Surrounded

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~Hebrews 12:1

We are “Running the Race” together at GCR on Wednesday nights, five straight weeks of intentional intergenerational mixing up of our ages and groups for worship, games, Christian practices, and desserts. This past Wednesday we attempted a demonstration of affection and encouragement for the older runners among us.

We asked everyone in our church family who was baptized 50 years ago or longer to wait in the foyer. We wouldn’t let them come into the Worship Center. While the rest of us gathered inside, our older brothers and sisters were outfitted with makeshift “runners bibs,” big marathon numbers to wear on their chests declaring how many years they’ve each been running the race. Meanwhile, I prepped those of us waiting on the inside for what would come next.

The first verses of Hebrews 12 are serving as a theme verse for these five Wednesdays and we’re observing that we have our own cloud of witnesses right here at GCR. There are faithful disciples of Christ right here in our own church family who have endured, persevered, fought the good fight, and run the race marked out for us. We have wonderful models of faith and courage, sacrifice and service, right here in the building. And as they run the race before us, as they show us the way, as they wrap up their races by finishing strong and handing the baton to those of us who are coming behind, let’s really cheer them on. They deserve our encouragement. They deserve our affection. They deserve our love and respect. And they deserve to know how much we appreciate them.

At that point, Jackie opened up the doors at the back of the Worship Center and here they came! Right down the long center aisle! 60-year Christians. 70-year disciples. A couple of 80+ year followers of Christ. And we let them have it! A standing ovation. Clapping. Cheering. Whistling. Stomping. The “Chariots of Fire” theme song blaring. High fives. Hugs. Pats on the back. Spotlights dancing. Yelling and hollering. Confetti and streamers and noisemakers. Lots of smiling and laughing. These older saints entered our place of worship to a roaring welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

It took a little longer than I thought it might. But if it had lasted an hour, I’m convinced we would have kept clapping and whistling. And everybody in the room would have kept smiling.

After everyone finally got seated, we stood up to worship our God together, I talked a little about the blessings of being surrounded by these older saints, and then we surrounded them in prayer. We crowded around those who are running ahead of us and showing us the way, we knelt before them and put our arms around them, literally, and lifted them up to the Lord in thanksgiving and blessing.

Then we played “Human Bingo,” a game J.E. and Jadyn devised to intentionally get our different generations mixing together. Beautiful.

As a Christian community, we’re called to lives of mutual encouragement. Christians have a high calling to care for one another spiritually and morally. Our attention should be riveted to always looking out for ways to encourage others within the community of faith.

I’m always strengthened when I consider those who’ve been faithfully running this marathon longer than me. And so much better. With more grace. And courage. And faith.

I pray we were able to return some of that strength and encouragement Wednesday night.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism Language

The Churches of Christ use strong language when we talk about baptism. Sometimes we’re accused of being over-the-top. I wonder how they might criticize Martin Luther, who wrote these words in the middle of the 16th century:

“Your baptism is nothing less than grace clutching you by the throat, a grace-full throttling by which your sin is submerged in order that ye may remain under grace. Come, thus, to thy baptism! Give thyself up to be drowned in baptism and killed by the mercy of thy dear God, saying, ‘Drown me and throttle me, dear Lord, for henceforth I will gladly die to sin with thy Son!'”

Lots of Christians believe baptism is just an outward sign of a salvation that’s already been received. Other Christians believe baptism is a necessary command that legally divides people into two groups: those going to heaven and those going to hell. Of course, we know baptism is more than just a sign or a symbol. But we also know it should never be reduced to some line-in-the-sand technical requirement. It’s so much more. It’s a gift from God.

Baptism is not a legal requirement to meet, it’s not a technical ritual to perform, it’s not a test to pass or fail, or a strict command that has to be perfectly obeyed exactly right. It’s a gracious gift from God. Baptism is the way to accept and experience everything God longs to give us.

This Sunday is Baptism Sunday at GCR Church. I’ve never done one of these before. In Churches of Christ, we have typically emphasized the urgency of receiving forgiveness in baptism and rushed to the church building at all hours of the day or night to get a convert in the water immediately upon a statement of belief. Planning a particular Sunday to initiate new disciples is a little out of our comfort zone.

