Troy “Big Daddy” Cullum’s funeral was today at Central and I was triply blessed.
One, I was so honored to give the eulogy. Any time I’m asked to do a memorial service, it’s a tremendous privilege. It’s one of the great blessings in being a congregational minister. People invite you in to their most sacred moments — the births of babies, the deaths of loved ones, the victories and tragedies. We preachers stand in places most people never get to: those places where heaven and earth meet, those places where God’s presence is thick, those places where our Lord comes to be with his people. It’s an honor and an affirmation. It’s holy.
Two, I was thrilled to re-connect with so many great people I went to school with at old Dallas Christian. “Big Daddy” had maintained close friendships with some of the best men and women ever turned out by DC and a bunch of them came up here for the service. Kyle Douthit, Todd Denton, Brian Crisp, Darla Dunn, Mike Shelton, Darby Doan, Clay Dillard, and Micah Goodspeed — oh, my word! Other than seeing Darla at a Great Cities Missions fundraiser one time about four years ago, I’m sure I haven’t seen any of these folks since 1985! What a great joy to talk about Coach T and Coach Richmond and Mrs. Sorrells and old friends, to make those re-connections with people who know the same people I know, who know the same stories I know. What a gift from God to realize that he has been involved with all of these people for the past 33 years. We’ve all been on different paths in different places, we’ve had different experiences and different ups and downs, but our Lord is faithful to carry us forward in the ways that are best. We are all characters in the same eternal narrative. It’s comforting. It’s warming. It’s good to be reminded that our God is at work in and through everybody for his great purposes.
And, three, I was so blessed to see our church come together in powerful ways to minister to the Cullums. Shane and Doug are there for Troy’s son, T. J. Mary and Sara and Jamie are there for Berkley. Mindy and Robin are there for Morgan. Huddle leaders and class teachers and Sticky Buddies and elders and Becky Nordyke’s gang of church ladies and our amazing church staff, all jumping in this week to love and encourage, to comfort and minister.
Nobody wanted this funeral today. Nobody was prepared for this. It’s awful.
And, yeah, it’s also kind of beautiful.
Troy’s sudden death Sunday morning leaves a heavy void that’s going to take a long time to heal. But he also leaves a lasting legacy for his family and friends — a brilliant and shining example of a life well-lived in Christ Jesus for the sake of others.
May God bless Troy’s family. May God receive his servant “Big Daddy” into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and faith and confidence that he is able to keep whatever we trust to him until that big day.
Forty years ago this summer the Texxas World Music Festival, more commonly known as the Texxas Jam, brought together eleven bands — Van Halen, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Journey, and Eddie Money among them — to perform in the first of what became the largest and longest running outdoor concert series in world history. The Texxas Jam ran for eleven years at the historic Cotton Bowl and I was there on the 120-degree floor of that stadium with over 100,000 people for the final four.
The Texxas Jam is where I learned to love rock and roll concerts. It’s where I first saw The Motor City Madman swing from a cable onto the stage wearing nothing but a loin cloth and totally command the stadium for over an hour. It’s where I saw Bon Jovi perform at 11:00 in the morning when their only hit was “Runaway.” I was there when Deep Purple did “Smoke on the Water” and Boston played every cut from their “Third Stage” album in order. I saw Sammy Hagar completely lose his voice and Van Halen’s bass player Michael Anthony step up and sing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” I saw Eddie play “Eruption.” Live. Twice. The Scorpions, Night Ranger, and Loverboy. Bachman Turner Overdrive, Whitesnake, and Poison.
The concerts are legendary. Heat strokes and fire hoses. Surprise appearances by Nugent and Hagar. The Eagles protesting weather conditions and the rough accommodations for an hour before finally taking the stage. Blown amps and stolen guitars. Fifteen hours of wall-to-wall rock and roll from some of the biggest bands in music history. There was nothing like it before and nothing like it since.
So, I was immediately interested when a chat box popped up on the sidebar of my KZEW – Vokal screen a few weeks ago advertising a 40th anniversary Texxas Jam Tribute concert at the Texas Music Museum in Irving. It was being billed as a two-day event with Texxas Jam memorabilia, documentaries, guitar contests, and several tribute bands playing the actual sets from those famous concerts. I contacted my brother Keith in Austin and we quickly decided we would buy our tickets and meet in Dallas to experience the event together.
Then the venue changed to the Longhorn Ballroom in downtown Dallas. It went from a two-day event to a one-day deal. The Heart tribute band cancelled. I contacted the promoter by email and he assured me everything was good. Their website promised “more surprises,” which gave me a great deal of pause, but the tickets were purchased, the plans had been made, and we pressed on.
We showed up Saturday at just after 12:00 noon. There were only eight or nine cars in the parking lot. And it was way too quiet. And weird. No documentaries. No memorabilia. No crowd. Keith and I felt like we had crashed a Vokal staff party. We were the only ones there who weren’t working for the show or related to members of the bands. The MC came over to us and introduced himself personally — we stood out that much! The MC was never certain of the lineup. He read fun facts about the Longhorn Ballroom from a page he printed off the internet. They thanked sponsors and touted the food truck and jewelry booth like we were at a small town arts and crafts fair. And nobody showed up.
