Category: Fellowship (Page 3 of 17)

We Use the Same Book

I was reminded again last weekend that our God is a God of reconciliation and that our Lord’s great prayer is that his people be unified. Further, I was awakened all over again to the great joy we feel when one of the last holdouts of Christian one-ness, our denominationalism, is put aside for the sake of unity and faithful witness.

At the ACU preacher’s workshop in Abilene, I found myself in energetic conversation with Ken Holsberry, the preacher at the Edgemere CofC in Wichita Falls. The severe drought in their city, which made them a national punch line of sorts when they began treating toilet water for use as drinking water, has led to a cooperative prayer and ministry partnership between them and other Christian churches. Edgemere has helped orchestrate a couple of prayer services at a downtown theater and a community worship service at gigantic Memorial Stadium in collaboration with a Presbyterian, a Baptist, and a community church congregation.

Wes Crawford, the preacher at the Glenwood CofC in Tyler, reminded me that in the tiny town of Stamford, Texas, the small churches there have gone in together to pay for a youth minister. The CofC, the Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches are funding a collaborative youth group that worships and learns, plays and ministers together. They’ve been doing it for years.

And it’s fun. It’s exciting. It just feels right — it feels like the Gospel — to put aside our differences, to tear down the walls that divide us, to come together as children of God and disciples of his Son to better witness to an unbelieving world.

Those of us who haven’t quite figured out how to transition from “We’re the only ones who’ve got it right” to “By the grace of God, all those who follow Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord” focus mainly on our differences. Those who want to make the move but don’t know where to start, also, I think, are hung up on the differences.

The differences are minor and few. The things we have in common as those redeemed by the love and grace of God are many and huge.

I would suggest just starting with the Bible. You know, we all use the exact same Book. Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, all the grace churches and community churches, Disciples of Christ, and Christian churches, and the Churches of Christ — we all use the exact same Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures as the authority and guide in the ways we submit to God and follow his Christ.

Bonhoeffer points to the Bible as the great starting point for Christian unity:

“It is really the biblical text as such that binds the whole Christian community into a unity. It assures us of our being bound together in one family of brothers and sisters not only with the Christian community of all past and future ages but with the whole church of the present. As such, the biblical text is of enormous unifying, ecumenical significance. This consciousness of being bound together into one family is clearly strengthened among hearers of the biblical text, since this is an awareness that every deep insight and experience they encounter in this text is the agelong substance of Christian thought and life and so is heard and learned with gratitude and profound awe.”

When you listen to a Methodist preacher and then think, “Why, that could have been a Church of Christ sermon!” don’t be so surprised. When a Baptist minister talks about faith and grace and good works, don’t be shocked. When the Presbyterian guy speaks passionately about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, don’t be caught off guard. We’re all using the same book. We all hold it tightly and defend it fiercely as the revealed and holy Word of the Creator of Heaven and Earth. And, in a run-down of the many things all Christian churches and all disciples of Jesus have in common, this one’s very near the top of the list.

Peace,

Allan

Flesh and Blood

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” ~Ephesians 6:12

To me, flesh and blood means people. Flesh and blood is a person. It’s a man or a woman. Skin and corpuscles. Tissue and cells. Epidermis and marrow. Mortal. Humankind. People.

Our struggle is not against people.

Our struggle is not against people across the street, people in other countries, or people in other churches. Our battle is not against preachers or politicians or pundits. Our fight is not against family members, our employers, or our persecutors. It’s not against actors, authors, or athletes. It’s not against political parties or social organizations or even your country’s enemies. Our struggle is not against our elders or ministers or the people who sit three pews over.

Our struggle is not against people.

Our struggle is against Satan and the demons of hell. Our battle is against the kingdom of darkness. Our common enemy is the prince of liars who convinces us to fight against one another while he advances unchecked against our families and our churches and the rest of God’s magnificent creation.

