A Farewell to Texas

Lately I’ve been preaching through some Genesis narratives, and as I’ve studied I keep coming across those verses that say things like, “…and he sojourned at [such and such place] for [x amount of time] and begat sons and daughters,” etc.

As my 9 years in Texas wind to a close, I feel like I’m at one of those narrative junctures in my life.

I came here a single young guy who thought he knew what he was doing and found out in a million ways he didn’t, but I hope I did some good along the way. In the meantime, I developed a deep love and admiration for this state, its culture, and its people.

And in my sojourn here God has blessed me with a wonderful wife (a Texan, though I had to rescue her from the land north of the Red River 🙂 ), two daughters, and two sons. My time here could not have been more blessed, and I leave having enjoyed even more great moments than I did baskets of chips and salsa (or hot sauce, to you East Texans).

Moments like:

Those special years at Pritchett, on my own for the first time and teaching the Word for countless hours – particularly the first two years with a loaded schedule. Almost dying from humidity upon arrival. Writing Failure deep into the nights in a lonely, lonely parsonage with Boog the Beagle.

Driving I-35 possibly 100+ times to visit (and marry) Allison and then subsequent visits with her family. The birth of all 4 of our children. Packing up and moving to Forney. Monday night fellowships. Buying our first house.

Writing Church Reset over lattes at Murray Street in Deep Ellum. Countless workdays and cookie trips with Gloria at Latham Bakery (shout out to both Melindas, Lisa, Avery, Alexa, Tyler, Gabe, Michael, and everybody else who won’t see this but served me on one of my hundreds of trips).

Finding all the great places to eat (ask me if you ever go to Dallas). Getting to take in football and basketball national championship games at AT&T Stadium, along with a Leo Messi appearance. Austin and San Antonio trips. Queuing up for 3 hours for Franklin BBQ (worth it). State Fair trips. Being there for Gilmer’s dominant run to a state title in HS FB. Picking up a mediocre city and night sky photography habit. (The stars at night are indeed big and bright down here.)

Sitting among 18,000 people at a Dallas Mavericks game and seeing the notification that the NBA was shutting down due to the coronavirus, knowing our world was about to change in a way no one alive could even begin to understand. Ministering through 2 years of Covid, preaching to a hot parking lot full of dedicated people and then an oddly spaced out auditorium half-full of those people. Weathering the great Texas freeze of 2021.

More than anything, though, the greatest memories of the last 9 years have been about the people. As many things as I can remember, in somewhat chronological order:

Andy’s Frozen Custard trips with Jack and Anna, and a year and a half of #DodgeballSelfies.

Visits from Joe and Rachel filled by eating junk food, watching movies, and checking out Dallas and Shreveport.

Fishing trips and subsequent fish fry dinners with James and Wanda Roberts.

Member visitation with Bruce Slaven, and church events with him and Pam.

Gilmer and Gladewater football games (including the absolutely legendary head to head game in 2014) with Bobby and Jennifer Sanders and Judy Latham.

Ministry brainstorming lunches with the Pace family.

Preacher chats with HL Shirey.

Visits with the Snows, including a wise, gentle, loving corrective that a young knuckleheaded minister badly needed and that I’ll never forget.

Monday nights around the table with Jeff, Betty, Bobby Rex, Shirley, Darrell, Kathy, Mickey, Doris, Clay and others.

A million and one questions from one of my favorite Bible students, Lois Brock.

Lunches and photography meetups, solving all the world’s problems with Michael Whitworth.

Elders meetings with James, Clarence, and Perry, and the way their different emphases on things like fellowship, evangelism, and study complement each other so well.

The overwhelming support from all the ladies who have come over and helped through Allison’s last pregnancy and our first few months of being a 4-kid household. I can count at least 11 who have spent time over here helping out, and though I won’t type all the names here we are blown away by your kindness.

Countless lunches with James and Janice Parsons, and their generosity toward us and our kids.

The incredible, repeated generosity of Mike and Jeanette Kirksey, and the friendship extended toward us that has wonderfully never had that weird line that often exists in minister-member relationships.

A very sickly Eddie Phillips insisting on mowing my lawn when I was swamped with family and work duties, along with all that Terry means to us.

Seeing Robert McMahan working away in the building as one of the only outside humans I interacted with for weeks through March and April 2020.

