Category: Unity (Page 1 of 5)

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?”

Peace,

Allan

 

Putting Away and Taking On

“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” ~Romans 13:14

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and prayer that precedes Good Friday and Easter Sunday on the Church calendar. Going back to the early years of Church history, Lent has traditionally been a time for personal abstinence and self-discipline. In the Middle Ages, it became particularly associated with a fast from eating meat. It developed into a teaching tool for the Church and a reminder for all Christians: In your hunger, be reminded of all that Jesus suffered and sacrificed to win your salvation.

As you enter this season of Lent on your own or together with your family or community of faith, allow me to suggest that it’s not just about giving something up. It’s not only about sacrificing a certain type or amount of food or some other regular pleasure in order to participate in the sufferings of Christ or to remember his selfless preparation for the cross. At least as important is the idea and practice of taking something on, adding something new to your life in Christ.

Not only the surrender of material things, but the taking on of spiritual things, eternal things that draw us closer to Christ and, by the power of the Spirit, transform us more into his image is the best way to prepare for Easter. A new ministry. A new discipline. A new work for the benefit of others. A new prayer. A new friend. A new passage of Scripture. While you’re cleaning out your house over the next six weeks, pay attention to what you’re moving in to the empty spaces. Add something important. Commit to something Spirit-filled.

Our church at GCR is observing Ash Wednesday tonight with our brothers and sisters in Christ at First Presbyterian here in Midland. The joint worship service begins at 630pm. There will be corporate confession and repentance. There will be an imposition of ashes. For most of us Church of Christ’ers, it will be brand new, mildly uncomfortable, and sort of strange. And powerful and beautiful and holy.

Peace,

Allan

Transformation and Proclamation

I am just about beside myself with anticipation over what our God is going to do this Wednesday evening when Golf Course Road Church of Christ and First Presbyterian Church of Midland come together for our first ever joint Ash Wednesday service. I didn’t really know what to expect from our side – we CofC’ers don’t do Ash Wednesday, it’s the kind of thing we’ve historically dismissed as extra-biblical and borderline innovative. I wasn’t  sure how many people from GCR would dive into this “new” experience of an ancient Christian practice. But I’m hearing the buzz. People here are talking. Some of our Life Groups are attending the event together. At least one Bible class here is going. Our teenagers are heading to First Pres together and planning to debrief it as a group when it’s over. Some of our people are going out of curiosity, some are doing it because they’ve been invited by a friend at First Pres, others are going because they’ll do anything if it means cooperating publicly with another Christian congregation. The bottom line is that a good number of our folks appear to be excited to do something they’ve never done before.

I believe our God is going to do something really big with this. I believe this Ash Wednesday service is going to be bigger than you think and have larger and longer lasting impacts than you can even imagine. Let me give you two reasons.

Number one, God wants to transform us. He wants to make you and me more into the image of his Son Jesus. He won’t force it on us, he won’t take over and do something you don’t want to do. But if you’ll give him just a crack, if you’ll say “Yes” to him just a little, his Holy Spirit will change you and shape you to be more like Christ: more loving, more kind, more forgiving, more gracious, more welcoming, more prayerful, more generous, more accepting, more service-oriented; more of the mind of Christ in considering the needs of others more important than your own.

Stepping outside of your own comfort zone, trying something new in the name and the manner of Jesus, is the best way to open yourself up to transformation. Engaging the Bible in a different way, praying at a different time, worshiping with different Christians, is one powerful way to make yourself available to God to do whatever he wants to do with you.

Here’s the attitude: Lord, this Ash Wednesday thing is something a majority of your people have been doing every year for at least eighteen-and-a-half centuries. I’ve never done it before. I’m going to try it. I’m going to participate in this ancient Christian practice and I’m going to be totally open and available to whatever you want to do. Open my ears and my heart to hear what you want to tell me. Open my eyes and my very soul to see what you want to show me.

You don’t think God can do something with that?