Taking our stand against the devil’s schemes means refusing to struggle against people. It means declining to engage in division. It means we never fight each other or our neighbors. It means having no enemies other than the enemies of Christ Jesus, our risen and coming Lord.

Grace & Peace,

Allan

Members of God’s House

People are looking for a connection. We have a human need to belong to something, to be a part of something, to be a part of some group. We get our identity, in large part, from the groups to which we belong. And that something, or some group, should be successful and popular. Even if it’s only a sports team, that drive to identify with something is enormous.

So we buy the jerseys. We refer to “our” teams as “we” and “us.” We have a need to belong, to connect, to have some sense of fitting in this world. And it’s from this sense of belonging — at work, at school, at the club, at the football stadium — that gives us the confidence and ability to relate and accomplish things. Our own families, of course, are foundational in giving us a true sense of belonging.

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” ~Ephesians 2:19-20

We do belong. We belong to God and to God’s family. That’s our connection.

Christ has brought us home to God. We live in God’s house as his much-loved sons and daughters. We belong with God and are involved in what he is doing. The other people in the house are family with us. This home defines us. Christ gives us a place in this world. And from that connection, that sense of belonging, we grow in our abilities to relate to each other and accomplish great things for the Kingdom.

Remember where home is. Remember who’s your family.

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The “4 Amarillo” cooperative coalition among the four downtown Amarillo churches made the list of the year’s top “headliners” in the local Amarillo Globe News. You can read the article in yesterday’s paper by clicking here.

Peace,

Allan

Drawing a Line in the Sand

Among the many texts and emails I’ve received from my brothers and sisters here at Central following that sermon on Christian unity I preached two weeks ago, this one stood out:

“Hands down best CofC sermon I have ever heard in my 56 years of life on this earth!!! Two thumbs up!!!”

“You need to get out more often. Just kidding. I appreciate those kind words. The response has been tremendous. Now we’ve got to put it into action.”

“I’ve heard others try to preach that sermon and they’ve done pretty good at it but could never simplify it down and just spell it out like you did where there was no doubt left in anyone’s mind that grace covers all believers! Even the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians!”

“Thanks, sister. You’re a blessing to me.”

“I’m glad you have gotten good response because, realistically, you drew a line in the sand for us as CofC people. You are right, we can enjoy that sermon, but now comes the hard part…living it.”

A line in the sand, huh? The intent of the build up to that sermon and that day and us as a church going forward is to erase the lines, to eradicate the barriers between Christian denominations. Of course, I know what this dear lady means. Drawing the line means we’ve said very clearly and very forcefully now that we understand our Lord’s holy will is for his people to worship and serve together, to fellowship with each other, to show love and esteem for one another in order to evangelize the world. And we intend to practice it. We intend to make it a part of who we are and how we think and behave.

From another email written by a Central member: “Thank you for that sermon this past Sunday. The term ‘sermon’ and ‘thank you’ seem so inadequate for such a powerful message. That is a message we should all hear. And often. Ever since our family moved to Central it has felt like a rock lifted off my shoulders in the sense that I was free of the baggage of years of animosity toward and from the Churches of Christ. I didn’t realize however that there was still a fair bit of baggage on my shoulders until I felt it being lifted Sunday morning. That fact that we can recognize and then work with other churches and Christians is such an unreal feeling… maybe a little like we’ll all feel together in heaven. I have said that I have never heard John 10:16 (at least the way I understand it) preached at a Church of Christ. Well, I have now! Grace for 14th and Monroe as well as those down the street? Hallelujah, preach on, brother!”

That email is just one of several I’ve received that express a sense of the powerful words of Jesus’ prayer lifting a weight from their shoulders. A lot of it seems to do with their own personal feelings and beliefs, which have been at odds with their understanding of traditional CofC beliefs and practices, being validated and encouraged from the pulpit on a Sunday morning by their elders and ministers. And, again, if some line in some sand was drawn, it’s about visibly and emphatically renouncing the long-time perception that we think we’re the only ones going to heaven.

