Category: Unity (Page 1 of 6)

We Are Going to Die

A meme was going around this week having a little fun at the weird juxtaposition of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. It was a red and pink Valentine’s Day card covered in pretty hearts that said, “We are going to die.” Yes, we are. That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about, to remind us of our own mortality, our own fallen and broken nature, that we are going to die someday and we cannot truly live without the salvation of a righteous relationship with Christ Jesus. Ash Wednesday is not something we Church of Christers typically observe. But this year we began the traditional season of Lent with more than 900 of our brothers and sisters from our three partner churches, by hosting the 4Midland Ash Wednesday service at GCR.

And it was glorious.

We combined the worship teams and choirs from all four churches and sang nearly a dozen songs together. We confessed our sins and listened to our Lord’s words of forgiveness and assurance. We prayed. We sat in silence. And then we sang some more. Pastors and shepherds from all four churches applied ashes from ten stations down front. And I think we sang the whole time.

It was glorious.

We Baptists and CofCers have very little experience with Ash Wednesday–we’re still mostly just sticking our toes in the water at this point and feeling this thing out. Darin Wood opened the evening by holding up the order of service and announcing to the Baptists in the room, “This is a liturgy.” Even the Methodists and Presbyterians seemed a little uneasy receiving ashes in a CofC worship center with no stained glass or kneeling benches. Thank goodness for Steve Brooks who provided the ashes for our service–I wouldn’t even know where to begin! But there was love. So much love. The unity and love was thick in there last night. The smiles and the warmth. The hugs and hospitality. It was evident on every face and felt in every interaction. There was a sweet spirit in the room before, during, and after the event.








I was honored to share the ash-imposing duties (ash imposer? ash applier? there’s got to be a better term for that, but if Steve Schorr doesn’t even know what to call it, maybe there’s not) with our GCR Youth Minister J.E. Bundy and our Children’s Minister Kristin Rampton. However, I realized about four minutes into the ashes part that I was standing too close to Kristin. One of the great joys of applying ashes–there are many!–is in the interactions I have with little kids. Last night I would notice small children in the line, our GCR children, and smile at the thought of blessing them with the ashes and the words of Scripture. But they were all going to Kristin!






I am thankful for Deeann Camp who came down the aisle to me with their two-week-old daughter Clara. Two-weeks-old! It was her first time in church since having the baby, the first time the baby had been to church, the first time I had seen her. How humbling it is, how provocative and eye-opening, to apply a tiny little cross to that itty-bitty brand-new forehead and look that infant baby in the eyes and tell her that someday she will return to the dust from which she is made. I’m guessing that was a powerful moment for Deeann. I hope it was. It was for me.

Methodist ashes, a Baptist-style choir, Church of Christ songs, and Presbyterian prayers.

And it was glorious.

I am so grateful to God to be at a church that sees all Christians as God’s children and our brothers and sisters in Christ and is actively breaking down the walls between denominations. I am so thankful to be the preacher at a church like this. I am grateful to the Lord for the wonderful team of ministers and elders at GCR who believe so much in the Gospel work of unity and labor so hard to pull it off. I am thankful for my friendships with Steve Schorr, Darin Wood, and Steve Brooks. I am thankful for the vision we share of a more united Body of Christ. We took this picture just to prove that not every single time we get together is for cheeseburgers.

God bless our four churches during this important season of Lent. God bless our brothers and sisters in Christ at First Methodist, First Baptist, and First Presbyterian. And may our worship and service partnership together be an undeniable witness to the power of Christ’s love to tear down every barrier between us and God and between us and one another.



4 Midland

Four guys walk into a bar: a Baptist, a Methodist, a Church of Christ, and a Presbyterian… that’s a joke.

Four sets of ministers and elders walk into a church building to pray: Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, and Presbyterian… that’s not a joke. It’s the holy will of our God and a magnificent witness to our city of the power of Jesus! And it’s happening this evening!

