Category: Spiritual Formation (Page 1 of 2)

The Thing

Nobody gets out of this life without going through a thing. Something unexpected that changes everything. Something hard. Something painful. Sickness. Loss. Betrayal. Divorce. Death. I’m certain you can look back at your life and tell me about the thing you went through. It might have happened a long time ago or you might still be in the middle of it, but everybody goes through a thing.

Carrie-Anne and I are in the thing right now.

My beautiful wife has an echocardiogram at Midland Memorial Hospital at 10:00 this morning and we have a mandatory Chemotherapy Orientation class at Texas Oncology this afternoon at 2:45. Tomorrow it’s blood work and a couple of other labs. She gets her port installed under her right collarbone on Wednesday. And then the first of her 16 chemotherapy infusions will be at the Allison Cancer Center here in Midland on Friday. Carrie-Anne will have an infusion every Friday for 12 weeks and then every other Friday for the last eight weeks. After that, a 92% chance we’ll never see the cancer again.

As I’ve said before, we are both committed to paying attention to our Lord together while we’re faithfully dealing with this thing. We want to hear what God is saying to us, we want to see what he’s trying to show us, we want to receive the gift he is giving us through this thing. We are trying, by God’s grace, to adopt the apostle’s attitude in 2 Corinthians:

“This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” ~2 Corinthians 1:9-10

The Scriptures say these tough times are to teach us, to show us, not to rely on ourselves, but on God. God is at work during this thing. He hasn’t abandoned us. He hasn’t left us. It’s not like God is on vacation and can’t see us until a week from Monday. He is near. He is with us. Where can we go to flee from his Spirit? Nowhere!

So, Carrie-Anne and I are really leaning into the formation zones right now. All four of them. We are reading and learning and listening to testimonials to continue gaining knowledge about breast cancer and its treatments and about how God has been powerfully at work through other cancer situations around us. We are fully engaged with our community of faith at GCR Church and all our Christian brothers and sisters in this congregation, and we are moving forward with our plans to start a new small group with Alan and Jo Douglas. Carrie-Anne and I are in Word and Prayer together every day. And we’re focused on ministering to others. We do not think it’s a coincidence that on two of our trips to M.D. Anderson, Ashleigh Reedy and her family were there at the same hospital at the same time.

The thing gets all of us. God is at work in the thing. And we need to pay attention.

It’s just life. And when life happens, we can wring our hands in despair and say, “I don’t know!” Or we can lift our hands to the Lord and exclaim, “God knows!” We can align our lives with Christ Jesus. We can say with Peter and the apostles, “Only you. Only you, Lord, have the words and the way to eternal life.”

God’s promise in Christ is that everything that’s broken is being fixed and everything that’s gone wrong is being made right. He has proved that promise in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Everything is being made perfect. You and your circumstance. You IN your circumstance.

The Holy Spirit says God will bring to completion the good thing he has started in you. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Breakthrough Retreat

We had 19 of us out at The Way here in Midland this weekend for the first of twelve Breakthrough Retreats related to our new emphasis on transformation and mission at GCR Church. We engaged our God together through Word and Prayer, exploring several ancient Christian practices and spiritual disciplines. Dwelling in the Word. Praying Scripture. Borrowed Prayer. Imaginative Reading.

A wonderful side benefit to these experiences in community is the connection made, not only with our Lord, but also with one another. You really hear the hearts of your brothers and sisters in Christ when you are listening to the voice of God together in Bible passages and four-hundred-year-old songs and two-thousand-year-old prayers. Blessing one another with words from the Psalms. Discerning God’s will together. Placing ourselves in the Story of God. Sharing holy conversations around our meals. Worshiping in that beautiful chapel at The Way. I know 18 of my brothers and sisters in Christ a whole lot better today than I did 48 hours ago. And it’s a tremendous blessing.

The one discipline we need to include in our next retreat is how to take a group photo. Look at that picture! Dee seems to be intentionally hiding. Eric and Meagan are barely visible. Reagan and Clay seem to have their own thing happening there on the left. Ashlee’s laughing. And I don’t know why we let Marc wear the Aggies gear on the front row.

We’re wanting every member of our GCR Church to participate in one of these Breakthrough Retreats over the next two years. The next retreat is a morning thing on the church campus for young families with kids on February 18. The next overnight retreat at The Way for adults and anybody who’s a high school freshman or older is March 10-11.

