Larry Lemmons of channel 7, the ABC affiliate here in Amarillo, produced a nice piece on the “4 Amarillo” churches that aired on Christmas night. You can view the three minute video by clicking here.
Worshiping with the Legacy church last Sunday got me to thinking all this week about my ordination as a proclaimer of God’s Word. Yeah, I believe with all my heart that our God has been preparing me my whole life to preach the gospel. Yes, I went to seminary and studied Greek. And, of course, I do feel ordained by the Lord to do what I’m doing. But I don’t think those things alone give anyone the right to preach. I’m beginning to understand more and more that the community of faith must ordain its preacher in order for the relationship between proclaimer and listener, preacher and congregation, to work.
So, who ordained me? The elders hired me and prayed over me. But how does a preacher really become ordained to minister with a particular church family? It has become clear to me this week, especially since seeing all those wonderful people at Legacy and visiting with all those dear friends. It’s both a one time event and a lifetime progression. It’s both formal and relational.
At Legacy, Tom ordained me when he asked me to baptize his daughter Sarah. She was the first person I baptized at Legacy. I asked him why he wanted me to do it and he replied, “She needs to be baptized by the preacher; and you’re our preacher.” A similar thing happened with Brooklyn, who greeted me this past Sunday with happy tears in her eyes. Don ordained me when, after a particularly tough sermon in which I challenged a couple of long-held practices of ours, he told me, “Allan, you are my friend, you’re my brother, and you’re my preacher!” Louise ordained me from her wheelchair when she promised me, “I pray for you every single morning.” And I believed her. Jim and Elvera ordained me when they asked me to marry them. This widow and widower had more than 90 years of marriage experience between them when they asked me to preside over their wedding. Dan ordained me when he walked in to my office one day and asked if I could help him with some specific spiritual questions he had. He’s older than me, been a Christian much longer than me, but he said he needed my wisdom. Paul and Jean ordained me when their son was killed in that car accident. Alene ordained me when she asked me to do Bob’s funeral.
I think ordination is both positional and relational — it must be both. Tom didn’t really know me when he asked me to baptize Sarah, but he trusted it was the right thing to do because I was the preacher. Louise didn’t really know me at the time, but she vowed to pray for me every day. Don and I had disagreed about several things during my first couple of years at Legacy, but when he called me his preacher, it was a sign of love and respect that had taken some time. Brooklyn’s ordination of me was in relationship. So was Jim and Elvera’s. Paul and Jean’s was through a shared experience of tragedy. Alene’s affirmation and trust was forged in hours of prayer together.
It’s both. I think the congregation has to say — collectively and individually — this is my preacher, given to us by God, and we’re going to support him and love him and trust him because he’s been placed here with us by Christ. In the same way, the preacher must make the same commitments: these are my people, my church family, given to me by God, and I’m going to support and love and trust these people because Christ has brought us together for his purposes. It’s both formal and relational.
It’s been very helpful to me this week to recognize the many ways I’ve been ordained. Here at Central, Eldrena anointed me with oil one hour before I preached my first sermon here. John Todd and Kami ordained me by bringing us dinner and providing a microwave for our apartment the first night we spent in Amarillo. Lanny ordained me by asking me to perform Judy’s funeral. Nick and Sara ordained me by asking me to do their wedding. Jim and Becky ordained me through some tough conversation and prayer in their kitchen. Wesley ordained me by reflecting on our sermons with emails and cards. Every week I’m ordained by these faithful Christians at Central in living rooms and hospital wards, at lunch and in my study, through phone calls and emails.
And I could keep going. All the dozens of people throughout my childhood and teenage years who told me how wonderful my prayer or my sermonette or my devo talk or my communion meditation or my song leading was, even when it really wasn’t very good at all. The Room 208 class in Mesquite. Kevin’s pushing me to leave radio and pursue preaching and putting his money where his mouth was. Jason and Dan encouraging me through that stressful transition. Donna Steward asking me to baptize her gardener, my first. Lee Ann Clark asking me to do her mother’s funeral, my first. God himself ordaining me by thrusting me into pastoral situations whether I was ready or not: praying over an unconscious Berrilyn Daniel at that WinterFest, moving David Griffin out of that horrible situation in south Marble Falls.
Play with the semantics all you want: God ordains and the congregation affirms, the elders ordain and the church family confirms, whatever. But I know now that it’s both a one time event and a lifetime progression. It’s both formal and relational. And a preacher in God’s Church couldn’t do the job with it being any other way.