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the apostles’] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:20-23

We believe it is God’s will that all his children, all disciples of his Son, be reconciled. We think God’s great desire is for all Christians to be brought together as a powerful witness to the world of his love and peace. You know, this is in our Church of Christ DNA. It was established in the opening lines of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, the charter document for our Restoration Movement, written in August 1809:

“That it is the grand design and native tendency of our holy religion to reconcile and unite men to God and to each other in truth and love to the glory of God; and their own present and eternal good will will not, we presume, be denied by any of the genuine subjects of Christianity.”

The whole document is about reconciliation, the kind of reconciliation that drives God’s eternal plans. The very ministry of reconciliation he’s given those of us who profess our faith in him. The words in this document are bold and aggressive and they ring with undeniable beauty and truth. They call for a swift end to all divisions among those who follow Jesus:

“Has the Captain of Salvation sounded a desist from pursuing this deadly enemy that is sheathing its sword in the very bowels of Christ’s Church, rending and mangling his mystical Body to pieces? Has he said to his servants, ‘Let it alone?’ If not, where is the warrant for a cessation of endeavors to have it removed?”

Campbell claims that tearing down the walls and uniting with all our brothers and sisters in Christ is a matter of universal right, a duty belonging to every citizen of the Kingdom of God. And while the work will be difficult and the opposition will come mainly from within the church establishment, Campbell says it is God’s will. It is the Church’s will. It is the will of those who’ve gone before us:

“Both the mighty and the many are with us. The Lord himself, and all that are truly his people, are declaredly on our side. The prayers of all the churches, nay, the prayers of Christ himself, and of all that have ascended to his heavenly Kingdom, are with us.”

I thank God for the Campbells and the Stones and the other giants of the faith who latched on to God’s holy will as revealed to us in Scripture and would not let go. I thank God for the ecumenical spirit of the GCR Church toward our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches in our city. I’m grateful for the willingness here — the eagerness! — to unite with other Christ-followers.

This evening, the GCR elders and ministers are meeting at First Presbyterian Church with their elders and ministers and the elders and ministers from First Baptist and First Methodist to spend two hours together in dinner and prayer. We are forming an alliance, a partnership. We’re calling it “4 Midland.” It’s a hopefully obvious play on words. Four churches breaking down our walls, putting aside our differences, to unite together for the sake of our city.

We’re not 100% sure what this looks like yet. We know it’s going to be a worship and service partnership that brings our people together side-by-side in order to bless Midland. We want to worship together at least three times a year, beginning this next Spring: Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday/Good Friday, and the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. We’re still figuring out which churches are going to host each worship service. We also want our four preachers swapping pulpits with each other once a year, probably on that Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, November 24, 2024. As for an annual service project in our city, we’re still taking suggestions. That’s one of the things we’re going to pray about together tonight.

We do believe this partnership between denominations will be a powerful witness to our city that Jesus really is the Prince of Peace, that he really does possess the power to reconcile and unite. Jesus says in the middle of Matthew 18 that if two or three of his people will come together and agree on anything, he’ll show up just to see it! And we believe he will.

Whatever good comes from this alliance, we know it must begin in prayer. So that’s what we’re doing tonight at First Presbyterian. We’re going to pray. We’re going to commit to one another — all four churches — as brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re going to pledge in prayer that we will not be competitive, that we will not be territorial, that we will see our area of Midland as the part of the Kingdom of God we’ve been given to serve together. And we’re going to submit the whole thing to him. In prayer, we’re going to give our partnership, our efforts, our projects, all of it to our merciful Father for his purposes and to his eternal glory and praise.

It starts tonight. I have only hopes and dreams for where it might be going. But it starts tonight.



More Love to Him






The Texas Rangers scored more runs yesterday than the Cowboys scored points. The Rangers have won four straight playoff games on the road against the AL’s top two winningest teams and are one win away from advancing to the ALCS for the first time since the heartbreak of 2011. In the meantime, can we all stop putting the Cowboys in the same category as the Eagles and 49ers in the NFC? Clearly, it’s not even close.


