Little Middle, Gray Hair, and Jake

Allan's Journey, Central Church Family, Texas, Valerie No Comments »

A quick hit from Arlington as we wrap up the final leg of our family vacation. We had a marvelous lunch today with Valerie and the sweet family who is housing her while she serves as a summer intern for the student ministry at Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ.

Our old friends, Mike and Traci Thatcher and their daughter Bella, actually signed up to keep Valerie this summer before anybody made the connection that she belonged to us. We ran around with the Thatchers for a while during our brief stay in Arlington while I was working at KRLD during the early 2000s. We were actually the first babysitter Bella ever had! Now she and Valerie are sharing living space and really forming a wonderful friendship. Carrie-Anne and I are so grateful and feel so very confident that when Val’s car won’t start or the youth minister announces to the church that he’s taken another job in Abilene, Mike and Traci are there to take care of our little middle. (I have no idea why Valerie insists on wearing that Kappa shirt in the photo up there; she was wearing it before she met Mike, so I can’t blame him.)


While we’ve been away, John Mark Beilue, the highly respected columnist for the Amarillo Globe News, wrote a really nice story about Jake and Stevie Reeves’ hospital room wedding. You can click here to read his column. By the way, Jake is home now recovering from his surgery, learning how to manage his newly-diagnosed diabetes, and trying to tolerate diet root beer.


My once-every-five-weeks faith column for the Amarillo paper was also published last Saturday. It’s about ear-hair and God’s promises in Isaiah. You have to read it to understand.


And I’d love to recommend to you two books I’ve read during this ten-day vacation. They’re both excellent.

First, the largely untold and completely forgotten story about the world’s first-ever serial killer, in Austin, Texas during the mid-1880s. The book is titled The Midnight Assassin, written by Skip Hollandsworth, the famed editor of Texas Monthly magazine and the writer of the screenplay for the excellent movie “Bernie.” Skip did his research for almost two decades — and it shows. The book is a fascinating study of the events surrounding a dozen killings in the capitol city of mostly African-American servant girls. The murders were all extremely gruesome — one every couple of months — carried out in the middle of the night in the exact same way, and caused a panic throughout Austin that spread to all parts of the state from Gainesville to Galveston. The murderer was never caught. The mystery was never solved. And less than two years later, prostitutes were being killed in the middle of the night in London. Yes, Jack the Ripper! And, yes, most people at the time believed that Jack the Ripper and the Austin Assassin were the same guy! At the very least, most agreed that Jack the Ripper had been inspired by the Austin killer.

Hollandsworth produces hundreds of quotes and clippings from 130-year-old newspapers, police records, court documents, and journals that link the two. He also examines the question “Why do we know so much about Jack the Ripper but almost nothing about the Austin killer?” from every angle. And he pays very careful attention to the historic detail of every scene. These Austin murders were taking place during the construction of the capitol building, during the time when electric lights and telephones were transitioning from experimental to commonplace, during the construction of the very first dam on the Colorado River, and during the world expo in New Orleans when business leaders first began billing the wonders of our state with the slogan “Everything’s bigger in Texas.” The politics of all this was directly impacted by these murders that hung over the city and the state and had to be carefully managed. It’s so interesting. And, if you’re familiar at all with Austin, maybe you’ve wondered about those 130-year-old light towers that are scattered all over the city. Yep, they were erected in reaction to the midnight murders. If you’re a Texas history buff or a murder mystery fan, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this one.

And, Love Does by Bob Goff. I’d like to describe to you what it was like listening to Bob Goff’s 40-minute keynote address at the Pepperdine Lectures this past May. But it would be impossible. All I can accurately communicate in this space is that Goff loves God and he loves people. Passionately. Frantically. Maniacally. Hilariously. If you read his book, you’ll agree. If you read his book out loud, at double-speed, laughing at yourself after every fourth sentence, then you’ll have a better idea about his keynote.



Ooh-ooh, That Smell

Central Church Family No Comments »

How do you get a bunch of five-year-olds to fifth graders to get the Word of God inside their hearts and their souls? How do they read the Bible in a way so that the Word becomes a part of who they are? How do you help them truly experience the sights, the smells, the tastes, the experience of being in a boat with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee? Well, you start with a bucket of sand, a pitcher of salt water, and a dead 14-inch trout.

It’s Vacation Bible School week here at Central and, as always, Mary and Sara and their crew are focused on interactive, hands-on, experiential learning. Greg is taking the kids through an escape room. Adam is leading the kids through different methods of prayer. Tanner and Ellie are playing soccer with the kids. Valerie Gooch, the director of Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center, has brought Allison with her to tell our kids about serving the homeless. Benny Baraza, the fabulous principal at Bivins Elementary, is making fidget spinners with our kids. And I got to help our children learn to read the Bible using all five our senses, to truly get the text inside us.

