You walked up on me

My wife’s van battery died, so I pulled the battery there in the high school parking lot, and schlepped the dead cells back to Walmart and was proud of myself that I’d kept the receipt from nearly two years ago in the glove box.

When I arrived at Walmart just after 8 am, mechanics were busy and no one was at the counter in the automotive department. An associate nearby stocked shelves and hollered over, asking if I needed help. I understood him to say someone was coming, and he went back to his stocking.

I waited a while and he came around again.

“You need something?”

“Yeah, my battery’s dead, I have the receipt and it’s under warranty.”

“Right, but are you going to get a battery?” the associate asked, standing next to the new batteries and pointing.

“Yes, but don’t you need to test the old one or something?” I asked. I don’t know why I didn’t just go over and pick up the new battery, but we sort of had a standoff.

Then I walked over and showed the associate my receipt and he sighed and went over to get my old battery to test it.

I didn’t really know what was happening, why either one of us chose to be difficult, but I said, “You having a rough morning or something?”

“I’m having a fine morning, sir,” the associate said. He paused, then said, “Then you walked up on me.”

I was thinking, Walked up on me? What does that mean? I came over to him with the receipt, maybe he was saying I got in his bubble. 

“Wait a second, what?” I said.

“You walked up on me,” he said, and he started to elaborate as he walked around getting the battery tester.

“Whoa, time out,” I said. “Can we start over here.”

“You walked up–”

“Time out!” I raised my voice a notch. I was about to ask for a manager, but had I done that–I later learned–he was the automotive manager.

“Look, I’ll say ‘start over,’ then you say ‘start over,’ how’s that? Nothing else about it from either one of us, I don’t even know what happened,” I said. “OK, I’m starting over.”

The associate stopped what he was doing, then said, “Start over.”

We both got quiet, while he tested the dead battery. It was no good, and I would get a new battery for Jill’s van free. I was happy with that, but the product was never the issue.

“Sometimes we have to do this at home, you know, call time out, start over,” I said.

The associate stopped, looked at me. “Are you a Christian,” the man asked.

“Yes, are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m sorry if I was not acting like a Christian there,” I said.

“Look, we’re men, we bow up when someone walks up on us.”

Then I realized, I had marched over to him when he was trying to stock shelves, trying to show him my receipt, not getting my own battery. I don’t know why I didn’t just get my own battery from the shelf.  Since when was Walmart a General Store with Mr. Finnegan pulling dry goods from behind the counter for me? But in my stubbornness, I expected him to do something, so the associate went over and got the right battery, then he explained how Walmart put in an expensive computer that looks up batteries directly for the customer, and Walmart wants associates to encourage customers to use that expensive computer and get their own batteries.

OK, now I was understanding. I aggressively walked up on the man. I was supposed to get my own battery. I got it. He said in this day and time you never really know what people are doing when they walk up on you. I guess walking up on someone means walking up too aggressively and getting too much in their space and face, in their bubble as I suppose they say in school these days. I wasn’t really upset, wasn’t really thinking anything but trying to explain my situation, but I learned something about myself. I can think I’m acting appropriately but actually not be.

We talked a while about family, he said he’d moved from another state, had recently divorced, had no family in the area. We shook hands, exchanged names, and exchanged knowing glances that we’d had a real human moment at Walmart. He said he gets all kinds in here, so he just never knows at first what a person’s doing when they walk up on him, so in this day and age, he has to remain cautious.

I don’t think it’s a “this day and age thing.” Walking up and being too aggressive or threatening to someone is not a new concept for customers and employees in modern stores. Confrontations happened in ancient markets and through the ages. And many men could go their ways angry, blood boiling, hating humanity more, but all the same I now understand better.

I left with a free battery, and my new friend advised me about the warranty, wished me a good day, smiled, and said goodbye. My heart was not pumping from fight or flight but from the knowledge that I’d just experience a human moment in a place that deals in consumer goods mostly, but occasionally great things happen there, in the automotive section of Walmart.

A Step Toward Unity

The following is the text of my sermon delivered Sunday, August 21, 2011 in which my goal was to motivate Garnett make a choice to fellowship Connection Church and partner in children’s ministry.

I want to help each of us–our church–take one step closer to other Christians in our city and learn to live out the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23, our scripture text for today.

To do this, I want to start with a story . . .