In preparing for this weekend’s GCR 60th Anniversary and Homecoming, I’ve been reading old bulletins from the North A CofC that planted GCR back in 1963. Greg Fleming, the preacher at the North A / Downtown Church, has been a valuable resource as I piece together all that shared history. More than half the North A congregation moved to GCR when it opened. When the first GCR elders were ordained, there were shepherds and representatives from North A, Fairmont, Cherry Lane, and a couple other Midland CofCs present in a show of unity and support. One gets the sense that the Churches of Christ in this town used to demonstrate a strong unity. We once believed in and felt our common bonds and purpose.

I asked Greg what it would take to re-ignite that kind of unity here in our immediate local context. Never mind the broader picture of Churches of Christ, what about just here in Midland-Odessa? Could we remember our common past and come together for the sake of the Kingdom to which we all belong? Is it possible? Could our Lord work through our two congregations to foster some holy reconciliation in a spirit of Christian love? I’m up for anything when it comes to breaking down walls and uniting in Christ. As you know, I’m working hard toward ecumenical worship and service partnerships between GCR and our brothers and sisters at First Baptist, First Pres, and First Methodist. What about our own CofCs?

Greg responded with this paragraph from Elisha E. Sewell, published in the old Gospel Advocate in 1923:

“We tell others that we can all see the Bible alike; that trouble is, we differ, not on what it says, but on the inferences we draw therefrom… Yet, while preaching the truth to others, we are continually differing among ourselves, not on what the Bible says, but on the inferences we draw therefrom. We draw inferences concerning Bible colleges, the second coming of Christ, Bible-school literature, individual communion cups, and numerous other things; and instead of discussing these matters in a spirit of love and forbearance, we accuse each other of disloyalty to the Book, and we want to withdraw fellowship from each other. The remedy for this and the only one, is to change our emphases from that of loyalty to the cause (meaning ‘our plea’) to loyalty to Christ. More love to him will mean more love for each other. Love is the great principle of unity. It succeeds where others fail, and without it all others must fail.”

The Church of Christ “cause” Sewell mentions, our “plea,” is the misguided restoration of the first century Church, the deadly shift we made from starting as a bold Christian unity movement that accepted all who claimed Christ Jesus as Lord to becoming a church restoration movement that drew lines and wrote policies that divided and excluded followers of Jesus. Yuk.

More love to him would mean more love for one another. A better grasp of God’s grace for us would result in more grace for one another across denominational lines and within our own Christian heritage in CofCs. Is it too late?

The time is coming — it’s already here in many ways — in which we will not have the luxury of calling ourselves Baptists, Methodists, Disciples, or Churches of Christ. In the near future, we won’t be divided along denominational lines, we’ll just be thrilled to find another Christian. Period. We’re going to need each other much more than we realize. Someday soon, how we feel about musical instruments and women’s roles will take a backseat to adherence to the rule of faith and a stand for the non-negotiables of the Apostles’ Creed, which has been our Lord’s will all along. I say we lean into it right now. A good way to start would be to reconcile with our own CofC brothers and sisters and our churches in Midland.



Day One in Kalispell

The GCR Church in Midland, Texas is taking the next big step in our Gospel partnership with the MountainView Christian Church in Kalispell, Montana. Nineteen of us are spending this week among the mountains and valleys, lakes and pines, to work side-by-side with our brothers and sisters in reaching their community for Christ.





The partnership between our two churches was formed last October as part of GCR’s “Breakthrough” campaign. A gifted and dynamic young couple, Brad and Melissa Hooley, were planting Mountain View Christian through the Nexus church planting organization, and we were determined to do more in our support of Nexus by upping our game with these courageous church planters. We’re not content to just write checks to Nexus anymore; we are going to own our relationship with these missionaries physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and personally.






It started with a live-streamed communion service together between our two churches via Zoom on their second Sunday. It continued in January when Brad and Melissa and their four wonderful kids spent a long weekend with us in Midland. And today, we have put our bodies where our money is by flying to Kalispell and helping their congregation achieve their plans for outreach in their city.








