Category: Allan’s Journey (Page 1 of 28)

Remembering Dr. Weed

In December 2006, I was given the honor and the horror of being selected to “roast” Dr. Michael Weed at the faculty-student Christmas party at Austin Graduate School of Theology. The five minute bit was part of a video we students made as the main entertainment for the evening. I played Dr. Weed giving a lecture on New Testament theology to a class of a dozen or so diligent note-takers. And I played up every one of Dr. Weed’s idiosyncrasies and habits.

I exaggerated the way Dr. Weed dug into both eyes with the heels of his hands as he tried to remember a name or a date from the Middle Ages. I overdid the way he rubbed his forehead with all ten fingers as he contemplated the answer to a student’s question that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I made fun of how Dr. Weed would talk randomly about seemingly unrelated events from different continents and centuries and then connect them all together to drive home his point that you didn’t even know he was making.

I quoted a lot of his well-worn lines like, “I’m old enough to say this book was written five years ago and it was really thirty” and “I wanna say this carefully…” and “I don’t want this to sound pejorative” and “I’ll give you a chance to push back on that in a minute.”

At one point in the video I mimicked Dr. Weed’s breakneck lecturing pace. We showed closeups of students doing their best to keep up. One student’s desk was littered with nubs of pencils he’d gone through. We used matches and slow motion to make it look like one student’s pen was literally catching on fire as she tried to keep up. I said one of Dr. Weed’s most used lines: “Am I going too fast? I’ll slow down.” And then I started talking even faster.

“Think with me…”
“We can do ethics in theology. Or are we doing theology in history? What class is this?”
“Fair enough?”
“Oh, Bernice!”

I ended the video with the way Dr. Weed always ended every single one of his lectures. “Peace.”

Later in the evening, Dr. Weed began his encouragement to the students by pointing out to everyone how foolish it was of me to put that performance on video the week before finals.

Those two years at Austin Grad were a formative time for me and Dr. Weed was at the very front and center of it all. I was reading the Bible for the first time as a narrative, as the Story of our God and his people, instead of a verse here and a verse there pulled out of context to support an argument. Scriptural dots were being connected. My faith in the Lord and his salvation mission was becoming more important than my strict adherence to a set of rules. I was appreciating Church history for the very first time in my life. I was understanding for the first time that tradition is the living faith of the dead and traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. He introduced me to Karl Barth and Augustine, Reinhold Niebuhr and Neil Postman, Bonhoeffer and Erasmus. He taught me about the sacral framework of our communities and churches. He showed me how we are being formed all the time by everything around us; nothing is neutral, everything is created or made for a purpose; form is function; the medium is the message. He personally worked with me through some of my early issues with what he called “theological puberty.” In my second year at Austin Grad I made sure I spent at least one afternoon per week in his office talking about theology and ministry, the current state and the coming future of our congregation in Marble Falls and the Church in America as a whole.

During my first seven or eight years preaching, a month did not go by that I didn’t consult my old Austin Grad notebooks to find a quote or an illustration from Dr. Weed that would help me in a sermon. The exact analogy. The perfect example. Dr. Weed made nearly half of my early sermons tolerable instead of torture.

After every lecture, Dr. Weed would stop and say, “Now, here’s how the Church needs to hear this. Here’s why this matters.” And it would get really practical really fast. Here’s what’s happening to Christians, this is what they are hearing and believing and doing, and here’s where the Scriptures can better form us. Here’s where the history can inform us. Here’s how our faith can transform us. When I returned to Austin Grad for a sermon seminar he would always ask me, “Allan, how are your people being formed?” It was always top-notch world-class scholarship with Dr. Weed. But it was always for the Church.

Dr. Weed finished his race on Saturday. He ran well. Very well. He died in Austin, loved by our God, forgiven by Christ Jesus, and filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit of our Lord.

The tributes and memorials will be many over the next few days. Here’s a link to a beautiful piece authored by Todd Hall. Even if you’ve never heard of Michael Weed, this tribute by Todd is worth the read. Todd shares a letter Dr. Weed wrote to him after Todd’s wife died in 2000, a wonderful portrait of a teacher who genuinely loves his Lord and loves his students.

Dr. Weed is a renowned Christian scholar, a prolific writer, and a beloved teacher. His impact on preachers and churches and the Kingdom of God can never truly be measured. I am just one of his thousands of students. He was my teacher. So influential. I admire him and his thinking and his faith so much. My careful attention to Christian formation is a gift from Dr. Weed to me and to the churches where I’ve preached. Transformation and mission. Formation zones. Christian practices and spiritual disciplines. Ecumenical partnerships. 4Amarillo and 4Midland. All of that grows from seeds Dr. Weed planted in me and nurtured by faith during those crucial two years at Austin Grad.

I use the word “pejorative” because of Dr. Weed. I’m extra sensitive to the damaging effect of digital technologies because of Dr. Weed. And I sign every blog and every bulletin article and every letter and card with “Peace” because of Dr. Weed.

