Burritos, Bounce Houses, and a Band

Central Church Family, Ministry No Comments »

When you’re moving your church’s traditional back-to-school picnic from your building on a Sunday morning to the campus of the nearest elementary school, when you’re inviting that school’s 550-students and their families, and when you’re doing this to communicate to your city that God’s Church is a community partner with them for the sake of good things, how do you guarantee that you’re going to get a crowd? Free burritos, bounce houses, and a live band.

Putting the school’s principal and the church’s preacher in a dunking booth didn’t hurt.


Central’s first “The End of Summer’s No Bummer” bash at Bivins Elementary last Wednesday evening was a roaring success by anybody’s measure. We gave away 450 burritos, ate and jumped and dunked and danced with a ton of people from our nearby community, and shared a whole lot of good will together in the name of our Lord. Principal Benny Barazza has given us almost unlimited access to his school, his students, and their families, and we’re doing our best to use these opportunities to share the generous love of Christ.

Today’s Amarillo Globe-News features a front-page, above-the-fold story about the Bivins event and all the local ministry projects sparked by Central’s “Ignite Initiative” (click here to read the AGN story). Our church has given away $125,000 over the past five months to five different non-profit organizations, we’ve supplied those same organizations with volunteers and summer interns, and we’re beside ourselves with anticipation over what God’s going to keep doing with these new mission partnerships. Lauren Koski’s story in today’s paper captured all of that with great pictures and interviews with Mary McNeill, our children’s minister, Benny Barazza at Bivins, Valerie Gooch, the executive director at Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center, and Tyler Lovett, our summer intern at The PARC.

More and more, “missions” at Central is starting to mean both foreign and local ministry, it’s about both what God is doing overseas and what he’s doing across the street. And our community is taking notice. Christ’s Church is here to make an eternal difference in the lives of men, women, and children in our city. We’re here to serve others in the name and manner of Jesus.

Peace,

Allan

Joy in the Lord

Carley, Carrie-Anne, Central Church Family, Faith, Giving, Ministry, Valerie, Whitney No Comments »

You don’t necessarily have to turn on the evening news. In fact, do people even turn on the evening news anymore? All you have to do is not have your head buried in the sand to know that there is a great deal of anxiety and worry in our society. The state of things right now can very easily drag you down and steal your joy. How is it that the Bible commands children of God and disciples of Christ Jesus to always rejoice?

Well, where are your eyes? What are you looking at? What or who are you listening to?

As followers of Jesus, we are very well aware of all the things God is doing in us and through us. We can always rejoice in the knowledge and experience of God working among us. And that’s always constant. That never changes. God is always at work. We see the evidence of his great work, we sense the working out of his redemption and reconciliation plans, we feel his hand at work in us and through us, saving and changing lives all around us. The Lord is always at work among us and that is always reason to rejoice.

I see it in the Central teenagers who stop by my office on the way to Chick-Fil-A for a free promotional sandwich. Ellie and Justin are pouring into those kids the same grace that God has shown them and the kids are eating it up. I see it in the 30 men from Canadian Church of Christ with whom I had the great honor of hanging out with in Angel Fire this weekend. God is on the move with these men — moving in them and through them — and they are on fire for God’s mission in this world. I hear it when Valerie, our middle daughter, calls me from Arlington to tell me she’s changing her major from childhood education to youth ministry. God’s Spirit is changing Valerie forcefully and beautifully into a dedicated servant of the Gospel. I sense it when Carley, our youngest daughter, shows up in all the pictures from the Sao Paulo mission trip — painting, laughing, serving children, worshiping, leading. She’s finding her gifts and settling into her place in the Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I see it when my brothers and sisters at Central join forces to do good deeds for people in downtown Amarillo. We’re making gift bags for the staff and clients at CareNet and Gratitude House. We’re cleaning the carpets and painting the doors at PARC. We’re painting the storage shed and spreading new wood chips on the playground at Elwood Park. We’re giving away 200 books and reading the children at Bivins Elementary. We’re treating the ladies at Martha’s Home to a dinner out at a nice restaurant.

 

Our God is working in and through everything that’s going on around us. That knowledge and that experience gives us a stable and deep-rooted joy — an inner joy — that enables us to not only cope with disappointments, but to see things as they really are. In any and all circumstances God is always at work among his people. And that is always reason to rejoice.

