Author Archives: Michael Gallup

Just Another Easter

The Gallups in pastels for Easter

So that was fun.

I’m sure many of your found the courage to wear pastel colors that normally lie dormant in you closet the rest of the year yesterday. Perhaps you got together with family members you would never spend time with unless you had to. You may have eaten a few too many peeps than the recommended serving size. But even if you did none of these, chances are you went to church. Even if yesterday was the only day of the year that you do.

I’m normally a rather sentimental fellow. I cried when I watched Charlotte’s Web; and when I say cried, I mean I sobbed and snot poured out of ny nose and I didn’t care because I was so enraptured in the beauty of the moment. Yeh, I’m one of those. So usually every year around the beginning of Spring, I find myself knee-deep in snot and tears as I become overwhelmed by sheer beauty of the Easter story.

The whole thing is beautiful even if it isn’t personal, but it is. In no way am I worthy of such beauty, such grace, such love, such life. Yet the story of Easter is just about that, the meeting of our complete unworthiness with God’s complete welcome. When the weight of my folly intersects with the glory of God’s love, tears are paltry offerings to express the beauty of redemption.

But this year my eyes stayed dry. I wore my pastel pants, ate candy, went to church, sang about joy, and went to lunch like nothing different happened. I had to ask myself why.

Maybe because like our linen pants and pink ties, we rummage through the closet to find this thing called to Resurrection and pull it out for one day to show it off only to have it stored away till next year. The Resurrection is the climax of the gospel, the story of Jesus. Without it, we have no hope, we have no faith, we have no life. It completes the work of the cross and ushers in a New Creation that is bursting forth light where darkness once reigned. It is at the very center of our faith as Christians, yet for many of us it has already become an afterthought today.

The reality of the Resurrection is that it is not just an event that happened but it is always happening, especially right now. Our hope is that we too participate in the Resurrection through our faith and obedience in Christ. The intersection of our depravity and God’s love is our daily reality. Yet when we think that one day a year is good enough, we are in effect denying the Resurrection.

When we regulate the power of God to some children’s story that only matters peripherally at best, we deny that the tomb is empty. We deny that Jesus truly reigns in our hearts and in our world. This year I saw a spectacle of false joy. I was immersed in a group of people who had traded the truth of Easter for a lie. Because really nothing changed. We put on fake smile to match our shoes and tread upon the gravity of this story.

I may seem a little heavy-handed but I felt the weight of our hypocrisy most clearly yesterday. Instead of shedding tears of joy, I shed tears of sorrow. As my brothers and sisters gave lip service to “He is risen indeed” I wanted to shake them and plead, “do you really believe this?” Because if we did…..I’m not really sure what would happen if we really did.

But here is the power of Easter. The sins of our ignorance, the depravity of our hypocrisy is not met with God’s scorn but with his grace.

If the Resurrection is real then I can hope and rejoice that the life that seemed so distant in the very hearts it was professed to belong to, can (and I believe will) find its home there once again, perhaps even for the first time. The implication of Easter is that we can again cry tears of joy in the face of our hypocrisy because Jesus laid death in its grave.

I did not cry yesterday because I was also part of the denying crowd.

Because my vision was filled solely with our collective hypocrisy, I missed the intersection of grace altogether. I saw our depravity as victorious and that is the very lie the Resurrection destroys. Jesus overcame the grave so that Love can truly win.

Do I really believe this? Because if I did…..

Michael is the Pastor of the Church at Argenta. 

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Eye of the Storm

The world was falling apart all around me. I was five, huddled into a hotel room in Sumter, South Carolina. We had traveled an hour and half inland to seek refuge from Hurricane Hugo. The bumper-to-bumper traffic on every road headed west was over-flowing with our fellow evacuees. Our home was on the very river forecasters were predicting the hurricane to make landfall over, we had no choice but to leave. Hugo was a strong category four hurricane and we rightfully feared the worst.

Sumter wasn’t far enough as tornadoes ripped the town to shreds during the night. I’ll never forget the sounds of that night, as if the wind turned to metal and proceeded to clash with the very gods. The carnage that we awoke to the next day proved greater than we could imagine. As we drove home around downed trees and power lines, witnessing others’ homes who had been destroyed, we hoped to find our coastal home still standing. Hope may be an overstatement.

Anyone who has lived trough a severe hurricane knows the power that they wield, power to destroy. They deserve their names because unlike any other weather phenomenon, they have a personality, a vengeance and sometimes a grace. We talk about them like we knew them, because we did.

One of the unique characteristic of hurricanes are their eyes. When you look a satellite image of one, it stares at you ominously. It is from this core the whole storm derives its sheer force but phenomenally, the eye is absolutely calm.

