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Where He Leads

For the past several years it’s become clear that the word “evangelical” has very little, if anything, to do with Christianity or religion. It’s not a Christian term anymore. It’s been misused and redefined by the politicians and media in the United States for so long now that it’s become a purely secular word. A national political term.

One of the more obvious manifestations of this is in the way African Americans are left out. Have you noticed that the media will not refer to African Americans as “evangelicals?” Christians of color may have a high regard for the Bible, they may focus on the atonement of Christ through the cross, they may be committed to proclaiming the Gospel, they may believe the Gospel changes lives and changes the world — they may embody every facet of the classic definition of “evangelical.” But because African Americans vote heavily for Democratic candidates, the media will not call them “evangelicals.” The term is strictly political now. “Evangelical” means Republican. “Evangelical” means guns and lower taxes and immigration reform and repealing Obamacare.

There are a lot of reasons this matters so much. One of the main reasons is that our young people now identify traditional Christianity with right wing American politics. This development has been analyzed and discussed in every “unchristian” and “You Lost Me” type of book that’s been written in the past twenty years. Young people are not leaving the Church because they reject Christ Jesus as Lord, they’re leaving the Church because they reject the national politics that appear to go with it.

That’s a problem for all of us. Whatever our national political beliefs and practices — left or right, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal — they shouldn’t be wrapped up in God’s Church because they all eventually come into conflict with God’s ways. And our young people see right through it.

I was privileged to be in attendance at Hope Network’s Preacher Initiative in Dallas last month when Dr. Mallory Wyckoff delivered a powerful sermon on the disconnect between what we teach our young people in our churches and what they actually experience in and through us who do the teaching. Her sermon was gut-level honest and penetrating. Eye-opening. Inspiring. The language soared and the message cut straight to the heart of the Gospel.

Mallory has graciously provided me with a manuscript of her sermon, “Where You Lead I Will Follow” from Matthew 23. You can find the entire sermon posted to her website here. But I’d like to share a couple of excerpts in this space.

Mallory began by praising the church and the church people who raised her in the faith. She expressed her admiration and love for those men and women who shaped her as a child of God.

“To be sure, I was loved. I was loved really well. I was made to believe that I had worth, that I could pursue the dreams that surged within, that God would guide me as I took each clumsy step. I was nurtured in the Christian faith from the womb, loved and cared on by my community, educated in their schools, formed in their churches. I attended their youth groups and summer camps, wore their T-shirts and sang their songs. These people invested in me, gave of their time and resources to help me grow into the woman I am now. For all of this and for more, I am grateful.”

Mallory then moved to unashamedly hold the mirror up to the troubling inconsistencies she noticed when she actually began to read the Bible her church told her to read and follow the Christ her church told her to follow.

“[I] observed that Jesus seemed to care an awful lot about the poor and marginalized, giving them food and dignity, binding their wounds and healing their bodies. But when I named the gross inequities between the rich and poor in our country and asked what we might do to overcome this, they called me a socialist…

They told me about the cross of Christ and insisted this was a central feature of our faith. So I spent time reflecting on the cross and observed it as the culmination of Jesus’ consistent refusal to employ violent means. I took to heart his teachings that the swords we live by surely are the ones by which we will die, that we are to love our enemies and, perhaps, this might mean to not kill them. I wondered how I could follow this Christ with any integrity in my heart if I also carried a gun in my hand or on my hip. But when I asked my church about these things, they told me this was unrealistic, that Jesus’ teachings are for individuals but have nothing to say to nation-states, and that I should fear the nation-state taking from me the very weapons Jesus warned against.

They took me to the baptismal font and buried me with Christ beneath the waters, calling on me to live into the newness of life in Christ, proclaiming that my identity is found therein, and I swore my allegiance to Christ. But when I began asking about all of the myriad allegiances we seem to hold in conflict with the lordship of Christ, that perhaps nationalism is the most dangerous kind of idolatry, they told me I was not a good patriot.

They taught me about the early church, a marginalized sect seeking to live into the Kingdom in the midst of empire. They told me stories of the church’s courage, even in the face of persecution and death, and of their commitment to the way of Christ. But when I began wondering about how the empire in which we find ourselves dehumanizes black and brown bodies, they told me I didn’t show enough respect for the flag and for country and for every other symbol that bears Caesar’s image even while the body count for image bearers of God keeps climbing…”

Mallory’s critique comes straight out of Scripture, directly out of the prophets’ mouths and our Savior’s heart. She articulates so well what stirs my own soul and what burdens my shoulders and my mind, but what I have such difficulty describing. She perfectly says what I’m thinking.

Our priorities are out of whack. Our identities are compromised. We’re seeing issues to be argued instead of people to be loved. We think first as Republicans or Democrats, as political conservatives or liberals, and not first as disciples of Jesus. Our positions are solidified and our decisions are made through the lenses of our race, our zip code, our political affiliations, and not first and foremost by our identity as baptized followers of the Christ.

