True Prophesy

Bible, Preaching, Romans 2 Comments »

“We have different gifts according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.” ~Romans 12:6

According to what we know of Scripture and history, culture and context, prophesy has much more to do with  “forth-telling” than “fore-telling.” Real prophesy — way back then and right now today — means applying the message from God to the current situations of our times. And I think God’s Church today desperately needs a renewed emphasis on this kind of prophesy.

A resurgence of true prophesy would cause us to take firmer stands against the evils of the world. God’s people would speak out against injustice, violence, aggression, war, unfaithfulness, and crime. We wouldn’t allow lying or back-biting or gossip or pride or greed to corrupt our congregations. We would speak more and act more in ways that indict and convict, liberate and transform.

The key to prophesy, though, is to realize that it’s always been intended for the Church. Prophesy is first to God’s people, only secondarily for the rest of the world. Study Isaiah and Jesus, Amos and John, Habakkuk and Paul — that’s the way it works. Only when God’s people are changed by prophesy can they then offer the message to the surrounding community. As we truly learn to live as members of one another, our alternative lifestyle will ultimately challenge the culture around us. But only as we become a truly Christian community with a truly biblical lifestyle will that work.

The Church needs more prophets. We need more men and women proclaiming the powerful Word of God. Even when they don’t feel like it. Even when they know that Word is going to upset some in the faith community. Even when a situation seems to be a lost cause. We need more prophets exercising their God-given graces according to their faith. Then our God, who promises his Word will never return to him empty, will bless both us and this world as we preach and teach, trust and obey.

Peace,

Allan

About Last Night

Allan's Journey, Central Church Family, Ephesians, Faith, Ministry, Preaching 1 Comment »

God has placed the Central Church of Christ in the middle of a terrible, terrible place. There is so much hurting, so much pain in the downtown Amarillo neighborhoods. There is so much poverty and violence, addiction and unemployment, physical sickness and depression. Brokenness. This is a tough place, a place that so obviously reminds us that while the Kingdom of God is coming, it hasn’t come yet. It hasn’t arrived yet in all of its promised glory and power. Every knee has not yet bowed, every tongue has not yet confessed that Jesus is Lord. Until that day, Satan roams and destroys. It’s especially evident on the streets around our church building.

We took to these streets again last night. As representatives of our King and his Kingdom, we spent three hours last night changing oil in people’s cars, washing their trucks, sorting and folding and paying for their laundry, delivering cookies and prayers. We hugged people and laughed, we prayed with people and cried. We met kids and grandkids, old men and women near the ends of their lives, and younger families who can’t seem to catch a break.

Four or five of us wound up ministering to a woman in a terribly desperate situation. She had been assaulted the night before and beaten to the point that she suffered a miscarriage and lost the baby she had been carrying for a couple of months. She had spent the night in the hospital. The man who beat her — the father of this child and the husband of another woman — had spent a few hours in jail. And when this woman showed up at the laundry-mat last night to do a couple of free loads of laundry, this man showed up, too. He was looking for her. And she was terrified. Afraid for her life. We drove her back and forth to her house a couple of times, had a long conversation with a couple of police officers who verified all the details of the horribly twisted story, prayed with this woman, bought her some minutes for her phone, and left her at the house of a friend. Ten minutes later the Central elders and ministers were earnestly praying for her in the Upper Room. This morning, I spent about fifteen minutes with her at Loaves and Fishes. She’s in there right now singing “Blessed Assurance” with Kevin and Roman, hugging Lena, and learning that God’s people really do love her and care about her.

And I’m not sure I know what to do with this.

Kevin and Lon and another group last night discovered and engaged a man who was living against the cinderblock wall on the west side of the car wash. This is all happening within two blocks of our church building. And I’m not sure I know what to do with it.

You know, we changed oil in almost 30 cars, we did about fifty loads of laundry, and delivered a hundred dozen cookies in this neighborhood last night. Now what? Oh, I’m struggling with this.