I thank God today for Dr. Weed. I praise God that he placed Dr. Weed right in front of me when I first started hungering and thirsting for a closer relationship with the Lord and growing in my desire to answer God’s calling to congregational ministry. May our heavenly Father bless all those who are grieving today. May we all be comforted by the many memories of how Dr. Weed impacted us, our ministries, and our faith. And may our Lord receive Dr. Weed into his loving and faithful arms on that great day of eternal resurrection that is coming very soon.

Peace.

Allan

Thanking Rick Ross

Dear Rick Ross,

Congratulations on your retirement yesterday after 36-years of congregational ministry, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, mainly at the Mesquite Church of Christ and the Decatur Church of Christ. Whatever good things happen for you this week, whatever nice things are said about you–you deserve them all, and more.

I’ve told you before, but I want to put it in writing: I was born and raised in and by the Church–I’ve been listening to sermons since I was nine days old–and you are the very first preacher I ever really HEARD. You are the first preacher I ever truly listened to. The way you connect the dots from Old Testament to New Testament, the way you preach the Bible as the beautiful Story of God and not a book of rules, the way you shape your congregation by focusing on God’s love and mercy, and the way you tenderly bring us along when we need correcting or when the truth is hard to hear–all that had a tremendous impact on me when we moved to Mesquite in the Fall of 1999. You opened my eyes and my heart for the first time to the Good News I thought I already knew.

Everybody has that one preacher they name when they remember the first time they really heard about “grace.” Rick, you are that preacher for me. I thank God for you.

I have many memories of those incredibly formative years at that Mesquite church. That was such an important time for Carrie-Anne and me and directly led to our decision to leave radio and enter full-time congregational ministry. All that started in Mesquite, taking my faith in Christ and my discipleship to him seriously, and your preaching was the catalyst. But, just as important, and inseparable from that, is your life as a follower of Jesus. I know I said some bone-headed things to you back then and did a few bone-headed things. And you showed me such grace and understanding. Over time I learned to pick up on when you were being mistreated by the people you were serving with your heart and soul, which meant I also picked up on how you continued to treat those people with grace and forgiveness and stay faithful to your calling to preach and pastor and lead with love. There were times when it looked like being the preacher at Mesquite was a hard thing to do. And you kept doing it. And you kept loving us and faithfully leading our church. I think about you often and how you showed me and Jason Reeves and countless others how to do this difficult thing. I’m so grateful.

One of my earliest and most vivid memories of you, Rick, is worshiping together on the floor of the convention center at the annual Tulsa Workshop. I think it was the very first Workshop Carrie-Anne and I attended. I don’t know if it was Free Indeed or Keith Lancaster, but we were all singing “You Will Turn.” You and Beverly were one row in front of us and to the left. And when we sang, “You will turn…” you turned! Literally! You spun around! Physically! Your finger was in the air and your were singing and turning with great enthusiasm. When we sang, “…my mourning into dancing,” you danced! Kinda. If that’s what you call it. I was really surprised. Maybe even shocked. After the second time through, I looked back at Jenny who was behind us and to the right, and I pointed at you with my eyes wide open. She raised both eyebrows and smiled real big and nodded and said, “I know!”

I thought, “Who is this guy?” Who is this preacher who is so serious about his faith, so devoted to his walk with Christ, so careful and deliberate with his preaching, but at the same time clapping and singing and dancing during worship?”

That’s Rick Ross. I remember thinking in that moment and all through that weekend that if I were ever dumb enough to go into preaching, that’s exactly the kind of preacher I would want to be. Praise God for Rick Ross.

Well done, brother. You are God’s good and faithful servant. I feel like John Chrysostom when he lamented that his words couldn’t live up to what’s in his heart. I don’t know how to say it, Rick. Your preaching and your life have impacted me and countless others in profound ways for eternity. I wish you the very best of God’s richest blessings of joy and peace. And I pray that you know and feel our Father’s presence with you. And his very good pleasure.

Peace,

Allan

Take and Read

According to American Bible Society surveys, the number of Americans who read their Bibles is dropping dramatically. From 2011 to 2021, roughly 50-percent of Americans reported opening Scripture at least three times a year every year during that period. But, last year that number dropped to 39-percent. In other words, in the middle of domestic threats to this country’s democracy, threats of nuclear war in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, record inflation, and unprecedented gun violence, about 26-million Americans stopped reading the Bible.

Of the 39-percent who reported reading the Bible at least three times last year, only 27-percent read the Bible in print — a real Bible with two covers and paper pages that turn and crinkle. Nineteen-percent reported reading the Bible on an app on their phones, 18-percent online, and the other 11-percent listen to the Word on a podcast.

I find that data to be disturbing.

I’m also troubled to see new Ipsos research that shows Christians don’t know the teachings of our Lord. In response to the question, “Did Jesus teach people to turn the other cheek?” less than half of those who claim to follow Jesus said, “Yes.”

Evangelicals – 49%
Catholics – 29%
Mainline Protestants – 40%
Other Protestants – 51%

Those of us in the Churches of Christ would fit into that “other protestants” category so, yay, we win with just barely half of us knowing one of our Lord’s most fundamental teachings.