The second thing is that a Church of Christ and a Presbyterian Church worshiping and serving together as one holy, united Body of Christ is a powerful proclamation of God’s will. We know Jesus died on the cross to break down all the walls, to destroy all the barriers between us and God and between us and each other. Our Lord passionately prayed that all of his followers would be one, so the world would believe. Putting aside whatever differences we think we might have in order to worship together the Lord who makes us one is an answer to Christ’s prayer and a fulfillment of God’s will.

All it takes is a phone call to realize the truth of this.

I called the pastor at First Pres, Steve Schorr, three weeks ago and just floated the possibility of GCR attending their Ash Wednesday service, and he almost exploded on the other end of the line. He talked for the next ten minutes without letting me get in a word. He enthusiastically embraced the idea and kept adding onto it. It’ll be a joint service! We’ll promote it together! You’ll help with the service! It’ll be both our churches on all the ads and promotional materials. We’ll structure it so we give a brief history of Ash Wednesday during the service! What else can we do to really pull this off?

All it takes is a phone call to express some Christian unity and cooperation and God’s Spirit jumps in and lights it up. Things start to move almost independently. Important things are happening before you even have time to think. It takes on a life of its own or, to say it better, it takes on a holy momentum in the eternal will of our God. Our God wants things like this to happen. All we have to do it show a little interest and he’ll do all the rest.

Because the witness to our community will be powerful and undeniable.

Anytime different churches do anything together it makes front page news – anytime the Church of Christ does anything with anybody it makes front page news! When we worship and serve with other brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations, it’s a loud and proud declaration in three-inch headlines to our Midland community and to all of West Texas that we belong to a King who is bigger and whose mission in this world is more important than anything that might possibly divide us. If we can do something like this, then surely we must be following a real Prince of Peace.

Transformation and proclamation. That’s what’s in store for us together at First Pres this Wednesday night. I can’t wait for us to experience it together.

Peace,

Allan

An Invitation to Ash Wednesday

This post is mainly for all us Church of Christ lifers.

Our resistance to liturgy is ironic; we are a highly liturgical people. We are comforted by the words “separate and apart,” we draw strength from “guide, guard, and direct,” and we believe the sermon will be better if God will only give the preacher a “ready recollection.” We must hear Acts 2:38 in church at least monthly. We must eat and drink the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. And we have our hard-held creeds. We “do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names.” We know “the church is not the building, it’s the people.” We have our five steps of salvation. We know 728B. Three songs and a prayer, to us, feels like church. I could go on and on and so could you. We have a liturgy. We have our creeds. Yet, we’re so uncomfortable with liturgy. And creeds.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We come by it naturally. Our movement has traditionally and, largely uncritically, rejected almost all forms of Christian liturgy as symbols of religious excess and tools for clerical abuse. As non-Scriptural innovations. As rote formulas and meaningless ritual. Most of us can’t help the way a memorized creed or a written prayer makes us feel. We were raised to believe it wasn’t real, it didn’t come from the heart, unless you made it up on the spot.

Let me invite you to participate in an Ash Wednesday service somewhere next week.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, the season of repentance and prayer and fasting before Easter. In the early decades of Christianity, this 40-day period was observed by candidates for baptism, which was typically reserved for Easter Sunday. In the third and fourth centuries, people who were separated from the Church because of sin – the early “backsliders” – observed a season of Lent as they were restored to fellowship. Then, over time, the Church recognized that it would be good for all Christians to practice regular seasons of repentance, prayer, and fasting. All Christians need to be reminded that repentance is a daily exercise, not a one time event. Every day is a dying and a rising, a dying to self and a rising to new life in Christ. All Christians need the assurance of the forgiveness and salvation that is promised in the Good News, that was accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. So, I would encourage you to find an Ash Wednesday service next Wednesday and go.

It might be a brand new thing for you. It might be a little strange. It might be really beautiful. You might learn something, you might see something, you might hear something or experience something that could really bless you and increase your faith.

They’re going to put ashes on your forehead. Let them. Be open to it. See what happens.

