Ten Years Blogging

Allan's Journey 7 Comments »

Ten years ago today, on June 4, 2007, I wrote my very first ever blog post on this website that Kipi Ward, our children’s minister at Legacy, helped me set up. It was the morning after my first sermon as the full-time preaching minister at Legacy Church of Christ, my first full-time job in congregational ministry. I can only hope my sermon that day wasn’t as boring as the blog post the next morning. In that post I expressed my desires for this website: to encourage and exhort the members of our local congregation and the Kingdom of God abroad, to update readers with what’s happening in our family, and to serve as an outlet for the sports thoughts and opinions that back up in my brain.

That was ten years ago. And I’m happy to report that the Kingdom is advancing forcefully, the kids are growing up quickly, and the Cowboys are sinking further and further into the longest and worst irrelevance drought in franchise history.

Since that Monday morning in June 2007, I’ve written 1,676 posts, read 2,471 comments, experienced two significant site crashes, and changed churches once. In those early days I experimented with different pages for sermon outlines and bulletin articles, Lord’s Supper resources, and interactive discussions about football jersey numbers. For two years I maintained a KK&C Top-20 College Football poll with a panel of voters from all over the southwest. That was back when a blog generated lots of readers and lots of comments. Every now and then a real discussion would break out, a back-and-forth conversation with five or six different parties chiming in several times throughout the thread. Those days seem pretty much gone. Long-form blogging and discussions have given way to shorter posts and comments on Facebook and even shorter content on Twitter.

Several times over the past three or four years, I’ve thought about giving this up. But I can’t. I love to write. Writing helps me articulate what I’m trying to say. It allows me to see and hear what’s going on in my head. It serves as a reliable outlet. It’s cathartic in many ways. I hope it allows people in our congregation to get to know me a little better. And, yeah, I still believe that every now and then, our mighty God uses this blog to speak to somebody who really needs to hear his loving voice.

To celebrate ten years of blogging, I want to provide you with some links to what are some of my all-time favorite posts — ten categories for ten years. If you only choose to click on one of these links, make sure it’s the last one I mention, at the bottom of this post.

Personal – This blog is written by me, from my perspective, about things I’m interested in, so, yes, this whole enterprise is very personal. But some of the posts are more personal than others. Every now and then something will happen that causes me to reflect on me. The closing down of Big Town Mall in east Dallas County last year prompted this nostalgic post recounting my childhood memories there. Jim Martin’s funeral in December 2013 compelled me to write about his giant influence on me and my family with much appreciation. And a Dallas Morning News story in 2010 about American theologian Stanley Hauerwas being from Pleasant Grove was the occasion for a blog post about my own growing up in that southeast Dallas community. That post, “Can Anything Good Come Out of Pleasant Grove?” is still generating comments, the latest just last month. More people on the internet for more of the time using more sophisticated search engines means people show up on my blog for the most random reasons. People who come here looking for P-Grove always leave a comment. And, it doesn’t get any more personal than writing a post the day after I’m given a senior discount at an Abilene restaurant. She didn’t even ask!

Preaching – I’m a preacher. A lot of this blog is about preaching — the highs and lows, the hard work and the blessed honor, the weekly triumph and failure. I’m hopeful that the posts about preaching give readers some real insight into the twisted and tortured minds of God’s bold proclaimers. And I hope it gives other preachers who might read some comfort in knowing somebody else is going through the exact same things. For a sample of these kinds of posts, you might check out “Ordained by the Community of Christ” and/or “The Sunday Sermon is Brutal.” As you might guess, these could also easily be classified as personal.

Family – I’m a husband of 27-years to an amazing woman and a father to three spectacularly wonderful daughters. And this blog is testimony to how these four ladies bless my life. A reader here never knows if he’s going to encounter an article about Carrie-Anne disrupting a Third Day concert, a play-by-play account of my trip with Whitney to New York City, a personal letter to Valerie as she leaves home for college, or the account of Carley and I waking up at 4:00am to welcome the Blue Bell trucks back to Amarillo after the listeria thing. The girls don’t always appreciate that I write so often about them. They worry about the pictures I post. My hope is that my words about them and to them will mean more later.

