Saturday, March 29, 2008

Texas Monthly Reviews Oak Hills Church

(After some hesitation, I thought I would send this on for the benefit of my readers outside of Texas Monthly's circulation area.)

Faith Bases
Oak Hills Church
San Antonio October 7, 2007
by William Martin

Oak Hills Church, San Antonio Photograph by Valerie Taylor
PASTOR Max Lucado
ADDRESS 19595 Interstate 10
PHONE 210-698-6868
MAIN SERVICE Saturdays at 5:00 P.M.; Sundays at 8:30 A.M., 10 A.M., and 11:30 A.M.

Having grown up in the Church of Christ, I have been interested in observing, at a modest distance, the differences that have evolved over the years between the small-town churches of my youth (similar to the Oak Hill Church of Christ in Luling, which I reviewed in July 2006) and “seeker friendly” megachurches such as San Antonio’s Oak Hills Church, by lineage a Church of Christ but one that has moved sufficiently far from its roots to have dropped the name. With a weekly attendance of approximately 5,500, Oak Hills, located at the northwest edge of San Antonio on Interstate 10, is one of the state’s largest congregations and led by one of its best-known preachers, Max Lucado.

After following several corridors one Sunday—past offices, nurseries, a coffee shop, and the UpWords bookstore—my wife and I found the elevator and stairs to the second-level worship center. If the banners hanging from the rafters of this large multifunctional space had read “State AAAA Champs, 2005” instead of “The Holy Spirit, Our Power” and “The Church, God’s Battalion,” one might well have assumed that this was the gymnasium of an affluent high school. Most of the congregation of about 1,500—there are four weekend services at this campus, plus two others at auxiliary locations—sat in comfortable, movable chairs on the main floor; the rest of us sat in theater-style bleacher seats. Dress and demeanor were casual, with some worshippers wearing shorts and a number carrying mugs of coffee.

As the service got under way, we immediately saw and heard a superficial but nonetheless decisive difference between the Oak Hills Church and most churches of its parent body: a choir and a band! With guitars and drums! The nineteenth-century founding fathers of the Churches of Christ, in a desire to restore the first-century church by imitating its practices—an approach they hoped would encourage unity among all Christians—interpreted the absence of mention of instrumental music in early church worship as warrant for prohibiting it, instead favoring a cappella singing, usually in four-part harmony. In recent years, however, a small but growing number of Churches of Christ have elected to break with that tradition. At Oak Hills, I later learned, the decision to introduce instrumental music proceeded slowly, with much discussion, and then only partially. It began with the use of instruments in one of the weekend services, a compromise designed to attract people who found the prohibition off-putting and to mollify those who still preferred an abstinence-only approach. Soon, however, the balance tipped. At present, only the 8:30 a.m. service retains a cappella singing.

An old friend who serves as a leading elder at the church acknowledged that substantial numbers of members had left Oak Hills to attend other churches, “some specifically because of the instrument, others because of the ‘slippery slope.’” That perceived drift included a greater public role for women, who have traditionally taken no part in the worship of Churches of Christ beyond singing from their pews. At Oak Hills, women hold some official ministry positions, lead worship, and address the congregation (as in making announcements) but are not yet deemed eligible to fill the pulpit, serve as elders, or preside over communion.

As more and more people from non—Church of Christ backgrounds began attending Oak Hills—they are currently estimated to number a bit more than half the congregation—church leaders learned that many had been reluctant to even set foot inside a Church of Christ because of its association with a strong form of legalism and a widely resented (though increasingly less common) assertion that members of other denominations are not really Christians. So, following the lead of more and more churches everywhere, Oak Hills dropped the label in 2003 and prefers to be known simply as a “community church.”

Undoubtedly, much of the credit for Oak Hills’ growth must go to its pastor. Though only 53, Lucado (pronounced “Lu-cay-doe”) is an amazingly prolific and successful author. Beginning with a reworked collection of columns he wrote for a church newsletter while he was an associate minister fresh out of Abilene Christian University and then polished during a five-year stint as a missionary to Brazil in the eighties, he has written more than fifty books, published in more than twenty languages worldwide and with aggregate sales in excess of 50 million copies—more than either Joel Osteen or Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life) and second only to Billy Graham among living inspirational authors. Christianity Today has called Lucado “America’s Pastor,” and in 2005 Reader’s Digest named him “America’s Best Preacher.”

No preacher will receive such high marks on all scorecards, but Lucado is an uncommonly good communicator. He has an excellent eye and ear for the details of a story, delivering his messages with a range of voice and tone that captures attention without being theatrical. On the day of our visit, he recounted the story in John 8:1—11 of the adulterous woman whom religious leaders had apprehended and were prepared to execute when Jesus intervened. Lucado noted that the woman had been “caught . . . in the act,” indicating that her self-righteous accusers had likely set a trap for her. Even more important, they were using her as bait to trap Jesus. “The law of Moses commands that we stone to death every woman who does this,” they said to Jesus. “What do you say we should do?” Lucado then described the scene in which Jesus stooped down, wrote something in the sand, and said, “Anyone here who has never sinned can throw the first stone at her.” As her accusers dropped their stones and slunk away, Jesus looked up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one judged you guilty?” When she answered, “No one, sir,” he said, “I also don’t judge you guilty. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

The lesson, Lucado emphasized, is that for those who will accept Jesus as their savior, every sin they have committed, or will commit in the future, is forgiven. Jesus has left a message for everyone, he said, not in the sand but on a cross. That message is “Not guilty. Let my forgiveness cover you. Put the past in the past. It’s time to move on, relieved of guilt and shame.”

