We celebrated an evening of praise and paints at church Wednesday night as part of our summer “Together@Central” program to illustrate the unity of our relationships together in Christ. Lots of acrylic paint, lots of music, lots of kids and older adults and everybody in between. And one beautiful, interactive, bold mosaic to display and serve as a reminder of our bonds.
Each of us was given an eight-by-eight square canvas which was divided into several dozen smaller squares, plenty of paint brushes, and just enough paint, and then instructed to paint all the squares, leaving one of our choosing completely blank. Easy enough.
Over the next 45-minutes, one by one, we each completed our canvas. Some of us painted each square a different color, some of us used a “Tetris” style of creating same-color designs out of the connecting squares, some of us meticulously labored over each square, and some of us slopped the paint on almost haphazardly.
As we painted, we were reminded that each of us has different gifts and different talents, different personalities and different views, but we are all one body together in Christ. In Christ, we, who are many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. The way you paint your canvas says something about your personality. It expresses something unique about your skills. It kind of represents you. The white square, the one you leave blank, is you. The color around it is what God brings to the table around you and through you.
One by one the canvasses were dried and hung in place on the wall until the bigger picture began to take shape and come sharply into focus: our church logo, the cross of Christ, right there in the middle surrounded by all our unique expressions of our God-given personalities and gifts.
Nicely executed, Kevin Schaffer and Judy Rogers. Wow. What a great night together and what a powerful reminder that our Lord desires unity in our diversity for his glory and for the sake of others. Thank you to Kevin and his team and to everyone who came out and participated.
What a joy to come together with our Christian brothers and sisters from the other three downtown congregations for four days of outreach programs and service projects. This is our fifth annual “4Amarillo Week” in Amarillo, a collaboration between First Baptist, First Presbyterian, Polk Street United Methodist, and Central Church of Christ. This week we’re running a morning Vacation Bible School at Margaret Wills Elementary and an evening VBS at San Jacinto Elementary. We’re feeding all the kids from those two communities lunch and dinner to go with the Bible stories, the games, the arts and crafts projects, and worship times. We’re also working in the San Jacinto Neighborhood Garden.
All four churches are gathering at San Jacinto tonight for the annual 4Amarillo Ice-Cream Social. For the past five years we’ve hosted this at Central and judged all the homemade ice-cream and gave out trophies in a bunch of fun categories. But this year, we’re taking it to the community. We’re going to make hundreds of ice-cream sundaes for all the kids who are attending these neighborhood VBSes, their families, all the volunteers, and everybody from the four churches.
Praise God for the blessed privilege of joining him in breaking down the walls between his people and his churches and taking the Good News of salvation in his Son Jesus to our neighbors in Amarillo.
Our Central missionaries in Bogota, Columbia — Byron and Sandra Cana and their two sons, Diego and Derek — arrived in Amarillo late this morning and will be here with us for almost two weeks. I was honored to join them and Steve & Debbie Cearley and Tom & Janice Grant, four members of Central’s foreign missions committee, for a good ol’ Texas lunch at Cracker Barrel. It was great hearing Byron and Sandra’s improved English, it was encouraging to hear about the Lord’s work in Bogota, and it was entertaining listening to Tom try to explain to the Canas what exactly is a Sod Poodle.
If the Lord was looking for us last night at the church building, we’re going to have to get on the next boat. All of Central assembled at the new downtown Amarillo ballpark last night for dollar hot dogs and the Sod Poodles game. It was the second event of our “Together@Central” summer Wednesday night series, in which our whole church is celebrating the relationships we have with each other in several unique worship and entertainment settings. (As always, click on the image for the full size.)
The weather was perfect, the food was good, and the atmosphere was fun and relaxed as more than 250 of us hung out in the right field seats and concourse. The Poodles beat the Northwest Arkansas Naturals 4-1 to pull to within a half game of first place in the Texas League South. But I didn’t realize until this morning that Amarillo’s manager had been ejected in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes and that the Poodles’ starting pitcher threw seven innings of shutout ball. Baseball wasn’t really the focus last night; I didn’t see a whole lot of the actual game. Baseball was just the setting. Enjoying each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, getting caught up with my church family — that was the point. And it worked.
Somehow we pulled it off: skipping church to go to a baseball game. It worked. I haven’t heard a single complaint. Instead, I’ve heard dozens of “thank yous” and received lots of gratitude. We saw people at the game last night who haven’t attended a Wednesday night event at Central in decades! We saw several visitors to our church who’ve just started coming to Central and are wanting to learn more and make some connections. So we got caught up with each other and most of us made some new friends, too.
We’re coming through the end of a stressful time at Central. The Ignite campaign and the disruptive construction that came with it, the youth minister vacancy, search process, and hire, and our teaching and transition to an expansion of the public service roles for women during our Sunday morning assemblies — all of that has fatigued various pockets of people in our church family. I think our whole congregation probably feels the cumulative effect of so much “work” in such a concentrated period of time. We might be a tad drained. So just chilling together on Wednesday nights feels like the right thing to do. Reminding ourselves of the great value of the relationships we have together in Christ. Just worshiping God — singing familiar songs and praying together — in different environments that re-awaken us to the blessings we enjoy in Christ. And eating nachos together, talking about the kids, cheering on the local baseball team, hearing stories from the folks who’ve seen it all in this town, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!” That’s good, too.
God wasn’t looking for us last night. He knew exactly where we were. Because he was with us.
The first event of our “Together @ Central” summer Wednesday night series featured nationally-acclaimed illusionist Jared Hall and it was a smashing success. We flew Jared in from his home base of Nashville and he amazed us by duplicating hot sauce bottles, making eggs disappear into thin air, levitating a table, relocating cell phones, and closing out with an incredible math trick that we can’t even come close to figuring out.
