Common Grounds Unity Posts
Posts, Writings, and Videos
Below are some Common Grounds Unity writings and/or video content that has been posted in the past.
Harrington and Henderson
Conviction and Civility: Three Buckets Model
Last year I read Conviction and Civility* by Bobby Harrington and Jason Henderson from Renew.org – an organization devoted to discipleship and unity within the Restoration Movement. Recently, Jason donated four copies to giveaway at the upcoming Common Grounds meeting during the World Discipleship Summit 2020 in Orlando. I really like this fifty-eight-page book which is very easy to read, and yet profound! I have shared an excerpt below (page 27-28).
"There is an old statement coming out of the Protestant Reformation that many people embraced: in essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things, love. It was a very helpful statement for many people. But it always contained within itself an unresolved problem: what about the items that are neither essential nor a matter of opinion? Furthermore, what makes a doctrine essential? Could it be that what is essential for one person might be non-essential for another?"…
"Essential, Important and Personal Elements: We believe the Scriptures reveal three distinct elements of the faith: essential elements which are necessary for salvation; important elements which are to be pursued so that we faithfully follow Christ; and personal elements or opinion. The gospel is essential. Every person who is indwelt and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit because of their faith in the gospel is a brother or a sister. Important but secondary elements of the faith are vital. Our faithfulness to God requires us to seek and pursue them, even as we acknowledge that our salvation may not be dependent on getting them right. And third, there are personal matters of opinion, disputable areas where God gives us personal freedom. But we are never at liberty to express our freedom in a way that causes others to stumble in sin. In all things, we want to show understanding, kindness, and love."
Later, the authors present the “Three Buckets Model” which illustrates the three elements well. Bobby writes, “From a distance (when buckets are nested),** it might look like there is just one bucket here. That is how people can look at the Bible. Everything is of equal importance, they think.” He goes on to explain that the “First bucket issues are essential, second bucket issues are important, and the third bucket issues are personal.” Thank you, Bobby and Jason, for presenting a more comprehensive and sensible way to approach the issues that divide us.
* Harrington and Henderson, Conviction and Civility: Thinking and Communicating Clearly About What the Bible Teaches, (Renew, Franklin, TN, 2018)
** Parenthesis added for context.
Scripture, is it...?
I am sitting near the end of a table at Brent’s Deli in Westlake Village, CA. It is last week’s Common Grounds meeting, we are enjoying breakfast and the fellowship, the meeting begins. Andy Wall from Conejo Valley Church of Christ stands at the table’s end, an arms distance of me. The room quiets, but not for long. Andy will share an incredible message with passion, heart, and vulnerability. His hands move in wide circles. I am resisting the urge to duck, bob and weave. It's okay because I have a front-row seat to a great message!
Andy begins talking about gardens. Gardens? Certainly not what I expected. He speaks of French gardens - Versailles, King Louis, order, rationalism, and control. But, in contrast, English gardens – natural settings, pastures, ponds, flowers, and meandering vines. Then a question, one I did not expect, “Is Scripture a French or English garden? How do you see it?”
I respond, English. But I recall my past views as quite the opposite. I saw blueprints, patterns, formulas, rights and wrongs, steps for restoring first-century Christianity/worship. I saw French – and anyone who saw differently… well, they simply did not fit.
So, “Is Scripture a French garden or English? Could it be both? I tend to gravitate to one or the other. This struggle is not new. Jesus addressed the Samaritan women saying true worship would be in “Spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). God weaves tension into His word and calls us to wrestle with it. This tension is good! I may not like it. I may fight it or ignore it. But the fact remains that God is calling me to wrestle with Scripture – with my faith, obedience, doctrine, theology, methodology, relationships, and more. As Andy pours out his heart, I hear reflections of a man working out his faith – just like me.
Might we be missing something in our restoration efforts? Maybe the Spirit is not bound by our blueprints or patterns. What might restoration look like if we were to seek what the Spirit is already doing, in our time, and follow that? I get it, it is uncomfortable. Nicodemus was likely uncomfortable when Jesus explained the nature of the Spirit (John 3:8). Maybe I need to readjust my ideas of what restoration means. Maybe I need to value the tension - to wrestle, to listen, and to follow the Spirit. Maybe I need to lean into the fight - resisting my urges to duck, bob and weave.
Emotionally Healthy Discipleship
The Value of Stopping
This week, a forty-year-old memory flashed into my mind. The pit in my stomach immediately returned – nearly as strong as when it happened. I was working in the meat department cutting chickens on a bandsaw. For obvious reasons, it is crucial to cut with one’s hands on each side of the blade. And, as I was taught, tossing the pieces beyond the blade, again with hands on each side. That day, in one mindless moment, I foolishly tossed to one side - my wrist stopping an inch from the blade. The realization of what could have happened is etched in my mind to this day. My life would have been drastically different had I not stopped. This week, that memory reminded me of the grace of God and the value of stopping.
Stopping or seeking out times of silence and solitude does not come naturally for me. And therefore, Jesus’ example of retreating to desolate places deeply challenges me (Luke 5:16). Clearly, He valued times of Sabbath, silence, solitude, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines. Currently, I am taking the second class in the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship Course by Peter Scazzaero. I have been so impressed with the quality of this course – skillfully teaching us to mature in Christ and with one another. One man is quoted as saying “I was a Christian for 22 years. But actually, I was a 1-year old Christian 22 times.” Sadly, this occurs far too often. Scazzaero asserts, “It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. In other words, if you are touchy, unapproachable, and defensive it doesn’t matter how gifted you are, or how much Bible you know, you are as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, immature.” It is crucial for us to stop, assess, and learn how to mature both spiritually and emotionally in Christ.