Our elders are also receiving emails, of which this is a sample: “Thank you for having the courage in your leadership to take a position that embraces neighbor churches. You set the tone. You foster the culture and the atmosphere that allows and promotes a message like the one we heard Sunday. What a great feeling it is to look past our differences and work together with other Christians. I have told you before that I cannot express my appreciation enough for the impact Central and its staff has had on my family. Now, I want to thank you for the impact Central and its staff has had on me.”

I think the message from John 17 is liberating. I think it frees us to truly be the new people we were created to be at our baptisms. We are full of God’s Holy Spirit, we are re-created to experience all of life in brand new ways, we are united with all of God’s children and all followers of the Christ. Now, we’ve given our people permission — a mandate, even — to act like it. That’s why it feels so good, I think. Because we’re doing what we were created to do. We’re actually pursuing, for a change, what God really wants. That’s why it feels good.

Another way we empowered our congregation was by giving them an argument against those who disapprove fellowshipping other churches and Christians. Immediately following the sermon, one of our oldest members walked down front and confessed to me, “Allan, I’ve been struggling for the past several weeks with this partnership with these other churches because of baptism. My concern has always been about fellowshipping people who are baptized differently than us and for different reasons. You answered it for me. It’s God’s grace. The same grace he has for me, he has for all Christians.”

God’s grace covers all Christians. It covers practice and doctrine. It covers behavior and belief. How does anyone read the Scriptures and come to any other conclusion?

A couple of days ago I received a text from a good friend of mine in Fort Worth: “You are not thinking big enough with “4 Amarillo.” Your reach is much bigger than you think. Make it easy for people to donate who read the blog and get excited, yet aren’t in Amarillo.”

“But it’s a local thing. People who read the blog and get excited about it should pursue a similar path with their own churches, right?”

“In a more perfect world they would. There might be people who will write a check instead of work. While you may prefer they do it locally, if they want to give money to a very good cause, let them.”

One of our plans is to build several Habitat for Humanity houses together next summer. At some point, we may have to organize more officially in order to keep up with the money and other necessary things that go with big projects. So, yeah, there may be a way to donate to “4 Amarillo” later. For now, if you don’t live in our city, I urge you to begin laying the groundwork for similar demonstrations of Christian unity in your own place. Pray about it. Study it. Consider the evangelistic implications for the Kingdom of God. And then do it. It feels good, because it’s right.

If it will help, here’s a link to the audio of the sermon we preached on August 11. It’s called “The Time Has Come: That the World May Believe.” Click here to listen or to download.

One last email: “We’ve had 4+ inches of rain this past week. When I heard a group of farmers this morning wonder why we are getting so much now all of a sudden, I told them it’s because the Church of Christ, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and the Methodists are finally working together!”

Peace,

Allan

Let’s Astonish the World

What a tremendous response! What a terrific reaction to what our God revealed to us at Central this past Sunday! And, my, how it continues even now into the middle of the week! The emails and texts that began pouring in during lunchtime Sunday are still being received today in a fairly steady stream. There’s an enthusiasm over what we’ve discovered together as a church family. There’s an overwhelming resolve to jump wholeheartedly into what our God has put in front of us. There’s a continual hum, a buzz, a current of Holy Spirit energy that’s tangible in this place. It’s real. You can feel it. We’ve tapped in to something here. Maybe… God’s holy will?

Allow me to share with you in this space today the heart of the message we heard together Sunday from God’s Word. Tomorrow, my plan is to share some of the response to the message in an effort to further process what happened Sunday.

The lesson Sunday came from the last part of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, his plea for unity among all future believers. It served as the culmination of our sermon series on this powerful prayer. And it provided the theological base for our “4 Amarillo” partnership with First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Polk Street Methodist.

