Category: Unity (Page 1 of 6)

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 his  glory, to get a taste of his will with his people together tonight.



Four Churches, One Choir

The choirs and worship teams from First Methodist, First Presbyterian, First Baptist, and GCR Church of Christ got together this afternoon to learn some new music and practice some more familiar tunes in preparation for our combined Ash Wednesday service this week at First Methodist. Look at all those good people up there!

I praise God for my fast friendships with Steve and Steve and Darin at these other three churches and for our unified vision of God’s One Church in Midland, Texas. May our Lord’s will be done and may his name be praised in and through our partnership just as it is in heaven.



Proclaiming in Community

The New Testament shows us the Holy Spirit of God creating a brand new community of people – all people, all languages, all nations – brought to perfect unity under the lordship of the risen Jesus. On the Day of Pentecost, those filled with the Holy Spirit quote from the prophet Joel to explain what’s happening: “I will pour  out my Spirit on all people and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” ~Acts 2:38-39

The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers between people, he destroys the walls between all people, and brings us together in Christ. In Ephesians 2, it’s mainly about the hard feelings and the differences that keep Jews and Gentiles separate and divided. But those hard feelings and differences have all been demolished by God in Christ.

“In Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. He himself is our peace… [He] has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… His purpose was to create peace… to reconcile all of us to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we all have access to the Father by one Spirit.” ~Ephesians 2:13-18

The Berlin Wall was erected by the Soviets to separate East and West Berlin. In Bethlehem, there’s a 27-foot high wall that divides the Palestinians from the Israelis. There’s a wall on the Texas border intended to keep Mexicans and Central Americans out of the United States. We know all about walls. Not all of them are physical. There are social walls and racial walls. There are gender barriers and economic barriers. We’re divided by politics and language, we’re segregated by ethnicity and education. But the blood of Jesus brings all of us together and the Spirit of God holds us together so that our unity in all the diversity becomes an undeniable proclamation of the power of the Prince of Peace.

“You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” ~Galatians 3:26-28

We have to practice this tearing down of walls, we must be dedicated to demolishing the things that separate us. We must do the very, very hard work of reconciliation because it’s such a vital component of the Church’s proclamation. 2 Corinthians 5 says God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Peter slipped up one time in Antioch, remember? He was under some social pressures there and he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. He wouldn’t associate with Gentiles in public. And Paul called him on it. He told him he wasn’t acting “in line with the truth of the Gospel.” He wasn’t living the Story.

If the biggest and most imposing barriers in history have all been eliminated by Jesus – national / ethnic, social / class, gender – then what other barriers can be justified? If all the walls have been abolished at the cross, who are we to erect new ones? Or to maintain the ones others have erected? If all people are created in the image of God, if God’s purpose is reconciliation and unity, if we are to love even our enemies, if Jesus took all  the world’s hostility into himself to destroy it, on what grounds can we justify any walls at all?



Ash Wednesday Wrap

Putting the wraps on our first GCR – First Pres Ash Wednesday service last week at First Presbyterian Church in Midland. I didn’t know if we’d get a dozen people to show up or maybe thirty or forty. I didn’t know if our folks would be really blessed by participating in something so foreign to our typical Church of Christ service or if they’d be turned off. I didn’t know if this was going to be a one-time thing for us as two churches worshiping and serving God as the unified Body of Christ or the first of many cooperative events and ecumenical times of worship to come. We do understand that breaking down the walls between our Christian denominations and coming together as his people is fully within our God’s will. And we did ask God to be with us as we took this step together. So why are we surprised that it was such a glorious, life-changing, soul-filling experience?





Corporate confession is not something we normally do in Churches of Christ – we never do it. But this Ash Wednesday service reminded us that regular confession and repentance and absolution of sins is good for us. And necessary. Responding aloud to the Word of God being read – it’s formative. Observing the Christian calendar and preparing for Easter Sunday in fasting and prayer in unison with disciples of Christ all over the world – it’s powerful.

Now, about the ashes. I’ve been told that my line was moving much slower than Steve Schorr’s line. You see, that was the first time I had ever imposed the ashes. I’ve participated in seven or eight Ash Wednesday services in the past and always received the ashes but, until last Wednesday, I had never been on the other end. So, yeah, cut me some slack. There’s an ashes-to-forehead distribution process to work through. The first few parishioners I received walked away with very, very dark crosses on their foreheads; they’re probably still trying to scrub them away today. The next few each required a couple of takes because I didn’t get enough ashes on my thumb. It’s not as easy as it looks! Also, I wanted to use the phrase, “Repent and believe the Good News” instead of “From ashes you were created and to ashes you will return.” It just feels more like an invitation and more like the Gospel to say the first phrase, more of a blessing. But First Pres uses the “ashes” phrase. And they’re the experts. So I used both. To each worshiper, I applied the cross with, “From ashes you were created by God and to ashes you will return; repent and believe the Good News!” That seems more appropriate. It also slows down your line.

Plus, when members of my own GCR family approached, I wanted to call them by name. I wanted to bless them  personally. Acting as a pastor and priest in that moment, I wanted to connect them by name to the truth of their own lives and to the truth of what God has done and is doing for them through Jesus. It was a very powerful experience for me to be a conduit of God’s truth and blessing in that very different way. And it slowed down my line a little.

We had as many Church of Christ’ers there as they had Presbyterians. I have not stopped receiving emails and texts from GCR folks who are so thankful for the way God spoke to them Wednesday night in somebody else’s church. And it was definitely not a one-time thing. Steve leaned over toward me before the service was even over – we were singing the next-to-last song before the benediction – and said, “What are we doing next?”




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