I highly recommend it. And I believe any of those other 18 folks in that picture would say the same thing.

Peace,

Allan

Our Deepest Fear

I want to share with you a passage from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. Barry Thomas sent this to me immediately following Sunday’s sermon about God’s covenant of presence and partnership with his people. I hope you find this as inspiring as I do.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God!

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us – it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The basic truth about you is that you are created by God in the divine image of God. Don’t ever lose that foundational fact about you. Sin distorts that fact, the devil twists that truth. Sin corrupts it and contradicts it. But it does not change you into anyone other than who God created you to be. You are a beloved child of God, created and saved and called by him to reflect his glory.

Peace,

Allan

Transformed on Mission

When we decide to get involved with what God is doing and the ways God is doing it, he changes us. Our Lord transforms us when we personally engage the mission.

“…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:12-14

Being changed by God into the image of Jesus with ever-increasing glory is a result of increasingly doing for others. Sacrificing and serving others. Philippians 2 says we should pursue the mind of Christ or the attitude of Christ, and ties it directly to considering the needs of others more important than our own. This is Jesus! He said it: “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life.” That’s the mission. And when you engage, you’ll be changed.

Actually doing ministry, having a mission – not just talking about it, studying it, or agreeing it’s good – changes you. The fastest way to get out of your spiritual rut is to dive head-first into our Lord’s mission.

New experiences challenge our beliefs and assumptions. Ministry, when you’re in over your head, forces you to face your fears and it surprises you with resources and strength from God you didn’t know you had. Hearing the stories first-hand, seeing the places, and meeting the people makes the needs and the opportunities more real. The Scriptures become more alive when you connect them to real ministry. Being on mission pushes us out of our comfort zones and into the places where God is really changing the world. And it’ll change you.

To empty yourself for the mission of Christ like that feels good. You know it feels good to serve others because you’ve done it. And the reason it feels so good is because it’s our God-created and God-ordained purpose. He made us to serve others. And when we do that, we are becoming like Christ. That’s why it’s so powerful. When we serve others, we live better, we worship better, we pray better, we love better – everything’s better. It changes you.

“As each part does its work, we will in all things grow up into Christ.” ~Ephesians 4:16

Peace,

Allan

Christian Practices

A word to our Golf Course Road congregation here in Midland as we commit to more of the ancient traditions like dwelling in the word, lectio divina, praying Scripture, borrowed prayers, imaginative reading, and memorizing and reciting the Bible. These spiritual disciplines give us a variety of tried and true ways to engage our God through Word and Prayer. These are the well-worn paths to experiencing Scripture and prayer with all our senses, not just our brains and intellect. I’m excited for us to read and pray together with our hearts and emotions, too.

As we get into this, be aware that a lot of people who talk and write about spirituality and being spiritual do so in terms of silence and solitude. That’s the focus, the general theme that runs through all of it. Some people who talk about Christian practices and write about spiritual disciplines seem to value silence and solitude above all other practices. They value silence over sound. They value solitude over community. They prioritize the authority of tradition over the challenge of freedom and prize predictability and rule over spontaneity and experiments.

I would suggest a balance.

I would invite you to try all of it, to experiment with a variety of ancient Christian practices and new Christian ways of paying attention to what God is doing in your life. You don’t have to be an expert in any of them or in all of them. I would only suggest that we value all of these practices and explore them together as important places where God is at work.

Peace,

Allan

Formed in Community

I was looking through my closet this week for a 56-year-old piece of paper I want to read to our church this Sunday when I came across the first Bible I ever owned. My parents gave it to me on my sixth birthday, almost fifty years ago. This is the Bible I had when I was a kid growing up in the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas. I wrote a lot of notes in the margins of this Bible. Back then it was two Bible classes and three sermons per week – no children’s worship. We sat through all of it. And I looked up every Scripture and I wrote a lot of notes. You can read the notes in my Bible and tell how I was raised.

Next to Psalm 51 I wrote, “This is not original sin.” In a couple of places that describe the musical instruments in the tabernacle and the temple I wrote, “Doesn’t mean we can use them now.” Every single page of the New Testament in this Bible is highlighted, marked up, or underlined. There are also lots of handwritten notes.