Recently, I spoke with a minister about reaching the current and next generations. He believes spiritual formation will be a crucial factor if we desire to reach them. Could it be that simple? Maybe they are simply looking for an authentic relationship with God and with others. But what do they see in our congregations, and are we brave enough to ask them? Surely God can use us to reach them, if and when, we are willing to stop, listen, and assess our ways.
Please watch the short video about Emotionally Healthy Discipleship – it may change your life, ministry, and congregation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Uugona2YTA
Unity to What End?
In early 2018, my wife and I drove up to a storage unit not realizing the next fifteen minutes would answer prayers and significantly change my life. In January 2017, at the age of fifty-nine, I when back to college to finish my degree in Biblical Studies. During this time I began praying to find a ministry where I could have a significant impact.
So, there I was simultaneously juggling my studies, a demanding sales career, being active in our congregation, raising two teenage girls, and attempting to be a good husband, when my wife asked me to help move furniture for someone I barely knew. My first thoughts did not come from the mind of Christ. But my wife, the better angel, jogged me out of complacency and I followed her lead.
As we get out of the car, I met Scott Ferguson, an elder, from a different tribe. We became kindred hearts as we shared our heartbreak over the disunity within the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement (COC, ICOC, Christian Church, etc). I shared a slogan and an idea with Scott – one that I had not acted on. The concept was “Unity Starts with a Cup of Coffee” and the idea was a local meeting of leaders from our heritage in order to promote unity. Then, with three words Scott jogged me out of my complacency. He said, “let's do it.” And, in April we had our first meeting – two ministers, five elders, and me.
Common Grounds now has four scheduled meetings in Southern California – thanks to the leadership of Lars Coburn, Russell Kirkpatrick, Garrison Fisher, Javier Monzon, David Skates, Keith Whitney, Kevin Withem, and Nick Zola. Our community is growing with 605 Facebook group members and 526 email subscribers. Moreover, Christians, within our heritage, are reaching across tribal lines – learning to learn from one another.
Now, one might ask, “unity to what end.” Well, Jesus seemed to believe that unity had a purpose, “that the world may believe” (Jn. 17:21). But, unity is just an idea/dream without leadership. And, it takes leaders to jog us out of complacency! For me, it was my wife and Scott Ferguson. I hope that my story will inspire you to grab a coffee and live out the prayer of Jesus – that we "may all be one.”
Is It Possible to be Spiritually Mature While Remaining Emotionally Immature.
Last fall, I reluctantly agreed to take a class called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. It was being offered by a couple in our congregation. As I read the first chapter, in preparation for the first class, I became deeply convicted about cracks in my spiritual life. God began to reveal underdeveloped areas in my spiritual formation and maturity as a 40-year old Christian. It was like someone stirring up muddy waters that had long settled – the mud was still there but had settled into unseen crevices. Each week of this eight-week class was equally transformational – I cannot say enough about the value of this material for spiritual formation and emotional maturity.
Three weeks ago, we started Emotionally Healthy Relationships – the second half of the course material. And, I am equally impressed with the quality. Unity in our marriages, family life, workplace, and even our congregations does not happen naturally. In fact, the opposite is true – we are more likely to experience rifts and division if we are not intentional. I am convinced the vast majority of us long for unity, but often we have not intentionally identified or dealt with the life traps which threaten success in this area.
Peter Scazzero affirms that “Emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable: It is not possible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” And, he states, “Emotional health and contemplative spirituality offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution in our lives.” Moreover, he teaches the importance of realizing that we are “Human beings, not human doings.” In his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero shares about his own journey - that he was doing “more activity for God than” his “being with God could sustain.” Scazzero says “what you do matters, but who you are matters even more.” In this book, he shares the importance of leading out of our own brokenness, a deep and abiding contemplative relationship with God, and emotionally healthy relationships. Surely, we can agree that the transformational power of Jesus is not likely found in programs, structure, doctrinal purity/perfection, or methodology. And yet, it surely can be found when we devote ourselves to a contemplative relationship with God and emotionally healthy relationships with one another (Matt 22:37-40).
Book Recommendation: The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World, by Peter Scazzero
Genius: Team of Rivals?
Over the holidays I read Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. After winning the nomination, Lincoln began assembling his future Cabinet. His political acumen gave him the foresight to assemble a Cabinet of rivals - men who greatly contributed to his genius.
Reflecting on the strength of Lincoln’s Cabinet, Goodwin writes, “They had fiercely opposed one another and often contested their chief on important questions, but, as Seward” (rival for the nomination) “later remarked, ‘a Cabinet which should agree at once on every such question would be no better or safer than one counsellor.’ By calling these men to his side, Lincoln had afforded them an opportunity to exercise their talents to the fullest and to share in the labor and the glory of the struggle that would reunite and transform their country and secure their own places in posterity.”
