Writings and videos
Common Grounds Posts
Below are some of the writtings and/or video content that we have posted in the past.
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.
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?
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.
"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.
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
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.”
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?
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.
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
“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.
Click the button below to find out more about Dr. Oakes:
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).
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.
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)
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.