Preachers are a blessed bunch of people. We don’t deserve our blessings, we don’t earn them, we don’t seek them. But the blessings from our God and his people fall on us and overwhelm us quite regularly. We are honored above most other groups of people. And we would do well to be more aware of those blessings and honors, to recognize them and appreciate them when they arrive.
The people in our churches honor us by sharing their lives with us. They give us glimpses into their hearts that other people never see. They allow us to look into their very souls, they open up their emotions to us, they come clean with us about their struggles and doubts, and they share with us their greatest joys.
God only knows.
I was so incredibly honored this past Sunday to perform the marriage ceremony for Landon Brightwell and Taylor Bates, two precious kids from the Legacy youth group. Honored. My first real exposure to Landon was the day his dad dragged him into my office and asked me to talk to him for an hour about some trouble he was getting in to. Landon and I were both very uncomfortable. He mainly listened and fidgeted in his chair while I tried to inspire him with stories from the gospels and hypothetical situations involving his uncertain future if he didn’t shape up. I was terribly ineffective that afternoon. But his dad trusted me with his son. His dad thought I could help and he trusted what I might say.
Over the next three years I watched as our Lord began to speak to Landon and his friends and to work in them and through them in astounding ways. These three guys began showing up to the Tuesday men’s Bible study, blessing the old men in the group, asking all the right questions, speaking deeply from their hearts. They began taking regular shifts during Legacy Morning Prayers, blessing our elders and ministers, being blessed by Quincy, growing in their faith in God and in their trust in his Church and in one another. They pranked my house, put live goldfish in the bed of my truck, planted apple trees on my front porch, and put living room furniture in my front yard. And they prayed with me before I left for Amarillo.
I’ve only seen Landon maybe once or twice since we left; I haven’t talked to Taylor at all. And when he called me over the summer to ask me if I’d marry them, it completely blew me away. Why? Why do want me to do your wedding?
“Because you’re our preacher.”
I’m not sure a preacher can hear any more encouraging and affirming and honoring words than those. It’s humbling and it’s flattering. But above all, I believe it’s an honor.
To be able to share this most important day with Landon and Taylor, to be right in the middle of this foundational day with them and their sweet families, was such a blessed honor for me. And I know it has very little, if anything, to do with my sermons or my teachings or the things I believe. It has nothing at all to do with any special talents or abilities. It’s only because I just happened to be their preacher when they were growing up. I was their preacher.
Carrie-Anne and I worshiped with the Legacy church family Sunday for the first time since we left a little over three years ago. And we were honored from the moment we walked in until the moment we drove off to lunch with the Byrnes and Cindy Pope. We were hugged and kissed, appreciated and encouraged. Lots of people expressed how much they miss us. A few pointed out some things we started at Legacy that are still continuing today and are very much a part of the church’s DNA. Several thanked me for something I had done or said in the past. Three people asked me to pray for someone in their family.
What an honor. Because I’m a preacher.
Preachers don’t deserve the trust people put in us. We’re not worthy of receiving the parts of their lives others choose to share with us. All of it is a gracious gift from our God.
Lord, please help us recognize and appreciate those honors as the gifts to us they are, to more fully understand the position you’ve placed us in and how you’re working through us for your purposes and glory.
Twenty-Five years ago today, Carrie-Anne and I hopped on a tiny little plane at the Amarillo airport and flew to Las Vegas where we were married at 11:30 that evening by a J.P. in the basement of the Clark County courthouse. I remember standing in a fairly long line at the marriage license counter late that night and thinking it odd that there were so many people doing what we were doing. Then we noticed that we were the only two sober people in the building. Which was funny. And kinda sad.
I wonder how many of those people in the room with us that night ever have any regrets about getting married in Vegas on a Saturday near midnight?
Carrie-Anne, I’ve always felt like it’s appropriate that we got married over the Thanksgiving weekend because I am so thankful to God you said ‘yes’ to me that day. And I’m eternally grateful that you keep saying ‘yes’ with every new day. With every new challenge. In every new phase. With every move, every heartache, every kid, every celebration, every setback, and every victory. You are such a constant and consistent presence of God in my life, a faithful reminder of how blessed by him I am.
Over the months and years, my love for you has grown deeper. It’s richer. It’s more significant. It’s more meaningful. More grateful. It’s stronger. Better. We’ve been through a whole lot together. Together. Together. Together. And I’m so glad.
Thank you, Carrie-Anne, for every hour of every day of every year for the past twenty-five. Even the sad hours. Even the tense moments. Even the tough stretches. I’m so thankful for every minute that you and I have been “one.”