Rewind to the early 80s in Bartlesville High School . I’m arguing with a Baptist over “once saved always saved” and “worship styles.” One issue hasn’t been solved in 2,000 years and one is a red herring (worship styles) that doesn’t deserve our distraction.

When I got to college, I’m not sure what Jill saw in me, but I was a judgmental pharisee who profiled sinners. I rejected Christians of other kinds. Maybe she loved the way I dressed.

In graduate school, the more I learned about God, the church, my own sin, the less it seemed I know about this incredible God and his world.

I read studies about church growth, one said combining efforts with other churches doesn’t seem to cause churches to grow. So I became indifferent to unity efforts.

Over the years I’ve lived with Mennonites, played basketball with Catholic Priests, and worshipped with Nazarenes and Baptists.

I grew through these experiences and have learned so much from many Christians of many stripes. Does this mean I swallowed everything whole from everyone I met? No. Neither do I swallow the bones when I eat a whole fish. Eat. Spit out the bones.

I’ve moved from rejection to tolerating to indifference to mere acceptance to learning from other Christians.

And just when I thought the Holy Spirit had moved me far enough, Jesus had fed me quite enough humble pie, I read Jesus’s prayer in John 17:20-23.

    20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 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 that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 
What are we supposed to do with the prayer of Jesus? And who’s he talking about? Other churches like ours? Other churches like ours didn’t exist until 1,800 years after Jesus worded this prayer. So we live it out more broadly but how?

Read and pray it again at each stage in life. It keeps changing me each year.

And the more our church reads and prays Jesus’s prayer, the more the Holy Spirit moves and changes us.

In the last decade we’ve hosted Believer’s Church and a dozen more and now host five.

But some of your stories are like mine. You have this little buzzer that goes off when the door of unity cracks open and you feel anxious like the door is going to blow you over and kill you.

But there’s this prayer of Jesus. What do we do with it? Keep praying it. And there’s this prayer we keep praying every week. What does it mean if not that we are seeking a kingdom bigger than ourselves and just our church?

If our church is a grain of sand, the kingdom is all the sand on every beach in all the world. It’s the rule and reign of God that every church must come under, not people like me, not church traditions.

And these days it seems lots of people keep knocking on our door believe God is doing something big here. Beth West says she loves being here because God keeps bringing amazing opportunities to our doorstep . . . literally.

Today I want to tell you about one of those opportunities, and then call you to make a decision.

There is a 2-year-old church called Connection Church that meets in Rosa Parks Elementary School.

For many reasons, they needed to find another meeting place.

This became such a quest for the pastor of this church, that he developed anxiety attacks.

So he decided to go on a 40-day fast.

He became so hungry during this fast, and he came across these words of Jesus in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me to finish his work . . . open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest. The sower and reaper are working together to reap a harvest of eternal life. Thus the saying goes, One sows and the other reaps is true. So . . . I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

What could this mean? Others in the church had sensed that God wanted Connection Church to do something big, like two sides of a civil war coming together in unity.

Brad began to believe that God was leading Connection Church to come alongside another church in some way but he didn’t know how.

Rewind 15 years. Brad and his wife Laura used to live in East Tulsa. When driving home from their church they would pass Garnett. Traffic was stopped and we were pouring out on the 2-lane road. He nicknamed our church, “The Church That Stops Traffic.” Sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing how other people see us.

Well, back to this year–just a few months back Brad was driving by our church again, feeling anxious, praying, and something or someONE said, “Go in.” Really, uh, go in the “Church That Stops Traffic”?

He felt a strong urge to come in, and there he met Kay Hanna who then introduced Brad to our staff and to me.

That was Spring this year, and since then we’ve gotten to know each other through lots of conversations and dreaming and praying.

Jill and I, Brad and Laura met one night for three hours at a Subway, just wondering why God somehow brought us together. Our staffs had lunch at LaMansion. Our Children’s Ministries of Garnett and Connection Church even met to discuss how to love and teach children better because we’d discovered in talking that we use the same curriculum.

We found our common ground of being called to East Tulsa and people needing the Lord here gave us confidence that Connection Church meeting here would be a great fit.

They really liked Phillips Hall and our Children’s Hall, so after months of prayer and discussion in their church and getting to know us, Connection Church would like to begin meeting for their worship on Sundays at 11 am in Phillips Hall.

Basically their worship would start about the time we’re going out to classes.

