Some weep and some rejoice

There’s a great story in Ezra about when the second temple foundation was laid. Half the exile returnees rejoiced and half wept. No one could distinguish the sound of weeping from the laughing (Ezra 3:11-13).

What do we make of this story. The exiles had come back from Persia with a calling to build the temple that even Cyrus the King of Persia was behind and thought commissioned by God Himself. God seems to have one intent, though it seems He directs His people differently over time, to build, not to build. The intent seems to be that God wants to be present with His people, and He’ll do whatever it takes to do that, whether it means building the temple or tearing it down.

Weeping. Laughing. Building. Tearing down. Sometimes we can’t tell the difference. What was happening was that God’s people were together and you couldn’t tell laughing from weeping.

In churches, synagogues, and mosques, sometimes you can’t tell the difference between crying and laughing. People come seeking God together and inevitably people are either suffering or rejoicing, or maybe some of both. What’s important? Seeking God. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Backsliders: seek God. Seek how He has revealed Himself.

I believe God has revealed himself in three major ways through time. As Creator with authority over the universe. As Savior calling us to his Lordship. As Spirit inviting us into His life. Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever you have done, whatever religion you have grown up in, seek God. I believe this is how God has revealed himself over time. I don’t limit God to this but this is how historic Christianity sees God revealed. Orthodox Christianity shortens this revelation to the word, “Trinity.”

What’s going on in Egypt?

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пи...

All Giza Pyramids in one shot. Русский: Все пирамиды Гизы на изображении. Español: Las Pirámides de Guiza (Egipto). Français : Les Pyramides de Gizeh (Egypte). Català: Les Piràmides de Giza, a Egipte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s going on in Egypt today? Egypt is the most ancient society known to our world that still survives as a nation state with the same name and location. It pre-dates even Israel. The Old and New Testaments mention Egypt nearly 700 times. That’s a lot. Imagine being Egyptian and hearing things like this in the prophecy of Isaiah, and these are just from one chapter, Isaiah 19.

  1. The Lord will make Himself known to the Egyptians.
  2. The will acknowledge the Lord, worshiping, sacrificing, making vows and keeping them.
  3. The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague and heal them.
  4. They will turn to the Lord, and He will respond to their pleas and heal them.
  5. Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.
  6. Israel, Egypt, and Assyria will be a blessing on the earth.
  7. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

These texts have forever changed the way I view the politics of our American government favoring Israel and Christians who think God has some favored nation status on Israel. God favored humanity, and He told Israel through Moses that it was not because of their righteousness that God picked them (Deuteronomy 9:6).

To read phrases like, “Egypt my people” and “Assyria my handiwork” reframes our politics, our notions of how God favors. He can favor, but he doesn’t have to exclude. I think the politics of the Middle East espoused by many Evangelical Christians over the years have been exclusionary for no good reason, in a way that unfairly views Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims. God seeks Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists to be His people, and He is drawing all people to himself, and He wants all people “to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

 

Supplicants and Benefactors

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible

A page from Leviticus, in the Samaritan bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you live your life as a supplicant, benefactor, or neither one?

This brings to mind the phrase, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Quick question. Is that a quote from the Bible. Ten seconds to answer. Sure, you can look it up on your phone or computer . . . but you won’t find it in a concordance, unless it’s a concordance of Shakespeare phrases. It’s Hamlet.

The Bible does say much about the relationship between the haves and have nots, the rich and the poor, benefactors and supplicants. A good place to start thinking biblically about these relationships is in Leviticus. That’s one of the first books that lays out these relationships for the community of Israel.

For God so Loved the World

English: Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Nicodemus_comin...

English: Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Nicodemus_coming_to_Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For God so loved the world.You’ve never really understood the context of that passage and neither have I. The text gets fuzzy as to whether Jesus or John is really saying it and the quote marks are a fabrication of translators–they don’t exist in Greek that John was written in–but there is a conversation going on previous to John 3:16 that happens either in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning that has kept me up at night, made me wonder about the shoes, the appointments, the business, the works-righteousness, the attempt to do one more thing, the servianity.A man named Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. He was a Pharisee. Pharisees believe the more you do for God the better he’ll like you. Many of you, like me, are Pharisees with some Jesus-Splenda added to the tea. Christ died, God gives his grace, he blew his Spirit upon us, changes everything and we sip our lattes and check our texts and read our mail and watch our shows and join our ministries and still believe like Nicodemus and the Pharisees that if we could just do one more thing in a day, be one more notch productive, sigh a little more when someone asks how things are going, serve God in one more ministry, then we’ll make him happy.Now some of you are perplexed, because you don’t try to do too much. It’s become fashionable in some circles to say no with flare and for some of you, that’s an excuse to be lazy. You say yes to your job, your clubs, your everything but when it comes to serving in our body, you haven’t said yes in years. Some of you are lazy. I’m lazy about a lot of things. But you pair two things together and you get this weird awful combination.

