Category: Allan’s Journey (Page 1 of 26)

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 blonde  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.



An Evening with Lonesome George

Blues rocker George Thorogood brought his Destroyers to Midland last night on his “Good  To Be Bad: 45 Years of Rock” tour, and Carrie-Anne and I were sixth row, center stage for the show. It was an hour-and-a-half of Lonesome George’s greatest hits and most familiar songs and I was more than delighted to be there.

George Thorogood is not a mainstream classic rock icon – he  didn’t even sell out the 1,800-seat Wagner-Noel Performing Arts Center last night. But it’s hard to imagine rock and roll even existing without “Bad to the Bone” and “Move It On Over.” Especially “Bad to the Bone.” That opening guitar riff. The stuttering “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-baaaad!” It’s one of those songs that feels eternal, like it’s always been there. And to be in the room with the man who wrote and recorded that song, the man who’s performed that song for more than four decades, a song that everybody in the entire world knows, is really some kind of experience.

The show opened with the house lights completely down, the whole room totally dark, except for a single purple light on the back wall of the stage. Then Barry McGuire’s classic protest song, “Eve of Destruction,” began blaring from the speakers. The whole thing from start to finish. That song was recorded in 1965 but, man, the lyrics could have been written this morning. It’s disturbing. “Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’; you’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’.””Handful of senators don’t pass legislation.” “Marches alone can’t bring integration.” “Hate your next door neighbor but don’t forget to say grace.” It’s unsettling. And real.

Then George strutted onto the stage and the world’s only five-man trio tore into “Rock Party” and it was on. Ninety minutes of hard-core bluesy-boogie rock and roll. “Who Do You Love?” “Night Time.” The cult-classic “House Rent Blues.” The aforementioned “Bad to the Bone” and “Move It On Over.” And two songs from my favorite George Thorogood album, “Maverick,” “Gear Jammer” and “I Drink Alone.”

That “Maverick” album was released over Christmas 1984-85, just a week before my last semester of high school. The Zoo, 98FM, the station we all listened to in Dallas, played that opening track, “Gear Jammer” like crazy that whole spring and summer of 1985. The guitar in that song is just blistering. Fast and frantic. The solo in the middle is borderline heavy metal. And I absolutely ate it up. I wore out that “Maverick” cassette tape in my ’74 Monte Carlo all through my last months of high school and up and down I-35 on my way to and from Oklahoma City during college. And to watch Lonesome George burn that song up last night was exhilarating for me.

It’s not quite as exhilarating for Carrie-Anne. She goes with me and sits respectfully through the whole thing; she’s a trooper. But it’s definitely not her bag. I think she’s amused at my enjoyment in watching a 73-year-old man play guitar and sing an old song. And that’s about it.

It is pretty interesting to watch these old rockers in concert. Some of them age really well. And others not so much. Guys like Tom Petty and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers understand their age and the age of their audience and they act appropriately. They don’t pretend like they’re in their 20s. Or that we are. They sing the songs we all love, show appreciation and grace, self-deprecate about their age and their past, and really connect with the fans. George Thorogood didn’t do as well in that category last night. He acted like he was forty years younger than he is. He was trying too hard to be cool and sexy. “I’m going to do everything I can to get arrested tonight!” It was strange. “I belong to AU! Alcoholics Unanimous!” Don’t say that, grandpa. It was a little uncomfortable at times. A pelvic thrust from a pudgy 73-year-old man who’s sweating and out of breath doesn’t work. At one point, George hollered, “Isn’t it great to be 17 again!” No. Wait. That’s weird.

I wish he would have performed another song or two off “Maverick” and maybe “You Talk Too Much,” but those would have been deep cuts. He could have played a slower, more overtly bluesie song like “The Sky is Cryin'” or “Woman with the Blues” but, again, those would have been deep cuts when last night was clearly all about the rock and roll hits. Overall, it was a tremendous show in an intimate venue and I’m so glad we went.

When the encore was complete and the band exited the stage, the “Star Spangled Banner” began blaring over the speakers. No lyrics, just the music, the familiar U.S. national anthem, a full orchestra recording, big sound. What? The whole song. Empty stage. The audience filing up the aisles and out the doors. While the national anthem played.

“Eve of Destruction.” “Star Spangled Banner.” The show in the middle.

This is the world we live in; be reminded that everything’s pretty awful. Here’s some diversionary fun; have a good time with your music and your friends. Now back to pledging allegiance to the mess. Put your hand over your heart and act like nothing’s happening, like nothing needs to change, like everything’s okay. Maybe? I don’t know. There was no explanation. That’s the thing with art. If it’s done well, it will provoke you to serious reflection and thought. Even at a frivolous rock and roll concert. Or you can ignore it, I guess.

I’m still thinking about it today. Trying to figure it out. Well done, George. Thanks for coming to Midland.



TC 14 Reunion in Midland

I was overjoyed to reunite today with a couple of running buddies from my two year Transforming Community experience in Chicago. I met Dana and Billie on the first evening of the first TC retreat because they introduced themselves as living in Texas and, you know, we Texans like to stick together. I was so blessed by God to spend those nine retreats over those two years with these two wonderful sisters – to worship with them, to pray with them, to eat with them, to process Ruth’s teachings with them, to laugh with them, and to hang out in the airport together as we nervously held our breath wondering if the snow would strand us in Chicago. As we boarded our plane to Amarillo and they boarded theirs to Midland, I always wondered what it would be like to live where they do in West Texas.

Well, it’s high winds, brown skies, and lunch at Murray’s Deli.

I’m grateful to God today for the chance to catch up with Dana and Billie and their families and the work they do today with the Transforming Community. I’m encouraged to hear how our Lord is presently at work in their lives.  And I’m so glad we finally hooked up for lunch together and very easily picked up right where we left off – talking about our mutual TC experiences and friends, praising God for what he has done and is about to do in this city, and praying his blessings on each other and our ministries.

Dana and Billie are longtime faithful members of First Methodist Church here in Midland. And now it’s on me to get with their pastor, Steve Brooks, before they do.



Triple Shot Sunday

Three observations from a jam-packed Lord’s Day in Midland, Texas.

We are attempting to move our communion time at GCR in a direction that makes the Lord’s Meal more communal and less individualistic, more participatory and less observance, more sharing and less partaking. While the trays for the bread were being passed yesterday, we asked our church family to talk with one another in their seats about their favorite parts of the Christmas season. That seemed innocent enough. Non-threatening. Then when we passed the trays with the cups, we asked everyone to tie their favorite parts of Christmas to Jesus. How do those favorite things connect to Christ? How do those favorite things remind us of Jesus or honor Jesus or point to Jesus? That seemed a little more difficult.

Our youngest daughter, Carley, mentioned right out of the gate that her favorite parts of Christmas are family and food. When it came to connecting those things to Christ, I offered that Jesus came here to bring all people into his family, to create a holy family connected to one another in him. As for food? Carley didn’t hesitate to say, “The feast. Eating and drinking with Jesus as his table. Jesus ate with everybody. And so do we.”

Oh, that made my heart feel so good.

It was good to overhear Eddie and Carol having a similar conversation with their grandchildren in the pew behind us. It was encouraging to watch these conversations taking place all over the worship center. We’re trying to make the Lord’s Supper more of a true communion at GCR. Connecting our everyday lives and events – and the seasonal events, too – to Christ is another way to obey the command to eat and drink together in remembrance of him. And it’s more communal.


After yesterday’s win over WFT, the Cowboys have a three-game lead in the NFL’s worst division with four to play – a playoff berth is now a done deal. But how good do you feel about it?

Something’s wrong with Dak. Still. He threw two picks yesterday and Washington dropped at least two others. Prescott’s inexcusable pick six late in the game almost derailed the entire afternoon. He’s not reading zone coverages, he’s miscommunicating with his wide receivers, and he’s sailing balls over everybody’s heads.

Elliot ran for a grand total of 45 yards. The Cowboys offense only scored one touchdown, and that was a 41-yard drive after a turnover. Four Dallas drives ended with super short field goals of 35, 28, 37, and 29 yards. We call that playing between the 20s, bogging down in scoring territory.

This was against a six-win WFT that was completely decimated on both sides of the ball with injuries. This was after shipping their own sideline benches to FedEx Field to make sure the heated seats worked. This was after Mike McCarthy made a weird “guarantee” of victory to the media.

The Cowboys are going to win the NFC East and host a Wild Card playoff game. But does it matter? The way the team is playing right now, the way they’ve been playing for the past seven weeks, they can’t beat Arizona, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, or the Rams. They’re not even in that same universe. I guarantee it.


Last night, my new friend Gary and I took in 66.667% of ZZ Top at the Wagner-Noel here in Midland. Obviously, it’s not the same without Dusty Hill – we knew that going in. But, good night, it’s still pretty stinkin’ good.

We had great seats at this tiny, intimate venue – it only seats 1,800 – sixth row dead center. Longtime ZZ Top guitar tech Elwood Francis played bass and attempted some vocals and mostly stayed in the background while drummer Frank Beard and ZZ Top founder and front man Billy Gibbons did the heavy lifting. And, for all intents and purposes, it was a standard ZZ Top concert, very much like the seven or eight I’ve attended before.

They played all the hits, everything you would expect from a ZZ Top show, except maybe “Cheap Sunglasses.” They ran through everything from “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “La Grange” to “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Sharp Dressed Man” and all points in between. They went deep, way deep, with a B side from their very first album called “Brown Sugar.” They brought out the fuzzy guitars for “Legs.” They changed the words in “Head’s in Mississippi” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” to reflect our locale in Midland. They covered “Sixteen Tons.” They engaged in their signature choreography, minor steps and subtle hand motions that Gibbons describes as “low energy, high impact.” They played for an hour-and-a-half with nothing but a three-minute break in the middle. In other words, they delivered.

And by “they,” I mean Billy Gibbons.








The Reverend Billy G is more than capable of carrying a show by himself. He is an icon of Texas music, a rock and roll ambassador for the Republic for more than 52 years. He’s a legendary Hall of Fame songwriter and guitar player. He plays a blistering electric guitar with incredible precision and dramatic flair. He has such fun doing it that everyone watching can’t help but have fun, too. He’s both traditionally conservative and wildly innovative at the same time. He puts on an amazing show. Every time.

But it’s not ZZ Top without Dusty Hill.

Gibbons paid appropriate tribute to Dusty at the beginning of the concert and he modified the lyrics to “Jesus Just Left Chicago” to include his partner’s name. But, man, it felt different. Dusty’s harmonies were gone. Elwood attempted to blend his voice with Gibbons’ during the songs from the Eliminator album and it was okay. But during most of the show, it was solo Gibbons. Which is fine. But it’s not ZZ Top. Hill’s harmonizing gave the group its depth. And Hill’s antics gave the group its energy. While Gibbons sings with a low gravely bass, Hill always sang with an excitable energy that was contagious. Much higher pitch. Almost frantic. I’ve always imagined it was Dusty who came up with their choreographed dance moves – it just seems like something he would do. ZZ Top has always been a two-man show, Dusty and Billy playing off each other, making each other better, singing together, laughing at each other, in perfect lockstep literally and figuratively for 52 years. Last night was a Billy Gibbons show with a backup band. Again, it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was really, really great. But it’s not ZZ Top.

I wondered how they were going to sing “Tush” without Dusty. It’s a signature ZZ Top song, one of their all-time biggest hits, and a concert staple. But it’s also one of the few on which Dusty sang the lead. How were they going to do this? Would they even try?

Turns out, the last song of the encore, the final number of the night, was a recording of Dusty’s voice as he sang “Tush” at his last ever concert last spring. They’ve singled out the vocals so they can play it alone, so Dusty can sing his favorite song with Billy’s guitar and Frank Beard’s drums. So we could all sing with Dusty Hill again just like we have for five decades.

At every show, Billy Gibbons always says ZZ Top is “the same three guys, same three chords.” Last night he said, “Three guys, three chords.” Close, yes. And good, of course. But not quite the same.



Blue Sky Midland. Day One.

Yesterday was opening day for the newest Blue Sky location, right here off Loop 250 and Midkiff Road in Midland. So, yes, Carrie-Anne and I were there for lunch. She ordered her usual sliders and crispy fries and I went with the cheeseburger all the way and fried jalapeno rings and it tasted exactly right. Which is to say, it tasted just like heaven. Oh, my.

The buns baked fresh daily right there in the restaurant, the fresh beef trucked in daily from Amarillo, the just-right amount of batter on those fries and rings – it was perfect. It tasted exactly like eating at the original Blue Sky that opened up on I-40 and Western in Amarillo in 1975 and just like the second location on Coulter. Vintage signs. Local ads embedded in the table tops (Hello, DeLaura Gammage). Wide open dining room with plenty of space. And, good grief, those burgers. Indescribable.

I’ve not eaten at the newer Blue Skys in Lubbock or Abilene. I’ve been afraid that branching out too much might water down the Blue Sky product and the experience. But I have no worries now. Friday’s first meal at the Midland Blue Sky was outstanding in every way. As were the Oreo and peppermint shakes made with real Blue Bell ice cream and hand spun with love.

The new Midland Blue Sky is exactly halfway between our house and the GCR church building. Five minutes from home, five minutes from work. Everything about our move to West Texas has now fallen perfectly into place.



The Night Before

It’s Saturday in Midland, Texas. But Sunday is coming. And not just any Sunday. Tomorrow is a special Sunday. A watershed Sunday. A pivotal Sunday for my preaching ministry and for Golf Course Road Church of Christ.

Tomorrow I will attempt to speak a Word from our God to several hundred people I don’t yet know. As their preacher. As the one they have ordained to speak to them, to encourage them, to challenge them, to instruct and correct them, to lead them and to love them. By God’s grace and by the mysterious work of his Holy Spirit, these people at this historically great church in West Texas have called me to join their community of faith and preach for them. Preach with them. I am honored to do so. And I’m nervous.

Tomorrow I join a long list of faithful men who’ve stood before this church and dared to preach the Word. Doug Parsons. Randy Fenter. Ronnie White. Mike Cope. Tod Brown. Many others. For a very long time, these people have been used to some of the very best preaching there is. It’s incredibly humbling to be a part of that now, to be inserted into this formidable line.

Carrie-Anne and I feel very much at peace with our move, very certain that our Lord has pushed us here and that he wants us in Midland with these people at this time for his very specific Gospel purposes. I am calm about tomorrow and prayerful that our God will speak through me the affirmation and encouragement I know he wants to give his children at GCR.

Tonight I feel very blessed by our God and incredibly honored by the church at GCR, these good people I don’t really know yet. I am confident that tomorrow is going to be a really good day and that my family and this church family are embarking on a long and fruitful partnership together.

May God bless us richly with his grace and peace. And may he bless his church at GCR. May our Lord do whatever he wants in and through us together and may we embrace it with imagination and vision and joy to his eternal glory and praise!




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