Thurlow Weed, an advisor for the opposition, met Lincoln and wrote, “His mind is at once philosophical and practical. He sees all that go there, hears all that they have to say, talks freely with everybody, reads whatever is written to him, but thinks and acts by himself and for himself.” Are these not noble qualities that we should all aspire to demonstrate?
As a man of faith, dare we ask where Lincoln might have learned these characteristics? Could he have considered the diversity of Jesus’ disciples? Or contemplated James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” or considered Paul’s charge to imitate the humility of Jesus? “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:3-4).
It is refreshing to see increasing numbers of Restoration Movement leaders expressing these qualities – ones that have sometimes been lacking. May we value unity in diversity over and above conformity, authority, or control. May we affirm that none of us, or any group of us, fully know the counsel of God. May we agree our movement has not yet arrived as “the one true restored church.” And, in 2020, may we pray to strengthen the art of dialog and refrain from any tendencies to engage in monologues. Let us set aside our party rivalries and learn to learn from one another!
Learning Healthy Communication
Communication: I've Got the Power!
Several years ago, a friend recommended Non-Violent Communication (NVC) by Marshal Rosenberg. We had hit a rough patch in our marriage and NVC provided incredible tools for transforming my communication. While a secular book, the principles will empower and equip Christians with healthy communication skills. Most of our poor communication is unintentional, and yet damaging all the same. This book offers tools for improving your communication and your relationships!
NVC taught me how to make observations without accusations. I quickly realized how much of my language involved judgment, accusation, and unfair diagnosis. I was hurting the people I love and creating unnecessary barriers to healthy and productive communication. NVC also taught me to identify the feelings and needs of both myself and others. I was then able to express and meet them in a healthy and productive way. And lastly, NVC taught me to make requests and not demands. Often, without realizing, we make demands disguised as requests. For example, “would you mow the lawn today?” If the answer is no, not today, and the one making the request becomes upset, then it is likely not a request but rather a demand or expectation.
The effective leader or communicator builds on mutual commitment and common goals, rather than control and manipulation. Consider Jesus! I am not aware of Jesus ever exercising control or authority over another human being. Demons, yes! People, no. And yet, our dysfunction and disunity often result from our appetite to control people and outcomes. This desire shows up in our marriages, families, careers, and far too often our congregations.
Accusations, labeling, and unfair judgments seldom bring out the best in me. I struggle when my feelings or needs are ignored, misunderstood, or misrepresented. I also have a need for stakeholdership, partnership, and choice in my relationships - you may as well. Jesus’ prayer for unity (Jn. 17:21-23) requires us to up our communication game. It calls us to develop our listening skills and tame our tongue (James 1:19, 26). And, it challenges us to clothe ourselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). May God bless your journey!
May the Source be with you!
“And in His name the Gentiles will hope.” Matt. 12:21
I recently saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and despite what the critics said, I loved it! The entire Star Wars saga is about the struggle between good and evil, limitations and potential, the power of a force (the Spirit of God) greater than oneself, redemption, and HOPE! A hope that prevails even when things look darkest. A hope that always wins in the end!
During this time of year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus who brought great hope into this world! And yet, at the cross things seemed incredibly dark. But, by the Spirit of God, “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). And, because of His righteousness (not ours), we have “A New Hope.” We are redeemed to live a new life in Jesus.
The fellowship which we call the Restoration Movement has experienced times of great hope as well as times of darkness. Our inability to find unity in diversity has not served us well. Often, it has led us to darker motives and attitudes toward our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Consequently, a movement that was once devoted to unity has often lost its way and fractured.
With the coming of the 2020 New Year, let us forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Phil. 3:13). Let us seek the unity Jesus prayed for (Jn 17:21). Let us clothe our selves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. May we bear with each other and forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. Moreover, let us put on love, which binds all these together in perfect unity (Col. 3:12-14). And, as we do so, we will certainly find “A New Hope” One that wins in the end and endures forever!
Give the Chalk to God
A brother who is well-known among the individual branches of the Restoration Movement told a story, over lunch, about how God changed his thinking about unity and the borders of the kingdom. As a youth, he could, in his mind, clearly draw a chalk line defining who was lost and who was saved. When speaking at another branch of the Restoration Movement, he realized the need for greater inclusion. He was forced to redraw his lines. After years of erasing and redrawing lines – he decided to give the chalk to God!
My journey has been similar to his. Coming to the conclusion that I am not the judge of who is in or who is out. I am not God’s police force either. I am, however, an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20 ) charged with delivering the gospel of Jesus. Certainly, I should never compromise the truth in the pursuit of unity alone. Nonetheless, I am compelled to leave the judgment on these matters to the one who judges justly (John 5:30 ; 1 Peter 1:17 ).
Paul taught about accepting “the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Romans 14:1 ). My goodness, I am ashamed of my younger self who quarreled over disputable matters. For who am I “to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand” (v. 4). Truth be told, we all have weakness in our faith and we all have errors in one way or another. Embracing the diversity among us challenges our preconceived ideas and calls us to be more like Jesus - if we will humbly learn from it.
We started Common Grounds because of our conviction that true restoration comes by balancing “Unity of the Spirit” and truth without adopting exclusive doctrines or methodologies. We do so because He prayed (John 17:23 ). Please join us in our dream?
Rewrite: Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson
Something Unfair at the Heart of the Game.