The passage was Luke 5:1-11. Jesus teaching the crowds from Simon’s boat. Put yourself in the crowd. What are you hearing? What are the smells in the air? Is there sand in your shoes? Do you hear the constant rhythm of the waves? Jesus tells Simon to get out into the deep water and lower the nets. Put yourself in that boat. How rough are those nets on your hands? How slippery is the deck of that boat? What does a fish smell like and feel like? What do four thousand fish sound like when they’re flopping around on the bottom of the boat?

The kids were great and I had a blast. Thanks so much to Sara for locating and organizing my weird list of requested supplies. Thanks to Mary for working so hard to pull off another great VBS. And thanks to all the kids who gargled with salt water, got sand under their fingernails, suffered rope burn on their hands, got splinters from the oars, and smelled and touched that nasty fish.

And my apologies to the Sunday morning Bible class that regularly meets in Room 22. I’m afraid that smell is going to linger for a while.



A Wedding in Room 408

Central Church Family, Marriage 1 Comment »

I was honored to perform the short wedding ceremony today as Jake Reeves and Stevie Couch got married in his hospital room at Northwest Texas. Already a dozen people have asked me, “Is this a first for you?” And my answer is, “Yes, this is a first for me! The groom was wearing a Texas Aggies shirt!”

I was the emergency pinch hitter today. Stevie’s long-time preacher / family friend was in town to perform the wedding Saturday night. But Jake was in the ICU at Northwest, in the process of being diagnosed with Diabetic Ketoacidosis and being treated for life-threatening acid levels in his blood. The decision was made late last night to go ahead with the wedding today, in Jake’s room, right before a probable surgery to remove a couple of cysts that are exacerbating his problems. But the designated preacher was already back in Seminole. So I was very privileged to get the call late last night.

After the inevitable jokes and one-liners — Don’t they have a cure for cold feet in this hospital? — Chris gave Stevie to Jake and the two exchanged solemn and eternal vows in the presence of God and in the name of Christ Jesus. No, this isn’t how they wanted to get married, or where, or when — none of this was according to their long-time plans. The truth is, though, none of that matters to our Lord, who sanctifies their marriage to reflect his eternal glory. And it doesn’t matter to the parents of the bride and groom nor to Stevie’s sisters or any of the other witnesses who affirmed the marriage with their own vows to help nurture and protect this holy union at all costs. What matters is that they have promised to give themselves to each other and to give their relationship to God.

In one special way, the location for this quick wedding was fitting. Jake and Stevie, both paramedics, actually met for the first time at Northwest Texas Hospital. Now they’ve been married on the fourth floor and someday they might have a child on the third floor.

No cake for the groom today — it may be a long, long time before he gets any cake. But if you’re dropping by the hospital to visit the newlyweds, you might take him a diet root beer.



Preaching with Tucker

1 Thessalonians, Central Church Family, Intergenerational, Love 1 Comment »

A text this morning from a friend wondered if I had developed some carpel tunnel issues. Yes, it’s been a while since I wrote in this space. No, it has nothing to do with the health of my fingers. I have been out of town three of the past four weeks — in Malibu for the Pepperdine Lectures, on a sabbatical in a nice apartment near the bottom of Ceta Canyon, and in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. I even mixed in a weekend trip to Edmond for my nephew Asa’s high school graduation. So, I appreciate the concern for my physical well-being. Thank you. Consider me back in the groove.

Yesterday marked our summer kickoff here at Central when all our 5th graders are officially promoted into the student ministry. The day is highlighted by the gifting of Bibles and blessings, lunch and a slide show, swimming and bowling, and an all-in youth meeting. But, for me, the best part of my Sunday was preaching with Tucker Haynes.








We’re a multi-generational church at Central and we are continuously on the lookout for creative ways to experience intergenerational relationships. We want to model and practice church as family. Christian community. Doing life together in Christ. So Sunday we had all of our incoming 6th graders participating in the leading of our worship assembly. Noah Hartman helped Kevin lead our singing. Several of the students read Scripture. And Tucker helped me preach.

The text was 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now about brotherly love…” Tucker worked especially hard the past two weeks on the Greek word for brotherly love, philadelphia, and what exactly Paul means when he tells the Christians in Thessalonica that God has already taught them how to love. And he nailed it! He and I went back and forth — me, trying to remember my memorized manuscript while Tucker read his expertly crafted lines. Tucker had the whole congregation eating out of his hand when he confessed frankly that “brothers and sisters can be annoying.” Then he pulled the rug out from under us with his observation that “We don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters; they are a gift from God.”

Oh, yeah. Central ate him up with a spoon. He was excellent!

