Category: Teenagers (page 1 of 2)

Winterfest Superstar

When six thousand teenagers packed the Arlington Convention Center this past weekend for the largest annual gathering in the Churches of Christ, our daughter Valerie was on stage rocking her artistic abilities to glorify God and inspire his people. The story is long and the details are many when describing how Valerie came to be the artist selected to paint the murals in real time, on stage, to illustrate each of the keynote themes for the three day event. The bottom line is that our Lord has brought our daughter into holy community with  Dudley Chancey, the genius and driving force behind nearly 40 Winterfests, and there she is!

Carrie-Anne and I had so much fun from the fifth row, watching Valerie paint, listening to her interact with the likes of Jeff Walling and Eric Wilson and The Skit Guys, and watching her legions of fans from Edmond CofC and Pleasant Ridge CofC flock to the front of the stage before and after each session to talk to and take pictures with her. Eric Wilson was effusive in his praise for Valerie’s skill, interrupting his own Saturday night presentation to step over and marvel at her work. Jeff Walling was more than generous in his interactions with Valerie during his keynote Sunday morning, acknowledging her talents and her growing fan base. It was just so much fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Six thousand teenagers! Worshiping God! Our students! Committing publicly to telling others about the Lord! Our kids! Promising to live for Christ! This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

God’s Church has seen a terrible decline in this country during my generation’s turn at the wheel. It’s our fault. We’ve messed it up. We’ve gone about church in the wrong way and it’s time we admit it. We’ve compromised our allegiances. We’ve pursued power and glory, control and fights. We’ve shied away from suffering and sacrifice and peace. We’ve lost our way. We’ve embraced a distorted version of discipleship and communicated to the world a twisted vision of our Savior. We’ve lined up with the ways and means of the world and totally turned off everybody my age and younger. People are rejecting the Jesus our generation has expressed, they are leaving the Church we’ve modeled. And we deserve it.

God is going to use this upcoming generation to get his Church back on track in this country. These young men and women are going to show us how to embrace the way of Jesus, how to pledge allegiance to only one Lord, how to sacrifice and serve, how to live the eternal life we’ve been given right now instead of only after we die. This is the generation we’ve been waiting for!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And Valerie is right in the middle of them. Painting and singing and serving and encouraging, smiling and laughing and giving and loving in the name and manner of our Lord.

Go Rams,

Allan

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

“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

A Wholistic Approach to Sexuality

We officially and publicly ordained Tanner Albright yesterday as our new full-time youth minister here at Central. It was a great day for Tanner and his family. I am so privileged to be serving with Tanner as co-workers in our Lord, so blessed to be his partner, so it was a great day for me, too. And because of what God has done through Tanner and what he is continuing to do with and through Tanner, it was a great day for the Central church family.

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Adam and Tanner just concluded a teaching series for our Middle School and High School students and their parents that took a truly wholistic approach to sexuality. It was called “Good Sex,” a provocative title to be sure. But the classes were about so much more than just sex.

Our youth ministers and volunteers presented the ideas of purity and sex in the larger context of discipleship to Jesus. Yes, seeking to live a life in pursuit of Christ means being holy in matters of sex. But it’s not just sex; it’s everything. Holy living, following Jesus, means being righteous and pure in all we do. It was a very Sermon on the Mount approach to living in Christ. It’s not just about the sex act itself; it’s just as much about other things we might do or say that are not submissive to Jesus as our King.

And you might get that in a lot of youth programs on sexuality. The thing that made this series really different, though, is the white-hot spotlight it put on the parents. The adults were challenged every week to be pure in their own sexuality, to take captive every thought, to submit everything to the Lordship of Jesus. Even as married adults, most of us struggle to maintain this purity in the things we think about, the things we look at and watch, the relationships we maintain, or the language we use. I told the kids and their parents at the closing ceremony last week, it doesn’t get any easier when you’re married. It’s just as difficult to be pure, it’s just as tough to be righteous.