Cowboys – It’s in the title. I write a lot about the pro football team in Dallas. 198 of my posts have mentioned something about the Cowboys. My mantra here is that if I can’t say anything critical and mean about the Cowboys I don’t say anything at all. But regular readers are aware that I do compliment the players and the team when they deserve it. The truth is I have a complicated love-hate relationship with my hometown team: I loved them from the date of my birth until the day Jerry Wayne fired Jimmy Johnson and I’ve hated them ever since. What kind of person must you be to fire your coach after he wins back-to-back Super Bowls? What kind of person must you be to hire Barry Switzer? Here’s a post that really illustrates the love-hate nature of my feelings: the day after Jerry released Terrell Owens. It’s interesting that I thought it might be the start of some kind of turnaround. It’s interesting that I thought maybe Jerry was realizing that winning is more important than making money and headlines, that his legacy would be determined by championships and not sponsorships. It’s disturbing that it was eight years ago! And I was wrong. I wrote this post a year-and-a-half ago on the 20th anniversary of the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl appearance. And I wrote this three months ago when Jerry was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on the basis of his sponsorships and money.

Lord’s Supper – The sacrament of the communion meal is a real topic of interest for me. I generally write about the multiple facets of the Lord’s Dinner that we typically neglect, the long and sordid history of the communion meal, and the need to re-imagine the way we celebrate the Eucharist in our worship assemblies. But three years ago I wrote this post about the, um…, extra “potent” grape juice we were all subjected to on a Sunday here at Central. It happens, right? Every now and then something gets messed up somewhere and the juice goes bad. And it was rank on this Sunday! You could smell it when the tray was still three pews away. And you could see it on the faces of every person in the worship center who took a sip. As soon as that service was over, one of our more clever teenagers texted me: “It was either the wine or the sermon, but one made me sleepy.” I received an email the next morning asking me if we needed to raise the traditional Church of Christ “age of accountability” to twenty-one.

Church of Christ – I am eternally grateful for the CofC tradition in which I was raised. I received the Christian faith in the Church of Christ and the Church of Christ has shaped me into the follower of Jesus I am today. I unapologetically laud the strengths of our movement: our unwavering commitment to Scripture, our weekly celebration of the Lord’s Dinner, our high view of baptism as the initiation rite into God’s Kingdom. But, as with all streams of the faith, ours also has some baggage. In 2012 Leroy Garrett wrote a short book called “What Must the Church of Christ Do To Be Saved?” in which he makes 20 suggestions for rescuing our movement from a future extinction. I engaged the book chapter-by-chapter for nearly a month: women’s roles, division, sectarianism, repentance, instrumental music, all of it. I started with this post “Confess That We Have Been Wrong” and went from there. It was a great exercise for me and it prompted important discussion among the readers. If you want to access all two dozen of these articles, search “Leroy Garrett” on this site and you’ll get the list.

Christian Unity – I believe in Christ’s prayer in John 17 for the unity of all his people; I believe that Jesus died on the cross to destroy the barriers that divide his people; I believe Christian unity is the best witness to the power of our Lord; and I believe it is God’s will that his Church work hard to come together. On May 23, 2013 Central’s elders and ministers met at Polk Street United Methodist Church with their elders and ministers and the elders and ministers from First Presbyterian and First Baptist. We prayed together for a couple of hours and began that night what would become “4 Amarillo.” I wrote this post in anticipation of that evening and this post the next morning, full of hope and enthusiasm for what God might be doing in and through our churches for the sake of the city. In the past four years, “4 Amarillo” has become a powerful force for God’s Kingdom here. I can’t tell you how privileged I feel, how blessed by God, to be in on this cooperative effort among our churches.

Christ and Culture – God’s will is that we become more like his Son, that we reflect more of his eternal glory in every part of our lives. From the beginning of time — every period of history, every era, every context, every part of the planet — God’s people have wrestled with how to be faithful in a culture that’s not. It ain’t easy. It’s swimming upstream with the wind in your face and ankle weights on your legs. But it’s our calling. This post about holy emails, written in 2010, asks questions about the nature of the emails we receive and the thought process we take or don’t take before we decided to mass forward them to others. I write about violence, cell phones, war, media, national politics, and language and try to offer reflective suggestions on how Christians are supposed to behave in ways that honor God and point to his risen Son.

Nationalism – Under the umbrella of the Christ and Culture category is the realm of nationalism: equating the Empire of the United States with the Kingdom of God, believing the two are inseparable, confusing our loyalties. The clearest and most recent example is with the current debate over the Johnson Amendment. I addressed that in this post just four months ago. For an older example, I would point you to these three posts I wrote just before the U.S. presidential election in 2008: Church As State, Holy Polis, and Church As State: A Little More. Take your time, read these in order, and pay attention to the compelling conversation in the comments, too. This little series is one of those blog discussions that just don’t seem to happen anymore.