We’re spending our Wednesday nights this summer celebrating and enjoying the relationships we have with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ by just relaxing and being together in unique worship and entertainment experiences both in our church building and in the Amarillo community. And our kickoff event did not disappoint. Jared Hall was hilarious, he was super good with the kids, and he absolutely mesmerized the adults. He also sold a ton of those Rocky Raccoon puppets after the show. Slick.
The way I see it, very few of us would know each other if it weren’t for Christ Jesus. I know that Carrie-Anne and I would have never met any of these people in Amarillo if it weren’t for our Lord, much less love all of them the way we do. And we think it’s a good idea to just chill out every now and then, praise God for the blessings of people, and enjoy being together. That’s the plan at Central this summer.
We’ll hear the power of our Lord through the spoken word Gospel of poet David Bowden, we’ll sing songs of praise at the Botanical Gardens and paint a congregational mural in Sneed Hall, we’re planning to eat ice cream at school and peanuts and Cracker Jack at a baseball game, and we’re hosting Uno tournaments and wild animals. We’re going to bask in the creativity of our God, we’re going to delight in his good gifts, we’re going to just relax and have a good time in his presence.
Our series continues tomorrow evening at the brand new downtown ballpark as more than 300 of us are sitting in the right field seats together for an Amarillo Sod Poodles baseball game. Can you imagine?!? We’re canceling church for a baseball game!!! Some of our own young people will participate in the on-field between-innings promotional stunts, it’s “Wiener Wednesday” so all the hot dogs are one-dollar each, and I’m planning to eat for the cycle.
If you’re in Amarillo and looking for something fun to do on Wednesday nights with a really great group of people, check out the full schedule of “Together @ Central” events on our church website.
I spent Saturday through Wednesday in Chicago on another of these nine quarterly retreats with Ruth Haley Barton’s Transforming Community. And while Mary and Hannah and I did some really great things up there, I’m struggling to get caught up with all the really cool things we missed here at home.
We always try to work in a fun event or two in Chicago as a needed balance to the oftentimes difficult self-reflection and introspection that happens on these retreats. We’ve been to a White Sox game, we’ve taken in the architectural boat tour (a lot more fun than it sounds), we’ve been to Harry Carey’s restaurant, and we’ve done the Bean downtown, Grant Park, and a comedy club. This time around we scheduled two things: the Chicago art museum and Hamilton.
You know we had to get a picture with the Ferris Bueller painting and Hannah had to get reprimanded more than once for getting too close to the art. And then Tuesday we hooked up with Grace, who lives in California, and Phil, who lives in another part of Texas — they’ve both become great friends — and saw “Hamilton” together at the historic downtown Chicago CIBC Theatre. The words came way too fast for me, but what a show! I wish I could see it again because I know I missed a bunch of funny, clever lines. The moving stage, the creative writing, the over-the-top performances, the comedy, the history — very impressive!
So, while we were away, Virginia topped Texas Tech in overtime to win the national championship. That’s fine. Nobody wanted Texas Tech to win. Except Tiffani and George. And they finished first and second in our annual Central staff bracket contest. Bragging rights and a free lunch. And, yes, Tiffani’s guns are up all year around. Heading into the Elite Eight, I was in first place and still had all four of my Final Four teams alive. I just needed Duke or Purdue or Kentucky or Gonzaga to win. Just one of those four teams. Just one more win, it didn’t matter who it was. But they all four lost and I’m watching it from a tiny TV at Lou Malnati’s Pizza in Chicago. Good thing I had that deep dish supreme to console me. Final numbers: Tiffani-75, George-72, Kevin-71, Allan-70.
The Amarillo Sod Poodles opened up their inaugural home season in our brand new downtown ballpark on Monday. And I missed it! So we got there as fast as we could — last night — and watched our AA San Diego Padres affiliate beat the Corpus Christi Hooks in an entertaining slug fest. It was cold, too cold for baseball. But that’s always going to be Amarillo in April. It was 88-degrees on Wednesday and then 53-degrees yesterday. I’m going again Sunday when it’s supposed to be in the lower 70s. This is Whitney, Carrie-Anne, Karen, Mean Jean, Greg, and me trying to stay warm in Dale and Karen’s great seats behind home plate. What a beautiful ball park! I’m hoping to make about 30 of these games this summer.
I also missed Dirk Nowitski’s last game as a Dallas Maverick and I’ve had to go on-line to watch the stirring tribute the Spurs gave him in their arena in San Antonio. If you haven’t seen it, you must watch this video. I’ve always admired the Spurs as a classy organization with a lot of pride and professionalism. We’ve all come to expect that from the Spurs. But they cranked it up a few notches for Dirk’s last game. During the introductions, they showed a video of Dirk highlights, mostly of Dirk dunking on Tim Duncan and shooting over Tony Parker and faking out Manu Ginobelli — it was a highlight reel of Dirk beating the Spurs! How really cool and unexpected! The Mavericks and Spurs are bitter Midwest Division rivals and they have played some significant games against each other over the years. There was about a ten year period there where the stakes were incredibly high every time these two teams faced off. And the highlight reel brought Nowitski to tears. And if you have a heart at all, it’ll probably choke you up, too.
Lastly — man, this is sports-heavy today — the NHL playoff season has begun and the Dallas Stars are in. Wednesday night they came from behind to beat Nashville 3-2 in the best-of-seven opener and I watched every exciting minute of it. It’s been a while for the Stars and I forgot just how intense and crazy the NHL’s second season really is. Breath-taking. Edge of your seat. So much fun. It’s border-line blasphemous to say, but NHL playoff hockey is better than football. Game two is tomorrow. Go Stars.