The younger generations coming up behind us see it. And they feel it.

You already know my position on all this. The United States is not going to be changed by votes or parties. It’s not going to be saved by force of numbers or force of rhetoric. It’s going to be saved, along with the rest of the world, by Christ Jesus. And his way is about love and forgiveness, sacrifice and service. And peace. Our Christianity should be defined by those things. Our congregations should be characterized by those things. Our young people need to see that in us first. And last. And every place in between.

Mallory ends her sermon with a genuine humility and grace that are sometimes missing from mine. She expresses her deep love for the ones who’ve gone before and she confesses that she is no better. She sees the hypocrisy and duplicity in her elders, but is self-aware enough to know she’s capable of the same missteps.

“I am neither different from nor better than the ones who taught me to follow Christ and dismissed the places he took me. Like them, I say one thing and do another, unaware of the ones who suffer because of my ignorance. I tell [my daughter] to follow Jesus no matter where he takes her, even and especially when it’s a path I reject or dismiss. I tell her that she will have to differentiate between the heart of God and the ways I do or do not reflect this God. I tell her to follow Christ, wherever he may lead. May we have the courage to follow him, too.”

Thank you, Mallory, for these challenging words. Thank you for your boldness and your grace. May our God bless us all to see more clearly and to follow more faithfully.

Peace,

Allan

College Night at Central

The Cowboys and Redskins are playing tonight in Arlington, both teams at 5-6, both teams more or less playing out the string now, pretty much out of any kind of playoff running. Still, it’s Cowboys-Redskins. And, still, there’s no better day-to-day, week-in-and-week-out drama than Jerry Wayne’s Cowboys. To get you ready for tonight, I highly recommend this excellent piece by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell. It’s a lengthy and detailed analysis of the Cowboys’ problems since Ezekiel Elliot began serving his suspension. Barnwell makes a really strong case that the Cowboys aren’t missing Elliot as much as Dak Prescott is faltering at quarterback. If you ever wanted to make the case that Prescott only looks good because of Zeke, now would be the time to do it — Dak has thrown more interceptions over the past three games than he did his entire rookie season.  But Barnwell expertly outlines how the running game is putting up the same numbers without Elliot as they did with their superstar back. And he accurately spreads the blame around to injuries, receivers, coaching, and offensive line. And Dak.

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One of the many intentionally intergenerational events we hold here at Central is our annual college night.  We bring in recruiters from ACU, OC, LCU, West Texas A&M, Amarillo College, OU, and Texas Tech. And they bring their T-shirts and posters and catalogues. We invite our entire church to show up in their college gear, supporting their schools and interacting with the Central middle school and high school students who are shopping for colleges. And it’s always a fun night. We give away door prizes and play silly trivia games. And we encourage our younger people to talk to our older people about where they went to school.

I enjoy reminiscing about the good ol’ days with fellow Oklahoma Christian alums like Jeff & Michelle and Steve & Connie. It’s fun to talk to our Central teenagers about college life. Their reactions, too, are interesting. It’s almost like they can’t imagine their old preacher really being a teenager and living in a dorm and going to college.

I’m grateful to belong to a church that places such an emphasis on intergenerational relationships. I’m thankful that, even though it’s sometimes hard to determine whether anything’s being accomplished, we keep plugging away at forcing our older and younger people into the same rooms together. It matters.

Thank you to OC recruiter Lauren Bridgeforth for making the trip to Amarillo. And thanks to Adam and Tanner and the Adees for pulling off a fabulously fun evening.

Peace,

Allan

Remarkable Low

The NFL has announced that the Cowboys-Giants game set for prime-time on Sunday December 10 has now been flexed out of the 3:30pm slot to be replaced by Seattle-Jacksonville. Let me repeat: The Cowboys-Giants game has been moved to 12:00 noon on Sunday December 10 in favor of Seahawks-Jaguars.

Let that sink in.

The last time the Giants and Cowboys faced each other at noon on a December Sunday was 2005.

Yes, the Cowboys and Giants play each other twice a year, but their games are a TV exec’s bread-and-butter. This is an intense 60-year division rivalry with two huge fan bases and two of the top media markets in the country. But the game has been moved to noon for Jaguars-Seahawks.

Yes, the Giants are woefully awful this season. Yeah, nobody wants to watch Geno Smith at quarterback for a lame duck coach nobody’s ever heard of. But the now 22-year irrelevancy of the Cowboys is also a factor here that cannot be ignored. Dallas is on its way to yet another .500 or worse season, they won’t make the playoffs, and it’s going to take outsiders — TV executives, NFL brass, jersey sales in Great Britain, whatever — to do what Jerry Wayne won’t: pull the plug on this experiment already!

Yikes.

Allan

Here’s Looking at You

My kids tell me I’ve ripped this off from the movie “27 Dresses” which, as God is my witness, I’ve never seen. But when I’m at a wedding and the bride makes her appearance at the back of the church and begins to walk down that center aisle, I do turn my attention to the groom. I want to watch the groom as he sees his beautiful bride. Because the way that groom looks at the bride is the way our God looks at his Church.

