Category: Preaching (Page 1 of 22)

Remembering Dr. Weed

In December 2006, I was given the honor and the horror of being selected to “roast” Dr. Michael Weed at the faculty-student Christmas party at Austin Graduate School of Theology. The five minute bit was part of a video we students made as the main entertainment for the evening. I played Dr. Weed giving a lecture on New Testament theology to a class of a dozen or so diligent note-takers. And I played up every one of Dr. Weed’s idiosyncrasies and habits.

I exaggerated the way Dr. Weed dug into both eyes with the heels of his hands as he tried to remember a name or a date from the Middle Ages. I overdid the way he rubbed his forehead with all ten fingers as he contemplated the answer to a student’s question that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I made fun of how Dr. Weed would talk randomly about seemingly unrelated events from different continents and centuries and then connect them all together to drive home his point that you didn’t even know he was making.

I quoted a lot of his well-worn lines like, “I’m old enough to say this book was written five years ago and it was really thirty” and “I wanna say this carefully…” and “I don’t want this to sound pejorative” and “I’ll give you a chance to push back on that in a minute.”

At one point in the video I mimicked Dr. Weed’s breakneck lecturing pace. We showed closeups of students doing their best to keep up. One student’s desk was littered with nubs of pencils he’d gone through. We used matches and slow motion to make it look like one student’s pen was literally catching on fire as she tried to keep up. I said one of Dr. Weed’s most used lines: “Am I going too fast? I’ll slow down.” And then I started talking even faster.

“Think with me…”
“We can do ethics in theology. Or are we doing theology in history? What class is this?”
“Fair enough?”
“Oh, Bernice!”

I ended the video with the way Dr. Weed always ended every single one of his lectures. “Peace.”

Later in the evening, Dr. Weed began his encouragement to the students by pointing out to everyone how foolish it was of me to put that performance on video the week before finals.

Those two years at Austin Grad were a formative time for me and Dr. Weed was at the very front and center of it all. I was reading the Bible for the first time as a narrative, as the Story of our God and his people, instead of a verse here and a verse there pulled out of context to support an argument. Scriptural dots were being connected. My faith in the Lord and his salvation mission was becoming more important than my strict adherence to a set of rules. I was appreciating Church history for the very first time in my life. I was understanding for the first time that tradition is the living faith of the dead and traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. He introduced me to Karl Barth and Augustine, Reinhold Niebuhr and Neil Postman, Bonhoeffer and Erasmus. He taught me about the sacral framework of our communities and churches. He showed me how we are being formed all the time by everything around us; nothing is neutral, everything is created or made for a purpose; form is function; the medium is the message. He personally worked with me through some of my early issues with what he called “theological puberty.” In my second year at Austin Grad I made sure I spent at least one afternoon per week in his office talking about theology and ministry, the current state and the coming future of our congregation in Marble Falls and the Church in America as a whole.

During my first seven or eight years preaching, a month did not go by that I didn’t consult my old Austin Grad notebooks to find a quote or an illustration from Dr. Weed that would help me in a sermon. The exact analogy. The perfect example. Dr. Weed made nearly half of my early sermons tolerable instead of torture.

After every lecture, Dr. Weed would stop and say, “Now, here’s how the Church needs to hear this. Here’s why this matters.” And it would get really practical really fast. Here’s what’s happening to Christians, this is what they are hearing and believing and doing, and here’s where the Scriptures can better form us. Here’s where the history can inform us. Here’s how our faith can transform us. When I returned to Austin Grad for a sermon seminar he would always ask me, “Allan, how are your people being formed?” It was always top-notch world-class scholarship with Dr. Weed. But it was always for the Church.

Dr. Weed finished his race on Saturday. He ran well. Very well. He died in Austin, loved by our God, forgiven by Christ Jesus, and filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit of our Lord.