Branch Rickey, in the movie 42 , said: “There was something unfair at the heart of the game I loved, and I ignored it. Then a time came - when I could no longer do that.” This dialog is based on the true story and on Rickey’s own struggle to do the right thing. Ricky changed baseball, America, and provided the sparks for the Civil Rights Movement by bringing Jackie Robinson to major league baseball. Both Rickey and Robinson demonstrated that if one, or more, are willing to stand for right with humility and character, they can change the world.
In the video clip Ricky explains why he signed Robinson, he says:
“I love this game. I love baseball. Given my whole life to it. Forty-odd years ago I was a player-coach at Ohio-Wesleyan University. We had a Negro catcher. Best hitter on the team. Charlie Thomas. Fine young man. I saw him laid low, broken because of the color of his skin and I didn't do enough to help. Told myself I did but I didn't. There was something unfair at the heart of the game I loved and I ignored it. But a time came when I could no longer do that. You...you let me love baseball again.”
Most movements tend to start with a heart to revive or reform, only later to adopt more institutional ways of thinking. We cannot deny that this trend has occurred within the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement . There is a thread woven into our fabric, our DNA, that leans toward legalism and exclusive thinking. It is certainly not true for all, but we would be hard-press to deny its existence. This is a part of our history that I have become increasingly uncomfortable with. Truth be told, I am uncomfortable with my own history – with my past struggles with legalism and exclusivity. Like Branch Ricky, “I didn't do enough to help. Told myself I did but I didn't… But a time came when I could no longer do that.”
Love, humility, and unity of the Spirit is the antidote for divisive attitudes and thinking. And, if we ignore judgmental and toxic thinking within our fellowships, then we ignore “something unrighteous at the heart of the church we love.” May God give strength to those who are willing to stand for right with humility and character, may they bless the church we love.
“I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap” Ezekiel 22:30 .
Jeff Walling - Pepperdine
Together in God’s Grace
This is a must watch sermon by Jeff Walling at the NACC Conference . Jeff is the Director, Youth Leadership Initiative at Pepperdine University and a Teaching Pastor at Shepherd Church . Recently, I have gotten to know Jeff and I love this man’s heart for the Lord, His church, and for unity among our fellowship.
Francis Chan on Unity - 6 Minute Video
Seeing the Glory of God Through Unity!
Francis Chan in this six-minute video addresses Christian unity. The world will believe when they see our unity. But is that what they see? God has a purpose for us to be a part of something bigger, bigger than me, bigger than my church, or my fellowship/family of churches. Continuing to divide among the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement brings no glory to God. But, intentionally seeking greater unity will - it will also be a light to the world pointing to Jesus. (Click the picture or link below)
What is the X-Factor of a Good to Great Leader?
In Jim Collin's book, Good to Great, he explains the difference between a good leader and a great leader – the difference between a Level 4 leader and a Level 5 leader. Jesus was the ultimate Level 5 leader who modeled extraordinary leadership in every way. And so, what questions could we ask ourselves in this regard. Are we a Level 5 leader? Would those around us consider us to be a Level 5 leader? Are we willing to seek out the personal transformation in order to become the leader that Jesus wants us to be? Our success in achieving Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 21-23 depends on our willingness to do so!
The below description is from Good to Great materials found online:
Level 5 leaders display a powerful mixture of personal humility and indomitable will. They're incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the cause, for the organization and its purpose, not themselves. While Level 5 leaders can come in many personality packages, they are often self-effacing, quiet, reserved, and even shy. Every good-to-great transition in our research began with a Level 5 leader who motivated the enterprise more with inspired standards than inspiring personality.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant Philippians 2: 3-7
Click the link below video for a short video from Jim Collins.
Have Salt and Shalom
Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, with what will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at shalom with one another" Mark 9:50 (Hebrews Names Bible).
Jesus says some strange things – so it seems to me. Words that seem out of place, over the top, and seemingly out of context. Worms that do not die, gouging out one’s eye, and salt losing its saltiness. I often read over them. I move on to what feels more sensible or comfortable. But, maybe I am missing the intended meaning because I do not think like an ancient Hebrew. Maybe there is truth to be discovered within the tension.
The biblical authors wrote with an eastern perspective - different from ours in the west. The Hebrews often created tension and raised questions calling the reader to discover something in the text. They ask the reader to trust the story and call them to search for meaning in the patterns, themes, and mysteries. Whereas western authors tend to problem solve, layout answers, teach what to believe, or what to do. One might say the eastern author asks us to examine our state of being, rather than our state of doing.
Mark chapter nine, challenges me to examine the tension between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus seems to be teaching His disciples to think differently, to experience humanity on a higher level – one empowered by the Spirit of God. He shares the Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. He teaches prayer as the key to the miraculous, He prophesies about His resurrection, and He presents a child to teach about humility. Yet, they continue to hold on to old and familiar narratives. Peter is thinking about making tabernacles, they are engaging in theological debates, they are found arguing with the scribes, they are debating about who is the greatest, and they rebuke others for doing the work of God in Jesus’s name.
So where is the hidden treasure? I find a clue in Mark 9:50 where Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at shalom with one another." Why are you wrestling with the world, arguing among yourself and others? Why do you need to prove your case, your abilities, or your position? Find your center in God and His economy. Find your balance and “be at Shalom (peace or wellbeing) with one another.” I wonder how Jesus would address the sibling rivalries within the body of Christ or even the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement? Maybe He would say, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at shalom with one another."