Ah, the ceremony. This past Wednesday night. Another fabulous job by Adam and Tanner. All the teens and their parents down in the community room to celebrate the past couple of months and to make solemn vows to one another, to themselves, and to our God to seek purity, not only in their (our) sexuality, but in all facets of their (our) lives of discipleship to Christ.

We promised to be a real family to one another. We promised to protect and defend one another, to support and encourage, to correct and discipline one another as we follow Jesus together. As church leaders, we promised these teens and their families that Central will always be a place (and a people) where we can talk and pray openly about anything and everything. We promised that Central will always be where one can find forgiveness, acceptance, and accountability.

Adam wrote a beautiful set of vows that we recited together. You can access those vows by clicking here.

We worshiped together, we exchanged gifts and prayers with our children, and we expressed our love and commitment to one another and to our Lord.

It was just perfect. We need more of this, not less. Excellent job Adam and Tanner. Thank you so much. I’m so blessed by our Father to work alongside you.

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Whitney, Valerie, and Carley,

You are our precious daughters whom we love and in whom we are well pleased. You are no longer little girls. You are beautiful young ladies. And we can’t wait to see what our Lord has planned for you. Your mother and I want you to know how important you are to us and to God. You are beautiful, beloved, and worthy. We want to bless you with the promises of God. You belong to God and have been set apart from the world for his holy purposes. We want to bless you with God’s everlasting love, wisdom, peace, and joy. We also want to bless you with sexual purity and marital faithfulness.

We pray every day for our God’s hand to be present in your lives. May you faithfully serve our Lord Jesus Christ. And may he bless you richly with his mercy and strength.

We love you dearly and are so proud of you.

Dad

Everybody’s in the Youth Group

I’m driving down to Henrietta, Texas this Sunday afternoon for an area youth rally thing — they call it “Sunday Night Live! — at the Henrietta Church of Christ. I don’t know anybody at the Henrietta Church of Christ other than two really good, really old friends.

Brad Yurcho and I played football together at Dallas Christian High School. And we both wanted Brad Sham’s job calling Cowboys games on KRLD. Yurcho and I would sometimes sit on the very top row of the bleachers at DC during Junior High and, later, JV football games and do the play-by-play. Out loud. To each other. With each other. Seems strange now. But we both thought we were pretty good and, someday, would make a pretty good broadcast team.

Scott Williams and I were Delta brothers at Oklahoma Christian. We made road trips together. We cruised the streets of Edmond together. We went shopping for pumpkins together during the holidays. We went on disciplinary probation together at OC. Ah, yes; great times.

Scott and Brad and their families are in Henrietta now, good friends themselves, working with the young people there, teaching and mentoring and passing on the faith to those coming up after us. It’s really quite special. I hadn’t seen Scott in years when he walked up to me a couple of months ago here at Central, just minutes before our Sunday morning assembly was to begin. I remember thinking, “Man, if he’s come to confess sin, we’re going to be here a while.” What a terrific surprise! Brad called me the very next morning and made the invitation to speak at their church official. And I’m really looking forward to Sunday.

I love speaking to young people. I love being with teenagers. When you’re in a room full of teens, you’re surrounded by unlimited potential. The possibilities are countless. It’s unimaginable all the wonderful things these young men and women are going to do in God’s Kingdom. They’re all so talented and passionate, so full of life and energy, so emotional and “all-in” to whatever they’re doing.

And they all love to learn brand new things. They want to be taught. They want to be shown something they’ve never seen before. They want to know something new. They all want to experiment. They want to push the envelope. They’re bold. They want to do something for Christ that’s never been done before. They want to be a real part of something bigger than themselves. They don’t have a whole lot of patience for doing church; they want to be church. And I love that.

And most of us say, yeah, that’s just the way young people are. They’re teenagers. They won’t always be that way. They’ll grow out of it.

Most of us say that because most of us have grown out of it.

And that’s a shame.

Scripture says, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. We’re being refreshed by God’s Holy Spirit. We’re being revived every day, re-energized, re-booted, re-newed day by day. That means we’re all in the youth group! Yes, you! You’re in the youth group at your church. Everybody’s in the youth group!