The eye of Hugo missed our home to the south but I had friends who braved (or fooled) out the storm and found themselves in the eye. They reported that it was like the storm had ended, they would walk out to a light breeze and rays of sun. But swirling all around them were 150 mile per hour winds ravaging everything in its path. But there was safety in the eye.

Jesus tells his followers that in this world we will have trouble and a quick look around affirms this teaching. When we read the headlines and listen to the stories around us, it can seem as if the world is falling apart. It is more scary than gods clashing because it seems as if the gods have left us and hope in safety is hopeless.

But just as Jesus promised us trouble, he promises us joy in its very presence. This is not a disembodied joy where everything is perfect and clean, but joy that finds itself knee-deep in the mud; a joy found in the very eye of the storm.

And what is the source of this joy? Jesus has overcome death.

As the world rages, we know the story does not end there but that even through that rage, joy will come. Because we do not hope in ourselves or the gods, but in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. The one who found himself in the eye of the storm on the cross, as all the pain of the world cam crashing down on him and death itself took him. But the power of love, the power of God gave him the last laugh.

Its a bit like Lieutenant Dan riding out the hurricane from the mast of Gump’s shrimp boat, we find our peace with God in the very face of death, in the eye of the storm.

Michael is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. You can read his blog here.

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Giving Up Bad BBQ for Lent

Fatback and his boys

As a little kid, my Dad’s office was a magical place. The walls were decorated with football memorabilia from years ago. He had a model plane of the one my grandfather flew in World War II. But perhaps what enamoured me most of all were his trophies. He had a plaque remembering his hole-in-one and a couple with pigs at the top. He was an award-winning pit-master. My dad had not only practiced the art of smoking meat and making sauce from scratch, he had been rewarded for his prowess. I was especially proud of those trophies because of where we lived: South Carolina.

Not sure why GA and VA are included in this map

The down-side of being the son of an acclaimed pit-cook is that you become a bit of a snob. While I was willing to acknowledge the efforts of the different regions (I got a soft-spot for mustard), no one came close to my Dad, ever. His nickname, Fatback, was synonymous for me to smoked perfection. So while I love BBQ, I almost always leave a new restaurant disappointed. But there are a few places that will always get my business when I’m in town. Recently I added a new king to this list: Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City.

My brother carrying on the tradition

While crowning a BBQ joint in Kansas City is border-line blasphemy from a Carolina boy, you have to lay aside your pride when you encounter something this good. The first thing you notice about the place is that it is a dump. It’s in a gas station. This is a plus, any self-respecting BBQ restaurant knows that decorating is limited to neon and trophies, no pretense. If you find yourself at a BBQ restaurant that actually looks nice, get out before they rob you. The energy is placed solely on the meat.

The line wrapped round the gas station and out the door, another good sign. while it was lunch, when you go on a BBQ pilgrimage you get the big plate with everything on it. You have try it all because depending upon the rising and falling of the creeks, you may never get back again. So ribs and brisket it was (I retained some Carolina pride, no way they make pulled pork like we do). I was far from being disappointed.

While sumptuous details of exactly why it was so good are too numerous to include in this blog, it suffices to say they hit it out of the park. Moist, balanced, unique, hearty, tender, delicious. I could see why Anthony Bordain said it was one of the places you have to eat at before you die. I left feeling a bit more prepared for my dying day. But the trip made me ask a hard question: why is it so hard to make good BBQ?

While there are a multitude of variables, perhaps the most prominent is that it is art. All (good) cooking is art, that’s why when its mass-produced it fails to inspire or even satisfy. Yet BBQ is unique because of the time it takes. Beyond the 18-hour start-to-finish procedure, there is a history there. You can literally taste the heritage of those before us. It is a uniquely American product, and beyond that it binds us together. Maybe its weird to put such stock into something so mundane as food, but this is what Jesus did as well. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because I imagine he, better than any, understood the importance of food.

During Lent, Christians often give up some food item for forty days in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter. What one often finds, is that giving up food is often harder than they thought. While of course we need nourishment, we also thrive on more than bread alone. Food brings us together, gives rhythm to our lives, and provides fuel not only for our bodies but for our souls as well. Soul-food is precisely that, it nourishes us in a very spiritual way. Our faith is not some segregated existence where we pray on one end of the spectrum and eat on the other, but where the two become the same thing.

When Jesus appears to his friends after his Resurrection, he offers them words of wisdom but he does something else: he eats with them. He broils fish over an open flame on the coast and breaks bread in Emmaus. And it is in these acts that we see, smell, and taste the goodness of God. I imagine the reason I despise poor BBQ is not merely snobbery but because when we cease to care about the work of our hands and the product of our time, it leaves more than a bad taste in mouths but a in our souls as well.