There’s a part of me that wonders if the Kingdom of God wouldn’t be better off if I vowed to never preach in a Sunday morning congregational setting ever again and spent all of my time instead talking about Jesus to people who don’t know him. I think I justify my existence as a preacher with passages like Ephesians 4 that tell me I’m encouraging and equipping and motivating God’s people to do these good works. And the Holy Spirit specifically gifts people to do that equipping and encouraging. I suppose I should be doing both. And I don’t  — not very well.

I can only think of one or two reasons why anybody outside the downtown area would be an active member here at Central. Why would you drive past other churches on the outskirts of town to come to Central? The building is old, the parking situation is awful, and the preaching isn’t nearly as good as it should be. Neither is the preacher. The only reason is that here at Central a person is continually confronted with the true brokenness of this world. An active member of the Central Church of Christ is forced to see and engage this planet in all of its trouble and sin. It’s impossible to ignore. We’re made to wrestle with a God who allows such terrible pain, we’re compelled to question a God who moves so slowly to fix things. We’re challenged and stretched. We’re made to look at life in new ways, to question our roles in what God really is doing with this messed up place. We have to sacrifice and serve, we’re humbled and forced to see our own shortcomings reflected in the sins of those around us. Oh, man, it’s hard.

But, it’s salvation, right?

I think maybe here at Central we’re becoming more like Jesus. Whether we want to or not, we’re becoming more like Christ as we sacrifice and serve, as our hearts are broken by the sin around us, as our souls cry out to God for justice and redemption, as we are deeply moved by the plight of others. So, yeah, at the laundry-mat and at Loaves and Fishes, at Ellwood Park and Bullard Auto and in Sneed Hall, we are becoming like Christ. That may be the only reason to be an active member at Central.

I would suggest that’s the only reason needed.

Lord, come quickly.

Allan

For Church Leaders

Leadership, Preaching No Comments »

“Consider that there is nothing in this life, and especially in our own day, more easy and pleasant and acceptable to men than the office of bishop or priest or deacon, if its duties be discharged in a mechanical or sycophantic way; but nothing more worthless and deplorable and meet for chastisement in the sight of God. And, on the other hand, that there is nothing in this life, and especially in our own day, more difficult, toilsome, and hazardous than the office of bishop or priest or deacon; but nothing more blessed in the sight of God, if our service be in accordance with our Captain’s orders.”

~Augustine to Valerius on his ordination at Hippo

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

Allan's Journey, Death, Ministry, Preaching, Teenagers 2 Comments »

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” ~Psalm 116:15

I know he didn’t tell me every week. It wasn’t even every month. Couldn’t have been. But it was frequent. It was many times over the course of my childhood and into my high school years. Jim Martin, the head elder (I know there’s no such thing) at my church in southeast Dallas, was emphatic when he told me. I remember him telling me while we were standing on the brown speckled industrial tile in the hallway down the classroom wing of the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. He told me out in the church parking lot. He told me near the front of the auditorium right after worship services. I feel like he told me all the time. And he meant it.

“Allan, if you’ll go to preaching school, I’ll pay for your tuition.”

Of course, he was talking about the Sunset or Preston Road schools of preaching. At the time, I didn’t have much of an idea about money or how much that kind of an education might cost. I knew Sunset was in Lubbock, somewhere out in West Texas, a million miles from Big D. I had been to several graduations at Preston Road as our church financially supported students there every year. Those things, though, didn’t really matter. I didn’t want to be a preacher. I couldn’t imagine being a preacher. I wanted Brad Sham’s job doing radio play-by-play for the Cowboys.

Jim — sorry; he was always “Brother Martin” — was a giant in my home church. In my mind, he stood taller even than his six-foot-four frame. He was a Bible class teacher, a song leader, and an elder in our congregation. He was always standing in front of the church. Teaching. Leading us in worship. Leading us in prayer. Baptizing. Announcing important decisions. He was our home and auto insurance guy, a successful businessman with his own office on Buckner Boulevard. I never saw him without a coat and tie. In every setting, he carried himself in a deliberate and professional manner. For these and many other reasons I always looked up to Jim.