I really enjoyed my time with Tucker on Friday, finalizing together everything we were going to do.  I asked him questions about the text and about his relationships with his older brother and sisters.  I listened while he wrestled with using a personal illustration to both connect with the listeners and explain the text. We did a mic check together in the worship center early Sunday morning and prayed together in my office fifteen minutes before the assembly began — he was distracted by the 2011 World Series program on my table and couldn’t hardly pray for lamenting the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz.

Tucker, you were terrific, brother. I’m so blessed by God that you and I are adelphus. And I’d be honored to preach with you any day.




Pepperdine Pics

Central Church Family, Lectureships No Comments »

My week in Malibu with three other Central ministers and four other Central members did not alter my physical appearance. The scratches on my arms and face were not sustained in a surfing accident and the extra sun my skin is reflecting today was not soaked up on a California beach. I spent twelve hours in my backyard Saturday with a chainsaw taking care of the 25-foot apricot tree we lost in that freak snow storm last weekend. As for my week at Pepperdine, it was fabulous. Lots of excellent classes and keynotes by some of the best preachers and teachers in Churches of Christ, lots of catching up with friends from other churches, lots of really great worship and music, and, yeah, some really good seafood.

Of course, when Greg and I (and Justin this time) go to Pepperdine, we fly out a day early so we can catch a ball game the night before the lectures begin. This time it was the Dodgers and Giants at historic Dodger Stadium. We saw Clayton Kershaw get knocked around in an exciting one-run loss; watched a loud, obnoxious, potty-mouthed Giants fan three rows behind us get taken out by security; ran into my great friends Jason Reeves, his wife Tiersa, their daughter Kasey, and Crazy Ray; and nearly ate for the cycle.

We spent Tuesday morning and early afternoon in Hollywood. First, we took the long way on a three-mile hike to the top of the Hollywood sign in the Hollywood hills. Sure, everybody gets a picture in front of the sign; but who takes pictures from behind and above the iconic landmark? That’s right, we did. And it only took three hours to get there and back. We followed that up with lunch at the Hard Rock Café on Hollywood Boulevard (the Frankenstein guitar Eddie Van Halen played at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in 1977 is on display there along with Jim Morrison’s disgusting leather pants), took pictures in front of the Chinese Theater and along the Walk of Fame, ate amazing ice-cream sundaes at Ghiradelli, and avoided eye contact with counterfeit super heroes and wannabe rap stars.








But, Pepperdine. Wow. You know, I recall having a difficult time concentrating on my studies at Oklahoma Christian University. I can’t imagine how these kids study Geometry and History at Pepperdine. Palm trees and beaches and mountains — all the distractions you can imagine that come with a university situated in Malibu. To hold an audience’s attention at a church conference in this beautiful setting, you’d better schedule compelling speakers like Randy Harris, Don McLaughlin, Rick Atchley, Mike Cope, Rick Marrs, and Bob Goff! You’d better talk about important spiritual and practical matters like racial reconciliation, personal and corporate evangelism, finding Christ in a worship assembly, the Christian sex ethic, and unsticking stuck churches. And you’ve got to provide nice cushioned chairs.

May is an incredibly busy month. Starting it off at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures would always be my recommendation.




Central Church Family, Ministry No Comments »

Central Church of Christ was named Outstanding School Partner at last night’s Amarillo School District Partners in Education Banquet at the downtown civic center. Of the 26 nominees — churches, rotary clubs, foundations, etc., — Central was recognized as tops for our on-going partnership with Bivins Elementary.

Our children’s minister, Mary McNeill, accepted the award along with Connie Crawford and our daughter, Whitney. Those three are very familiar faces in the hallways of Bivins as they deliver Snack Pak 4 Kids every Thursday. I was more or less forced to join them on the stage last night for the picture. But I made it clear to everyone that these ladies do all the work; I just sit back and applaud.

I’m very proud of Central for what we do with Bivins. Seventy-three percent of the students there are classified as economically disadvantaged. A lot of these kids are in foster homes, domestic violence shelters, and other temporary living conditions. Our church has stepped in every year with thanksgiving dinners, an annual school supplies drive, and summer painting projects. But now our Ignite Initiative is providing Bivins with more than $20,000 worth of equipment and supplies for their music and P.E. departments, desks for special needs students, and updates for their computer lab. Central volunteers are starting to serve next week as crossing guards, lunchroom and playground buddies, and Bivins Bucks store cashiers.

We believe that our God in Christ Jesus is redeeming this whole world. He is actively restoring everything back to its Garden of Eden perfection. And we are honored to partner with our Lord in providing these 550 students and their families with the necessities they need to level the playing field as they make their way in this world. To serve this nearby school in the name and manner of Jesus is our great privilege. To lean into his glorious future and reclaim this part of our city for his glory is a blessing. To be recognized by A.I.S.D. is pretty cool, too.