The ashes serve as a physical reminder of the Gospel. They remind us that we are human – ashes to ashes and dust to dust. We are fallen and frail, we are sinful creatures in dire need of a Savior. They also serve as a physical manifestation of the repentance and sorrow we feel in our hearts because of our sin. In the Bible and throughout world history, ashes have always symbolized repentance. Why not participate in that godly practice? The ashes also remind us of the centuries of burnt offerings sacrificed by God’s people and point us to the Promised One of Israel whose once-for-all sacrifice on the cross surpasses in glory anything ever offered by a priest. The ashes are merely a physical representation, a practical proclamation of everything we believe in our heads and hold dear in our hearts.

Here in Midland, our Church of Christ at Golf Course Road is partnering with our brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church in a joint Ash Wednesday service next week. As it turns out, their pastor Steve Schorr and that congregation are just as passionate about tearing down the walls between Christian denominations as I am and we are at GCR! (I’ll write more about this in the next day or so.)

If you’re a CofC’er out here in West Texas, I’m inviting you to join us for the Ash Wednesday service at First Pres. If you’re reading this from somewhere else, I’m inviting you to find a church in your town that observes Ash Wednesday and join them. Go with a group of people so you can process it together afterward. Ask God to speak to you during the service, to reveal himself to you, to grow your faith in him, and to strengthen the bond you have with all disciples of Christ throughout all Christian denominations. And as you leave the assembly, be resolved to remain in the Word, to continually self reflect, and to be in constant prayer.

Nothing will be off the cuff. It will all be carefully scripted. And maybe, just maybe, by God’s grace and power of his Spirit, it might be exactly what you need.

Peace,

Allan

Rugged Commitment

My great friend Jim Martin posted this in his weekly email encouragement to a bunch of us ministers who rely on him for regular shots of wisdom and strength. I’m re-posting it here word for word.

I was getting ready to officiate at a wedding in Central Texas. Preparing for this event caused me to think about marriage in general and my own marriage in particular. Beyond this, I had already been thinking about some of the fragile relationships within congregations and the relational challenges we have faced over the last year.

Some of these challenges have resulted in the fragmentation of relationships within congregations. Church members argued about the pandemic, wearing masks, getting vaccinated, the presidential election, racial issues, etc. For many, this has been quite painful.

Yet, as we look to the future of our congregations, it is important that we recommit to one another by loving with a rugged commitment. By “rugged commitment,” I mean a love that is willing to do what is hard and messy. This is a love for another that is much like the steadfast love of the Lord toward his children. This is a love that is willing to go the distance for another.

Can we love each other with a rugged commitment so that we forebear one another in love, even when we strongly disagree?

Can we love each other with a rugged commitment so that we seek to lighten the load of church leaders instead of making life so difficult for them?

Can we love each other with a rugged commitment so that we put our identity in Jesus above any other identity?

This rugged commitment is necessary for a lasting friendship, for a growing marriage, and for any congregation that wishes to stay together, in spite of the pressures that threaten to rip it apart.

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Our outdoor movie night set for tomorrow at Bivins Elementary has been moved because of all the rain – more than five inches in the past seven days and more on the way. Our Children’s Minister described the field at the school today as “swampy.” It looks like a playa lake. The event has been moved now to our west parking lot here at Central. We’re inviting the entire Bivins Elementary community and our whole church family to park on the south side, bring your lawn chairs and blankets, and enjoy Disney’s Moana at 630pm. We’ll be passing out the candy and popcorn and hoping that whatever is forecast for Friday night misses us.

Lesson learned: If we ever want rain in Amarillo, we need only to schedule an outdoor church event.

Peace,

Allan

So Straight

“I once was so straight that I leaned a little the other way. I once was so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as I perfect as I supposed myself. In this most unpopular course I persisted until I discovered the mistake, and saw that on the principle embraced in my conduct, there could never be a congregation or church upon the earth.”

~Alexander Campbell in The Christian Baptist, Volume III, 1827

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