More Than Meets the Eye

Carley, Carrie-Anne, Faith, Hebrews No Comments »

For twenty straight years I’ve woken up my child or children on the first day of school with a loud, over-the-top, “extra” rendition of “School Bells.” At 6:05 this morning, in the pitch dark, I opened the door to Carley’s bedroom and laid into it one more time.

One last time.

Today is the first day of our youngest daughter’s senior year at Canyon High School. She’s got the ring, she’s had the senior yearbook picture taken, and now she’s starting class. Her senior year. Her last year.

For twenty years I’ve taken that first-day-of-school picture: new clothes, backpack, lunchbox, and three Wal-Mart bags full of crayons, paper, pens, and a box of Kleenex. Today? Carley might be wearing new clothes — I can’t tell. But there’s no backpack, no books, no supplies, and definitely no lunch box. She allowed me to take her picture with Carrie-Anne, who is starting her fifth year today as the Culinary Arts Director at Canyon High, and then took off in her little green car. Gone.

I don’t think “School Bells” is going to sound as good or be as irritating next year over the phone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We’re tired. We’re bored. You can see it in the way we look down when somebody’s asking for volunteers. You can see it in the way we straggle in to worship and complain about it when it’s over. We’re traveling more and playing more sports and assembling together with the Church less. The problem is just getting us to admit it. If we could admit it — we’re bored, we’re tired, we’ve lost our fire, we’re plateaued — then we could deal with it honestly and get some help. And maybe we’d understand that this spiritual fatigue is understandable.

It’s in the very nature of the kind of commitment we’ve all made. Following Jesus isn’t an inspiring baptism and then it’s done. It’s not a spectacular mission trip or a set of summer service projects or a two-year Ignite Initiative and then it’s over. Following Jesus is a grueling marathon. It takes great endurance. Continual focus.

It’s hard.

The people at work, the non-Christians at school, they all seem to be living pretty good lives. They seem fulfilled. They’ve got good families. They read the latest books on marriage and parenting and they seem to be doing well. They go to parties, they take weekend trips, they’re doing great. They have great attitudes and a real enthusiasm for life. Who are you to tell them they need Jesus to have a meaningful life? In fact, your life seems to be much more difficult since you took on Christ so long ago.

The problem is that we have so little to show for our hard work. Where are the results? Religious people always want visible, tangible results. Whether it’s burning a bull on a remote mountain altar or sliding into a pew at the local temple of positive thinking, people want a religion that pays off in ways we can see — bigger harvests, healthier bodies, more security, instant peace of mind. That’s the problem with the Christian faith. In this world of religious show-and-tell, in this world of “seeing is believing,” we don’t have much to show. Or see. All we’ve got is a cross that has to be picked up every day.

But hold on. Isn’t the Gospel about God’s great victory over sin and Satan and all the bad things that oppress human life? Isn’t the good news of the Christian faith about the resurrection triumph of eternal life over death? Yes, of course. But that victory is hidden right now. One day every eye will see that victory, it’ll be clear, it’ll be glorious. But not today. We don’t see it today.

“In putting everything under Christ Jesus, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” ~Hebrews 2:8

What we see is chaos and violence and disease. It’s everywhere in everybody around us. Abuse and brokenness and addiction and loneliness and loss. In our family. In my own life. All things are under Christ? I don’t see it.

The preacher of Hebrews knows this.

“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1

Everybody in that Faith Ring of Honor in Hebrews 11 is commended because they displayed great faith when they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see. Moses was looking ahead, he says. Noah acted on things not yet seen. All these people, the preacher says, only saw the promise from a distance. It’s hard to get excited about a faith where all the final results are hidden. No wonder so many of us would rather spend our Sundays watching football where at least we can see who’s winning.

There’s a gap. And it’s real. Everybody’s got it: this gap between faith and sight. We’re all there in this gap. Somewhere in that gap, I’ve got to have a conviction about God. I’ve got to believe that, yes, God is bringing all things to completion, even though I can’t always see it.

The victory of the Gospel cannot yet be seen. But it can be heard. The truth, today, can be heard.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful Word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” ~Hebrews 1:1-3

The preacher calls this a “word of encouragement.” And it’s crystal clear from these opening lines that his spoken word is all about God’s spoken Word which is now made complete and fully known in the incarnate Word, Jesus, the Son of God. The Son of God is not a metaphor. It’s not a figure of speech. This Son of God is the heir of all things, he’s the one through whom God created the world, and he upholds us and everything we see and don’t see by his mighty Word of power.

“If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 3:7
“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” ~Hebrews 12:25
“He who has ears, let him hear!” ~Jesus

Peace,

Allan

Hearing and Speaking the Word

Faith, Hebrews, Preaching, Promise No Comments »

“We are God’s house if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” ~Hebrews 3:6

We don’t know exactly how it happens. But we do know that, when all is said and done, the goodness of God is going to prevail over evil. The love of God is going to win in the end, not hate. The beauty of God is going to overcome and transform everything that’s ugly. And the risen Son of God will be on the throne, not the powers of darkness and death.

God wins in the end. Right? God wins!

How do we know that? Because we have heard his Word. We have heard God’s voice. We have heard the words of Jesus. We have the Word proclaimed by faithful witnesses and preserved for us in the holy Scriptures.

If we trust only what we see, we’re lost. We’re going to fall asleep at best, and quit the story altogether at worst. But if we hold firmly to what we have heard, if we live and believe what we have heard, then we enter the rest of God and we increase in confidence and courage and hope. And we boast. We start talking with great confidence.

We all turn into preachers.

Think about the way we talk. Think about the way hearing the Word and believing the Word causes us to speak. Why else would we say the things we do?