Go in Shalom! Go in Peace!
Recently, I spoke with a lead minister in the Southeast (USA) who greatly encouraged my heart. Their congregation (and leadership group) are comprised of Christians from the ICOC, Church of Christ, and the Independent Christian Church. They have found a way to reverse the tribalism which is so prevalent among the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement. Certainly, their journey came with challenges. They likely wrestled with differences in convictions, culture, expectations, opinions, leadership style, and much more. And yet, they found a way to “Go in Shalom.” They put away self-interest and the things that so easily divide and sought the wellbeing (Shalom) of all.
Then Moses departed and returned to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, “Please, let me go, that I may return to my brethren who are in Egypt, and see if they are still alive.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace (Shalom).” Exodus 4:18
Here we find Moses returning to Jethro after wrestling with God at the burning bush. Every time God plots a new direction in my life I experience a time of wrestling. I wrestle with God, with myself, with others, with my understanding of scripture and God’s will. I suppose I am in good company and my guess is that you are as well. Interestingly, Jethro does not seem to wrestle with God’s direction. And yet, Jethro, it would seem, had much to lose - a key employee of 40-years and a daughter. How is it that Jethro could say, “Go in Shalom?” Go in wellbeing!
It seems that Jethro was more concerned about the will of God than the organization to which he was an overseer. He was more concerned about God’s tribe and less concerned about the welfare of his own tribe. We consider ourselves non-denominational, but are we really? May God protect us from being influenced by the tribalism of our current culture. May the Spirit of God move our hearts to be more like Jethro and less like Pharoah who tightly held on to that which did not belong to him. In the end, Jethro was blessed and Pharoah suffered great loss! Go in peace!
Blessed are the peacemakers
WILL YOU BE A SHALOM-MAKER?
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9).” I want to be a peacemaker – a son of God. I want to be blessed by God! I trust you do too. Our modern lens tends to miss the full meaning of Jesus’ words. His hearers would have recognized His use of “peacemaker” as a hyperlink connecting to centuries of Jewish culture – the concept of Shalom. A less than perfect analogy might be the reference to the words liberty or freedom in the USA. These words connect to a rich history and cultural experience. Jesus’ words blessed are the Shalom-makers made a connection - Shalom.
We often think of peace as the absence of conflict. Shalom, however, involves the pursuit of wellbeing, prosperity, or soundness. Shalom seeks relational wellbeing. It strives for mutual benefit, understanding, and the prosperity of the parties involved. Yet, far too often, we in the Lord’s church, imitate secular culture rather than the heart of God. The Stone Campbell Movement was torn in two not long after the American Civil War – the narratives were similar. We have since repeated this pattern time and again. Suppose we focused more on being shalom-makers and less on clearly defining the borders of the kingdom? Maybe Jesus would bless that approach (Mk. 9:38-40; Lk. 9:49-50). We in the Stone Campbell Movement are standing at a crossroad. We can choose an alternative – one that is relational and not confrontational. One based on love rather than the superiority of our argument, logic, or attempts at correctness. We can find common ground if and when we seek the shalom!
Blessed are the peacemakers
Shalom and the Miracle of Ice
Lake Placid, New York, 1980 Winter Olympics, Sports Illustrated named the "Miracle on Ice" the top sports moment of the 20th century. The young, amateur, USA hockey team had no hope of winning against the professional Russian athletes who took the gold medal five times in six years. However, that year the underdogs came together as a team, God showed up (loosely speaking), and they were victorious!
In Joshua 10, the surrounding nations unite against Israel. This scenario would reoccur throughout their history, outnumbered, out-gunned, with no chance of winning – that is, outside of the miraculous power of God. When Israel relied on God they were victorious, and yet, they most often relied on their strength or that of an ally – to their detriment. Here, Joshua relies on God, and they experience a “Miracle of ice” – large hailstones striking only the enemy. And, we must not forget the crazy request from Joshua to stop the sun in its place so that they could finish the job! What an incredible victory! A supernatural victory! How does one trust in oneself after something like that? How does one revel in their own wisdom, understanding, or pattern of correctness when God shows up.
The Spirit of God has produced victorious moments and movements in history. Over time, humans tend to institutionalize these movements. That tendency seldom leads to unity. We trust in our own righteousness, our own strength, and our own “innovations.” Maybe, just maybe, we miss out on God’s miracles when we over systemize our methods and theology.
Interestingly, Israel returned to camp “in peace (Shalom). No one moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel (Josh. 10:21 NKJV).” It is difficult to speak ill of one another when we are seeking their welfare rather than our own. Were the Israelites perfect warriors? I think not. God’s marvelous work creates an even playing field in the heart of the humble. His power eclipses any and all shortcomings we may see in others – provided we are focused on His righteousness and not our own. Oh, that we would restore this heart of humility. May we turn to one another seeking shalom. And, may we be amazed by God's mighty works instead of any shortcomings that may exist among our fellow soldiers in Christ.
“A Dream Worth Resurrecting” by Ben Brewster.
Ben Brewster wrote the below specifically for Common Grounds. His book "Torn Asunder" is a must read!
“A Dream Worth Resurrecting”
As a child, I remember feeling an intense pride in being part of the American Restoration Movement heritage. We read our Bibles, we applied what we learned to our daily lives, and we blessed all those around us.