Mama’s Daughters Lunches with Mr. Larry.

Joe and Debbie White helping talk me through the toughest days of my life.

Will and Nakia Duncan having me over to watch sports on a couple of nights when I needed that more than I can explain.

Lisa Burton organizing a drive-by baby shower at the height of Covid quarantines, and Ernest driving me clear across DFW to pick up a car.

Marq Toombs taking time for a young minister despite being on a bit of a different path than his.

I know I’m forgetting a whole bunch of names here, and for that I apologize. Even if I tried, I could not count the number of people who have impacted my life here in Texas. I’m thankful for you all, and pray that even if I don’t have the chance to see you all again here, we’ll meet again in the home of the saved.

I’m thankful to God for making my sojourn in Texas so fruitful, and I’m thanking Him for the chance to know all of you.

How Covid revealed the blind guides of society and Christendom

During my college years my parents held two season tickets to Colorado Avalanche hockey games. I lost count of how many games I was lucky enough to attend in those years, but it had to be in the range of about 50.

On one particular occasion, after years of sitting in the exact same seats, a man came strolling down the stairs in the middle of the play and stopped at our row.

“You’re in my seat,” he said flatly.
“Um, I don’t think so,” I said as diplomatically as I could. “What seat number do you have?”
“Row 13, 1 and 2. That’s my seat.”
I produced my ticket and showed him where I, too, had one that showed row 13, seat 1.
“Are you sure that’s what yours says?”
We went back and forth a couple more times, me not moving and him insisting I was in the wrong place, seemingly at an impasse. The people around us grew annoyed as he stood in the aisle and blocked their view of the ongoing hockey game.

Eventually his wife sheepishly got his attention and pointed back to the signage at the top of the section. He was at the right row and seat number, alright, but he was in the wrong section. Problem solved.

It was at this point he turned to me and said, “You can stay there.”

Not “My bad, man, I had the wrong spot,” or “Oops, my mistake.” The assuredness with which he had told me I was in the wrong seat remained unwavering despite his mixup. In his mind, he somehow remained the authority in the situation and ever so graciously granted me the right to stay in my seat. The one that was mine all along.

It was such a weird interaction that I still vividly remember it, even though it was a decade ago. Who goes through life like that?

Then Covid came to town, and I realized that he’s not an anomaly. No, it’s how the majority of people operate.

After two years of nearly every single covid narrative being proven wrong – “lockdowns work,” “masks work,” “shots protect the people around you,” “if we act right we can make a coronavirus disappear,” “you’re a racist conspiracy theorist if you think it came from a lab,” “natural immunity must not be factored into response,” etc. etc. – the government and media carry on without a single mea culpa. People were banned from social media for saying things that were proven indisputably true, things that even government officials now acknowledge. No apologies are forthcoming.

Vaccine Passports are being retracted all over. Mask mandates are being repealed in some places and flaunted by the people who instituted them in others (hello, LA Super Bowl). Washington Post boldly floats a headline that “Mask mandates didn’t do much.” They have the gall to say the science changed. They have to, because to admit otherwise would be to admit it was all done in vain. It did not change, though.

With all the bravado of the man in the wrong section at a hockey game, they inform you you can take your mask off, aren’t required to get a shot to enter a building, can see people again, can go back to church, and so on. Stop trusting them. Stop letting them tell you what to care about, what to be afraid of, and who to hate.

Further, the religious leaders who lambasted their fellow Christians who have now been proven right in nearly every way have yet to acknowledge this. They called their brethren conspiracy theorists. Labeled us as unreasonable. Said they were embarrassed of those who kept going to church. Ironically, they threw around the accusation that we’re “anti-science.”

Now that the dust has settled, those who threw around such accusations are not acknowledging their missteps and taking those words back.

No, they will continue to carry themselves as authorities and lecture others. As my hockey-watching challenger said “You can stay in that seat,” they say “You can get back to the work of the church” and “You can take that mask off.”

I’m all for everybody getting on the side of truth together. But you don’t get to lead a horde of people in the wrong direction for 2 years, realize you’re wrong, and sprint back to be the head of the pack in the other direction. It’s time to take a step back and figure out what just happened and reflect on those mistakes so you don’t turn on the brethren again.