Unexpected Random Greatness – The greatest post in the ten year history of this blog was written on February 6, 2008. That was the day after I accidentally killed Valerie’s birthday gerbil. The post is titled “R.I.P. Cookie” and it’s stinkin’ hilarious. It quotes from WKRP and includes a really funny line from a nine-year-old Carley. To this day, no other post on this site has generated as many comments. Those 35 comments include sadistic requests to knock off other people’s pets, a link to a Super Bowl ad that shows gerbils being shot out of a cannon into a brick wall, and a conciliatory rant that takes off on Allen Iverson’s famous “practice” speech. This is the gold standard of blog posts on this site. Do yourself a favor. Check it out right now.

I’m surprised that this blog, this on-line journal, this forum for sharing observations about our Father and our life with him, is already ten years old. Maybe this thing will go another ten years, maybe it won’t. Whether you’re a regular reader (Hi, mom!) or you got here accidentally because you were searching “Ted Nugent” (sorry!), thank you for reading. And, as I wrote in this space ten years ago, may our God’s will be done through this blog just as it is in heaven.

Peace,

Allan

The Ultimate Feast

Heaven, Lord's Supper, Luke, Unity No Comments »

“People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” ~Luke 13:29

Jesus is talking about heaven when he says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets will be around that table. John’s Revelation tells us that heaven will be the ultimate gathering of “every nation, tribe, people, and language,” the ultimate feast around our Lord’s banquet table.

At communion, we get a small heavenly glimpse of that great eschatological feast. We come together around our Savior’s table. In the eating of the bread and the drinking of the cup, we connect not only to our Lord, but to every person in history — past, present, and future — who’s been saved by the blood of the Lamb. Past the barriers of time and space, we’re united as one

Different people. Different ages. Different cultures. Different languages. Different backgrounds. Different viewpoints. Different habits. Different genders. Different denominations. Different jobs. Different haircuts. Different beliefs. Different likes and dislikes.

Same sin. Same need. Same Lord. Same baptism. Same forgiveness. Same salvation. Same commitment. Same table. Same loaf. Same cup. Same body. Same Church. Same Spirit. Same hope. Same faith. Same God and Father of us all who is over all and through all and in all.

Our communion meal points us to the heavenly meal. It gives us a peek. The way we eat and drink and share the Lord’s Supper must be shaped by our great anticipation of that day when all God’s children will be home, gathered around our Father’s table.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Spirit

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship, Holy Spirit No Comments »

Allow me to pick up where we left off yesterday and conclude this short conversation on holiness.

When you put on Christ in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified, everything becomes brand new. It’s panoramic. It’s all-inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. You’ve got new desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no room for other gods, no place for selfish behavior, no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness. Holiness has to be pushed into the room and dominate what I do and say and think. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

But, I can’t.

I find myself on a holiness roller coaster, some days great, some days awful, some weeks in tune with God and his will, some weeks or months living for my goals instead of his. I want to be holy, I want to live a pure life all the time. But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes 1 Thessalonians 4:8 sound scary: “He who rejects this instruction does not reject man, but God.”

But, I can’t.

I know. Neither can I.

Which makes the rest of the verse a word of divine grace: “…God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.”

Being holy is powered by God’s Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit living inside each one of us that works in us to make us holy. The Spirit is given to us to root out the sin in our lives and lead us in this process of sanctification. Yes, we’re called to be holy; but, praise God, we’re also equipped to be holy! It IS possible, only by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live in holiness. God is the one who makes it happen — not you, not me. God does it through his Son and by the power of his Spirit living in us.

God doesn’t merely provide the holy standard we’re to live by based on his character and holiness. He also provides us with the power and the resources to live that way.

I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Exodus 31
I am the LORD who makes you holy! ~Leviticus 20
God in Christ makes us holy – Hebrews 2
Christ Jesus is our holiness – 1 Corinthians 1
We’re made holy through Jesus – Hebrews 10

The Christian life is not about working to become something you’re not; it’s about being what you already are. God’s Spirit is in us, working to sanctify us, working to make us holy — if we’ll just stop fighting it.

Paul doesn’t tell the Thessalonians to start loving each other and acting right. They already are. He acknowledges how well they’re doing in their walk with Christ. He just encourages them to do more. Take it further. Be so completely wrapped up in God’s claim on your life. Be so totally dependent on Jesus Christ for your salvation. Be so thoroughly led by the Spirit inside you to holiness and sanctification. Ride it, don’t fight it. It’s God’s will, let him do it.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified. It’s what he wants to do. Let him do it.