My prayer, Jesus says, is that all of them may be one. May they be brought to complete unity. It’s this unity, this uncompromising love and acceptance we have for all baptized Christian believers that will prove to the world Jesus really is who he says he is and who we say he is. Our unflinching dedication to love and defend all Christians, to worship and serve with all Christians, will astonish the world.

Well, Allan, not all people who’ve been baptized, right? I mean, a lot of people are baptized in different ways than we are, and for different reasons. We can’t worship with and have fellowship with all Christians.

That’s why the church is not astonishing the world.

Christ’s prayer is for unity. Christ’s will is for complete unity among all his followers today. So, let’s go there.

If God accepts someone, I must also accept them, too, right? I can’t be a sterner judge than the perfect judge, can I? Nobody would say, “Well, I know that God accepts this woman as a full child of his, I know she’s probably saved, but she doesn’t meet all of my standards in the things she believes and the way she worships, so I’m not going to accept her.” Nobody would say that. We must fellowship everyone who has fellowship with God. We must fellowship everyone who is saved. All the saved.

So… who are the saved?

There was a time when we would say everyone who hears, believes, repents, confesses, and is baptized is saved. OK, for the sake of this discussion, let’s go with that. The next question is, “He who hears what?”

“The Gospel!”

“She who believes what?”

“The Gospel!”

“Whoever repents and confesses and is baptized by what or through what or into what?”

“The Gospel!”

Right. That means the next question is… what is the Gospel?

That Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, that he alone is Lord, and that we are saved by faith in him. You might check out 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 or several other places in Scripture where Paul sums up the Gospel. It seems pretty clear that it’s about declaring Jesus as Lord and as the only way to the Father and submitting to his lordship in baptism and in a new way of life. We’ve never required anything else. The Church has never asked for another confession. We’ve never asked anybody their position on women’s roles or children’s worship before they’re baptized. We don’t put a teenager in the water and catalog all his views and opinions on instrumental worship before he’s saved. (Unfortunately, some of us do that about a month later.) That stuff is not Gospel. Paul says it’s nothing but Christ and him crucified.

Romans 15:7 says we are to accept one another as Christ accepted us. We are to receive others by the same standards we were received at our baptisms. You know, your acceptance by God is a gift. That fact that Christ Jesus has accepted you is pure grace. The imperative for us is to extend that same gift, to show that same grace, to all others who have received it from our Lord.

Well, what about the Christian who disagrees with me on divorce and remarriage, or on the age of the earth? What about the Christian who doesn’t see church names or the Lord’s Supper the way I do? What about our discord over steeples or shaped notes?

In Romans 14-15, the issues are eating mean versus vegetables and the observance of holy days. And Paul knows what’s right and wrong. He knows the correct answer. There is a right and wrong on these matters. But Paul says, in Christ Jesus, it doesn’t matter. You don’t believe me? Read Romans 14:1-15:7.

Now, here’s where it gets us. You ready?

Do you believe that you are perfect? Do you believe you have God’s will completely and perfectly figured out? That you are living exactly right, that you believe everything exactly right, that your worship is exactly right according to God’s plans? Do you think you know everything and do everything perfectly? No? That’s what I thought. Then what in the world saves you? What covers you in your innocent mistakes? What saves you in your accidental misunderstandings and your sincere misinterpretations? Why, it’s God’s grace, of course. His matchless grace.

Do you believe that the Churches of Christ are perfect? Do you think that the CofCs  have everything totally figured out? That we are worshiping exactly right, that our leadership structures are completely lined up with God’s intent, that we have all of God’s will entirely mapped out and expressed perfectly? No? That’s what I thought. Then what in the world saves us? What covers us in our innocent mistakes? What saves us in our accidental misunderstandings and our sincere misinterpretations? Why, God’s grace. Yes, his wonderful grace.

You think there’s any chance at all the Methodists might be doing something right according to the will of God that we’re not? You think the Presbyterians might possibly have something figured out that we don’t? What if the Baptists’ understandings of something in the Bible are richer and fuller than ours? What if another group’s practice is more in line with God’s will than ours? Is it even possible? Yes, of course. Then, what covers us in our innocent mistakes and accidental misunderstandings and sincere misinterpretations? Grace. Yeah, I know.