I later learned that is not always the case.
Our bent toward legalism has done untold damage to people. Holding up a human-made model of biblical interpretation as divinely ordained (“command, example, necessary inference”) has led to more and more division.
In the process we forgot the prayer of Jesus – “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one — as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21 ).
We quit listening to the counsel of Thomas Campbell : “That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God's holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God.”
Unity cannot be based on our opinions. Oh, but how we have tried to claim that our opinions are on par with the commands of God! We reason, rationalize, and elevate logic as our god as we condemn and separate from others who do not share our conclusions.
How quickly we moved from accepting and loving to disowning and rejecting. At one point in our history, we were motivated to bring all Christians together in unity. It was, as one leader termed it, “our polar star.” We worked hard to build bridges among fellow Christ-followers. We thought unity was possible — not based on our opinions, but on what God said in the Bible. Barton Stone put it so well when he wrote, “We profess to stand upon the Bible alone, and contend that opinions of truth should not be made terms of fellowship.”
We treasured the beautiful saying that at one time summed up our attitude: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love”
We believed that Jesus’ prayer for unity could be accomplished, and that his prayer should be our prayer.
Yet even though that dream seems to have been abandoned, it is worth resurrecting. In the name of Christ it is worth resurrecting! For the sake of the world, it is worth resurrecting!
Dr. John Oakes
Unity Article: Part One
The early Restoration Movement hero Rice Haggard famously said, "One thing I know, that whenever non-essentials are made terms of communion, it will never fail to have a tendency to disunite and scatter the church of Christ." He was repeating a sentiment expressed by the nonconformist minister Richard Baxter in 1656, “In things necessary, there must be unity; in things less than necessary, there must be liberty; and in all things, there must be charity."
I am sure others said something similar even before Mr. Baxter, as this is such an obvious truth. It has been the unfortunate habit among many of us in the Churches of Christ and in the ICOC to seek reasons to divide and not to talk to one another (I am leaving the Christian Church off my list on purpose, as they have generally been less divisive that we are). Our organization the Apologetics Research Society has put on ten international conferences. We have made it our goal to bring in teachers from across the Christian Church, churches of Christ and ICOC for all of our conferences. John Wilson and Dyron Daughrity from Pepperdine University , Everett Ferguson from Abilene Christian University , John Clayton, the most influential apologist from the churches of Christ have spoken for us. Also, a number of teachers from the Christian Church, including Robert Kurka from Lincoln Christian University , Mark Ziese from Johnson University and Jack Cottrell from Cincinna ti Christian University have joined our work. Our desire is both to create unity and to find the best teacher out there for a given subject.
Our last conference was held at York College , a Church of Christ school. Let me share one story. At this conference, there was a poignant question raised at our forum. Myself, Robert Kurka and John Clayton were asked what we disagree on. We looked at each other, thought about it, and the unanimous answer was "Nothing!" There is literally nothing important (never mind essential) on which we do not agree. Will we eventually have a combined fellowship as Campbell and Stone were able to pull off back in the 1830's? Probably not, but can we not find ways to work together, to share resources, to learn from one another. Wouldn't our example of Christian unity and cooperation be an inspiration to our members and an example to the lost world? Let us make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Let us break down the barriers built by our own sinful attitudes over the years and come together to build up the kingdom of God to his glory.
Dr. John Oakes
Dr. John Oakes
Unity Article: Part Two
We proudly associate ourselves with what is known as the Restoration Movement, but let us ask ourselves if restoration is what we really ought to be about. What are we trying to restore? Do we want a church exactly the same as what we can know of the first century church? What aspects of the early church are essential and what aspects are expedients? How do we know? Ay, there’s the rub. Let us consider two men who sought to restore New Testament Christianity, but who did it with a very different spirit. Let us consider the careers of Daniel Sommer and David Lipscomb . Both had a role in creating what is now known as the Church of Christ.
Daniel Sommer believed that his job was to enforce conformity to his own concept of what the New Testament church ought to look like. He saw things being done by some churches, including the use of instruments in worship. Instruments were not used by the primitive church, so he decided that those who use them are not part of the true Church. He published the Sand Creek Declaration, which was a declaration of war on those who disagreed with him on what is surely a debatable point. He said, “The Sand Creek Declaration is being adopted, and those who will not do right are purged out as old leaven. In the course of a few years the Church of Christ will stand entirely separated from the Christian Church. Then there will be no more fellowship between them than there is now between the Church of Christ and any other branch of sectarianism. Hallelujah.” Sommer was so divisive that eventually he was disfellowshipped by his own wife and son.
David Lipscomb had strong convictions, like Daniel Sommer, but he had a different spirit. He agreed with Sommer on many “issues,” including the use of instruments but he refused to use these issues to divide the church. He was a peacemaker. He was not afraid to express what he believed, for example being a strong supporter of pacificism in the church, but he refused to use his pen to divide the church as editor of the Gospel Advocate. When he found that his own church in Nashville would not accept blacks as members, he refused to attend until they changed their policy. He went so far in his irenic nature that he said, “The Spirit of God, so far as we have learned, never saw a church of God so corrupted as to advise withdrawal from it. Hopefully, we can imitate the spirit of David Lipscomb and reject the divisiveness of Daniel Sommer.