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

Peace,

Allan

Holy Life

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship No Comments »

“God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:7

Can we take Paul’s instructions regarding our sexuality and sexual expressions and apply them to every part of our lives? The way you handle your money? The way you deal with jobs and career? How you treat your parents? What you do when nobody’s watching? Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica to think about their sexual conduct, not as a separate part of their lives, but within the larger framework of their walk with Christ.

Everything you do, everything you say, everything you think, from the moment you wake up until the minute you go to sleep — God claims all of it! His will is that all of it be holy. We don’t belong to ourselves. Every second, every square inch — we belong to the Holy Creator of the Universe. We need to change the way we look at things. It’s bigger than we think.

Christianity is not, “Hey, God does exist and he makes some demands on me through Jesus.” The Gospel is not a systematic approach to ethics, it’s not a rational understanding of morality. Jesus does not bring a new teaching or a new ethic or a new set of morals. He brings a brand new reality!

If anyone is in Christ: New Creation! Everything’s new. All of creation is brand new. Everything looks new. Everything’s re-interpreted. Jesus is not an add-on to the story; he IS the story! Jesus is not the missing piece to the puzzle; he IS the puzzle and the box it came in! And the card table and chairs and bag of chips and whatever else is in the room! That’s our reality. Our conduct is attached to how we see the world. We act according to our understanding of reality.

Think about what happened to your conduct the day you learned you were pregnant with your first child. Everything you know as reality shifted dramatically. And your priorities change. You spend money differently. You start saving money differently. The things you look at in the store are different. You’re checking consumer reports on baby strollers and car seats. There’s a baby coming! You’re painting your study or your workout room in warm pastels because you want the baby to feel welcomed. You’re buying little things to stick in the plugs and latches for the kitchen cabinets because you want the baby to be safe. Your wife starts eating differently and you can’t find Dr Pepper in the house anymore. The things you talk about and think about are different. Everything’s a little more serious. Your outlook on life becomes a little more big picture.

Why?

Most of this stuff had never occurred to you before. But now you’ve got a brand new reality. New creation. You’re seeing things you’ve never seen before. And your behavior changes to reflect it.

When you put on Christ Jesus in baptism, when you accept God’s will for your life to be holy and sanctified and like his, everything’s new. It’s panoramic. It’s all inclusive. It’s rich and deep and it gets into every crack and crevice of your existence. It all belongs to God and he’s claiming it. New desires, new interests, new instincts, new motivations. There’s no place for selfish behavior. There’s no time to waste in worldly pursuits. There’s only holiness.

God’s claim on my life in Jesus has to be pushed into the room and dominate everything I do and say and think about. It has to. It must be at the very core of my being and the very reason for everything I do.

Peace,

Allan

Holy Sex

1 Thessalonians, Discipleship, Sin 6 Comments »

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

Of the many ways that holiness or sanctification impacts us, Paul focuses on sex. Why? In this particular context, with this specific group of Christians, as far as the apostle is concerned, this is the definition of holiness: Avoid sexual immorality. Why?

Think with me about this first century Hellenistic society in Thessalonica. There’s no real connection between religion and morality. The culture was such that as long as you provided for your wife and you didn’t abuse her physically, it didn’t really matter who you had sex with. No big deal. In this culture, as long as nobody got hurt, anything goes — wherever, whenever, whoever. Culturally, socially, mistresses, concubines, even religiously. Consider what was happening down the street at First Aphrodite Church: Naked priestesses and temple prostitutes — pagan worship rituals were based on and drenched in sex.

Now these brand new Christians are meeting in Jason’s house in Thessalonica for songs and prayers, words of encouragement and a meal. And these new converts to Christ have no understanding of a right or wrong way to behave sexually. This was the main issue for Christians back then.

And it’s the main issue for Christians in the United States today.

We live in a completely sexualized culture. I don’t have to tell you, I don’t have to point it out. It’s everywhere. And don’t think for a minute it’s not a problem in your church. In this country, three out of every four 4-year-olds has his or her own iPad or some kind of device with a search engine. We’re throwing our youngest into the line of fire and calling it good. In middle school, what they’re nonchalantly sharing with each other on Instagram and Snapchat is disturbing. The clothes we let our daughters wear — it’s a problem.

If the statistics are even close — recent surveys of church-going Christians in the U.S. — 77% of the men in your church are looking at pornography at least once a month. Thirty-five percent of the married men in your church have had an extra-marital sexual affair. Christians! Us! I’m not telling you this to point fingers, I’m telling you this so maybe we can get a better grip on the scope of the problem. We live in a hook-up culture where cohabitation before marriage and casual sex outside marriage are normal and we’re carrying easy and ready access to pornography in our pockets. That’s a problem.

