Category: Lectureships (page 1 of 8)

Where He Leads

For the past several years it’s become clear that the word “evangelical” has very little, if anything, to do with Christianity or religion. It’s not a Christian term anymore. It’s been misused and redefined by the politicians and media in the United States for so long now that it’s become a purely secular word. A national political term.

One of the more obvious manifestations of this is in the way African Americans are left out. Have you noticed that the media will not refer to African Americans as “evangelicals?” Christians of color may have a high regard for the Bible, they may focus on the atonement of Christ through the cross, they may be committed to proclaiming the Gospel, they may believe the Gospel changes lives and changes the world — they may embody every facet of the classic definition of “evangelical.” But because African Americans vote heavily for Democratic candidates, the media will not call them “evangelicals.” The term is strictly political now. “Evangelical” means Republican. “Evangelical” means guns and lower taxes and immigration reform and repealing Obamacare.

There are a lot of reasons this matters so much. One of the main reasons is that our young people now identify traditional Christianity with right wing American politics. This development has been analyzed and discussed in every “unchristian” and “You Lost Me” type of book that’s been written in the past twenty years. Young people are not leaving the Church because they reject Christ Jesus as Lord, they’re leaving the Church because they reject the national politics that appear to go with it.

That’s a problem for all of us. Whatever our national political beliefs and practices — left or right, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal — they shouldn’t be wrapped up in God’s Church because they all eventually come into conflict with God’s ways. And our young people see right through it.

I was privileged to be in attendance at Hope Network’s Preacher Initiative in Dallas last month when Dr. Mallory Wyckoff delivered a powerful sermon on the disconnect between what we teach our young people in our churches and what they actually experience in and through us who do the teaching. Her sermon was gut-level honest and penetrating. Eye-opening. Inspiring. The language soared and the message cut straight to the heart of the Gospel.

Mallory has graciously provided me with a manuscript of her sermon, “Where You Lead I Will Follow” from Matthew 23. You can find the entire sermon posted to her website here. But I’d like to share a couple of excerpts in this space.

Mallory began by praising the church and the church people who raised her in the faith. She expressed her admiration and love for those men and women who shaped her as a child of God.

“To be sure, I was loved. I was loved really well. I was made to believe that I had worth, that I could pursue the dreams that surged within, that God would guide me as I took each clumsy step. I was nurtured in the Christian faith from the womb, loved and cared on by my community, educated in their schools, formed in their churches. I attended their youth groups and summer camps, wore their T-shirts and sang their songs. These people invested in me, gave of their time and resources to help me grow into the woman I am now. For all of this and for more, I am grateful.”

Mallory then moved to unashamedly hold the mirror up to the troubling inconsistencies she noticed when she actually began to read the Bible her church told her to read and follow the Christ her church told her to follow.

“[I] observed that Jesus seemed to care an awful lot about the poor and marginalized, giving them food and dignity, binding their wounds and healing their bodies. But when I named the gross inequities between the rich and poor in our country and asked what we might do to overcome this, they called me a socialist…

They told me about the cross of Christ and insisted this was a central feature of our faith. So I spent time reflecting on the cross and observed it as the culmination of Jesus’ consistent refusal to employ violent means. I took to heart his teachings that the swords we live by surely are the ones by which we will die, that we are to love our enemies and, perhaps, this might mean to not kill them. I wondered how I could follow this Christ with any integrity in my heart if I also carried a gun in my hand or on my hip. But when I asked my church about these things, they told me this was unrealistic, that Jesus’ teachings are for individuals but have nothing to say to nation-states, and that I should fear the nation-state taking from me the very weapons Jesus warned against.

They took me to the baptismal font and buried me with Christ beneath the waters, calling on me to live into the newness of life in Christ, proclaiming that my identity is found therein, and I swore my allegiance to Christ. But when I began asking about all of the myriad allegiances we seem to hold in conflict with the lordship of Christ, that perhaps nationalism is the most dangerous kind of idolatry, they told me I was not a good patriot.

They taught me about the early church, a marginalized sect seeking to live into the Kingdom in the midst of empire. They told me stories of the church’s courage, even in the face of persecution and death, and of their commitment to the way of Christ. But when I began wondering about how the empire in which we find ourselves dehumanizes black and brown bodies, they told me I didn’t show enough respect for the flag and for country and for every other symbol that bears Caesar’s image even while the body count for image bearers of God keeps climbing…”

Mallory’s critique comes straight out of Scripture, directly out of the prophets’ mouths and our Savior’s heart. She articulates so well what stirs my own soul and what burdens my shoulders and my mind, but what I have such difficulty describing. She perfectly says what I’m thinking.

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We’re seeing issues to be argued instead of people to be loved. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as political conservatives or liberals, and not first as disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses of our race, our zip code, our political affiliations, and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the Christ.

The younger generations coming up behind us see it. And they feel it.

You already know my position on all this. The United States is not going to be changed by votes or parties. It’s not going to be saved by force of numbers or force of rhetoric. It’s going to be saved, along with the rest of the world, by Christ Jesus. And his way is about love and forgiveness, sacrifice and service. And peace. Our Christianity should be defined by those things. Our congregations should be characterized by those things. Our young people need to see that in us first. And last. And every place in between.