A lazy legalist. What does a lazy legalist do? What does a works-righteousness driven person who is really basically lazy do? A whole lot of nothing.

One writer calls this skimming. You do a whole lot. You believe there is more and more to be done, to be experienced, but by the end of the day, you don’t know what you’ve really done.

So this legalist who is also a bit hard-headed comes to Jesus one night, knowing Jesus must be from God because he’s performed these miracles. Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Nicodemus gives an oblique and perhaps stubborn reply. “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born?”

Jesus repeats, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?”

Jesus is perplexed at Nicodemus’s density, his legalistic mind, his lazy stubborn lack of will to let go of all that he controls, all that he is doing for God, all his clout as Israel’s teacher and humbly accept this simple truth into his life. So Jesus goes for a frontal attack on the very faith he was brought up in, Judaism, and on Nicodemus.

“You are Israel’s teacher and you do not understand these things? (He didn’t pay attention to the prophets saying the Spirit would blow in and be a sign for the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel and Joel said so.) I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.”

Then Jesus says, in effect, “I’ve tried to illustrate this for you, give you a word picture, an analogy from life, an earthy example, but you are dense. And you call yourself Israel’s teacher. How can you understand if I really start in on theology?”

Here’s what he says in verse 12: “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

It seems the conversation goes on, there are quotes translators have continued in John 3:16, so I never knew this, never knew this was Jesus speaking. If you have a red-letter Bible, all this is in red, but I never really paid attention to this fact. John writes that Jesus said this about himself, to Nicodemus, the lazy legalist who thought one more thing for God would make him lovely to God, make him lovable, get him into heaven. Just one more thing, so that I have to stay awake at night to get it all done.

And Jesus says, “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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

Whatever we’ve done we’ve done “through God.” Plain and simple. No legalism. No works-righteousness. We don’t know what Nicodemus’s final response was except silence. John doesn’t tell us. I think I know this. He had no more sarcastic or cynical or stubborn remarks to make. Perhaps Nicodemus was in tears and on his knees.

Why do I think this? Because he defended Jesus in the ruling council later in John. Then he helped his friend Joseph of Arimathea to clean and embalm Jesus’s body.

Nicodemus had become a disciple. He gave up his sarcastic, stubborn lazy legalism somewhere along the way not just because of the miracles anymore but because one night he came face to face with the Lord of the universe and when that happens the only thing you can resist is that one part of God that would not compel you without your choice. You still have to make a choice, but the choice is so clear that all works-righteousness and all the things you’ve ever done melt away in the light of Jesus face.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of glory and grace.

And that’s how it is with people born of the Spirit. We’re a mix of flesh and blood and Spirit, eternity stranded in time, to quote Michael Card, people born from above like Christ and filled with a singular hope and focused desire to know nothing in this world so interesting and intriguing and filling as the love of God that comes into the world through the Son of Life who gives us life and blows into our world and we see the results in our lives.

Like Nicodemus we’re intrigued with the miracles, love the activity of life, obsessed with bad habits, but those activities will not give us life. Only what is done through God will give us life.

And Nicodemus learns and we learn with him that the Spirit blows where it will, and if we’re paying attention, we’ll see the kingdom in that, no matter where it blows, that’s where we go.

Excerpt of Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount

By Randy Harris with Greg Taylor

By Randy Harris with Greg Taylor

DOING WHAT JESUS SAYS

For two thousand years many Christians have considered the Sermon on the Mount to be the most important words in the whole Bible. You would think that the words considered to be spoken by Jesus and written down would be easily interpreted and followed.

But over the centuries these words have become the most hotly debated words in history. And that’s part of the problem. They’ve been debated more than followed. Some parts of the sermon are either so problematic or difficult that they’ve been left alone by preachers and teachers. Have you ever been invited by a church leader to shape your life around this teaching of Jesus? My guess is that you haven’t.

This is your invitation to the most important teachings of Jesus Christ. There’s a lot to know, but most importantly there’s a lot to do. When it comes to the knowing part, I’m going to err on the side of non-technical explanations rather than complicated and detailed. Why? In order to focus on the doing of the words of Jesus.

Right here at the beginning I want to give you a brief sketch of how the Sermon on the Mount has been handled differently since Jesus’ words were first written and passed down. Don’t worry—I’m not going to bore you with a prolonged explanation of what scholars have said over two thousand years; but the broad strokes of the use of the Sermon on the Mount are fairly important to understand as we get started.

Early church leaders thought the words of Jesus could be practiced literally, and the Didache, a Christian document from the early second century, includes lots of language that sounds like words from the Sermon on the Mount.

In the fourth century when large numbers of people were baptized into the Catholic Church, Christian leaders began to make a distinction between those who really keep the hard teachings of Jesus (monks and bishops and the like) and those who are baptized adherents of the church who are expected to follow only the basic precepts.