Please read the Bible. Please schedule the time every single day to read God’s Word. Please read it out loud in your home with your children and grandchildren. Be transformed by the holy words of Scripture. Let the ancient words sink into your soul and become a part of you. We are rapidly becoming biblically and doctrinally illiterate. We’re not sure what we believe and we certainly don’t know how to articulate it. Our God has saved us in Christ Jesus and called us to obey all that he commanded and to teach others all that he commanded. How are we going to live into that when we don’t read the Bible?

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The waterfall at Eagle Creek has evidently dried up for the season. My two mile hike to the site and back wasn’t without its pleasures — a mama deer and her two little spotted fawns, dozens of tiny and very colorful song birds whipping through the trees and brush, squirrels and some kind of chipmunk-ish things scurrying around. But I wanted to see the waterfall. Another time, maybe.

Today, I’m reading the Gospel of John out loud and trying to finish a manuscript I’ve been working on for almost four years. I had intended to also read Timothy Keller’s “Forgive” while I was in Ruidoso this week, but I’m not sure I’m going to get to it.

Peace,

Allan

Sabbatical Serenity

I  spent a couple of hours yesterday at this beautiful lake in Alto, less than two-and-a-half miles from Billy’s cabin. No books, no Bible, no phone, no agenda — just me on a park bench with three deer, lots of ducks, and our Lord Jesus. I took the mile long hike on the trail that runs the perimeter of the lake and got  some sun and enjoyed the heights of relaxing and reconnecting with God.

Today’s docket includes immersing myself in the Gospel of Luke, searching for a waterfall I’ve heard about, and probably worshiping with the Gateway Church here in Ruidoso.

I am also happy to report that this bat that showed up at the cabin while I was at the lake was gone early this morning. I’m not opposed to bats. I understand well the role of bats when it comes to eliminating pesky bugs and benefiting the overall environment. I would never knowingly harm a bat. It was interesting when I topped the stairs to see the bat. It was momentarily exciting in a you-don’t-see-that-everyday kind of way. But I’m also admittedly relieved the bat decided to take off.

Peace,

Allan

Good Morning from Ruidoso

I had company for breakfast this morning just off the back deck at the Futrells’ cabin. I’m sure they were looking for corn, and not any of my jalapeno sausage omelette.

It rained and stormed all evening and well into the night here in Ruidoso. It’s clear and 57-degrees as I’m writing this at 8:15am. Absolutely beautiful.

I’ve got the Gospel of Mark ahead of me right now. But I’m also dealing with a home warranty company on both a broken water heater and air conditioner back home in Midland. Not exactly the type of sabbatical I was planning. The water heater busted through and began leaking water early yesterday morning and the A/C stopped working yesterday evening. Would the devil attack my home appliances and systems just to wreck my week of reconnecting with the Lord?

There’s not much in life more aggravating than dealing with a home warranty company. I don’t remember praying for patience as I entered this week.

Peace,

Allan

Ruidoso Retreat

I am posting today from the redwood deck of a beautiful two-story cabin in the mountains of Ruidoso, courtesy of Billy and Kathy Futrell. I arrived here at about 6:00 last night, delayed only briefly by a half-dozen massive mule deer who were grazing and crossing the road very slowly about three miles away.  That breathtaking sight reminded me that I am on sabbatical. So what if during my nearly five hour drive the Rangers blew a 5-0 lead over the Twins and lost on a 13th inning bases loaded walk on four pitches? So what if Texas has lost nine of their past ten games and has surrendered first place in the division for the first time since April 8? I am on sabbatical. No TV, no Rangers, no staff meetings or elders meetings, no sermon preparation or small groups planning. These five-and-a-half days are for rest, relaxation, and reconnecting with my Lord.

As I pulled in last night, one of Billy’s neighbors welcomed me and and told me that “the bears have been really active this weekend.” Yikes. I was also reminded — again! — that I pronounce Ruidoso like a Texan and not like someone from Ruidoso. I have wrestled with this since we moved to Midland two years ago. Do I continue to maintain my Texan pronunciation, Ree-uh-doe-sa, or do I say it like the natives here and the West Texans who regularly travel and relax here, Roo-uh-doe-so? I can argue both ways. Maybe the Lord will reveal it to me.

I am surrounded by giant pines, rolling ranges, and very aggressive hummingbirds. The morning and afternoon temperatures are 20 degrees cooler than they are in Midland. I have my lectionary and my Bible, Diet Dr Peppers and iced-tea, my brats and Skip’s salsa. My plan is to immerse myself in the Gospels, to spend much time in prayer, to listen to the Lord more than I talk, and to rest.

This is a prayer I will be using as a focal point during this week in the mountains with our God. It comes from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith:

Lord Jesus, I believe that you are able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe that you did die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe you are stronger than sin, and that you can keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling into its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And, Lord, I am going to trust you to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust you.

I give myself to you. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to you as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything your love and your wisdom shall choose. And now I am yours. I believe you do accept that which I present to you; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by you, and that you have even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure. I trust you utterly and I trust you now.

Amen.

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