My sister, Rhonda, and I found some of his mannerisms… umm… humorous. He wore his pants almost a little too high; not quite “above the navel” as Matthew McConaughey’s character says in “Bernie,” but still a little too high. When he sat down on that little short pew on the stage in-between songs on Sunday mornings, his pants legs would rise up incredibly high. His cuffs would be almost at his knees. And, to our constant amazement, so did his socks! We always privately assumed his socks were somehow connected to his underwear. We could perfectly imitate the way he led singing, his right arm extended with barely any crook at all in the elbow and his middle finger on that right hand dipped slightly below the others. The way he paused a little too long between the first and second words of a lot of songs. “When….. …. …. I survey the wondrous cross.” For some reason, Jim pronounced “dollars” as “dah-lahs,” like he was from London or something. We imagined he mowed the lawn and changed the oil in his cars wearing his slacks and wing tips.

He and my dad were best friends. They sang together, taught Bible class together, and served together as shepherds at P-Grove. Jim and Polly Martin were at our house a lot when we were kids and we spent a lot of time at their place on Alhambra Street. On those rare occasions when we got to eat lunch at Wyatt’s Cafeteria after church, it seems the Martins were always there with us. Jim and my dad were equals in almost every sense of the term — including most of their quirkiest mannerisms — but Jim was older. My dad asked for and highly valued Jim’s opinions and insights. He talked about Jim a lot. He looked up to Jim. And that was huge for me. Jim always seemed very important to me. And, looking back, a big part of that is probably because I sensed my dad looking up to Jim, too.

When Brother Martin told me I could preach and that he would pay for my training, he was telling me two things:  One, that preaching the Word of God was really, really important — maybe even more important than selling insurance; and, two,  that he believed in me, he really believed in me.

Jim and Polly’s daughter, Becky, and her husband Glen were our youth ministers at the Pleasant Grove church when we didn’t have youth ministers. Glen hired me to work at his roofing company the summer before my sophomore year in high school. He taught me how to drive a stick shift. He taught me how not to cut ridge with a Skil saw. He taught me a lot of things. For a period of four or five years I spent more time at Glen and Becky’s house than I did my own. I bought my first car when I was sixteen: a long, white 1974 Monte Carlo with a burgundy Landau top. I paid for it with roofing money. Bought the insurance policy from Jim Martin with roofing money. When I was re-baptized over Thanksgiving break of my senior year in college, it was Jim Martin who buried me with Christ. And when I finally decided to leave sports radio to enter a full time congregational preaching ministry, I called my parents. And then I called Jim Martin. He expressed to me his great delight upon hearing that news. And he told me God was going to use me to expand his Kingdom.

Jim died Sunday evening at 85 years of age. He was surrounded by his family, forgiven by his Savior, and wrapped in the loving arms of his God.

My dad and I talked on the phone together about Jim late Sunday night. A number of us preachers in Texas and around the Southwest who have been personally blessed by Jim’s son, Jimmy Martin, have been exchanging emails and texts. Rhonda and I shared some really funny stories and a few tears together on the phone yesterday. Throughout our childhood, Jim and Polly Martin were always there helping and encouraging. During our most formative years, Glen and Becky were always there helping and encouraging. For the entire seven years of my preaching ministry, Jimmy Martin has been right by my side helping and encouraging. There has never been a time in my life — all 47 years — when Jim Martin and his children were not involved in supporting me and encouraging me.

I’ve written all this —- and I could very easily keep going — to say this: encourage the young people in your church. Tell them you believe in them. Tell them how talented they are, how blessed by God they are. Tell them all the dreams you have for them, all the great things you see for them. Help the kids in your church and encourage them. You have been ordained by God to play an important role in molding and shaping young preachers and ministers, future missionaries and teachers of the Gospel. One word of encouragement to a child can carry her or him for years. One sentence of blessing to a teenager can last maybe for a lifetime.

It’s been sixteen or seventeen years since I’ve been inside the Pleasant Grove church building. My siblings and I all left P-Grove as soon as we could. And so did most everybody else. Our parents retired and moved to East Texas in 2000. There’s not forty people left in that congregation today. But Jim and Polly stayed. Jim was still at that old church building three or four days a week, paying bills, putting the bulletin together, leading singing, and teaching class up until he fell and injured his back over Thanksgiving weekend. I thank God today for Jim Martin. And when we walk into that church building for Jim’s funeral later this week, it’ll be good. It’ll be precious.