How we behave sexually has everything to do with our Christianity. The two are very much connected. Paul shows us that “holy and honorable” are the opposite of “passionate lust.” He points out that “passionate lust” is self-centered and concerned only with my needs and my desires. “Holy and honorable” is concerned with what’s best for others.

Look at the contrast. The heathen don’t know God and they’re sexually immoral. They don’t control their bodies. If you do know God, you don’t act that way.

We know God. And that obligates us to honor him. With all of ourselves. With our bodies.

God’s will for us — to be holy, to be sanctified — is to enjoy sex only within the confines of holy marriage. Anything else — anyone else, anywhere else, anywhen else — is driven by passionate lust and self-seeking desires and it’s not holy.

But, look, my girlfriend and I are having sex. We’re going to get married in a couple of years but, yeah, we’re having sex right now. I have to have sex. We can’t wait that long. I’m a 21-year-old red-blooded American male. What am I supposed to do? If we don’t have sex, I’ll be forced to use pornography to relieve the situation. We either have sex before marriage or I have to go to porn. I’ve got to do one of the two. I don’t have a choice.

Yes, you do have a choice! In the name of Jesus and by the power of his Holy Spirit, you have lots of choices! How about abstaining? How about bringing your personal urges and personal desires into subjection to the lordship of Jesus? How about you and your girlfriend declaring together that Jesus is Lord over your sexuality, over every square inch of your bodies that he created and saved for his holy purposes?

We don’t talk about sex anymore in church because our culture tells us it’s nobody’s business. Sex is personal and private. No! Wrong answer! Sex is not personal or private! Every single sexual thing you do impacts our families, impacts our community, impacts our relationships with God, and impacts his Church. Holy sexual conduct honors and glorifies God and our relationships with each other and our community and our families and the Church. Unholy sexual conduct dishonors all that. It wrongs our brothers and sisters and takes advantage of other people.

God did not call you and save you and come to live inside you so you could live an impure life. We are redeemed and called by our loving Creator to be holy.

Peace,

Allan

Preaching with Tucker

1 Thessalonians, Central Church Family, Intergenerational, Love 1 Comment »

A text this morning from a friend wondered if I had developed some carpel tunnel issues. Yes, it’s been a while since I wrote in this space. No, it has nothing to do with the health of my fingers. I have been out of town three of the past four weeks — in Malibu for the Pepperdine Lectures, on a sabbatical in a nice apartment near the bottom of Ceta Canyon, and in Austin for the annual Sermon Seminar at Austin Grad. I even mixed in a weekend trip to Edmond for my nephew Asa’s high school graduation. So, I appreciate the concern for my physical well-being. Thank you. Consider me back in the groove.

Yesterday marked our summer kickoff here at Central when all our 5th graders are officially promoted into the student ministry. The day is highlighted by the gifting of Bibles and blessings, lunch and a slide show, swimming and bowling, and an all-in youth meeting. But, for me, the best part of my Sunday was preaching with Tucker Haynes.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re a multi-generational church at Central and we are continuously on the lookout for creative ways to experience intergenerational relationships. We want to model and practice church as family. Christian community. Doing life together in Christ. So Sunday we had all of our incoming 6th graders participating in the leading of our worship assembly. Noah Hartman helped Kevin lead our singing. Several of the students read Scripture. And Tucker helped me preach.

The text was 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now about brotherly love…” Tucker worked especially hard the past two weeks on the Greek word for brotherly love, philadelphia, and what exactly Paul means when he tells the Christians in Thessalonica that God has already taught them how to love. And he nailed it! He and I went back and forth — me, trying to remember my memorized manuscript while Tucker read his expertly crafted lines. Tucker had the whole congregation eating out of his hand when he confessed frankly that “brothers and sisters can be annoying.” Then he pulled the rug out from under us with his observation that “We don’t get to pick our brothers and sisters; they are a gift from God.”

Oh, yeah. Central ate him up with a spoon. He was excellent!

I really enjoyed my time with Tucker on Friday, finalizing together everything we were going to do.  I asked him questions about the text and about his relationships with his older brother and sisters.  I listened while he wrestled with using a personal illustration to both connect with the listeners and explain the text. We did a mic check together in the worship center early Sunday morning and prayed together in my office fifteen minutes before the assembly began — he was distracted by the 2011 World Series program on my table and couldn’t hardly pray for lamenting the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz.

Tucker, you were terrific, brother. I’m so blessed by God that you and I are adelphus. And I’d be honored to preach with you any day.

Peace,

Allan