The tributes and memorials will be many over the next few days. Here’s a link to a beautiful piece authored by Todd Hall. Even if you’ve never heard of Michael Weed, this tribute by Todd is worth the read. Todd shares a letter Dr. Weed wrote to him after Todd’s wife died in 2000, a wonderful portrait of a teacher who genuinely loves his Lord and loves his students.

Dr. Weed is a renowned Christian scholar, a prolific writer, and a beloved teacher. His impact on preachers and churches and the Kingdom of God can never truly be measured. I am just one of his thousands of students. He was my teacher. So influential. I admire him and his thinking and his faith so much. My careful attention to Christian formation is a gift from Dr. Weed to me and to the churches where I’ve preached. Transformation and mission. Formation zones. Christian practices and spiritual disciplines. Ecumenical partnerships. 4Amarillo and 4Midland. All of that grows from seeds Dr. Weed planted in me and nurtured by faith during those crucial two years at Austin Grad.

I use the word “pejorative” because of Dr. Weed. I’m extra sensitive to the damaging effect of digital technologies because of Dr. Weed. And I sign every blog and every bulletin article and every letter and card with “Peace” because of Dr. Weed.

I thank God today for Dr. Weed. I praise God that he placed Dr. Weed right in front of me when I first started hungering and thirsting for a closer relationship with the Lord and growing in my desire to answer God’s calling to congregational ministry. May our heavenly Father bless all those who are grieving today. May we all be comforted by the many memories of how Dr. Weed impacted us, our ministries, and our faith. And may our Lord receive Dr. Weed into his loving and faithful arms on that great day of eternal resurrection that is coming very soon.

Peace.

Allan

Thanking Rick Ross

Dear Rick Ross,

Congratulations on your retirement yesterday after 36-years of congregational ministry, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, mainly at the Mesquite Church of Christ and the Decatur Church of Christ. Whatever good things happen for you this week, whatever nice things are said about you–you deserve them all, and more.

I’ve told you before, but I want to put it in writing: I was born and raised in and by the Church–I’ve been listening to sermons since I was nine days old–and you are the very first preacher I ever really HEARD. You are the first preacher I ever truly listened to. The way you connect the dots from Old Testament to New Testament, the way you preach the Bible as the beautiful Story of God and not a book of rules, the way you shape your congregation by focusing on God’s love and mercy, and the way you tenderly bring us along when we need correcting or when the truth is hard to hear–all that had a tremendous impact on me when we moved to Mesquite in the Fall of 1999. You opened my eyes and my heart for the first time to the Good News I thought I already knew.

Everybody has that one preacher they name when they remember the first time they really heard about “grace.” Rick, you are that preacher for me. I thank God for you.

I have many memories of those incredibly formative years at that Mesquite church. That was such an important time for Carrie-Anne and me and directly led to our decision to leave radio and enter full-time congregational ministry. All that started in Mesquite, taking my faith in Christ and my discipleship to him seriously, and your preaching was the catalyst. But, just as important, and inseparable from that, is your life as a follower of Jesus. I know I said some bone-headed things to you back then and did a few bone-headed things. And you showed me such grace and understanding. Over time I learned to pick up on when you were being mistreated by the people you were serving with your heart and soul, which meant I also picked up on how you continued to treat those people with grace and forgiveness and stay faithful to your calling to preach and pastor and lead with love. There were times when it looked like being the preacher at Mesquite was a hard thing to do. And you kept doing it. And you kept loving us and faithfully leading our church. I think about you often and how you showed me and Jason Reeves and countless others how to do this difficult thing. I’m so grateful.