Peace,

Allan

Power Instead of Love

Central Church Family, Matthew, Preaching 1 Comment »

Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Bruce Huther…

~~~~~~~~~~

Randy Harris says preaching a sermon is like landing an airplane: anytime you can walk away from it, it was good! Well, I had one of those really shaky moments on Sunday when a carefully prepared and meticulously rehearsed line came out wrong and, maybe, distracted from what I was trying to communicate.

In our look at the third desert temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, I was going with the angle suggested by both Henri Nouwen and Eugene Peterson, that Jesus was being tempted to use impersonal power and force to rule the kingdoms of the world and their splendor instead of relational love and ministry. Power is the shortcut to love. Power is easy; love is hard. It’s easier to be God than to love God. It’s easier to control people than to love people. It’s easier to own the world than to love the world. Yeah, I was on a roll. But about a third of the way into the lesson, this is what came out of my mouth:

“Every single Christian believer has an important voice and a vital presence in the way this country is run and the way our culture is shaped. Yes, it’s critical for the redemption of creation. The world must see God’s children and know where we’re coming from and where we’re going. Yes. But, listen, we are deceived by the devil if we believe for one minute we can act or think or speak in ways that are contrary to or opposed to the ways Jesus acted and thinked and…”

And then I was stopped dead in my tracks. Thinked? Did I really just say “thinked?” I heard the giggles. I acknowledged the silly mistake with a crooked grin. “Thought!” I said. “The way Jesus acted and thought and spoke.” I confessed that I had worked for nearly two weeks on that line but had just butchered it. And we laughed. And then I continued preaching.

I had just about gotten over it when we walked into Rosa’s for lunch with what seemed like half our congregation. There at one of the biggest tables in the center of the restaurant was the Granado clan. All of them. When I walked over to say “hi” like all the good preachers do, Lonnie looked at me and said, “I thinked you might come to Rosa’s today!”

Nice.

Valerie’s boyfriend made a wisecrack in Richard and Lori’s driveway Sunday night after small group. Something about he thinked it was time to go.

Thank you.

Now Valerie’s grounded for four months.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve had a few requests for more information regarding the book I read from right after I destroyed that excellent line Sunday. It’s called “In the Name of Jesus,” written by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and author who wrote a whole bunch of books on Christian leadership and discipleship based on the life and teachings of Jesus. “In the Name of Jesus” is a treatise on the desert temptations of Christ. And it’s excellent. It will challenge your views of Christ and culture and it’ll call you to a deeper following of our Lord. It’s a really short book, but, as with most of Nouwen’s works, every paragraph is packed with holy insight. As I told our congregation Sunday, you can read it in an afternoon and it’ll change your life.

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

Please, please, please take two minutes to watch this video. Then, take another couple of minutes to let the shame and guilt wash completely over you. Don’t deny it. Don’t say the video is exaggerated or unrealistic. If that’s your reaction, I would point to that as proof that you’re spending way too much time looking at your phone and not being present in or paying attention to the place God’s put you. Then, please make a vow to leave your cell phone in your car when you meet friends for meals. Make a promise to never, ever take a cell phone into a business meeting or worship service. And resolve to never again take it out of your pocket and look at the screen unless the thing actually rings or buzzes. We know these phones are turning us in to a society of grunting morons. But we seem so thrilled about it.

Peace,

Allan

The Spirit of Larimore

Christ & Culture, Church, Preaching 1 Comment »

Rick Atchley takes a well known Restoration Movement slogan and updates it to reflect our most recent history: “We speak where the Bible speaks, and where the Bible is silent, we speak even more.” Oh, yeah, the silence of Scripture — is it permissive or prohibitive?  If we’re honest, most of us decide based on the issue of the moment and/or our own comfort zones. Strange, but that never really was a question that concerned anybody in our churches until right after the Civil War when we were looking to divide and punish, to humble others and make ourselves feel better.