Book Review: “Fault Lines” by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr.

I recently got access to an early copy of “Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe” by Voddie T. Baucham, Jr. Since I’ve long found Dr. Baucham to be a compelling speaker and writer, and this issue is one that demands our attention, I put a pause on my reading list to see what he had to say.

The short review: this is a desperately needed book, written by perhaps the best man for the job.

It’s no secret that race discussions of recent years have created a major “Fault Line” in both society at large and churches specifically. Writing as a black man who has the cultural experiences of South Central Los Angeles, white neighborhoods in Houston, and now Zambia, Africa, has an education in both sociology and theology, and has clout in the world of Christendom, Dr. Voddie Baucham may be better suited than anyone to offer the dissenting opinion on Critical Race Theory (CRT) in evangelicalism. The first few chapters explore Baucham’s personal background and his experiences navigating racism and racial division, affirming that he certainly has the experiential knowledge some consider a requirement for offering an opinion on race matters (something the author rejects and labels “ethnic gnosticism”).

Much of what Dr. Baucham says builds on the foundations others have set with regard to CRT, Intersectionality, and Social Justice, but his compilation of the arguments along with quotes directly from the sources (Kendi, DiAngelo, et. al.) makes for a good introduction to the current “antiracist” movement. It won’t break any ground for the reader who has spent time researching CRT, but for those who are new to the topic it’s a good primer, and for those who are somewhat familiar it will shore up their understanding of the ideas being promoted.

The truly controversial section, I suspect, is where “Fault Lines” begins to get into specific applications of the questions at hand. Police shootings and the narratives surrounding them are examined with penetrating questions that challenge the CRT framework. The book also explores some of the more popular responses to claims of racism, such as abortion in minority communities and black on black crime. Baucham does not merely parrot them as the “gotcha” talking points they are often used as, but digs in to the question of their validity in the discussion. 

For me, the greatest value is in the way the book examines the issue within the church world. I believe the case Dr. Baucham makes is a strong one, that CRT will continue to drive division because it is incompatible with core ideas like the Gospel and the sufficiency of Scripture. CRT is not just an analytical tool for helping us understand racism. It is both a worldview and a competing religion, as Baucham demonstrates, and the evangelical leaders who have jumped on board seem unaware of the Trojan horse they are wheeling in to their churches and to Christendom as a whole.

I pray this book reaches open hearts and minds and helps heal divisions before they grow any wider. But, I’m pessimistic. I think it’s far more likely to be read and championed by those who agree and ignored or spurned by those who don’t.

In any case, it offers a well-researched, well-argued alternate view to the prevailing narrative of the day. Even if you don’t end up agreeing with the conclusions, it provides valuable insights into the side of the argument that is often either under-represented, prevented from speaking, or argued poorly.

4 stars out of 5, highly recommended

To preorder Fault Lines on Amazon, or for more info, go here. The book release date is scheduled for April 6.

Key quotes

  • Those belonging to the social-justice crowd present themselves as the only ones pursuing justice, to the exclusion of all who disagree with their assessments—who, by that definition, are pursuing injustice. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the current struggle is that it mischaracterizes Christians that way too. On one side are “compassionate” Christians who are “concerned about justice.” On the other are “insensitive” Christians who are “not concerned about justice.” This is wrong. (page 5)
  • Families are at odds. Marriages are on the rocks. And I don’t believe the fracture in this fault line is yet even a fraction of what it will be.
    No, I am not writing this book to stop the divide. I am writing to clearly identify the two sides of the fault line and to urge the reader to choose wisely. (7)
  • In case you’re wondering about its soteriology, there isn’t one. Antiracism offers no salvation—only perpetual penance in an effort to battle an incurable disease. And all of it begins with pouring new meaning into well-known words. (67)
  • I have often said, “The Eleventh Commandment is, ‘Thou shalt be nice” . . . and we don’t believe the other ten.” One of the negative results of this is no longer being able to deal with ideas without attacking the people who hold them. (132-3)
  • The idea that we need a new canon to be able to decipher what the Bible says, or more specifically, what it means regarding race, is quite troubling. This attack on the sufficiency of Scripture should serve as a call to arms. (130)
  • This will not repair the fault lines. Nothing will. These divisions are both real and necessary. As I said at the outset, the goal here is to be on the right side of the fault line when the catastrophe comes. In the meantime, we must love. I do not mean that we must accept the world’s faulty, emasculated, unbiblical version of love—the version that sees any disagreement or confrontation as inherently unloving. No, we must love each other with a tenacious, biblical, Christlike love.
    Dear reader, I know it is hard. I don’t like losing friends, being called names, or being ousted from platforms any more than you do. However, you and I must love the truth more than we love our friends, our reputations, or our platforms. (224)

Note: I was given early access to my purchase – not a free copy – by the Fault Lines Launch Team in exchange for posting a review.