Isn’t that fantastic news? All of us are being made younger and fresher and newer every day. All of us should be acting like our teenagers. I should be more bold and imaginative. You should be more passionate and hungry for new truths about our Lord and his plans for your life. We all should be pushing the envelope when it comes to sacrificial service in the name and manner of Jesus. We all should be so brakes-off, no-looking-back, full-steam-ahead in our discipleship to our Christ. We should sing louder, laugh harder, dance wilder, love more, try different; we should stop hesitating, stop flinching, stop negotiating, stop settling. Our young people are on to something!

Jesus says you’ve got to be a little kid to inherit his Kingdom.

You’re being renewed every day. By God’s grace and the transforming power of his Spirit, you’re getting younger, not older! You’re in the youth group.

So go get a two-liter of Mountain Dew and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. I’ll see you at the lock-in!

Peace,

Allan

Mutant Christianity

“Your child is following a mutant form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.”

We think they want cake. They actually want steak and potatoes, but we keep giving them cake.

That’s the first sentence in a recent on-line article from CNN that’s been emailed to me four times this week and seems to be making the rounds. The August 27 article tackles the topic of religion and teens from the viewpoint of Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of “Almost Christian.” Her book claims that lots of parents and churches are unwittingly passing on a watered-down, self-serving, imposter strain of Christianity to our kids. Our children today see God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost our self esteem. God simply wants us to do good and feel good. Researchers for the book call it moralistic therapeutic deism. And Dean says, “If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust.”

According to the book, Dean’s research included in-depth interviews with more than 3,300 American teenagers between 13 and 17, and found that most who call themselves Christian are indifferent and inarticulate about their faith. Dean says three out of every four teenagers in this country claim to be Christian, but fewer than half practice their faith and only half deem it to be very important at all.

I wonder if those numbers wouldn’t also accurately reflect the beliefs and practices of the adults in our pews.

I haven’t read the book. I’ve only read this article. At least five times now. And the one sentence that keeps coming back to me, the one quote I can’t get out of my head, I think, sums up one of the major problems — if not the number one problem — in our churches and our church programs.

About a third of the way through this article, Dean is quoted as saying, “If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation.”

Amen.

The good news of salvation in Christ is not a “gospel of niceness” in which faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call is to take risks, to witness to the world, to sacrifice and serve others; to die to self and to live in a way that is radically — dangerously — different from the surrounding culture.

It’s more about what’s happening in your community than what’s happening inside your church building.Preachers preach safe messages that will bring in more people and/or keep more people from leaving. Elders and other church leaders promise security and comfort and happiness at their congregations. We’re not challenging our people. We’re not teaching them or showing them that following Christ — living in the way of Christ and in the manner of Christ — means doing something to fix what’s broken in the world. Restore something. Cleanse something. Change everything. We don’t call our people to anything that’s bigger than ourselves. If all we’re doing is asking our people to sit in a pew, write a weekly check, and then allow the church to work hard to make them physically and spiritually and emotionally comfortable, we’re guilty of adding to the problem. We’re guilty of teaching and practicing a mutant form of Christianity.

We need to stop telling and showing our teens — and all our adults for that matter — that Christianity is all about following rules and drawing lines and adhering to boundaries. We need to immediately cease telling our members — and the world — that it’s OK to worship in that way over there but not this way in here, or it’s allright to sing that song in that room but not this song in this room, that there’s nothing wrong with worshiping God in that style on this day but not this style on that day. We can’t keep telling our kids that it’s OK for women to pray or read Scripture in our living rooms and classrooms but not in our worship assemblies. We need to stop this vain protecting of our comfort zones and comfort rules by insisting that weddings and funerals are not worship services. When you tell me that an assembly in the worship center in which the gathered men and women sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God, prayers are offered to God in the name of Jesus, Holy Scripture is read, and a sermon is preached from the Bible is not a worship assembly, it makes no sense. Our kids are not stupid. They see right through this stuff. And I don’t blame them.

That’s not Christianity.