The Fast of Lent is to prepare for the Feast of Easter, so that we may taste and see that the Lord is good.

Michael wants to open his own BBQ Restaurant one day, named Fatback’s. Until then, he is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR.

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Expecting to Lose

Like so many of us, I have struggled with who I am, how I am defined. Throughout my life, I would give myself to certain interests and seek to be defined by them; whether it be dinosaurs, football, music, girls or even drugs. I would devote myself to be filled with every tidbit of info I could find about these interests and would find gratification in the search. But I have also felt a common thread through each of these things, I would lose.

Football has been the clearest example of this losing for me. My high school team lost 29 straight games during my career and went on to lose 20 consecutive more after I left. To be the captain of that team and to love something as much as I loved football, that hurt. I can’t even give words to how it felt to lose so much or how demoralizing it is to think we never had a chance. And to add to this, the team that I gave my attention to, the South Carolina Gamecocks, were perennial underachievers. The first time they ever won a post season game came 100 years into their experiment with football back 1995.

The gamecocks flirted with success here and there but only to find our hands empty. After a while, you just expect to lose. I have realized that the one word that best sums up my self-opinion is ‘loser.’ Football seems small compared to the failed relationships, the drug abuse, practically flunking out of college, and severe depression that became my story.

God has this thing for giving new names. The great persecutor of the early church, Saul, rode the meager christians out of town and into death, but God defeated him and gave him a new purpose and a new name: Paul. He would go on to write 2/3’s of the New Testament and was almost single-handily responsible for bringing the faith to all of Europe. And yet he never forgot his first name: ‘chief of sinners.’ And because he never forgot, the power of his new name was unsearchably immense.

God is giving me a new name too. Once a loser I now find myself living under the moniker of ‘victorious.’ Its a hard pill to swallow. Even though I sobered up, made it through college with honors, and have the greatest relationship of my life with my wife, I still am scared that I will lose it all, that I will lose even my new name.

And it was in the midst of this fear and uncertainty that I watched the Gamecocks win a second consecutive baseball national championship this past year. And not just win it, but do it in style. Pulling off near-miraculous plays when all seemed lost, breaking the all-time record for consecutive tournament wins, doing it against near-insurmountable odds like your best player playing with a broken wrist. And best of all, I kept expecting them to lose and I was so wrong.

This team comes from a place that knows nothing of winning. The school’s athletics seemed so doomed to lose that the local papers refer to the ‘chicken curse’ as stifling all the opportunities for victory. But this group of self-proclaim nobodies won in a way never seen before. And while most simply enjoyed the spectacle, I was floored with the sprig of hope these gamecocks were bringing me.

I am not destined to lose.

Life has thrown me some wicked curve balls, I’ve had my share of brokenness but my expectations are changing with my name. I am beginning to believe that I might just win. And that, my friend, is the greatest hope I can imagine.

Michael is the pastor of the Church at Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He is still a hopeless gamecock fan and hopes their baseball team can pull of the even more improbable three-peat as season started this week. He blogs semi-regularly at A Sprig of Hope.

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What Did You Get Out of Church Today?

When Michala and I first moved out to Denver almost three years ago, we discovered the joy of church-dating. For the uninformed, this is when you attend a handful of churches and ‘try them out.’ When you find the one, you commit, just like dating. And just like dating, there are awkward churches, quirky churches, very attractive churches with no depth, and if you’re lucky, that perfectly imperfect place that just feels right.

Each time we visited a church we would quiz each other following the service, asking all sorts of questions to see if we both agreed in our admiration, apathy, or disgust. We would ask, “what did you get out of that?” This seems like a perfectly valid question, one that no doubt takes place every Sunday after church all over the country. What we implied in this question was how we were served: “was the preaching good?”  “Did we enjoy the music?” “Did they have child care?” These are important questions to ask, but I now see they are also misguided questions to ask.
The core around which Sunday morning gatherings are centered is worship of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Nothing more, nothing less. This can look a number of ways, singing, praying, conversation, thanksgiving, thinking deeply, but put simply it is an act of love.

Our worship has zilch to do with “what we get” and everything to do with what we offer. This is not another opportunity to feed our egos bloated by a system of consuming that makes us insatiable. We gather to give our meager lives together to the one who gives every good gift.

The receiving of good gifts comes with our every breath, each meal, each smile, and every child. The trees and the mountains are given to us to enjoy and it is only natural that we respond with praise. This is what Sunday morning is all about. Instead of asking “what did you get?” we can ask “what did you give?”