Scripture tells us that God wants to be much more to us than just a mighty king with loyal subjects. He wants to be the groom to the bride. He wants a relationship of intimate love with us as profound and eternal as that between a husband and a wife. God calls himself the groom throughout the Old Testament.

“‘They broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 31:32

Jesus calls himself the groom in the Gospels and compares the Kingdom of God to a massive wedding feast.

“How can the guests of the groom fast while he is with them?” ~Mark 2:19

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son… All things are ready! Come to the wedding banquet!” ~Matthew 22:1-4

And at the end of time, when everything is finally made right and all of our Father’s plans have culminated in the new heavens and new earth and perfectly righteous relationships with him and one another, there’s going to be a wedding feast to end all wedding feasts!

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” ~Revelation 21:2

“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” ~Revelation 19:9

This coming feast celebrates finally the intimate and permanent union of God and his people. This is how history ends. This is what God is doing.

When God uses a metaphor to help us see him better, it also helps us better understand how he sees us. God calls us his Father, he calls us his children, and then Jesus says, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more…?”

If God is our groom, then he must really love us. He must truly delight in us.

What does the bride look like when she walks down that aisle? How does her groom see her? Have you ever watched the groom?

When the groom sees her, he’s absolutely delighted. You can see the love in his eyes. You can almost feel the commitment in his heart. You can sense the complete devotion to her in the deepest part of his soul. He’ll do anything for her for the rest of his life, he’ll stop at nothing to protect her and provide for her and please her, he’ll dedicate his whole existence to loving her forever — you can see it in the way he looks at her!

How dare our Lord use a metaphor like that! How dare the Scriptures tap into this really powerful image and its accompanying emotions!

Could it be that he really loves us like that? That he really loves you that much? That God is that committed to you?

How different would your life be if you lived every day — hour by hour, moment by moment — in the awareness of God’s great love for you? He’s looking at you right now. He thinks you’re beautiful. He’s proud of you. And he loves you more than our words can describe.

Peace,

Allan

Happy Thanksgiving

Mom and Dad up from East Texas and Valerie home from OC.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us around the same table in the same house for the first time in a long time.

Grace & Peace,
Allan

A Special Night at First Baptist

A Baptist church suffered a terrible fire. The congregation immediately launched a campaign to raise money to build a new building. One especially enthusiastic fund raiser called the Church of Christ preacher across town and asked if he’d be willing to donate a hundred dollars to the cause. After a thoughtful pause, the Church of Christ preacher replied, “Friend, you know I can’t give you a hundred dollars to build a new Baptist church in this town. But I can give you a thousand dollars to help you tear down the old one.”

I am so thankful to belong to a group of churches in downtown Amarillo — elders and board members, pastors and ministers, and more than three thousand Christians — that are committed to loving one another, supporting one another, praying for one another, and moving heaven and earth to help one another. I am grateful to God to be in the middle of a group of Christ-followers who are so willing and eager to put our denominational differences in their proper perspective and lock arms and hearts to worship together and serve this city together in the name and manner of Jesus. Every single thing our four churches do together serves as a powerful testimony and an undeniable witness to Amarillo and beyond that our God really is who he says he is and he’s really doing everything he promises he’s going to do.

The “4 Amarillo” churches — First Presbyterian, Polk Street United Methodist, First Baptist, and Central — came together for our fifth annual Thanksgiving Service last night. Our four churches’ praise teams and choirs combined for a hundred-member ensemble that opened the evening with a bouncy “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made” and closed it with a soaring rendition of “By Our Love.” The room was packed — more than a thousand — the energy was up, the spirit was one of enthusiasm and encouragement. Congregationally we sang “When We All Get to Heaven,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Give Thanks,” “How Great is Our God,” and “How Great Thou Art.” Howard Griffin led us in a powerful responsive reading from Psalm 136. Howie Batson’s benediction inspired. And I was privileged to deliver the evening’s message from John 13:34-35, “Love One Another. Period.”

Privileged is the right word. Blessed. Honored by our Lord to be in the middle of something only God could do. It’s hard for me to put into words the significance of what we do together as “4 Amarillo.” I know there must be other places in Texas and certainly around this country where churches from different denominations worship and work in true partnership and fellowship together. There have to be; I just don’t know of any.

I feel especially blessed to experience so regularly here this heaven on earth. Our Lord went to the cross to eradicate the barriers between us and God and between all of God’s people. Jesus’ prayer on earth was that all of his followers would be united, that we would all be one just as he and the Father are one. And we know that on that last day of glory, all of God’s people for all time will be gathered together around his table, to eat and drink in his presence, at the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. And, by God’s grace, we are doing that right here in downtown Amarillo! Who would have ever guessed? God be praised!

“The time is now: come, Church, arise!
Love with his hands, see with his eyes.
Bind it around you, let it never leave you,
and they will know us by our love!”

Peace,

Allan

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