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Our Time in History
Is Revival on the Horizon?
It is hard to imagine the fact that Aleix Segura Vendrell held his breath for 24 minutes and 3.45 secs to secure the Guinness world record. Our post-Christian western culture is in the process of exhaling God and it will attempt to hold its breath for as long as it can. Yet, God created us with a need for Him. Eventually, our culture will need to breathe again the Spirit of God. Similar to the prodigal son who came to his senses (Luke 15:11-32). The pattern can be observed repeatedly throughout the Bible and throughout history. God seems to intervene, with revival, when the culture is out of breath – longing to eat the food of pigs.
The Stone-Campbell Movement (SCM) was born in such a moment - the Second Great Awakening. One could speculate that a Third Great Awakening is on the horizon. If so, what will that generation find when seeking God among our congregations? Will it be a Spirit-led movement similar to the NT church or a people holding to traditions and institutions? Will it be a people focused on the prayer and mission of Jesus (Jn 17:21-23; Matt. 28:18-20) or one divided over party politics? Now, I have been asking “how do we create greater unity within the SCM?” But, maybe there are better questions, What can we do to ready the church for the next movement of God's Spirit in our culture? How do unity and prayer play a part?
Vital Smarts: Crucial Conversations
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, educator, and author said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” We may long for inspired and motivated members within our congregations, however, is it possible that our culture more likely to produce the “quietly compliant.” Please watch this short and funny video that just might challenge our thinking about leadership. (3 seconds and you can skip the ad)
"If a holy God accepts weak and sinful me at the foot of the cross..., then I can accept weak and sinful you at the foot of the cross..."
Victor Knowles Quotes J. Ervin Waters
J. Ervin Waters is quoted in Victor Knowles book Together in Christ. Waters was born February 23, 1918, and went to be with the Lord on April 1, 2019. Beginning at the age of 17, he had a preaching career for more than eight decades. He preached in Churches of Christ in the United States, Russia, and Ukraine, and established over 50 congregations in California alone. Waters said the following:
“If an omniscient God accepts ignorant me at the foot of the cross in the Blood of His Son, then I can accept ignorant you at the foot of the cross in the blood of His Son. If a holy God accepts weak and sinful me at the foot of the cross in the blood of His Son, then I can accept weak and sinful you at the foot of the cross in the blood of His Son.”
“I say to you without shame and without fear that wherever my Father has a son or a daughter I have a brother and a sister, and I will acknowledge them as such.”
May we be a people who embrace and love those who Jesus has embraced and loved – those whom we will meet in heaven.
Revival starts with prayer
What if we groaned in prayer together?
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. Exodus 2:23
What if we were to groan? Really groan? Really groan together in prayer? God has historically followed corporate prayer with revival and supernatural intervention. Now, I am preaching to myself here, but are we seeking to bring revival with preaching, teaching, reason, hard work, and/or governance, when maybe we should be gathering a half-dozen people to pray?
Groans proceeded the Exodus (Ex. 2:23), prayer and fasting before Jehoshaphat’s great victory and Ezra’s reform (2 Chron. 20:3), and the corporate prayers of the first-century church brought about what we seek to restore. Is it possible we neglected to restore that which was most important – our groaning dependence on the Spirit of God? Corporate prayers and groans proceeded the First and Second Great Awakening – of which our movement came. Adherence to a tribal identity will not bring about a Cane Ridge revival where 15,000 to 20,000 were moved by the Spirit of God – but people praying together will. Restoration people know their history and doctrine well. Maybe we should be asking, “do we know Jesus and the Spirit of God as well?” God gave Solomon the remedy for a future time when the He would shut the heavens (2 Chron. 7:13), and that was, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face…” (2 Chron. 7:14). Let us not be a people who wear each other out, but rather, wear out our knees in corporate prayer.
Mike Upton's message from Common Grounds Pasadena
Embrace the Debate and Celebrate Diversity
I recently attended the Common Grounds group that meets in Pasadena. Mike Upton, Elder at Turning Point Church , shared a message that we could title “Embrace the Debate and Celebrate Diversity.”
From Romans 1:18-20 , Mike spoke about unity and diversity in creation. He called us to appreciate the oneness and the diversity within it. The circles of life, time and space, the laws of nature, and the laws of God all point to the unity in creation. And yet, an amazing diversity also exists – it certainly is awe-inspiring! God is teaching us about His nature through His creation – He is both one and diverse at the same time.
As humans, we have a hard time balancing unity and diversity. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia , there are more than 33,000 distinct Christian groups or denominations. We do diversity just fine, it is the unity part that we struggle with. Maybe the problem is that we often define unity in terms of conformity, rather than a oneness that embraces diversity. Mike directed our attention to Acts 15 where a “sharp dispute” arose because of the Gentiles who were coming to Christ. Mike also directed our attention to the “sharp disagreement” that occurred between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39 ). These crucial conversations occurred in an environment involving high stakes, opposing opinions, and strong emotions. Yet, they were resolved by embracing the debate, celebrating diversity, and accepting one another in love and with mutual respect (1 Cor. 9:6 ; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11).