Now, let’s assume that we have it right on the Lord’s Supper and the Methodists have it wrong. Let’s pretend that we’re right about baptism and a plurality of elders and the Presbyterians and Baptists are wrong. Does the grace of God not cover them completely in their innocent mistakes and accidental misunderstandings and sincere misinterpretations? Are they any less saved?

But they’re wrong and we’re right!

So you get God’s grace where you lack understanding but they don’t? You get the grace of God in your misinterpretations of God’s will but they don’t? Why? Because you try harder? Because we’re more sincere? Because, somehow, we deserve it?

Whoa.

The unbelieving world looks at that and says, “No, thanks.” And I don’t blame them. A religion as visibly divided as ours does not reflect the truth. It reflects our fallen world, not the glory of our God.

Our Christian unity will have an eternal impact on our world. But the world has to see it. Our unity, which already exists as a gift from God, must be visible. It must be practiced and experienced. When it is, the world will believe.

A Methodist preacher, a Church of Christ preacher, a Baptist preacher and a Presbyterian preacher all walk in to a bar is the first line of a bad joke. The Methodist church, the Church of Christ, the Baptist and Presbyterian churches all putting aside their differences to worship and serve together for the sake of the city is a serious and everlasting testimony to the love and power of God! Our “4 Amarillo” efforts are a witness to the world that this is for real! That Christ Jesus is our King! That the world really is changing! That hearts are being melted and people are being transformed! That barriers are being destroyed and walls are coming down! That the devil has been defeated and the Kingdom of God is here!

Peace,

Allan

School Supplies “4 Amarillo”

“…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… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:20-23

We believe that 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. Praise God for the ecumenical spirit of the Central Church of Christ toward our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches in our city! Thank the Lord for the willingness here — the eagerness! — to unite with other Christ-followers for the sake of our city.

Our first “4 Amarillo” effort with the other downtown churches is underway. Together with First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Polk Street Methodist, we are collecting and delivering school supplies to four of our neighborhood elementary schools. We’re bringing the pencils and notebooks and binders to our respective worship assemblies this coming Sunday. Then we’re putting all the supplies together at Polk Street on Thursday to sort and sack them for delivery to our schools the following week. The plan is to deliver the supplies to the teachers at Bivins, Sunrise, San Jacinto, and Margaret Wills; cater breakfast for the teachers and staff; and then pray for them and with them before we leave.

This “4 Amarillo” thing we’re doing is a whole lot bigger than just boxes of Crayons and Scotch tape. This is so much more than providing Ziploc baggies and composition books for teachers to make available to the kids in our church neighborhood who can’t afford them. This is also very much about Christian evangelism. It’s about expressing the Gospel in ways that will convict our world of the power and love of God. Our partnership with these other churches is an outward expression of the eternal reality that, in Christ Jesus, we have all been perfectly united. It’s the same blood of our Savior that courses through our spiritual veins and our spiritual bodies. It’s the same Holy Spirit who indwells all those who confess Jesus as Lord. We are one in Christ.

And it’s this unity that will prove to the city of Amarillo that Jesus really is who he says he is and who we say he is. Our unflinching dedication to love and defend all our Christian brothers and sisters who claim Christ as Lord and have submitted to that lordship will astonish the world. Our cooperation together as one group of disciples for the sake of the children in Amarillo will force our world to acknowledge that Jesus really does offer something different, something this world could never accomplish on its own.

“4 Amarillo” is about our four churches breaking down the walls, putting aside the differences, to unite for the sake of our city. We 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 will and the power to reconcile and unite.

Please join us in this first official endeavor. Join us in prayer, in collecting school supplies, in packing bags, in blessing our city for the sake of Christ, for his purposes, to his eternal glory and praise.

Peace,

Allan

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