At the waters of baptism, we’re dealing with very risky and very unpredictable human beings. We can be baptizing a 12-year-old child we know nothing about or a 35-year-old adult we know way too much about. But when that human being comes up out of the water, we say,” All your past and future sins are forgiven! You are now sealed for eternity by God’s Holy Spirit who now lives inside you! You belong to God in Christ Jesus for all eternity!” We say it because we have heard the Word. And we believe it. It’s bold.

Around a hospital bed we say, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation; I will not be afraid!” Why? Because we have heard the Word.

In the cemetery at the graveside we say, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Death has been swallowed up in his victory!” Why? Because we have heard the Word. It’s courageous.

To people who pollute the air, the water, or the land we say, “Stop it! The earth belongs to the Lord and everything in it!” To those who want to construct walls between people and do hateful things and use hateful words and forward hateful emails in Virginia or in Amarillo we say, “Every single man, woman, and child on this planet is created by God in the image of God and is loved deeply by our God! Cut it out!” And in moments of personal or even national crisis, we can proclaim, “We are not afraid! We’re not worried! We have been to the mountain top! We have beheld his glory! We have heard his Word!”

That way of talking boils up from a deep conviction and confidence in the promises of our God.

We’re not jumping into the dark here, we’re stepping into the light. We know what to do and what to say because God has spoken to us by his Son. He is still speaking to us by his Son! And we do hear that faithful Word.

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

The Closing Prayer

1 Thessalonians, Faith, Legacy Church Family, MLB, Prayer, Salvation No Comments »

Carter Karels was a cute little middle school kid in our youth group at Legacy when our family arrived in Northeast Tarrant County in 2007. He knew then he wanted to be a sportswriter. Now today, after a couple of key internships, a successful stint as the sports editor at Texas A&M’s Battalion, and a few medium-profile run-ins with SEC football coaches, Carter is a sports reporter for USA Today. His very first story, on the season-ending injury to the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, can be found here. He’s also written a popular profile of Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge, which can be accessed here. Congratulations, Carter! I’m very proud of you, man. And I know your dad is probably impossible to live with now…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“May God himself, the God of Peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

As a family formed by the future, it’s appropriate that Paul would end his letter to the Thessalonian church in Jason’s house by pointing them again to what is to come: the finished work of our God.

Sanctification, the continual process of being made holy, is both a gift from God and a goal. It is both experienced right now and still to be accomplished. Holiness is given to disciples of Jesus at the point of conversion, when we pass from death to life and become new creations in Christ. But it is also a goal that we strive to live out in our daily lives. This life of discipleship to our Lord is “between the times,” because he hasn’t finished yet what he began.

But he will.

During this short letter, Paul has talked a lot about himself and the church in Thessalonica. But his closing prayer reminds us that all of it is truly about our God. The last thing Paul wants on his hearers’ minds is our God, the One who has called us and saved us in Christ Jesus, the One who gives us his Spirit in power and holiness, and the One who will bring us into his Kingdom and glory when Jesus returns.

Paul wants to reassure us, he wants to remind us, that not only is God able to do all that he has promised, but because he is trustworthy and reliable, he will in fact do it. Our future rests entirely in the power and faithfulness of God. And that should inform and enable us to live lives of power and faithfulness ourselves as we wait for “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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

Surely Not I

Faith, Fellowship, Jesus, Lord's Supper, Mark No Comments »

I love the Gospel of Mark because Mark shoots straight with us about the disciples of Jesus. He doesn’t try to cover anything up, he doesn’t try to make the followers of Jesus into something they’re not. Mark tells us straight up: The apostles are shallow, selfish, hard-headed, and, at times, very weak in faith. I don’t know about you, but that gives a guy like me great hope.

When you read Mark from start to finish, you’re never really sure about these guys. They’re constantly teetering between belief and un-belief. Jesus is always on them: You don’t see; you don’t understand; you don’t have any faith; what’s wrong with you?

Will the disciples remain faithful? I don’t know, man, they’re all over the map.

The tension in the Gospel reaches a boiling point at the Last Supper. They all sit down to eat for one of the traditional Passover meals and the very first words out of Jesus’ mouth are: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

That’s the first thing he says! They haven’t even started on their salads yet!

“One of you will betray me — one who is eating with me.”

They’re all eating together around this common table. It’s like a Corino’s where everybody’s dipping bread into a common dish of oil and herbs. Eating together like this is a sign of solidarity and unity. This is about loyalty and fellowship.

So the disciples are shocked. And one-by-one they say to Jesus, “Surely not I?” Eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, they look Jesus in the eye and say, “Surely not I?”

The focus is not on Judas here. Judas is not even mentioned. This is not about Judas. This is about all the disciples. This is about us. “Surely not I?”

Every time we come to the table, that should be our questions. We come to the table to receive the benefits of Christ’s death, to experience and share in his forgiveness and his acceptance and our righteous relationship with God in Christ. At the table, eating and drinking with our Lord and with one another, we are expressing our loyalty, our fellowship with Jesus and his followers. At the table, we re-commit to Christ’s way of life.

The question for today and for the rest of the week is: Will we remain faithful? Will we betray Jesus?

Now, we are not perfect. Nobody is but our Lord Jesus. No matter our best intentions, we will occasionally fail. And Jesus knows this. He tells them, “You will all fall away.” But with that word of judgment comes a word of grace. “After I have risen, I will go ahead of you.”

We humbly seek the power to live more faithfully for Christ. We need more strength and resolve to demonstrate Christ-likeness in everything we do and say and think. We recommit this week. We renew our vows to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan