Category: Spiritual Formation (Page 1 of 4)

Blended Worship

Here’s my calendar for the next two weeks:

Wednesday May 22 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 1
Thursday May 23 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 1
Friday May 24 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 2
Saturday May 25 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 2
Sunday May 26 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 3
Monday May 27 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 3
Tuesday May 28 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 4
Wednesday May 29 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 4
Thursday May 30 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 5
Friday May 31 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 5
Saturday June 1 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 6
Sunday June 2 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 6
Monday June 3 – Dallas Mavericks Western Conference Finals Game 7 (if necessary)
Tuesday June 4 – Dallas Stars Western Conference Finals Game 7 (if necessary)

We’re a long way from this–we’re only halfway through both of these championship tournaments. But what if Dallas becomes “Title Town” and the Cowboys have nothing to do with it!

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Here at GCR Church we practice what a lot of people call a blended style of worship. Blended worship. Some people call it mutually miserable. With blended worship, we are equal opportunity offenders. Everybody’s miserable part of the time. There’s some part of this worship service you’re going to hate–we guarantee it!

I make fun of it. But, most of the time, I’m pushing for it. Because, if nothing else, it’s a way of driving home the point that we are not a monolithic church of just one style or one generation or one approach. We’re a diverse family of Christian disciples. So, every Sunday, we sing a pretty good mix of newer contemporary worship songs and older classic hymns. We do it all.

It helps us, I think, to emphasize that our Christian faith and our community of faith at GCR is not a one-track deal. We’re trying our best to foster a culture where everybody connects with God. We’re not perfect at this. But we try to communicate with our blended styles and practices that everybody is invited, that everybody is welcome, that everybody can hear and be heard, and that everybody can sing their song.

And that God will transform us when we sing somebody else’s song.

Peace,

Allan

Remembering Dr. Weed

In December 2006, I was given the honor and the horror of being selected to “roast” Dr. Michael Weed at the faculty-student Christmas party at Austin Graduate School of Theology. The five minute bit was part of a video we students made as the main entertainment for the evening. I played Dr. Weed giving a lecture on New Testament theology to a class of a dozen or so diligent note-takers. And I played up every one of Dr. Weed’s idiosyncrasies and habits.

I exaggerated the way Dr. Weed dug into both eyes with the heels of his hands as he tried to remember a name or a date from the Middle Ages. I overdid the way he rubbed his forehead with all ten fingers as he contemplated the answer to a student’s question that had nothing to do with the topic at hand. I made fun of how Dr. Weed would talk randomly about seemingly unrelated events from different continents and centuries and then connect them all together to drive home his point that you didn’t even know he was making.

I quoted a lot of his well-worn lines like, “I’m old enough to say this book was written five years ago and it was really thirty” and “I wanna say this carefully…” and “I don’t want this to sound pejorative” and “I’ll give you a chance to push back on that in a minute.”

At one point in the video I mimicked Dr. Weed’s breakneck lecturing pace. We showed closeups of students doing their best to keep up. One student’s desk was littered with nubs of pencils he’d gone through. We used matches and slow motion to make it look like one student’s pen was literally catching on fire as she tried to keep up. I said one of Dr. Weed’s most used lines: “Am I going too fast? I’ll slow down.” And then I started talking even faster.

“Think with me…”
“We can do ethics in theology. Or are we doing theology in history? What class is this?”
“Fair enough?”
“Oh, Bernice!”

I ended the video with the way Dr. Weed always ended every single one of his lectures. “Peace.”

Later in the evening, Dr. Weed began his encouragement to the students by pointing out to everyone how foolish it was of me to put that performance on video the week before finals.

Those two years at Austin Grad were a formative time for me and Dr. Weed was at the very front and center of it all. I was reading the Bible for the first time as a narrative, as the Story of our God and his people, instead of a verse here and a verse there pulled out of context to support an argument. Scriptural dots were being connected. My faith in the Lord and his salvation mission was becoming more important than my strict adherence to a set of rules. I was appreciating Church history for the very first time in my life. I was understanding for the first time that tradition is the living faith of the dead and traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. He introduced me to Karl Barth and Augustine, Reinhold Niebuhr and Neil Postman, Bonhoeffer and Erasmus. He taught me about the sacral framework of our communities and churches. He showed me how we are being formed all the time by everything around us; nothing is neutral, everything is created or made for a purpose; form is function; the medium is the message. He personally worked with me through some of my early issues with what he called “theological puberty.” In my second year at Austin Grad I made sure I spent at least one afternoon per week in his office talking about theology and ministry, the current state and the coming future of our congregation in Marble Falls and the Church in America as a whole.

During my first seven or eight years preaching, a month did not go by that I didn’t consult my old Austin Grad notebooks to find a quote or an illustration from Dr. Weed that would help me in a sermon. The exact analogy. The perfect example. Dr. Weed made nearly half of my early sermons tolerable instead of torture.

After every lecture, Dr. Weed would stop and say, “Now, here’s how the Church needs to hear this. Here’s why this matters.” And it would get really practical really fast. Here’s what’s happening to Christians, this is what they are hearing and believing and doing, and here’s where the Scriptures can better form us. Here’s where the history can inform us. Here’s how our faith can transform us. When I returned to Austin Grad for a sermon seminar he would always ask me, “Allan, how are your people being formed?” It was always top-notch world-class scholarship with Dr. Weed. But it was always for the Church.

Dr. Weed finished his race on Saturday. He ran well. Very well. He died in Austin, loved by our God, forgiven by Christ Jesus, and filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit of our Lord.

The tributes and memorials will be many over the next few days. Here’s a link to a beautiful piece authored by Todd Hall. Even if you’ve never heard of Michael Weed, this tribute by Todd is worth the read. Todd shares a letter Dr. Weed wrote to him after Todd’s wife died in 2000, a wonderful portrait of a teacher who genuinely loves his Lord and loves his students.

Dr. Weed is a renowned Christian scholar, a prolific writer, and a beloved teacher. His impact on preachers and churches and the Kingdom of God can never truly be measured. I am just one of his thousands of students. He was my teacher. So influential. I admire him and his thinking and his faith so much. My careful attention to Christian formation is a gift from Dr. Weed to me and to the churches where I’ve preached. Transformation and mission. Formation zones. Christian practices and spiritual disciplines. Ecumenical partnerships. 4Amarillo and 4Midland. All of that grows from seeds Dr. Weed planted in me and nurtured by faith during those crucial two years at Austin Grad.

I use the word “pejorative” because of Dr. Weed. I’m extra sensitive to the damaging effect of digital technologies because of Dr. Weed. And I sign every blog and every bulletin article and every letter and card with “Peace” because of Dr. Weed.

I thank God today for Dr. Weed. I praise God that he placed Dr. Weed right in front of me when I first started hungering and thirsting for a closer relationship with the Lord and growing in my desire to answer God’s calling to congregational ministry. May our heavenly Father bless all those who are grieving today. May we all be comforted by the many memories of how Dr. Weed impacted us, our ministries, and our faith. And may our Lord receive Dr. Weed into his loving and faithful arms on that great day of eternal resurrection that is coming very soon.

Peace.

Allan

Running with Word & Prayer

April 15. The day we realize that taxation with representation ain’t that great, either.

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I want to share some pictures from our latest Running the Race evening here at GCR. For five straight Wednesdays we are intentionally mixing up our younger people with our older people–worshiping together, playing silly games and eating ice cream together, reading Scripture and praying together. This past Wednesday, our children and youth group again led us in worship. We spent five minutes moving around the Worship Center praying over one another and asking others to pray over us. And then we spent the last 40-minutes or so with a few Christian practices.

 

 

 

 

 

We set up ten stations inside and around our Worship Center and asked everyone to spend ten minutes or so at three of them. The stations were all self-led. Some of the activities lent themselves more to group participation and others to individual reflection. Some were geared specifically toward the children and others toward more seasoned Christians. But for the entire 40-minutes, there were always at least six or seven people at each station, engaging God in creative ways through prayer and the Scriptures.

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the Christian practices could be classified as ancient spiritual disciplines: borrowed prayer, lectio divina, praying the Psalms, discernment. Some of the stations featured newer ways to experience God through Word and prayer: eating the Word with drops of honey and wax paper on our Bibles, macaroni necklaces inspired by Deuteronomy 6,  and a couple of art projects.

 

 

 

 

 

J.E. Bundy said it best after it was over. The beautiful thing about these Running the Race events is that we’re not talking about what the church is or what the church should be doing. We’re just doing it. And being it. In our Church of Christ heritage, we have probably leaned a little too far into the Knowledge Zone as a way to connect with God and with one another. Now, we’re finally making room to just be the people God is calling us to be and we’re discovering the salvation power in it. Transparency. Vulnerability. Blessing others. Praying together and reading the Word together without a wristwatch or a set of goals to achieve.

That’s exactly what’s happening at GCR on Wednesday nights. By God’s grace, his people here are getting to know each other a little better around Word and Prayer, goofy games, and popsicles. We’re starting to appreciate one another a little more. We’re feeling a deeper sense of belonging. I think we’re loving each other more. And better.

I think this is what it looks like to run the race with purpose.

Peace,

Allan

Letters From Christ

The Arizona Diamondbacks, huh? You know, since Genesis 3 the serpent’s head is meant by God to be crushed. The Rangers are poised to proclaim the Gospel!

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Old letter writing 2 | Stock Video | Pond5

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.” ~2 Corinthians 3:4

Jesus’ greatest gift to us as we wait for his triumphant return is the power of his presence through the Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit is alive and powerful and real. And he lives inside all who confess Jesus as Lord and put their faith for salvation in God through Christ.

He lives inside us.

Did you catch that part? The Spirit is within us, a holy being inside unholy humans. It’s amazing. It’s like science fiction. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend. The presence of God is not given to us in the clouds somewhere. It’s not at the top of a smoking and shaking mountain. It’s not hidden away in a chapel or a church building. God’s Spirit is not above us or beside us. He’s within us. He dwells inside us.

And he’s authoring a masterpiece. He’s writing a classic for the ages. In fact, what he’s writing is going to be read by everybody you know. They won’t find this masterpiece at Barnes and Noble. They can’t download it off Amazon. They read this divine work of art when they come in contact with you.

You are that Holy Spirit masterpiece, authored by the true and living God. Yes, it’s you! Look in the mirror! Don’t get distracted by the funny ears and the blemished skin. Don’t allow your height or your weight to keep you from recognizing it. Do not dare minimize what God is doing in your life. It’s not about you and me. It’s about the Spirit of God changing you, changing us, into his majestic handiwork. It’s about us living by his Spirit as a display, a massive banner, proclaiming his power and love to all we meet.

Peace,

Allan

Ruidoso Retreat

I am posting today from the redwood deck of a beautiful two-story cabin in the mountains of Ruidoso, courtesy of Billy and Kathy Futrell. I arrived here at about 6:00 last night, delayed only briefly by a half-dozen massive mule deer who were grazing and crossing the road very slowly about three miles away.  That breathtaking sight reminded me that I am on sabbatical. So what if during my nearly five hour drive the Rangers blew a 5-0 lead over the Twins and lost on a 13th inning bases loaded walk on four pitches? So what if Texas has lost nine of their past ten games and has surrendered first place in the division for the first time since April 8? I am on sabbatical. No TV, no Rangers, no staff meetings or elders meetings, no sermon preparation or small groups planning. These five-and-a-half days are for rest, relaxation, and reconnecting with my Lord.

As I pulled in last night, one of Billy’s neighbors welcomed me and and told me that “the bears have been really active this weekend.” Yikes. I was also reminded — again! — that I pronounce Ruidoso like a Texan and not like someone from Ruidoso. I have wrestled with this since we moved to Midland two years ago. Do I continue to maintain my Texan pronunciation, Ree-uh-doe-sa, or do I say it like the natives here and the West Texans who regularly travel and relax here, Roo-uh-doe-so? I can argue both ways. Maybe the Lord will reveal it to me.

I am surrounded by giant pines, rolling ranges, and very aggressive hummingbirds. The morning and afternoon temperatures are 20 degrees cooler than they are in Midland. I have my lectionary and my Bible, Diet Dr Peppers and iced-tea, my brats and Skip’s salsa. My plan is to immerse myself in the Gospels, to spend much time in prayer, to listen to the Lord more than I talk, and to rest.

This is a prayer I will be using as a focal point during this week in the mountains with our God. It comes from The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith:

Lord Jesus, I believe that you are able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe that you did die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe you are stronger than sin, and that you can keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling into its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And, Lord, I am going to trust you to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust you.

I give myself to you. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul, and spirit, I present myself to you as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything your love and your wisdom shall choose. And now I am yours. I believe you do accept that which I present to you; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by you, and that you have even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of your good pleasure. I trust you utterly and I trust you now.

Amen.

Costly Imitation

“The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all.” ~Andrew Murray

We are disciples of Christ knowing that, when we sign up to imitate the Son of God, it’s going to cost us. His grace is free. His love and forgiveness is a gift mercifully given to all of humanity. But in order to accept that gift, we must humbly submit to his lordship and follow in his steps of sacrifice and service.

And that’s not easy. In fact, it’s quite costly.

According to the beautiful passage in Philippians 2, the One we imitate gave up everything that was rightfully his: deity, equality with God, eternal power, heavenly glory. He gave all that up in order to serve humans. Jesus’ outlook was shaped by unselfish concern for others. His attitude was one of deep humility. Jesus willingly traded heaven for earth, glory for shame, a royal scepter for a slave’s water bowl, life for death — “even death on a cross!” This is the true expression of his innermost character, the nature of our Father.

To fully imitate the Christ is to humbly consider others better than ourselves, to look to the interests of others. And that will mean willingly sacrificing our very lives, dying to ourselves to meet the needs of those around us. That sometimes means giving up our pew. Occasionally, it means giving up our preferences, It always means giving up our position.

What is it costing you to be an imitator of Christ?

Peace,

Allan

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