This assertion of radical grace was a notable departure from the sermons I heard as a child. The message I received back then was that the slate got wiped clean at baptism but that every slip thereafter would be indelibly inscribed in a heavenly account book. On Judgment Day, if your good works outweighed your shortcomings, grace might serve as a sort of “bridge loan” that would allow you to make a down payment on a heavenly mansion. But the notion of walking around feeling fully accepted by God was simply not part of the arrangement. Recently, however, grace has made amazing headway among Churches of Christ, particularly those with younger preachers and congregations, often to the disdain of those who fear it will be viewed as a license to sin. That possibility obviously exists, but I can say without hesitation that had I heard such an encouraging message during the first two decades of my life, I would surely have regarded it as Good News.

Friday, March 28, 2008

No Time

I have no time to blog so I will see you when I do. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter Everybody!

Here's a real rarity - a spectacular church building in a town of about 200 people! This is the Union Church in Grandfalls, Texas, 37 miles south of Kermit! The word "union" means it is a joint project of the Disciples, Methodists and Presbyterians. (Photo from Flickr)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Landmark: The Cowboy Angel

This metal art memorial is just south of Denver City, Texas on Highway 214, about 80 miles northeast of Kermit.

Its head is not really translucent; that's just a trick of the sunlight.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Landmark: Cherish Your Freedom!

Ten years ago this metal monument, by an artist unknown to me, appeared beside Highway 18 just south of Eunice, New Mexico. This is about 40 miles north of Kermit. The plane measures probably 14 feet from its nose to its tail. (That is just a guess, of course.)

It was originally painted silver, but was re-painted red white and blue after 9/11.

The sign says:

"Cherish your freedom

It did not come free

Always remember those Americans

who sacrificed so much for it."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Wedding!

Yesterday we went to a wedding. It was unusual in several ways. First, the couple had already stood before a justice of the peace and gotten married over a month ago. Since then, Cary (the groom) decided that he wanted a public ceremony.

It was also unusual and very happy because we thought this friend would never find anyone.

Liz has been counseling Cary for many years. He decided many years ago that my wife had "words of knowledge" from the Lord. Liz said no, it's just common sense. "What does God reveal?" he would often ask.

Anyway, Cary met Rose a little less than a year ago, and things just seemed to click. We wish them every happiness.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Digging Dinosaurs # 3 - Open House Day!

Three or four members of the Kermit School Board dropped by Liz's classroom Wednesday to see the famous science word wall. They were quite impressed with Liz's work!

They were also impressed with this orange fellow who explains how fossils form:

The hall volcano:
Two more details from student projects: I like the screaming stegosaurus here: And you may not know that the U. S. Army, in addition to fighting terrorists, also fights dinosaurs, giant gila monsters and huge snakes:As if Liz didn't have enough to do, she had to attend a conference in Odessa on open house day. When she got back, the room was a mess and she had very little time to straighten it up!Thank God open house is over!

(Photos by Liz)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Landmarks: Wink, Texas

This is along Highway 115 between Kermit and Wink. Four orange barrels surround a crack in the earth which is right by the highway. The crack emanates from the first sinkhole, about 50 feet behind the fence, and runs under the highway and for about 3/4 of a mile west, if I remember correctly.

Welcome to Wink! (Robert took most of these pictures!) Wink is eight miles southwest of Kermit ...If we'd known he was gonna be famous, WE WOULDN'T HAVE TORN HIS HOUSE DOWN!On the day Kermit the Frog came to Kermit, the Roy Orbison Museum's owners wanted him (the frog, that is!) to come and visit Wink also, but he was far too busy.The museum's proprietors advertise that they only want die-hard Orbison fans, so we've not yet gathered up the nerve to tour it.Our little church house. Attendance was down to about six people until 2003, when fifty of us began coming over from Kermit. The original six didn't know what to make of us. Like most church buildings around here, there are bats in the attic.

Here's the elementary classroom in relatively pristine state. The class has between one and four children, depending on the week.

I inherited the class from a woman named Dorothy, who has since passed on. Here's good advice from Robert:
This is the sanctutorium, which was constructed in 1990.

Interestingly, Roy Orbison may have had roots in this church. I found an old guest register that was signed by Mrs. Roy Orbison in 1959, but of course I can't find it now.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Digging Dinosaurs # 2

Some class projects by Liz's students, to be displayed next week at open house: (All photos by Liz)

This one is unique. It's a cake. It was not saved for next week. Instead, the class divided it up.
It was reportedly delicious!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Digging Dinosaurs

My lovely and gracious wife has been working hard to get ready for open house at school. Some of the other teachers are green with envy when they see her work. Here's a preview of what she's done, starting with the Texas Dinosaurs bulletin board: (All photos by Liz)Her science word wall, part 1:The door to Liz's classroom:Science word wall, part 2:
The word tree, inside the classroom:
More later ...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Landmark: The Wink Sink(s)

This is Winkler County's most interesting geological phenomenon. It's about six miles southwest of Kermit. I stole these pictures from a site called The Wink Sink (or Kermit Crater) opened up without warning June 1st through 4th of 1980. It gained national attention because it is near state highway 115, which was closed for some time. No one knows for sure what caused this or how deep this thing is. A UTPB diving team years ago failed to find a bottom.
You're not supposed to be able to ride an ATV down there!This was once a straight pipe!

There is a second Wink Sink now, larger than the first and a mile south of the first. It opened up in 2002, almost 22 years to the day of the original. And - this is weird - when it opened up, the first one, which had stabilized in size, began growing again! Geologists are watching a depression which they say will someday be Wink Sink 3!


They're still trying to fund a study of the sinks.

See Wink Sink 2 from the air.

This is from a book called Weird Texas.

Lots more history including original newspaper stories!
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