But the careful planning is what I like about it the most. As a church, we have spent the past couple of weeks focusing on baptism. Praying about it. Singing about it. Studying it. We’re praying for our friends and relatives who have never been baptized. We’re studying and praying with people who are about to be baptized. We’re counting the cost as a congregation and highlighting the beautiful sacrament as a divine gift to be received from our God.

If you or someone you know has never been baptized, this Sunday at GCR might be the perfect day to participate in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. If you live anywhere in West Texas, we’re inviting you to join us at GCR this Sunday and be baptized into Christ. You can click here to review what we believe about baptism, to contact me or another of our ministers or shepherds about baptism, and to see how to prepare for your baptism. If you know somebody in West Texas who’s never been baptized, send them the link. Pray for them. Tell me about them.

As of today, four people have signed up to be baptized into Christ at GCR this Sunday. The invitation is open to you, too.

Peace,

Allan

Running with Word & Prayer

April 15. The day we realize that taxation with representation ain’t that great, either.

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I want to share some pictures from our latest Running the Race evening here at GCR. For five straight Wednesdays we are intentionally mixing up our younger people with our older people–worshiping together, playing silly games and eating ice cream together, reading Scripture and praying together. This past Wednesday, our children and youth group again led us in worship. We spent five minutes moving around the Worship Center praying over one another and asking others to pray over us. And then we spent the last 40-minutes or so with a few Christian practices.

 

 

 

 

 

We set up ten stations inside and around our Worship Center and asked everyone to spend ten minutes or so at three of them. The stations were all self-led. Some of the activities lent themselves more to group participation and others to individual reflection. Some were geared specifically toward the children and others toward more seasoned Christians. But for the entire 40-minutes, there were always at least six or seven people at each station, engaging God in creative ways through prayer and the Scriptures.

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the Christian practices could be classified as ancient spiritual disciplines: borrowed prayer, lectio divina, praying the Psalms, discernment. Some of the stations featured newer ways to experience God through Word and prayer: eating the Word with drops of honey and wax paper on our Bibles, macaroni necklaces inspired by Deuteronomy 6,  and a couple of art projects.

 

 

 

 

 

J.E. Bundy said it best after it was over. The beautiful thing about these Running the Race events is that we’re not talking about what the church is or what the church should be doing. We’re just doing it. And being it. In our Church of Christ heritage, we have probably leaned a little too far into the Knowledge Zone as a way to connect with God and with one another. Now, we’re finally making room to just be the people God is calling us to be and we’re discovering the salvation power in it. Transparency. Vulnerability. Blessing others. Praying together and reading the Word together without a wristwatch or a set of goals to achieve.

That’s exactly what’s happening at GCR on Wednesday nights. By God’s grace, his people here are getting to know each other a little better around Word and Prayer, goofy games, and popsicles. We’re starting to appreciate one another a little more. We’re feeling a deeper sense of belonging. I think we’re loving each other more. And better.

I think this is what it looks like to run the race with purpose.

Peace,

Allan

Does It Feel Wet Outside?

Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Ralph Strangis…

All our church ministers and staff, all the Opportunity Tribe kids, and the Mission Agape folks just spent an hour or so enjoying the eclipse together. We chewed Eclipse brand gum, ate lots of Oreos (Ryan concocted some far-fetched eclipse connection), and generally cracked eclipse jokes, made fun of each other, and laughed the whole time. Kim brought out her mystical Mayan stone, Pam produced an impressive array of shadow-casting kitchen utensils and disco balls, and Jim asked several times when it was appropriate to leave an eclipse party and not seem rude. J.E. wanted us to change into our Nikes and track suits (at times, it did look like we were all waiting to be lifted away), we all overplayed the darkness and cool down factor, and at one point Dan asked if it felt “wet” outside. I must have heard and/or overheard fourteen explanations of refraction and at least that many descriptions of how this eclipse is or is not similar to what we experienced back in October.

Some of us were disappointed that the dogs didn’t speak in tongues and no birds dive-bombed the parking lot. Turns out the animals don’t really freak out as much as the humans.