Seven guys participated in the Eddie Van Halen guitar-playing contest which was basically a showcase of seven different ways to get into and out of “Eruption.” At one point one of the contestants flicked his guitar pick at us in the audience and it was so quiet in there we heard the pick hit the wood floor! It bounced within about 24-inches of my feet and nobody made a move. That pick just laid there on the floor for almost a minute before somebody to my right mercifully walked over to retrieve it. After they announced the winner, with all seven contestants still standing on the stage, the MC said “Hopefully we’ll do this again next year and it’ll be better.” Seriously.
During the Joan Jett tribute concert the band dropped the instruments and mics for the audience to sing the chorus to “I Love Rock and Roll!” and it was dead silence. It was incredible! The first words the MC said after the Joan Jett show were, “Now back to the tamales,” referencing the food truck he was talking about before the set.
We were took. Big time. I feel like a huge sucker. The promoter tried to make up to us by giving us free replica concert posters from the inaugural ’78 Jam. I took one and, yeah, it’s hanging up in my garage right now.
I made the drive and spent the time and money because I wanted to see the documentaries and the memorabilia. I wanted to be reminded of some of those really fun and free and wild moments from my youth, I guess. I wanted to watch the interviews and hear the stories and see the history. The last thing I would have ever done is drive more than six-hours one way to listen to some cover bands. Give me a break.
But the bands were actually really good, especially the Van Halen and Whitesnake tribute bands, VHX and Sinners and Saints. I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would — it was quite a surprise. Their music was crisp and clean and to-the-note exactly like the studio sound of the records. The lead singers have worked a long time to perfect the look, the voice, the mannerisms, and the stage quirks of David Lee Roth and David Coverdale. If you squinted your eyes and let your imagination go just a bit, these guys looked and sounded just like the bands I saw in my youth. And, as Keith mentioned a couple of times, where else are you going to hear these great songs performed live like this? Van Halen will never sing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with that same lineup from ’78 – ’85. Whitesnake is not doing “Here I Go Again” with Coverdale. This is it.
And it worked. For a brief moment, as insanely lame as most of it was, it worked to remind us why we love electric guitars and a driving beat. It was not a totally wasted day.
I feel the tears well up inside my eyes when I walk into my room after dinner. It’s Sunday night. The evening meal is over. The introductions have concluded. And it’s about to get real. I know my duplicitous life and my sins and I’m going to have to say out loud to our God why I’m here.
I had the same feeling during the evening prayers with the larger group. I can’t read the first couple of prayers through the tears. The candle. The liturgy. The knowledge that I must face our Lord. Will he receive me? Does he still want me? Will he accept me and work on me?
I’ve been made to acknowledge the burdens I carry. I’ve also been made to recognize my fears heading into this retreat and this two-year commitment. Out loud. I’ve named them. Here we go.
So I pour myself into the process. I give it my all. I’m journaling in my room, but realizing ten minutes into the exercise that I’m writing only about the things my three companions and I have experienced together on the trip. Lunch at the Lucky Monk. Something funny Mike said. Something weird on the plane. I’m probably stalling, avoiding the hard work God would rather be doing in me. I’m praying Psalm 32 and Psalm 100. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. But I can’t get still.
Until Monday afternoon in the chapel. Thank you, Lord.
A little over an hour by myself in that beautiful chapel and God revealed to me why I’m here. He gave me a peace, he washed me in a comfort, he blessed me by reminding me that I belong to him and he loves me deeply and he wants to change me. He wants me to live in him and rely on him alone.
Heal me. Fix me, Father. Give me peace in my ministry. Give me peace with myself as a minister of the Gospel. Reconcile all the spiritual and existential issues between my head and my heart. Heal me, Lord. Fix me.
Unsurprisingly, since my first Transforming Community retreat in Chicago, my life with Christ has been up-and-down. I’ve engaged / revived a couple of new practices and begun a couple of new rhythms to help me maintain some semblance of what I experienced in Chicago. Those exercises are keeping me aware of the presence of God throughout the day. And it’s good. But I feel I have a long way to go. I always have.
I know that I need continual transformation in my life. I know I need to pay constant attention to it. I also know that I cannot transform myself. Only God by his grace and the power of his Spirit can make me into the man of the Lord he wants me to be. And I welcome it. I’m committed to making space for it.
I’m reading all the books, I’m making the retreats, I’m writing the papers, and doing all the assignments with the view that God is hard at work on me. Some of this is going to stretch me, some of this will make me uncomfortable, but I’m convinced that God has been preparing me for years for this experience.
He’ll talk to me if I’ll just listen. He’ll heal me if I’ll just sit still. He’ll transform me if I’ll just trust.
