Central Church of Christ, First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Polk Street United Methodist are all coming together this Sunday night at First Baptist to worship our Lord together. And it’s old hat!
The “4Amarillo” churches in downtown Amarillo have been worshiping and serving together for so long now, and so regularly, that it’s become kinda ordinary. Uneventful. Almost hum-drum.
I think that’s remarkable in and of itself. Over the past seven years, by the grace of God, we’ve made churches crossing denominational barriers to sing and pray together, share the Lord’s Meal, and serve our city as one group a commonplace occurrence in Amarillo. It doesn’t feel historic anymore when the Methodist guy preaches in the Church of Christ worship center. It doesn’t feel extraordinary when we pray for each other’s churches during our own worship assemblies. It feels very normal. Very natural. And I praise God for that.
But just when we begin to think the “4Amarillo” movement is not that big a deal, we’re reminded that it truly is.
Christianity Today, the national magazine for church leaders that reaches five-million readers a month, is highlighting “4Amarillo” in its current issue. I don’t know how they found out about it, I don’t know who tipped them off. Murray Gossett, the associate pastor at First Pres, is the one quoted in the story, and I haven’t spoken to him yet about how it all came about.
The article is about what CT calls the “inspirational, interdenominational, multi-congregational ministry movement.” There are other organizations in other cities featured along with “4Amarillo,” but we’ve got top billing. You can read the full story by clicking here.
This Sunday night is our seventh annual 4Amarillo Thanksgiving Service. There will be over a thousand of us from our four churches in attendance. The combined chorus will be more than a hundred men and women strong, made up of our individual praise teams and choirs. I’m in charge of the welcome and the call to worship. Our worship minister at Central, Kevin Schaffer, is singing a solo. Mark Welshimire, the lead pastor at Polk Street, is preaching the sermon. Our mayor, Ginger Nelson, is giving the benediction. We are gathering together in the presence of God, in the name of our Lord Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue tearing down the walls that divide God’s people and testify in word and deed to the healing, saving, reconciling, and uniting work of the risen and coming Prince of Peace.
As familiar as it is to us now, it’s not old hat. No, it’s the eternal will of our Father and the earnest prayer of our King. And it still seems like a pretty big deal.
I was privileged to spend almost three days in Memphis this week with Jim and Charlotte Martin. Jim is a fellow Grove Rat — we’re both from the same southeast Dallas neighborhood — and a long-time family friend and a trusted partner/mentor to me. We ate pulled-pork barbecue, southern fried catfish, blackberry cobbler, and banana pudding together. We talked about ministry and kids and churches and the political climate and preaching. We played touch football with his two grandsons and prayed together. I spent a day on campus at Harding School of Theology where Jim is the vice president. I attended chapel, met a ton of people who know my brother Keith, and sat in on one of Dave Bland’s preaching classes (what an unfortunate name for a preacher).
One of the unexpected highlights of my trip was visiting the National Civil Rights museum in the historic Lorraine Motel, the site of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I thought I might spend a couple of hours in there on Monday, but it wound up being closer to five. They’ve done such an outstanding job of transforming that motel into an excellent and inspirational journey through the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. So many exhibits, so many stories, so many pictures and videos, so many lives are represented here.
The worst and the best of humanity are both represented here, the heroic and the horrible, the tragedy and the victory. It breaks my heart and compels me to tears of sorrow for the way sinful people treat God and one another and, at the same time, inspires me to want to be a better person.
After three or four hours of reading and watching and reflecting and walking the maze that is the museum, you forget you’re in a motel. Suddenly, without much warning, you actually find yourself standing in MLK’s room 306. You’re in his room. You’re looking through his window, just two or three feet away from the spot on the balcony where the assassin’s bullet took him down from across Mulberry Street. Such an historic site. Such a turning point. Such a watershed moment for this nation.
And, personally, I’m not sure we’re much better as a people today than we were forty-one-and-a-half years ago.
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967
God have mercy on us.