Mallory ends her sermon with a genuine humility and grace that are sometimes missing from mine. She expresses her deep love for the ones who’ve gone before and she confesses that she is no better. She sees the hypocrisy and duplicity in her elders, but is self-aware enough to know she’s capable of the same missteps.

“I am neither different from nor better than the ones who taught me to follow Christ and dismissed the places he took me. Like them, I say one thing and do another, unaware of the ones who suffer because of my ignorance. I tell [my daughter] to follow Jesus no matter where he takes her, even and especially when it’s a path I reject or dismiss. I tell her that she will have to differentiate between the heart of God and the ways I do or do not reflect this God. I tell her to follow Christ, wherever he may lead. May we have the courage to follow him, too.”

Thank you, Mallory, for these challenging words. Thank you for your boldness and your grace. May our God bless us all to see more clearly and to follow more faithfully.

Peace,

Allan

Pepperdine Pics

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.

Peace,

Allan

The Least of These

From this week at ACU Summit:

“The homeless and addicted do not primarily need what the Church can bring them (although they may); rather, the Church needs what the homeless and addicted bring her. They bring the brokenness of their humanity, crushed by the structures of society, as the very sacrament of God’s presence.” ~Andrew Root

elvisandrus1Peace,

Allan

From Malibu

We really are listening to some really great speakers at the annual Pepperdine Lectures this week. But it’s just not very exciting to post pictures of Rick Atchley and David Kinneman. On top of that, there’s just absolutely no time to reflect in this space on all the compelling sermons and informative teaching. So, I’m just posting a couple of pictures to illustrate what happens before and after the lecture sessions.

This first pic is of some of the finest people I know, all brought together for a wonderful dinner at Malibu Seafood. HubDaddy and his wife, Debbie. Jim Martin. Grady King. John Mullican. Crazy Ray Vannoy’s eyeball. Andrew next to Ray. Greg’s in there. The edge of Jason’s glasses are in the picture. And two bearded guys I just met.

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Jason and Greg and I took off during an afternoon break to hit the beach here in Malibu. Come on, we had a couple of hours, the sun was out, no wind, 70-degrees, free parking along the Pacific Coast Highway, what would you do? We were able to convince Greg to keep his shirt on, but we couldn’t keep him from practicing his yoga postures.

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Peace,

Allan

Going to California

I’m making my first trip to the annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu, California to spend four days at the feet of some of our very best preachers and teachers in Churches of Christ and to hear and meet the legendary bishop N. T. Wright. More on Tom later…

Pepperdine1PetcoYou won’t be surprised that Greg and I took off from Amarillo a day early so we could fly into San Diego and take in a Padres game at Petco Park. As was our good fortune, the Padres are hosting the Colorado Rockies which means my friend Jerry Schemmel, the Rockies radio play-by-play voice, scored us some sweet (free!) seats right on top of the visiting dugout with all the Colorado players’ families. As expected, Greg and I both ate for the cycle and watched rookie sensation Trevor Story go oh-fer in a 2-1 San Diego win.

This morning we took our time getting to Malibu. We drove across the bridge over to Coronado Island, toured the Midway battleship and a couple of other sights and attractions around San Diego before downing a couple of spicy shrimp tacos and hitting “the five” up north to L.A.

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Pepperdine2Greg

 

N. T. Wright is giving the keynote this evening, teaching a couple of classes tomorrow and Thursday, and then meeting privately (sort of, I guess) with 24 ministers Thursday afternoon. Thanks to Mike Cope, Greg and I are going to be in that group of 24. I have no idea what we’re going to talk about or what’s going to happen. But just being in Wright’s presence for an hour will be a blessing and an honor.

Looking forward to catching up with lots of great friends this week, being inspired by some of our best speakers, and being further shaped by our Lord’s generous Spirit.

Peace,

Allan

Church Burritos

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One of the highlights of Summit week is meeting our Central kids who are attending ACU and buying them lunch. Today, Greg and Kevin and I were privileged to spend the lunch hour at Sharkey’s with Taylor M., Matt, Ellie, and Taylor C. We talked about homesickness and rushing clubs, favorite teachers and dating, the interesting things we’ve heard at Summit and where everybody’s going to church. Admittedly, the highlight was probably listening to Matt talk about his 12midnight – 8am shift at 7-11 — hilarious. But anytime four very busy college students will spend a lunch hour hanging out with three of us ministers is a great honor for us. Maintaining a connection between our congregation and our kids is important. It matters. It’s a priority for us. Our college students need to know that we miss them, that we still think about them, that they are still a vital part of our church family. I think it blesses them. I hope it does.

More than that, though, I can’t stress enough what a great honor it is for us. These kids are in the middle of a critical transition moment in their lives. They’re figuring things out, learning new things, experiencing new things, thinking about new things, growing, maturing, trying to get a grip on a trajectory for the rest of their lives. And for one hour today, we got to talk with them about it. They honored us by sharing with us a sliver of this priceless time.

Thanks, guys. We love y’all.

Allan

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