Book Review: Francis Chan’s “Until Unity”

I’ve long been a fan of Francis Chan’s work and have been heavily influenced by his views on the church, so when I saw he had a new book coming out on Christian unity, I placed my preorder. With proof of purchase the publisher offered a free audiobook that could be accessed immediately, so I jumped at the chance to get to listening. And though I enjoyed the audiobook, I’ll be sure to revisit some of the key points when my print copy arrives, as I much prefer that medium for comprehension and understanding.

As always, Chan does a great job of getting us thinking about the holiness of God and the importance of serving Him with reverence and loving one another. There is great value in the early chapters which call the reader to take God very seriously and realize He is just as passionate as our love and unity as He is about our sexual purity, evangelistic zeal, etc. Yet we view preaching on such issues as sound and faithful yet worry about any push toward unity as liberalism and compromise. Fair points, to be sure.

The call to humility is especially important. The matter of unity is one we simply have no hope of getting right if we don’t approach it with humility. There’s an arrogance to being too exclusive, looking at ourselves as the true arbiters of what is right and cutting off others, and there’s an arrogance to being too inclusive, thinking ourselves to be more loving than even God may be. So, the emphasis on approaching the issue of unity with the right heart was well said.

But with any book on unity, the challenge is going to be in deciding when and where to draw lines. While he admits some lines do need to be drawn, and we can’t do the “Let’s just all get along” act, I still came away without a clear picture of when we should and should not be unified, in Chan’s view. There was basically only one chapter that got down to the brass tax of how to draw the circle of unity. And the practical takeaway almost comes out to “Let’s just all get along” anyway.

In that chapter, Chan drew on the controversies of Romans 14 and the matter of allowing others to be wrong sometimes. It’s an important section, to be sure, but not all matters are as minor as the eating of meats. In Paul’s discussion he’s discussing actions approved or allowed by God, such as eating of meats or observing certain holidays, which some may want to abstain from. We are free to limit our own freedom on such matters. But these are not matters of actively doing something against God’s revealed Word. Therein lies the big difference, and the real crux of the matter. Women in leadership, for example, is not a matter of “God has allowed it, but if you don’t want to participate then you don’t have to.” How then, do we view egalitarians? Heretical? Erring Christians? Acceptable, and just differing on opinion? There are times when we do need to take a stand. And he seems to agree with that point, even offering verses on those from whom we should withdraw… but I still feel left without clarity as to when that might be.

Chan’s ultimate conclusion, drawn from the writings of Watchman Nee (of whom I’m also a big fan) is this: anyone who has the Holy Spirit should be considered family. I think everyone agrees with that. And that might open the door a little broader than we like to open it. But who makes that decision? Will there not be people who claim to have the Holy Spirit but don’t? If you don’t have a clear classification of firsts matters, secondary matters, and beyond, then it’s arbitrary. And arbitrary line drawing is why we don’t have unity in the first place. So we’re back where we started.

As a side note, the author’s personal anecdote about healings he and others performed while on mission in Myanmar will raise an eyebrow (at the very least) for many readers.

Ultimately, I give it a 2 out of 5 stars. I don’t feel the book does much to move unity forward. Unifying Christendom is going to take a lot of hard work in sorting out what can be tolerated and what can’t, and who has to change their ways or give up certain beliefs or preferences. It’s a great thing to desire and pray for, that we would all come back under the same umbrella of faith, love, and obedience to Christ, but it’s going to take a lot of difficult discussion. And I don’t feel this book engaged in that discussion nearly enough to help the reader take steps toward unity.

To purchase “Until Unity” on Amazon, go here.
We reviewed Chan’s previous book, “Letters to the Church,” on the Too Many Books podcast. You can listen to that review here.