“When we work God’s plan, God’s plan will work.”
“You can’t kill time without injuring eternity.”
“You can’t die in Christ unless you live in Christ.”
“A fellow wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”

There’s a picture of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and I’ve circled the Lord’s long blondeĀ  hair. On the other side of the page is a picture of Jesus standing before Pilate. I’ve circled his long hair there, too, and written, “I Cor. 11:14 – God wouldn’t go against his own writings so Jesus must have had short hair.”

I don’t make fun of the notes in my first Bible. I’m not ashamed of them. Everything in this first Bible reminds me of growing up in that Pleasant Grove church and brings to mind really happy memories for me. This Bible reminds me that I was raised by people who loved me and taught me and cared about me and passed the Christian faith on to me.

This excellent reproduction of a Joe Malone sermon illustration, drawn when I was fourteen, reminds me of the sayings he would repeat on rotation at least every four or five sermons. Little ditties like, “Let one drop the sidewalk smirch, and it’s too wet to go to church.” I also remember the good-natured teasing he gave me when I wore that arrowhead necklace from Avon when I was eleven or twelve. I remember bugging him in his office during those summer days while my mom was working as the church secretary. I don’t remember him ever being annoyed.

I wrote, “Mike made me mess up” next to a really crooked underlining. That reminds me of my friend Mike Cunningham. His dad, Chuck. They hosted our youth devos. I traded a magic kit to Mike for his ELO “Time” album in 1981.

I remember Aaron Welch. He’s the guy who picked people to pass the Lord’s Supper trays. He always did it the same way. He’d come up to you before church started and say, “Old man, you wanna help us with the Lord’s Supper?” It didn’t matter that I was twelve. He thought it was funny to call Todd and Mike and me old men.

Jim Martin was one of our regular song leaders and I can still see him leading “Trust and Obey” as I walked down the aisle to be baptized when I was eleven. His middle finger was always oddly set a little lower than the rest of his hand.

Tillie Prosser was a high school music teacher who taught us boys how to lead singing in an upstairs classroom at 5:00 on Sunday afternoons. Her favorite song was “He Keeps Me Singing” and we all led it together at the start of every class. When we sing it today, I still hear Sister Prosser’s voice, counting the beats, reminding us to hold it out, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, two, three, four.”

Kayla Casebolt was the Sunday School teacher who had a giant sandbox in her room where she used little plastic people and animals to tell the stories.

Van and Laura Simpson drove us to youth rallies and Summer Youth Series.

Glen Burroughs taught our high school class and taught me how to drive a stick.

The first time I ever led a prayer during Sunday night church I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach the microphone. It was the closing prayer and I was extremely nervous. I must have been eleven or twelve. I couldn’t see anything over the massive podium. When it was over, Johnny Cobbler approached me in the long hallway from the worship center to the south parking lot doors. Johnny Cobbler was one of the cool teenagers. He had a car and I perceived him to be the alpha leader of the youth group. I was both obsessed with him and frightened of him. He laughed at me and said, “Did you lead the closing prayer? Somebody said you led the prayer, but I couldn’t see anybody up there!” And then he shook my hand and said, “It was a good prayer.” There must have been four dozen people who told me I led a good prayer that night. But I remember Johnny Cobbler.

I remember one Sunday night during my senior year of high school when I accidentally wore a Huey Lewis and the News t-shirt to serve the Lord’s Supper to the reprobates who had been providentially hindered that morning. One of the elders, Kenneth Lybrand, told me after church that it wasn’t right. I shouldn’t wear a shirt like that to serve the Lord’s Table. And I remember Elaine Titus overhearing Brother Lybrand and telling me a few minutes later that it was fine. She told me she could tell I was up there to serve the Lord and it didn’t matter what I was wearing. That meant so much to me. I also remember that Brother Lybrand is the one who gave my parents the money to adopt my little sister Sharon. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

That church raised me. Those people shaped me. A lot of my ideas about God and Christ, a lot of my understandings about salvation and love, a lot of what I believe and some of what I push back against goes back to the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. A lot of who I am in Christ today goes back to that community of faith at P-Grove that raised me and shaped me in Jesus.

You’ve got a lot of little kids in your church. I know you do. Lots of boys and girls between the ages of five and fifteen who will never forget the things you say to them. The attention you pay to them. The way you make them feel. The time you went out of your way to assure them they are an important part of your church family. Or those other times. Those other things you said.

They’re all paying attention this Sunday. And they remember.

Peace,

Allan

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