Today, we cleaned up around the city’s public pavilion, cleared brush and dead limbs around a nature trail, sanded and applied water seal to the wood tables and benches, and planted new flowers at the butterfly garden. This is a beautiful area regularly used by families, civic groups, schools, and nature lovers, but it’s been neglected over the years. Now, as part of their commitment to love their neighbors and to be a positive force in their community, MountainView Christian Church is taking care of it.








We also did a lot of work at their brand new preschool, which is scheduled to open September 6. When the Hooleys were doing their homework on Kalispell last year, they identified a lack of daycares and pre-schools as a point of entry into the community. Opening and operating a pre-school will meet a real, tangible need in the name and the manner of our Lord Jesus. Fifty-one percent of the profit will be put in a church benevolence fund to be used for the community while the remaining 49-percent will be placed into a church building fund. Today we shampooed the carpets, pulled weeds, and removed the rotten landscape timbers bordering the playground, replacing them with brand new six-by-sixes and re-doing the mulch.






Once the work day was done, we walked the downtown strip in Kalispell and enjoyed some wonderful ice cream at Norm’s before heading to Brad’s parents’ house for an incredible dinner with the Hooleys and a dozen other members of MountainView Christian. Check out the picture of Mark playing pickleball in Dwight and Sharon’s driveway. Those mountains and lakes provide the backdrop for almost every scene in Kalispell — just breathtaking. What a delight to break bread with our brothers and sisters in Christ in such a gorgeous setting, to pray with these church-planters, to make connections with these good people who live 1,200 miles away from West Texas, and to thank God for what he’s doing in Montana.

We’re cramming a whole lot into these six days. Brad tells me we accomplished much more today than he expected, which means his bar had been set really low or we really killed it. Either way, we exceeded their expectations, so it’s a win for everybody. I’m always a little worried on things like this that we might be more of a burden on these busy people than a blessing. We were assured by all tonight that is not the case.



Not the Last Time

More than 750 Christians from First Methodist, First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and GCR Church of Christ gathered at First Methodist last night for a combined Ash Wednesday service to start the traditional 40 days of Lent. Steve, Steve, Darin, and I have been having monthly lunches together for a while now at which we pray for and encourage one another in our ministries. But last night was the first time our four churches had worshiped together in the same room at the same time. And I don’t think it’ll be the last.

The room was maxed out – we were packed into those pews like sardines, the balcony was full, and there were a couple of dozen people standing in the foyer. We combined our worship teams and choirs and Beth led them in a goose-bump inducing performance of “And Can It Be” to start the evening. It was mind-blowingly good. It was great! Everybody in that combined choir was having a really good time singing together and it was obvious. If those musicians and singers have anything to do with it, there will be another time.






I was honored by my friend Steve Brooks to greet the congregation and offer some words of welcome and purpose before leading the church in our Lord’s Prayer. And I was incredibly nervous. Much more nervous than I thought I would be. Of course, my mind was taking me back to that first “4 Amarillo” service we did at First Baptist in 2013. Sitting on that stage last night, looking at all the Christians from the different denominations sitting so closely together and singing and praying together to our one God, I was overcome with gratitude. How is it that I get to be a part of something like this? Again! Only by God’s grace.

I made a couple of weak jokes about our differences, making sure we CofC’ers were the punch line, and then attempted to point out how coming together like this is living right in the middle of our God’s divine will. I used a lot of what I wrote in this space yesterday to encourage the gathering. But I didn’t need to. There was a buzz and a holy energy in that place last night that no one but God’s Spirit can generate. It was sacred. It was holy. And everybody knew it. At the end of my remarks, I said, “May this not be the last time we do this.”