They do not have adult classes but do have a separate kids worship/class time during their adult worship.

So then we had a problem. We do our classes at the same time now–11:15 am.

Could both churches compromise their times and move their worship times . . . so am I asking you to change the time we meet again? No. Think bigger.

And that’s what we tried to do. Think bigger kingdom of God than just our churches. What is God calling us to do?

Well, the Children’s Ministry team came together and I put the problem to them . . . Then one of them said, “Since we use the same curriculum and we have space, why don’t we have combined classes for our children?”

What? Wow . . . What church does that? Do we even have a model for that? Sure we’ve had churches meet here for a decade but we’ve never combined something as important as children’s classes or long-term teaching.

If that was going to be a proposal that would fly, we had more due diligence to do.

One thing is that we need to know who they are and what they believe. Watch this video and our ushers will pass out a page with our core beliefs and theirs on the other side.

This video is great and feel good–in fact, they have baptized more people in the last year than we have. New church plants seem to reach people more effectively and I want to see how revival can come to our church and for both churches to grow in numbers, baptisms, and spiritually in every way.

Another piece of that due diligence is for the elders of each church to be aware and make congregations aware of the core beliefs of each church, so if we do anything together, we know what we are dealing with.

So we put together a page, front and back, that has our core beliefs and Connection Church’s core beliefs, and we want you to look it over.

Connection Church, as you can see on the handout, is based out of the Nazarene Church. Our beliefs are a lot alike. Not exactly, but two Churches of Christ couldn’t write two exact papers if they tried. Still, these core beliefs are vital to each church. We keep our distinct identities, beliefs. We are stubborn about that and so is Connection Church. I’ve heard them talk about it. In matters of faith, unity, in matters of opinion, liberty. In all things charity.

Now, you may be asking, “Are we talking about combining churches?” Nope. Having joint worship? Nope. But if you want to worship together with Connection Church–go for it. This is a great way to continue our commitment on Sundays to the heritage value of acappella worship while also giving an opportunity for worship with Connections Church that has a praise band.

Or you might be wondering, “Is one church taking over the other?” Absolutely not. If both churches took the step one day of dissolving their denominational ties into union with the Kingdom of God, Jesus Christ is the authority who takes over–you might think that’s quaint or naive, but I’m talking about Jesus’s teachings and life being the shaping factor for everything rather than squaring up everything according to traditions and heritage of denominations.

Others of you might be saying, “When did we ever get asked our opinion about this?” We have talked extensively about this with our shepherds, staff, and several of you in the congregation including children’s team and others.

You may think, “Greg, why don’t you tell us these things sooner so we can either get excited or shoot you down?” You wouldn’t like it very much if I brought you current on every thought in my head before it bakes. We as leaders have to do some due diligence before bringing an idea to you, then still ask for input, wisdom, and then we still have to come back and make a decision as a leadership team.

What our Children’s Team has decided is that they are willing to try this. Our Children’s team excels in teaching. Connection Church excels in vision and direction of Children’s Ministry, so our people want to teach and Connection wants to use that curriculum we both use and set a big vision for teaching kids Bible foundations and leading them to Christ. We’ll do that a little different in our church, families, but the Holy Spirit will help us work that out.

Some may be saying, “Well, it’s already decided, so what’s the choice?” The church meeting here is part of a decade-ago decision by leadership before most of us were even here. The choice we have today is this:

Connection can be just another church that meets here . . .

Or they can be your friends and perhaps your brothers and sisters in Christ.

And do you have a choice to say something about the proposal our leaders and children’s team and Connection has been simmering on, to combine children’s teaching time on Sunday? Yes, we want you to ask hard questions, pray about this, give us your input in the month before Connection Church comes to meet. How should we go about decisions for Christ differently in each church? What is the Bible teaching plan for the children.

You have a chance today right after our worship here in the auditorium during our ScreamFree class to ask questions and give comments.

What would we ultimately be teaching our kids by example? We would be teaching our kids something they can get in few other places on the planet: two churches could come together and teach the basics of the faith that leads to decisions for Christ, baptisms, and fully devoted followers of all ages, and be unified in that.

Does Connection Church want that for their kids and adults? You bet. Do we? You better you better you bet.

Connections Church has chosen to believe there is something incredible happening here and they want to be part of it with us.

Once again it’s interesting to see how others view us. Connection Church sees us as a body of Christ unwilling to give up on the dream of people far from God becoming fully devoted followers right here in East Tulsa.