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The NCAA men’s basketball tournament concludes tonight, but Carrie-Anne clinched our family bracket Saturday when UConn took down Alabama to advance to the Final. As soon as the clock hit 0:00 on that game, C-A sent her little victory bitmoji through our family text, much to almost everyone’s delight. If UConn wins tonight, Whitney will finish in second place. If it’s Purdue, then Valerie’s husband David takes the silver. I need Purdue to win just so I won’t come in last. My March Sadness began weeks ago.

As for our office bracket here at GCR, if UConn wins, Tim and Cory will finish 1-2. If Purdue wins the title, Kristin takes our office contest and J.E. comes in second.

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We have turned MidWeek into MixWeek at GCR by combining all our Wednesday night kids programs, youth worship, and adult classes into one big “Running the Race” series. We kicked it off last Wednesday with GCR Olympics, featuring a massive Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament and an egg-throwing contest. The young people led our church in worship–we sang their songs their way– and then we spent 30-minutes or so mixing it up together with the games.

The idea this past Wednesday was to partner up with someone at least 20 years older or 20 years younger and compete against other similar pairs. By the end of the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament, we had half the church on one side of the gym and the other half on the other side, all cheering for their representative in the final match. Same deal with the egg-toss. Then we gave out medals and ate popsicles together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week, the young people will again lead us in worship, and then we’re going to spend 30-minutes or so in some formative Christian practices. We’ll have nine or ten prayer stations and Scripture stations in and around the Worship Center–some ancient practices and some brand new ways to engage God together in Word and Prayer.

The overarching goal is to intentionally put our children in front of our older adults and for our older adults to pour into our children so we can all learn what God wants us to learn from each other. We are putting ourselves in situations with our church’s children so God can teach us what we need to learn and change in us what needs to be changed to become more like them. And more like him.

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I’m not going to write anything about the Rangers. Not yet. Out of the gate, they look like they’re going to be an even better team than they were last year. But I don’t want to jinx anything. For now, I’m putting all my energies into the Stars and their promising Stanley Cup pursuits. Lankford can keep hitting 100-mile-per-hour lasers off his bat, the Rangers can keep averaging seven runs per game, and Bochy can keep whispering into his bullpen. I’m not going to say anything about it yet. Go Stars.

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Over the Christmas break, I bought a two-dollar Whoopee cushion with the four-million tickets we collected during a family trip to Cinergy. Now Whitney is pressing the cushion every time a player misses a free throw during the NCAA tournament. Every game. Every miss. “Pppphhhhrrrrrppphhhh!!” It makes me giggle. It makes Whitney laugh so hard she can’t breathe. It wears Carrie-Anne plumb out.

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Peace,

Allan

Resurrection Community

Not one person experienced the resurrection of Jesus alone. Nobody encountered the risen Jesus by themselves. The people who saw the empty tomb and the angels, the ones who ate dinner with Jesus that evening–they were all with their friends. Most of them, we know their names. We know their stories. We know about their relationships with one another.

The resurrection of Jesus creates togetherness. It creates community. It forms us together as one people today, just like it did then.

“Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ.” ~Ephesians 2:4-5

I still think the best picture of this is in Acts 2. Those first disciples who witnessed the risen Lord, those first 120 followers of Jesus who were gifted by the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost, are living resurrection life together in community.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the community, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… All the believers were together and had everything in community. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” ~ Acts 2:42-46

They didn’t have a whole lot in common other than the resurrection. But they acted like family. Every day. In each other’s homes. Loving each other. Serving each other. Ministering to one another. Taking care of each other. Eating together. Praying and singing together. They devoted themselves to the community.

The resurrection community is like a neighborhood, but it’s more personal. It’s like a family, but it’s more diverse. It can be like a football team or a civic club, but it’s much stronger. Your resurrection community, your church family, is brought together and held together by something much bigger than you. But some of you just aren’t around enough to be changed by it. Some of you–seriously–we hardly ever see you.

We need each other. None of us can do this by ourselves. It’s impossible. We were raised by Christ and with Christ to be together. I need you. And whether you admit it or not, and whether you like it or not, you need me.

You need me to love you. I need you to encourage me.

You need me to challenge you. I need you to correct me.

I need your strength when I’m tired. You need my support when you’re down.

I need your patience when I’m out. You need my joy when you don’t have any.

We all need to remind each other about the resurrection and our parts in it. We all need to be able to look around and see clearly that we’re not in this new resurrection lives by ourselves.

Peace,

Allan

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