The Civil War and the resulting hatred and bitterness that lingered into and through Reconstruction in the South played a critical and undeniable role in the divisions among the Stone – Campbell churches that ultimately led to the official “split” between the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. To deny this would be to ignore the evidence. Similar splits along North and South lines occurred in the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations at the same times. And, no, we were not immune.

As further proof, Holloway and Foster’s Renewing God’s People offers up the issues of instrumental music in corporate worship and the American Christian Missionary Society.

While the centralized missionary organization had its detractors almost as soon as it was established in 1849, the Missionary Society was not something over which anybody in a Stone-Campbell church would have fought or divided. Until after the Civil War. Following the Society’s pro-Union resolutions and its official support of the United States military, it became the firestorm issue of the Restoration Movement. To demonstrate how the War Between the States had influenced feelings and thoughts, consider that two of the Society’s most outspoken critics were former officers of the organization. Tolbert Fanning served on the board and even addressed its annual meeting in 1859. Benjamin Franklin (no, not that one) served as the Society’s secretary for thirteen years. But after the war they both repeatedly blasted the group as unbiblical in Franklin’s American Christian Review. Their main official objection was based on the “silence of Scripture.”

Since the Bible does not specifically mention anything about multi-church organizations or boards that support a combined effort among different congregations, they argued that the Missionary Society was unscriptural. Of course, those who supported and served the Society claimed that silence in Scripture is what gave them permission to do it.

The same arguments were used in debating the issue of instrumental music in our corporate worship assemblies. While the first recorded instance of an instrument used in worship in a Stone-Campbell church was in Midway, Kentucky in 1859, it really was a post-Civil War issue. The churches that brought in pianos and organs argued that, since the Bible did not prohibit it, they were permitted to use the instruments to help their singing and to appeal to the younger generations. Opposition to this “innovation” came mostly from the South, and mostly from the same “silence of Scripture” argument. The New Testament, they claimed, authorizes congregational singing, but not musical instruments. On the other hand, those who used instruments cited the same Bible verses that gave them authority to use song books and song leaders and church buildings to aid their worship: none.

The one man who might have done the most to hasten the division among the Stone-Campbell churches on these issues is Daniel Sommer who, in 1889, outlined his plan to save the Restoration Movement from “innovations and corruptions.” Unoriginally titled “An Address and Declaration,” Sommer’s paper proclaimed that if leaders and churches would not give up practices such as instrumental music, support of the Missionary Society, located preachers, and others, then “we cannot and will not regard them as brethren.”

On the other end of that attitude was a Stone-Campbell educator and preacher named T. B. Larimore. He was baptized in Kentucky in 1864 and later attended Franklin College near Nashville, studying under Fanning. This loyal son of the South was influenced and taught by some of the strongest opponents of instrumental music and the Missionary Society, but he refused to ever take sides on these issues. He never declared himself publicly. Larimore believed God’s Church should never divide over such trivial matters and, as a preacher of the Gospel, saw his duty as only to proclaim the good news of salvation from God in Christ. Larimore said he would have nothing to do with those questions over which “the wisest and best of men disagreed.”

Larimore was a highly successful and influential preacher. He baptized more than ten thousand people in his lifetime. And he would preach wherever people would listen. He was invited by both Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ and he honored each invitation. He wrote articles and religious papers for both groups. As his popularity grew he was pressured more and more to take sides on the issues that divided the Movement, but he never did. He only spoke well of people in both camps. In his words:

“I never call Christians or others ‘anti’s,’ ‘digressives,’ ‘mossback,’ ‘tackies,’ or ‘trash.’ I concede to all, and accord to all, the same sincerity and courtesy as the Golden Rule demands.”

I’m not sure what it means to be called a “tackie” — only Doug Foster knows.  But Larimore’s legacy during one of the most contentious times in our history is that he spoke only of matters of first importance. He taught and lived, by word and deed, that the only way for God’s Church to avoid the evils of division and maintain Christ’s vision for unity was to allow freedom in matters of opinion. And he kept on preaching.

Peace,

Allan