Now, I want you to see how excited Brad is for the church coming here along with a hundred and a half Christian servants who will be shining their light for Christ here.

Connection Church believes they are “Movin’ On Up” and their plan is to begin meeting here Sunday, Sep 25.

Connection Church wants to help us rebuild. I have to say honestly that part of this sounds intimidating or offensive to me, that another church would take a step beyond just needing a place to saying they really want to help us grow and rebuild. They want to come alongside of us and reach people far from God and help them become fully devoted followers and run to the poor and hopeless and give them hope in Christ.

As Beth West said, “What a beautiful picture of the unified body of Christ this is! Not without a good dose of tension that is healthy as well, to hold to convictions yet be open to the Spirit’s leading.

One thing we’re learning as people either far from God or very close knock on our door is that sometimes what we’re called to do is get out of the way and say, “OK God, do your thing.”

Is God bringing the harvest that Brad had read and prayed about, the words of Jesus in John 4? Is God calling us to live out his prayer for unity in John 17? I think we’re going to be blown away by what God wants to do here, but it’s going to take more reapers. We’ve been here holding on, and I truly believe that God is telling us, “Look at the harvest of 10s of thousands of souls, people who come here every day who need the Lord.” The fields are white here in East Tulsa.

What Connection Church Believes

1. We believe in one God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. We believe in Jesus Christ. Born of the Virgin Mary, he suffered and died on a cross, and was raised to life. By his death on the cross he made a full atonement for all sin.

3. We believe that everyone has sinned, fallen short of God, and is separated from him. Whoever repents of their sin and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.

4. We believe in the Spirit surrendered life. Christ followers are called to submit their lives fully to the Holy Spirit.

5. We believe in the Holy Bible. The scriptures are the inspired Word of God and contain all truth for all mankind.

6. We believe in the Church universal. The body of Christ is called by God to worship together and join in the redemptive work of Christ in the world.

7. We believe in baptism. Baptism is the declaration of ones faith in Jesus Christ.

8. We believe in the Lord’s Supper. Communion is the remembrance and appreciation of Christ’s death on the cross.

9. We believe in divine healing: We believe in the prayer of faith to heal the sick.

10. We believe Jesus Christ will return, the dead will be raised, and the final judgment will take place.
The ICN has over 1.8 million members worldwide and ministers in 159 world areas.
The ICN continues to be one of the largest missionary sending denominations.

What Garnett Church of Christ Believes

We believe God is the creator and ruler of the universe. He has eternally existed in three personalities–God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came to earth and lived a perfect life, as God and man. Through his death, burial, and resurrection we can claim eternal life, freedom from sin, and access to God. Through faith in Jesus Christ we become children of God.

Holy Spirit
We believe that the Holy Spirit is a gift from God and lives in the heart of each believer. The Holy Spirit’s power is to help each Christian to understand and accomplish God’s will. He is our comforter that provides peace in times of loss, grief and despair. The Holy Spirit works through the Bible and the body of believers to guide us, reveal God’s plan for us and bring Glory to our heavenly Father.

God’s Word
We believe that the Bible is God’s word to us. Human authors under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible. It is the supreme source for Christian beliefs and living. It is the only written authoritative voice of God on the earth.

We believe that baptism is a part of the salvation experience. We believe in the practice of baptism by immersion in water.

We believe that all mankind is sinful and falls short of God’s glory. We can never make up for our sin by self-improvement or good works. Only by following Jesus Christ can we enjoy the benefits of salvation.

We believe in observing the Communion as a way of celebrating what Jesus did for us on the cross and anticipating His return.

Our faith in God is displayed in our love for each other.

Table Time

Our whole church family sat down to tables for communion Sunday, August 7, 2011. It was the first time the supper was observed at tables in this way during worship, according to the memories of those who’ve been around for decades.

The table snaked 200 feet through the room we worship in, and we all sat down to share the supper as a family.

As we passed the bread, we said to the person we passed it to, “the body of Christ, broken for you.”

As we passed the juice, we said, “the blood of Christ poured out for you.” Many of us personalized with the name of the person we sat next to.

We continued with this blessing from the end of 2 Corinthians: “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of the Father and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The family responded, “And also with you.” Then we ended with the Lord’s Prayer said together. The praise team sang songs that fit the theme of celebrating the table of forgiveness and confrontation of our sin.