It took eight of us to impose the ashes on that extra large crowd – all four of us senior pastors and one other pastor from each church. Ryan, our Connections Minister at GCR, applied the ashes with us. We talked over the phone together on the way home about the impact of that moment. Realizing that you are acting as pastor and priest, you are a conduit of God’s blessings to his people, you are reciting the ancient words of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming the truth of our mortality and our need to repent and believe the Good News, looking all these people in the eye, one at a time, touching their foreheads, young children being carried by their parents and older folks shuffling to the altar, people you worship and serve with at GCR every week for years and people you’ve never met or seen, blessing them with eternal words – it’s too much. Who am I, Lord, that you allow me to do this? Ryan confessed that he choked up when imposing the ashes on their young daughter, Lucy. I told him how different it was saying those words, “From dust you were created by God, and to dust you shall return,” to my wife, Carrie-Anne. Who has cancer. Who goes in for a fourth round of chemotherapy tomorrow. Very different. The tears in my eyes welled up in a completely different way.

The evening ended with a congregational singing of “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days” sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” Seriously. And it was awesome. Michael Humphries texted me early this morning: “When they broke out that hymn to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun,” I leaned over to my wife, Wendy, and said, “I think I might be a Methodist.”

My heart is full this morning. What a privilege to lead and serve at such a beautiful event. I feel so honored to be in a partnership with these good brothers and sisters at these four great churches. It is an undeserved grace from God. As soon as it was over, of course, I was inundated with requests to do something again soon and to go bigger. We need to do something at the convention center. We need to do something at the football stadium. We need to get ten thousand people together to worship.

No, we need to follow the Lord. He’s doing this. He started this. We’re not going to get in front of him on this. Let’s be patient. And let’s be thankful.

I was reminded many times last night that most people in the Churches of Christ do not get to experience the blessings of the unity of God’s Church the way we do. They don’t get to worship with other Christians from other traditions. They don’t get to see or feel all the many facets of the Lord’s Body like we do. We should be thankful. We should never take it for granted.

One older man, a member at First Methodist, grabbed me after the service and said, “I made sure to come to you for the ashes because I wanted to tell all my friends tomorrow that I received the ashes from a Church of Christ preacher!”

We should be thankful. We should never take it for granted. And this can’t be the last time.



Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the traditional 40 days of Christian prayer and fasting leading to Easter Sunday. And the Christians at Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland are observing the day with our Christian brothers and sisters at First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and First Methodist.

Here at GCR, we are focusing on transformation and mission as the twin pillars of God’s will for his people. He wants to shape us more and more into his holy image and he wants us to share his love and grace with the world around us. Events like this combined worship service at First Methodist lean into both.

Ash Wednesday is an historically Christian practice; fasting and praying are foundational spiritual disciplines. Our Lord will meet us in these times to change us. Tonight’s service will be unsettling for most long-time Church of Christ’ers. The liturgy will be heavily scripted; nothing will be off the cuff. The prayers will be written, the Scriptures will be recited in unison, the songs will be ancient, and a pastor is going to put ashes on your forehead as an outward sign of repentance. This service moves us out of our comfort zones, it forces us to go to an uncomfortable place and submit to centuries-old Christian practices in a desire to grow closer to our Lord. Yes, God will meet you at First Methodist tonight. He will speak to you in a new way. He will show you something you’ve never seen before. He’ll bestow on you a gift you might not have received in any other setting. If you’ll give yourself to it in faith and trust, it will be a transformative experience.

This combined Ash Wednesday service with other Christians from other traditions also serves to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to our city. The truth of the Gospel is put on public display when Christians come together in the presence of God, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit to worship. When we set aside our differences to worship in Christian fellowship and mutual love, the Lord’s will is done. We demonstrate the truth that Jesus died on the cross and was raised to eternal life in order to tear down all the barriers between us and God and between us and one another. He has broken down the walls that divide us. And when we come together in each other’s buildings, when we combine our worship teams and choirs, when we join hands in prayer and recite the ancient creeds, we are declaring that we belong to a Kingdom that is eternally bigger than our churches and that our King really is the Prince of Peace.

God is blessing us today with an opportunity not too many CofCs get to experience. It’s a grace from our Father to get a glimpse of hisĀ  glory, to get a taste of his will with his people together tonight.



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