One of my earliest and most vivid memories of you, Rick, is worshiping together on the floor of the convention center at the annual Tulsa Workshop. I think it was the very first Workshop Carrie-Anne and I attended. I don’t know if it was Free Indeed or Keith Lancaster, but we were all singing “You Will Turn.” You and Beverly were one row in front of us and to the left. And when we sang, “You will turn…” you turned! Literally! You spun around! Physically! Your finger was in the air and your were singing and turning with great enthusiasm. When we sang, “…my mourning into dancing,” you danced! Kinda. If that’s what you call it. I was really surprised. Maybe even shocked. After the second time through, I looked back at Jenny who was behind us and to the right, and I pointed at you with my eyes wide open. She raised both eyebrows and smiled real big and nodded and said, “I know!”

I thought, “Who is this guy?” Who is this preacher who is so serious about his faith, so devoted to his walk with Christ, so careful and deliberate with his preaching, but at the same time clapping and singing and dancing during worship?”

That’s Rick Ross. I remember thinking in that moment and all through that weekend that if I were ever dumb enough to go into preaching, that’s exactly the kind of preacher I would want to be. Praise God for Rick Ross.

Well done, brother. You are God’s good and faithful servant. I feel like John Chrysostom when he lamented that his words couldn’t live up to what’s in his heart. I don’t know how to say it, Rick. Your preaching and your life have impacted me and countless others in profound ways for eternity. I wish you the very best of God’s richest blessings of joy and peace. And I pray that you know and feel our Father’s presence with you. And his very good pleasure.

Peace,

Allan

The Art of the Sermon

Preachers, if you’re struggling with lame sermon illustrations and at a dead-end for new metaphors and examples, may I suggest handing every member of your congregation an 8×10″ canvas and asking them to participate. Two Sundays ago we began our “Hearing God” sermon series and handed out 380 of these canvases (canvi?). We asked our church family to be creative and to illustrate what it means to hear God. Where do you hear God? How do you hear God? What does God say when he speaks to you? Use markers, paints, watercolors, sketch pencils, glitter and glue – use whatever you’d like to best convey God’s voice and your ears.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. And beautiful. And inspiring.

In just the first week and a half, we’ve received right at 100 of these back and more are trickling in by the day. By this Sunday, the biggest wall in our Family Center is going to be covered up with these glorious works of art. From the oldest in our church to the youngest, from the brightly colored masterpieces to the black-and-white scribbles, each of them are reflective. Provocative. Serious. Insightful. Deeply personal.

I praise God for the ways our church family participates with our sermons. I thank him for those who have submitted art projects, for those who are  committing to the daily Word and Prayer exercises we’re providing with each lesson, for the small groups who are digging deeper into this topic each week, and for the way our Lord is speaking to our people right now.

I’ve spent about 30-minutes in there today, looking at each individual work of art, smiling at the creativity, connecting names and stories and images, recognizing both pain and joy, acknowledging how long it took to complete these paintings, marveling at the variety of experiences with our one God, praying  to him for these good people who are committed to listening to his voice.

“The one who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Peace,

Allan

Not Up to the Task

I’ve got this Sunday’s sermon finished, and it’s not that great.

The Easter sermon is the hardest one to write. It’s nearly impossible. I struggle with it every year. It’s not for lack of effort. I began planning this year’s Easter sermon on our latest trip to Israel, almost a year ago. It occurred to me then that, if I showed the pictures from our tour of the historical site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem, I could stir our people to experience the thrill of the Resurrection that I’ve experienced. But it’s not working like I thought it would. It’s not enough.

Reinhold Niebuhr is quoted as saying he would always attend a “high” church on Easter Sunday where there would be great music but very little preaching. In his estimation, “No preacher is up to the task on Easter.” I think he’s probably right.

John Updike’s poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” beautifully and perfectly identifies the cause of every preacher’s frustration leading up to Resurrection Sunday. One of the lines is: “Let us not mock God with metaphor, / analogy, sidestepping transcendence… / let us walk through the door.”

Yes, it is a waste of time to try to explain the Resurrection. Some things can’t be reduced to an explanation and are greatly diminished in the process of trying. The task on Easter is proclamation, not explanation. On Easter, the preacher should only offer an invitation to “walk through the door” into a brand new world where the ultimate reality isn’t death, but everlasting life in the One who brought our Lord Jesus out of the grave.