It’s more about what’s happening in your community than what’s happening inside your church building.Biblical Christianity is bold. It’s huge. It turns whole towns upside down. It dramatically changes lives. It’s a call to rescue and save. It’s more about what’s happening in your community than what’s happening inside your church building. It’s more about what you do than what you believe. It’s more about how you live than how you sing. It’s about serving; it’s not about being served. It’s about dying in the name and the manner of our Lord. It’s all about doing things that make absolutely no earthly sense because God in Christ Jesus has broken through the barriers of time and space to deliver us from an eternity in hell. We don’t explain the faith; we courageously live the faith.

Which message is your church preaching and practicing? Is it a mutant Christianity of arbitrary rules and comfort? Or is it a Scriptural Christianity that goes out on a limb to make a massive difference in the lives of hurting and sick men and women in your community? Does your church love and serve unconditionally or does it model love and service with exceptions and fine print?

If you’re telling the teens in your church they can clap during the songs just as long as they don’t clap too loudly, they’re going to leave. And I don’t blame them.

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The Rangers’ magic number is 21I need to apologize to Jerry K: you’re right, Cliff Lee is not the savior of the Rangers. I need to retract a statement I’ve made to Whitney: no, watching Lee pitch is not like it used to be watching Nolan Ryan pitch. Sorry. I know Lee says it’s his back. I know he’s getting treatment. But he’s started ten games now for Texas. And the Rangers are 3-7 in those starts. If the playoffs began today, I’d go with C. J. Wilson and maybe even Tommy Hunter in the opener over Lee. Hunter showed more of those gritty guts last night. David Murphy and Nelson Cruz made some unbelievable catches. And the Yankees are taking care of the A’s.

Peace,

Allan

Where Are The Kids?

Where are the kids?Where are the kids? The local TV stations used to ask us at 10:00 every night. It’s the question I ask Carrie-Anne when I come home after work. Thirty minutes after church when I’m ready to get in the car. In a crowded mall. At the park. When it’s especially quiet in the house. When the bikes are left on the lawn. Where are the kids?

If we ask that question as we’re reading Scripture—where are the kids?—the answer always comes back, “right in the big middle of everything.” Right where God put ’em. Right where God wants ’em.

Matthew 21 – Jesus enters the temple in the last week of his life. The children are there shouting “Hosanna to the Son of CaddellsDavid!” The religious leaders in the temple are indignant. Maybe the kids were clapping, I don’t know. Maybe just the fact that the kids were in the middle of the temple being loud was enough to upset these teachers and priests. Jesus answers their indignation by quoting Scripture. “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”

Exodus 10 – Before the plague of locusts, God tells Moses he’s doing this “that you may tell your children and grandchildren…”

Exodus 12 – God insitutes the formational Passover Supper with everyone’s kids right there around the table. “When your children ask you…then tell them.”

WrightsExodus 13 – God explains the dedication of the first-born. “On that day, tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me.'” Also, “when your son asks you…,” tell him the great story.

Deuteronomy 4 – God’s giving the Law to his people. “Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”

Deuteronomy 6 – Same thing. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” And again, when your son asks you, tell him the stories.

Joshua 4 – Setting up the stones to mark the spot where they crossed the Jordan River. When your children ask you, tell them.

Matthew 18 & 19, Mark 10, Luke 18 – Parents bring their children to Jesus. And he welcomed them gladly. They brought their kids to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them and teach them. And he did. Jesus took little kids in his arms, he placed his hands on their heads, he prayed for them. He warns us not to ignore them or neglect them or discourage them in any way because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to our little children and he’s not willing that any of them should be lost.

In our Scriptures, the kids are always right in the big middle of everything. Exactly where God put ’em. In our Bibles, the Matt&Elizabethchildren are never on the edges, they’re not peripheral participants in the community of faith. They’re not sent to the other room. They don’t eat at a different table. They’re not placed in an “age-appropriate educational environment.” They are critical components. They are integral to God’s plan for his people. They are the centerpiece to our sacred conversations and the core of our holy gatherings.

Where are the kids?

When you’re praying. When you’re reading the Word. When you’re singing praises to God. When you’re at the common table with your brothers and sisters in Christ. When you’re talking about our Savior and the Gospel’s impact on your life.

Where are the kids?

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