The council of Jerusalem unified the direction of the church, even though some resisted the change. It may have taken a few years, but, the divide between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark was resolved as well. Mike pointed out that “it is against our nature to celebrate diversity, but it is God’s nature.” I think we, in the Restoration Movement, can draw lessons as we consider our current condition - the lack of unity and respect for diversity among us. Maybe some of us will never learn to value, respect, and/or embrace our diversity. I believe in our “better angels.” I believe there is a longing in the soul of the Restoration Movement . A longing to cast off the negative narratives of our past, and, with love and humility, “Embrace the Debate and Celebrate Diversity.”
Something Unfair at the Heart of the Game (Video Below)
Branch Rickey , in the movie 42 , said: “There was something unfair at the heart of the game I loved, and I ignored it. Then a time came - when I could no longer do that.” Ricky changed baseball, America, and provided the sparks for the Civil Rights Movement. Rickey and Jackie Robinson demonstrated that if one, or more, are willing to stand for right with humility and character, they can change the world.
Love, humility, and unity of the Spirit is the antidote for divisive attitudes and thinking. And, if we ignore judgmental and toxic thinking within our fellowships, then we ignore “something unrighteous at the heart of the church we love.” May God give strength to those who are willing to stand for right with humility and character, may they bless the church we love.
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap. Ezekiel 22:30
The Passion of the Christ - Worthy is the Lamb – Hillsong (4,054,540 views)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17
Since the fall, God has sought to heal our brokenness – to seek our reconciliation. And, then He did the unthinkable. He became flesh. And, just before His work on the cross, He prayed for unity (Jn. 17:23 ). It was through “The Passion of the Christ” that we have been freed and therefore, united with Him. Envisioning the glorious outcome – Jesus gave us reconciliation, resurrection, and new life! He valued unity and was resolved to fulfill it. How much do we value unity and what is our resolve? Let us consider unity this Easter - unity in Christ! God give us willing hearts to fulfill His prayer.
Click the Button to watch the Hillsong video (Warning: Hard to watch - but worth it).
This is What Happens When God Shows Up!
Hanks addresses a faith-based school rally, telling everyone that their lives have meaning.
Inspiring 3-minute video.
What Issues Should Divide and Unite Christians?
Great 4 Minute Video About Unity!
Click Button Below.
Our culture is increasingly becoming a post-Christian and post-modern culture. This YouTube video helps us understand the importance of unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and above all love. Reaching this culture with the gospel depends on it! Unity is Jesus' strategy for reaching the world (John 17:23).
A reflection on Victor Knowles book
Together in Christ
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Victor Knowles’ book Together in Christ . In the last chapter (p. 149), Victor writes:
"The reason Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers was for the purpose of the world. “That they all may be one… that the world may believe… that the world may know…” Our disunity has been a disservice to the world. They deserve better. They deserve the best…"
"There is a greater purpose than unity in Christ in this prayer. The reason Jesus prayed for our oneness is so that the world would see the heavenly unity modeled in the church and would recognize us as His true disciples, bearing His message that is true. “By this will all know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We are the visible body of Christ, but are we the credible body of Christ?"
I get that we have busy schedules, limited bandwidth, and leadership responsibilities within our congregations. I get that we are focused on mentorship and raising up the next generation of leaders to take the baton. I get that we need to be a visible example of leadership in our missional churches. But what are we leading toward if we ignore Jesus’ desire for unity and love? How can we be credible in our leadership if our plan does not include His plan?”
When we started Common Grounds , 14 months ago, I was concerned about our efforts being well received. To my joy, the reception, from full-time ministry and members alike, has been positive. And yet, among vocational ministry folks, a participation exemption clause seems to reoccur based on available bandwidth and the need to focus on one’s ministry/leadership responsibilities. My first inclination was to be sympathetic to this viewpoint. But, after reflection, I respectfully disagree with this premise. I am not advocating that involvement in “Common Grounds” is necessary. However, I firmly believe that we are ignoring the will of Jesus if we are not proactively pursuing unity among God’s people.
After all, what are we training our people to if we neglect to model the very last words and wishes of Jesus? Are we more interested in our mission and method for reaching the world than His? You may notice our society increasingly moving toward polarization. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus wants us to be the “light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) as the world sees “the heavenly unity modeled in the church.”
Thank you, Victor, for calling us to imitate Jesus!
PS. Victor is offering "Together in Christ" for $10.00 postage paid. firstname.lastname@example.org
Christian Comedian Mark Gungar
Video: Tale of Two Brains
A Funny Video on the Difference Between the Male and Female Brain!
Men and women are diverse in many ways, including the way they think. And yet, we continue to get married, raise families, and learn to appreciate our differences. Is there a message in this parallel for our fellowships? Is God calling us to appreciate our differences - to learn from one another and to move toward greater maturity in Christ? Watch this video - you will laugh and learn.
Unity Starts With A Zoom
Russ Kirkpatrick leads a conversation about best practices for starting and facilitating a successful Common Ground Meeting.
Map for Common Grounds at Pepperdine
Common Grounds / Religion Dept. Alumni Breakfast
If you are attending the Common Grounds / Religion Dept. Alumni Breakfast at Pepperdine on Wed. May 1st. Please see the map for your convenience. The meeting is from 7:00-8:30 AM. We will meet in the Faculty Dining Room. (out the west door of the Cafeteria to the patio, right to the Faculty Dining Room). Parking may be difficult - plan accordingly. Registration for Harbor - Pepperdine Bible Lectures is not required for this event.