Proclaim the Resurrection. That’s what the apostles did. And that’s what we’ll do together at GCR Church this Sunday.

Peace,

Allan

Leonard

The great Lenny Dawson died last night at the age of 87. The Hall of Fame quarterback took the Kansas City Chiefs to two Super Bowls, beating the Vikings in Super Bowl IV, the last football game played by the old AFL. I’m wearing my Len Dawson #16 football jersey today. For at least a couple of reasons.

The Chiefs have always been my second favorite football team. Remember, they began life as the Dallas Texans of the rival American Football League, sharing the Cotton Bowl with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, and competing with the Cowboys for fans and tickets and money. Both teams were so miserable during those early years, Texans owner Lamar Hunt once challenged Cowboys owner Clint Murchison to a head-to-head football game between the Texans and Cowboys, and “the winner gets to leave town.” Hunt did move his Texans to Kansas City where he renamed them the Chiefs and won a couple of AFL titles and, eventually, that Super Bowl with Dawson at quarterback. I’ve always felt a connection with the Chiefs because of their origins in my hometown. They’re from Dallas and I want them to succeed.

I’m also a huge fan of the old NFL Films and that Super Bowl IV in 1970 was the first time a head coach had been wired up for the championship game. Hank Stram stole the show with his one-liners and quips, most famously his exhortation to “Lenny” to “keep matriculating the ball down the field!”

That quote became the line that bonded me forever to a friend at the Legacy Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Chris Drake. Love the Drake. He called me Lenny or Leonard because, in his view, I was trying to move our church, trying to get us somewhere, trying to grow our faith outside our Sunday assemblies and grow our vision to include the Kingdom outside our walls. He could sense I had a passion and a plan. He could also sense that it would be tough at Legacy. So he encouraged me with “keep matriculating the ball down the field.” One yard at a time. One play at a time.

Drake called me Leonard all the time. Lenny. “Keep matriculating the ball down the field.” This is how he encouraged me when he knew things were rough. Continually. “Pump it in there, baby. Set ’em up for the 65 Toss Power Trap.” Constant encouragement. True friendship. “Work for it, wait for it, them drop it on ’em. One play at a time. One yard at a time.”

After a couple of setbacks with resistant elders and grumpy members, Drake told me he would be my Daryl Johnston. He would be my lead blocker, taking out anybody who got in my way. It made me slightly uncomfortable because I never knew how serious he was. He would text me after a particularly challenging sermon with “I’m turning the corner and looking for contact!” I never thought he would ever really physically take out one of our shepherds with a crack-back block in the west foyer. Would he? He signed his emails to me with “#48.” And kept me guessing.

He gave me this Len Dawson jersey as a Christmas gift a couple of years into our ministry at Legacy – that was thirteen years ago – and I still wear it every couple of months. We still text and email each other about the Cowboys and Rangers. We still go back and forth about church politics and Kingdom of God issues in the ‘comments’ section of this blog. He still signs his communications with me as “#48.” And he still calls me Leonard.

In a weird way, Drake helped me understand my role and solidify my identity as a preacher in God’s Church. It’s not an individual sport, it’s a team game. And not every play is a touchdown pass. It always takes a few short gains between the tackles before you can go deep. It takes dirty work in the trenches, down in the mud and the sweat of the real life of the Body of Christ, before you can run that sweep to the end zone.

Len Dawson died last night.

I’m reminded that he played in a different era and represents, in many ways, a different sport. Dawson was asked once how long halftime was back when he played and he replied, “About two cigarettes.” I’m reminded that success as a preacher in the Lord’s Church means keeping your eye on the big picture and just faithfully matriculating the ball down the field, one play at a time. And I’m reminded of Drake and the way he so intentionally went out of his way to encourage this brand new preacher so long ago.

Peace,

Allan

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