This giving goes far beyond our finances and demands our minds, hands, and hearts, our very being. And yet this is a free sacrifice, God does not look out at our confused, hap-hazard attempts to say thanks and say, “that’s it?” Instead he joins in the dance of giving and gives us the greatest gift ever, Himself.

Jesus hinted at this mystery of receiving in our giving, when he said that to find our lives, we must first die. When our weekly meetings become another opportunity to consume, we miss everything. Instead, let us have the mind of Christ who being God himself, humbled himself to execution and in the doing found himself seated at the right-hand of the Father and also found us all.

Michala and I did not settle for the “one.” We did not find our home until we found a church that would not let us remain comfortable, that forced us to give of ourselves, and asked a lot of us. We were too busy loving these imperfect people and loving a perfect God together to ask if this was the ‘one?’ It just was. I’ve come to realize there is no perfect church and this forces me to stop critiquing the church and simply commit.

May we seek to be a committed people, not seeking to be filled but to be emptied. To give back our money, time, energy, minds, and hearts and to maybe find a God who gives us everything we need.

Michael is the Pastor of The Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He watched the super bowl and still isn’t sure what just happened.

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Saying Goodbye

There are few things harder in this life than saying “goodbye.” My mother-in-law refuses to utter the words, instead saying “See you Saturday.”

Last week as I left my home for the last 2 and half years in Colorado; I lost count of how many times I had to say those dreadful words, “goodbye.”

I attempted to ease the pain by reassuring friends and family that we would see them soon, but the reality is that we are never sure what tomorrow brings.

As I looked into the misty eyes of many of my closest friends I realized that I only could be saying bye right now because of their friendship. Without their sacrifice of time and care our venture to start a new church in Arkansas simply would not be.

And yet, the more these people gave themselves to us, making our leaving easier, it became harder and harder to leave. With each goodbye, a sinking feeling grew within me: I may never see these people again. We all must say that final goodbye at some point.

And yet our friends are exactly what makes saying goodbye so hard and yet so possible. It is their love that gives us the courage to face isolation.

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” While his death would certainly be for all mankind, his death was most pointedly for his friends.

While that final night must have been extremely painful, it was also bearable because of his friends. And even though their love seemed to falter, his did not. And it was his ultimate sacrifice that made us all his friend, that will give us the courage to finally say goodbye.

The strength of that courage lies in hope, because Jesus has shown us that no goodbye is truly final.

There is day coming that will never end, a day of homecoming. Another day to look into each other’s misty eyes and say “Welcome home!” This is our hope and this is our courage.

So, we can with true hearts, in the midst of leaving, tell one another “see you Saturday.”

Michael is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He hopes to see his friends sooner than in heaven. You can read his blog at www.asprigofhope.blogspot.com.

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Whatever is Lovely

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Well now that the Christmas wrapping carnage has been cleared away and the vertigo has begun to subside, I feel a bit depressed. December 26th is a lot like a hangover as we feel the pain inflicted upon ourselves by over-indulging. I get a little depressed after singing “Joy to the World” as I begin to think of getting back to normal.

One of the ways I cope is to reflect upon the good this year has brought. While it has definitely brought its share of bad, 2011 also delivered moments that offered me a bit of hope for the next year.

I wonder what fed you this year?

What piece of art or literature moved you to look outside of yourself?

What relationship changed the way you felt about life?

How did you live a better story in 2011?

I hope that in this last week of 2011 we can, as the scripture above says, dwell on the good. And, in so doing, ignite a passion to reach for the lovely again this next year.

Being a bibliophile (look it up) one area I love to dwell on is what I read this past year. Here are some of the books I read that made an impact on me in 2011:

The Pastor by Eugene Peterson: This memoir of the author of The Message is the most influential book I’ve read (outside the Bible). Peterson has a knack for God sightings, interpreting seemingly mundane events in his life as providential moments crucial to his vocation as Pastor. This book helped my imagination reclaim a biblical and believable vision of what a pastor could be, of what I could be.

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen: Over the course of an hour and a half I devoured this little book on leadership. Nouwen redefines leadership in light of Jesus’ temptation. Nouwen calls the Christian leader of the future to be “irrelevant” by pointing solely to the grace and love of Jesus and not to our own ability. What an encouragement for the incompetent among us.

While I read much more, these two books made the greatest impact on me.

So I ask: What did you read in 2011?

Michael is still “hungover” from Christmas but his 2-year-old makes it all worth while. He will continue his survey of “whatever is lovely” from 2011 at his blog A Sprig of Hope.

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