I love you,
God has placed the Central Church of Christ in the middle of a terrible, terrible place. There is so much hurting, so much pain in the downtown Amarillo neighborhoods. There is so much poverty and violence, addiction and unemployment, physical sickness and depression. Brokenness. This is a tough place, a place that so obviously reminds us that while the Kingdom of God is coming, it hasn’t come yet. It hasn’t arrived yet in all of its promised glory and power. Every knee has not yet bowed, every tongue has not yet confessed that Jesus is Lord. Until that day, Satan roams and destroys. It’s especially evident on the streets around our church building.
We took to these streets again last night. As representatives of our King and his Kingdom, we spent three hours last night changing oil in people’s cars, washing their trucks, sorting and folding and paying for their laundry, delivering cookies and prayers. We hugged people and laughed, we prayed with people and cried. We met kids and grandkids, old men and women near the ends of their lives, and younger families who can’t seem to catch a break.
Four or five of us wound up ministering to a woman in a terribly desperate situation. She had been assaulted the night before and beaten to the point that she suffered a miscarriage and lost the baby she had been carrying for a couple of months. She had spent the night in the hospital. The man who beat her — the father of this child and the husband of another woman — had spent a few hours in jail. And when this woman showed up at the laundry-mat last night to do a couple of free loads of laundry, this man showed up, too. He was looking for her. And she was terrified. Afraid for her life. We drove her back and forth to her house a couple of times, had a long conversation with a couple of police officers who verified all the details of the horribly twisted story, prayed with this woman, bought her some minutes for her phone, and left her at the house of a friend. Ten minutes later the Central elders and ministers were earnestly praying for her in the Upper Room. This morning, I spent about fifteen minutes with her at Loaves and Fishes. She’s in there right now singing “Blessed Assurance” with Kevin and Roman, hugging Lena, and learning that God’s people really do love her and care about her.
And I’m not sure I know what to do with this.
Kevin and Lon and another group last night discovered and engaged a man who was living against the cinderblock wall on the west side of the car wash. This is all happening within two blocks of our church building. And I’m not sure I know what to do with it.
You know, we changed oil in almost 30 cars, we did about fifty loads of laundry, and delivered a hundred dozen cookies in this neighborhood last night. Now what? Oh, I’m struggling with this.
There’s a part of me that wonders if the Kingdom of God wouldn’t be better off if I vowed to never preach in a Sunday morning congregational setting ever again and spent all of my time instead talking about Jesus to people who don’t know him. I think I justify my existence as a preacher with passages like Ephesians 4 that tell me I’m encouraging and equipping and motivating God’s people to do these good works. And the Holy Spirit specifically gifts people to do that equipping and encouraging. I suppose I should be doing both. And I don’t — not very well.
I can only think of one or two reasons why anybody outside the downtown area would be an active member here at Central. Why would you drive past other churches on the outskirts of town to come to Central? The building is old, the parking situation is awful, and the preaching isn’t nearly as good as it should be. Neither is the preacher. The only reason is that here at Central a person is continually confronted with the true brokenness of this world. An active member of the Central Church of Christ is forced to see and engage this planet in all of its trouble and sin. It’s impossible to ignore. We’re made to wrestle with a God who allows such terrible pain, we’re compelled to question a God who moves so slowly to fix things. We’re challenged and stretched. We’re made to look at life in new ways, to question our roles in what God really is doing with this messed up place. We have to sacrifice and serve, we’re humbled and forced to see our own shortcomings reflected in the sins of those around us. Oh, man, it’s hard.
But, it’s salvation, right?
I think maybe here at Central we’re becoming more like Jesus. Whether we want to or not, we’re becoming more like Christ as we sacrifice and serve, as our hearts are broken by the sin around us, as our souls cry out to God for justice and redemption, as we are deeply moved by the plight of others. So, yeah, at the laundry-mat and at Loaves and Fishes, at Ellwood Park and Bullard Auto and in Sneed Hall, we are becoming like Christ. That may be the only reason to be an active member at Central.
I would suggest that’s the only reason needed.
Lord, come quickly.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
I won’t be like the horse or the mule. Every day I will come to you, Lord. Every day I will sing to you. I will pray to you. I will listen to you. I will talk to you every day. I will look for you, God. I will obey you. I will submit to you. Lord, I will follow you. I will come to you.
God, in your mercies, give me the power to keep these promises to you.
Your undeserving and grateful servant,