We gut-laughed until we were both crying. We laughed so hard we were hoarse the rest of the night and into the next morning. Jerry Seinfeld went an hour-and-fifteen-minutes Thursday evening in Midland/Odessa breaking our common everyday lives down to the finest hilarious details as only he can. The only way it could have been any better is if he had gone longer. Bathroom stalls, marriage as a game show, texting abbreviations, Swanson Hungry Man TV dinners, bucket lists, the U.S. Postal Service, buffet restaurants — he’s a genius! We were dead center, 50-yard-line, on the twelfth row; they were the best seats in the house! What a wonderful Christmas present from my fabulous wife!
I was honored to speak at Oklahoma Christian University’s chapel yesterday, the most excruciatingly nervous 15-minutes of my year. I love public speaking — you know I do. I like speaking to small groups of a dozen or so in intimate settings, I like speaking in front of a couple thousand in a conference atmosphere, I enjoy speaking every Sunday at Central. I love speaking to little kids and older adults and people my own age. Speaking to a roomful of preachers, to the homeless people at Loaves and Fishes, to business professionals at a Rotary lunch, or to a ladies Bible class never gives me a problem. But talking to college aged young people in the middle of their school day is brutal. They let you know in no uncertain terms exactly how they’re receiving the message. They don’t hide anything. There’s no pretending.
It felt a little better this time than in previous years. I kept it much shorter than normal and I specifically mentioned some key buzz words that spoke to particular hot-button issues in society and tied my message as directly to those issues as possible. Valerie gave me some good advice. It looked like they were paying attention.
I was blessed to get caught up with my sister Rhonda and her husband Geoff. I was privileged to eat dinner Sunday night at Ted’s (!) with our middle daughter Valerie, her friend Paige, and my nephew Asa. And then yesterday it was lunch at The Garage with Rhonda, Valerie, and Delta Gamma Sigma sponsor Chris Adair, who sent me home with OC and Delta gear for the whole family.
I appreciate Jeff McMillon’s kind words of encouragement and affirmation; if I were an OC recruiter, I’d make sure every high school senior spent an hour with Jeff. And I’m blown away by our Lord who thinks it’s a good idea for me to speak at OC chapel. His grace reaches even me!
Gracious and loving God, you know the deep inner patterns of my life that keep me from being totally yours. You know the misinformed structures of my being that hold me in bondage to something less than your high purpose for my life. You also know my reluctance to let you have your way with me in these areas. Hear the deeper cry of my heart for wholeness and by your grace enable me to be open to your transforming presence through these sessions in Chicago.
I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon to participate in a two-year spiritual formation community supervised by Ruth Haley Barton at her Transforming Center in Chicago. Once every three months — nine times overall — I’ll spend Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon with a group of about 70 other church leaders in a directed time of spiritual development, self-reflection, and training. I’ll be equipped to engage the Scriptures on a deeper level, to enrich my personal relationship to our God in prayer and presence, and to pay better attention to my own spiritual growth. The main idea is to learn how to make myself more available to the Lord for the sanctification work he wants to do in me and through me.
Some of the people in my life I admire the most have gone through the Transforming Community and have been recommending it to me for some time: Jim Martin, Eddie Sharp, Greg Dowell, and Steve and Judy Rogers.
There’s a lot of required reading — I’ve already read the assigned Invitation to a Journey by Robert Mulholland and Thirsty for God by Bradley Holt. I’ll be writing a few reflection papers, seeing a spiritual director, and participating with a smaller community of five or six lay leaders and clergy over the course of these two years.
My aim is to deepen my relationship to Christ for the sake of being a more complete and godly man, husband, father, and preacher. I’m going to intentionally stay away from taking notes in order to bring something back for the church. I’m not going to listen to the speakers and read the books looking for sermon series or teaching ideas or anecdotes. The worship, the prayer, the readings, the Scripture, the small groups, the silence and solitude, the spiritual disciplines — this is for me. I might experience some things I’ve not encountered before, I may be asked to join in activities that will seem questionable, and I’ll be stretched in a few areas that might make me uncomfortable. But I’m going into this like I attempt to enter most things: to fully participate, to give myself wholly to the experience, to make myself completely available to God and whatever he wants to do with me at that time.
I’m leaving my laptop at home so I won’t be able to check email and I’m turning my phone off at 4p Sunday and won’t turn it on again until 2p Tuesday so I won’t be interrupted.
I’m deeply grateful to the shepherds at Central who enthusiastically support any of my efforts to better myself spiritually. They encourage it, they demand it. I’m so thankful. They are giving me the time off, they are paying for the experience, and they are personally interested in my progress.
Please pray for me as I enter this two-year commitment to better spiritual health and practices. Pray for the three others from Central who will be experiencing this with me: Hannah McNeill, Mary McNeill, and Mike Robertson. Pray that winter storm “Hunter” won’t dump too much snow on the Chicago area tonight and tomorrow. And pray for my family while I am away.