadically throughout today (among other texts received today: “greatest prayer I’ve ever heard” and “the perfect prayer”) has been overwhelming, if not a bit over-the-top. Apparently, it moved some people. Again, I thought it was a good prayer. But this has been quite ridiculous.

So, in the interests of the official Delta archives, I present to you the prayer I led at last night’s Delta 40th Anniversary Event. Give our God the glory. He is faithful. And very, very good.

Holy Father above, we acknowledge you as the Creator of Heaven and Earth and the Creator and Sustainer of our very lives. We praise your magnificent name. You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. You maintain your great love to thousands. And you forgive our wickedness, rebellion, and sin. And we thank you.

Forty years ago, God, our brothers set out to establish Delta Gamma Sigma on the campus of Oklahoma Christian College and forever redefined the meaning of “social service club.” You have been with us over those forty years, Father. And we thank you.

You are the God who has protected us. We are alive today, Lord, when most believed that some of us wouldn’t be, because of your protection. You are a merciful God. And we thank you.

You are the God who blesses us with the gift of friendship, the gift of relationship and brotherhood. We are united today, Lord, because of our mutual spirit and pride. You are a relational God. And we thank you.

You are the God who has delivered us to lives of service to you and to your Church and to the world you created. We are ministers, doctors, lawyers, church shepherds and school teachers, social service directors and missionaries because of your guidance. You are a patient God. And we thank you.

You are also the God who allowed for the formation of Phi Gamma and Kappa and Sigma and Chi. You are a mysterious God. And we wonder.

You are the God who gives us stories. We are connected today, Lord, because of our common experiences and the narratives that have shaped us and bound us together, generation after generation: from Chester Knight and Mike Carrol, to Robert Elliot and Jeff McCormack, to Alfred Branch and Boyd Hale, to Wayne Russell and John Young, to Philip Maple and Brent Heath, to Landon Cobb and Chase Phillips, we are one, Father, because of our stories. And we thank you.

For the laughter and camaraderie in the room, for the brotherhood we share, we give you praise and thanksgiving.  And we humbly ask for your continued blessings of love and joy for our families, for our friends, and for all those who will come after us bleeding maroon and gold. Thank you, God, for an excellent forty years!

In the name of our risen Lord Jesus…

And all of Delta says “Amen!”



40 Years of Bull

Allan's Journey 1 Comment »

I’m joining more than 160 of my  All-Sports-Trophy-winning, standard-of-excellence-setting, Cushman-dodging, Dean-Mock-head-slapping, Stafford-North-quoting, maroon-and-gold-bleeding, Delta brothers for a 40th Anniversary bash this weekend in Oklahoma City. Oh, yeah. It was forty years ago when Chester Knight, Albert McKutcheon, Tom Fultz and friends decided to eternally re-define the meaning of “social service club” by establishing Delta Gamma Sigma on the campus of Oklahoma Christian College.

This weekend, we come together to celebrate 40 years of “Strength through Unity, Dependability, and Pride.” Forty years of “It’s Good to be the King.” Four decades of “It Just Doesn’t Matter.” Forty years of proving over and over again that “Delta’s not for everybody, and everybody’s not for Delta.”

I’ve already had lunch today at Ted’s with my great friend Mike Osburn, pouring over the old ACLU documents and disciplinary letters. I’m looking forward to seeing the “Schecretary,” the “Keymaster,” Meador our Leader, Dobson and Branch, Dave Butts, James O., Huge and Jeff Mac, Stratton and Wayne and Sheldon and all the great friends with whom, by the grace of God, I survived college.

A big cookout tonight on the OC campus, a golf tournament tomorrow morning, and a fancy banquet tomorrow night.

Here’s to forty years of excellence, boys.


Stay Put

Allan's Journey, Preaching 1 Comment »

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.