Peace,

Allan

God Bless Vernon Camp

Central Church Family, Death, Faith No Comments »

I needed the right guy. I can’t remember now exactly what the sermon was about, but I was using as an illustration the overwhelming number of choices we have to make every day. You don’t just go to the store to pick up some toothpaste, there’s a whole aisle of 37 brands and 193 varieties of toothpaste! You don’t just buy shampoo, there are six long shelves of shampoos from which to choose, an endless myriad of brands and smells and hair types and colors. Sometimes these choices can paralyze us. And I needed somebody to meet me at the Wal-Mart so I could take his picture in the bread aisle, holding up two different loaves of bread, and looking very confused. This person had to be a good actor. He had to have a great personality. He had to appreciate a good gag. This needed to be a guy the whole church knew and loved. And it had to be somebody who was never confused about anything, a decisive guy who knew what he wanted and always got it immediately.

That guy was Vernon Camp. I called. He said “Yes.” And he was perfect.

I told the church I was at the grocery store taking pictures of the shampoo and toothpaste choices and I came across Vernon in the bread aisle. Melba had sent him to the store for a loaf of bread the day before yesterday and he was still there trying to decide which one to buy!

This was just four months into my ministry here at Central. I didn’t realize at the time that Vernon Camp was already pretty famous.

On the day he graduated from high school in 1946, Vernon and a buddy hitchhiked to Ardmore, Oklahoma so they could enlist in the Navy, put in their two years, and go to college on the G.I. Bill. He enrolled at the University of Oklahoma in 1948 and was a walk-on for second-year head football coach Bud Wilkinson — the very beginning for OU’s most glorious days. During those four years, Vernon never played in an actual game, but he suited up in the Sooners’ Crimson and Cream uniforms for every practice and stood at the ready on the sidelines for every contest. During those four years, OU went 39-4, won four conference titles, two Sugar Bowls, and one national championship. That explains pretty well his obsession with everything OU. He hated that I always referred to his alma mater as “Zero-U.” He loved rubbing it in my face every second Sunday in October.

While he was at OU, Vernon was a member of the university’s glee club. They were so good they actually performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City. Vernon was practically as famous as The Beatles and Elvis — they shared the same stage!

We buried Vernon on Tuesday. Ladies and Gentlemen, Vernon has left the building.

There’s a lot to like about Vernon Camp and there’s a ton that we’re going to miss. He helped people. He selflessly served others in the name and manner of our Lord. For more than 20 years he faithfully delivered Meals on Wheels here in Amarillo. He loved to serve and visit. He would say, “This isn’t just the only meal some of these people get every day, it’s the only time they get to talk to somebody.” Every Christmas he bought brand new shoes for all the kids at High Plains Children’s Home, totally under the radar. Thirty-five years ago he co-signed a loan for a set of tires for a guy he barely knew. On his 80th birthday he was pouring concrete for one of his sons. At 87 he was clearing brush and digging up trees for another son and his family. He was always helping people, taking care of people, showing people the love of Christ. He led the family prayer at meal times, insisting that everybody hold hands in a circle.

For 57 years he served as a faithful member of this church family at Central. Serving homemade ice cream. Hosting the Family Life Group. Singing in the choirs. Loving and encouraging the preacher. Greeting visitors. Making the B.K. class so much fun. And being such a dear and great friend to so many. He made so many of us better. He made all of us better. Without Vernon by his side, I’m afraid Bobby Sumrow is going to lose a lot of his charm.

He had that stroke two years ago while they were in Oklahoma. Then the bad fall off the ladder in the garage. The blood clot in his brain that had to be removed. (I showed up in his room right after the surgery wearing a Texas Longhorns shirt. I told him I wanted it to be the first thing he saw when he woke up so he might think he had died and this is what everybody wears in heaven.) Then the Alzheimer’s. And it seems like it happened so fast.

But he never complained. He never lost his cheerful demeanor. He knew he was slipping. He knew the clock was ticking. But he never lost his desire to sing. He never lost his eagerness to laugh. He never wavered in his faith and trust in our God. A couple of times over the last few months he told Melba, “When it’s time, I’m ready.”

Vernon Camp finished his race early last Thursday morning at 89 years of age. Loved and cherished by God, forgiven by the blood of Christ, overflowing with the Spirit of the Lord.

The past six months or so Vernon was unable to remember our names. And that’s hard. But it’s OK because God remembers. God remembers Vernon and he is faithful. And we remember. We remember Vernon. We’ll never forget the ways his gentleness and grace reflect the glory of our Lord. And we’ll take care of Melba. And we’ll encourage his family by remembering with them how much Vernon touched our lives.

May God bless Vernon Camp and receive him into his faithful arms. And may God bless all of us with the strength and the faith and the confidence that he is able to keep what we’ve entrusted to him until that great day.

Peace,

Allan

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Peace,

Allan

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.

Peace,

Allan

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.

Peace,

Allan