“The table is a place where Jesus receives sinners and confronts the self-righteous. The table is the place where Jesus extends grace to seekers, but condemns the self-righteous. Jesus is willing to eat with sinners in order to invite them into the kingdom . . .” (John Mark Hicks)

Through the power of Christ we receive forgiveness at the table, and we grow to more deeply understand that we come as sinners redeemed by grace.

We did this today in the context of a series called Fearless Families. The principle for today is “Fearless Families Come to the Table.” The table ministry was important in Jesus life. He ate with sinners and the self-righteous. The table is where we receive grace but get confronted. Even in contemporary culture, we say “let’s come to the table” to settle disputes and draw up a truce. The table is where we work out conflicts. I told a story of Robert Webber about when he went to a Shabbat at the home of his friend, Rabbi Eckstein. From  A Book of Family Prayer, Webber says,

As we were taking off our coats, (Bonnie, Rabbi’s wife) pointed to a number of candles burning at the side table. For of those candles represent our family,” she said, “and each of the other four is lighted in honor of your presence.” I felt welcome!

. . . as we sat down Rabbi Eckstein said, “This is a very special meal not only because you are here, but because this meal represents the beginning of our Jewish Shabbat. It’s a day of rest, a time to remember our Creator and Redeemer, a time to be with the family, a time to establish and deepen our relationships . . .”

. . . he took a small loaf of freshly baked bread, broke it, and passed it around the table, bidding us to eat as a sign of our thanks to God. Again, pouring wine into a cup, he lifted it, repeating a Jewish prayer of thanks for the fruit of the vine and, passing it around the table, bade us drink as a sign of our thanks to God. After another prayer our meal began.

We ate and engaged in conversation that was more than talk. It was communication about our lives, our families, our values, our dreams.

He concluded with more prayers, some sung in Hebrew . . . And although I could not understand the language, the sense of awe and reverence before the Lord came over me and raised my spirits to the praise of God.

My friend . . . looked at his wife and in English spoke of his love for her and of his good fortune in having her as his wife. Then, calling his children to his side, he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them, sent them happily off to play.

This observance of a weekly Sabbath meal with its prayers and blessings was such a rich experience for Webber, that he really felt his Christian experience with the table needed improvement. He wanted to come up with similar ways to bring Jesus–his life, death, resurrection, rule–into the regular meal times of his own family.

What he came up with is The Book of Family Prayer that helped his family make more of God and each other in their meal times.

Perhaps your family struggles, as mine does, with sitting down together for meals. And when we do our ways around the table can be a bit barbarian and brief. Thank you for the meat, dear Lord, let’s eat. A few minutes of eating and talk and we’re up again doing something else.

So Webber came up with some readings and prayers that help families around the table to redeem this time and extend love, acceptance, confrontation, resolution–to make it a place where we deepen our relationships with each other and with God.

Now there are lots of ways families do this . . .

One mom has her children read a new word from the dictionary and they’d discuss this word.

My mother and father have always been diligent to pray before meals and they have always waited to eat for every one to gather and pray.

A certain man in our church wanted to deepen prayer in his family table times. He suggested each family member say a prayer each night, but some were ruffled because free-form prayers were difficult. So it was suggested he get a devotional book and each person take a night and read the prayers and scriptures. Better.

A modest “better and better” is what we’re after, not some forced spirituality but simple readings around the meal . . .

The book goes by the Christian year and has prayers and readings for a weekly family observance. It also includes special prayers for birthdays and other important happy or sad times in family life. Webber’s book gives practical suggestions and scripture readings for a regular meals and special occasions. This is how I’ve distilled down some of the advice he gives.

  1. Plan one nice meal each week.
  2. Get a devotional book and plan readings.
  3. Involve everyone in reading.
  4. Do not force spirituality. Just do the readings with sincerity and purposefulness.
  5. Strike a balance between written prayers (that can fit circumstance better) and spontaneous prayers (that may be more heartfelt).

Striking this balance between written and spontaneous prayers is sort of like a greeting card . . . you pick out one that has the message you want, but you also want to write something yourself.

The table may be the most important piece of furniture not only in our homes but also in our churches. The communion table is one way our Father continues to communicate forgiveness to us, confronts us, helps us work out our conflicts and come face to face with each other and with God. I think we did that Sunday at Garnett.