So over the centuries, the Sermon on the Mount became something that was for extra credit. Eventually people believed the sermon was just too hard to do, that Jesus was proclaiming an ideal of the new kingdom, but that his words were not meant to be practiced literally. Some church leaders have even thought Jesus intentionally set a high standard to illustrate how far short we fall and how much we need the grace of God.

On the other hand, from the sixteenth century on, a group called the Anabaptists thought that Christians should practice the Sermon on the Mount literally, that there should be no dif- ference between clergy (church leaders) and laity (regular folk) when it comes to following the words of Jesus.

In the last five hundred years the church has argued about whether Jesus really said everything in the sermon or whether Gospel writers just based it on true events of Jesus’ oral teachings but bent it toward their own way of thinking. That would make the sermon a way of showing Christ’s authority as the Messiah, rather than an actual manual for living.

The bottom line is that over two thousand years the church has believed and practiced the Sermon on the Mount in one or more of five ways:

  1. We can do this.
  2. Church leaders can do this but it’s too hard for regular folk.
  3. These teachings of Christ are too hard for anyone, and if we try to follow them it leads to legalism.
  4. The teachings are too hard but they show our need for God’s grace; keeping the laws literally is not the point.
  5. Yes, they are too hard but by God’s blessing and grace we must try to keep them.

My journey has taken me through all of these approaches as I’ve studied, heard, prayed, and tried to live the sermon. But I have come closer to the fifth category than ever before. This book is the story of how I’ve gotten there and what I’m trying to do about it. And it’s an invitation to you to come with me, to live the sermon, to do what Jesus says. Category number five above is really a return to what the early church thought: We can do this. But we certainly need God’s empowerment and grace in order to obey what Jesus says.

So this book is not just a study of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a way of discovering what Jesus says so we can do what Jesus says. My intention is not to add information or advance scholarship about the Sermon on the Mount. The simple historical sketch I just gave is about as much as we need for our purposes.

What I’ve written here is different from other writings on the Sermon on the Mount. For more than two thousand years we have benefited from scholars, translators, and interpreters who have indeed debated and taken different positions on the words of Christ, yet they have been talking about the most important words we have on record of the teachings of Jesus. I believe that by using the best translations available and accept- ing that these words were written based on the oral teachings of Christ and written down for us by Matthew and Luke, we must take these words seriously as a rule of life. In fact, many Christian communities throughout the centuries have based their rules of living together on the words of this sermon.

So I’m not attempting to write a scholarly book on the Sermon on the Mount. I’m trying to provide a field manual for living the life Jesus wants for us.

This book, which includes content from a film series I did by the same name, can stand alone, or it can be used along with the DVD as a field manual for groups or individuals who want, not only to know more about the Sermon on the Mount, but also to live what it teaches.

The Sermon on the Mount is full of hard teachings, but at my core I believe Jesus wants us to live out these teachings, however imperfectly. I believe also that by living these teachings Jesus gives us incredible and abundant life. He even promises that if we practice the commands and teach others to do so, we will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” He says that those who hear his words and put them into practice are wise. Those who do not are foolish.

Jesus didn’t intentionally make this so hard we can’t possibly live any of these teachings. I believe the teachings are doable, but the problem is that the church has long taught that these truths are so unattainable and impractical that they’ve simply been ignored.

What G. K. Chesterton said about the Christian life is par- ticularly true about the Sermon on the Mount: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Not only has it been found difficult and left untried, but even to suggest following the Sermon on the Mount as literally as possible—we’ll make plucking out your eyes and cutting off your hands a quick exception—appears to many as some sort of fanaticism.

I teach at a small university in Texas. Each year I stand in front of eager—and sometimes not so eager—students and teach them the truths in the Sermon on the Mount. I always have to convince them that Jesus is really serious about living this life. This isn’t “Suggestions on the Mount.” This isn’t Jesus raising the bar so high that we can only try and fail and so learn a lesson about the grace of God—though certainly that will happen over and over in our lives.

No, this is Jesus standing in the hills around Capernaum, probably overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a breeze blowing, and eager—and some not so eager—people hanging on Jesus’ words. Some wanted to catch him in theological corners and then try to paint him in. Others wanted just to be healed of diseases. Still others heard those words and believed that they could follow Jesus and do what he said.

So, here is the beginning and the end of the Sermon on the Mount: doing what Jesus says. And that’s what this book is about.

The question for us is not, “Can you do these teachings?” They are doable but not doable perfectly, so expect some failure, some resistance from yourself and others.

No, the question is, “Will you try?” This book is a field guide for those who choose to try.

Are we intentionally inviting our children to follow Christ? Part 2

Since there is little evidence of children being converted in the early church, we ought to think theologically from Scripture and work from there.

One big theological idea that can be applied is the long-standing issue of whether an infant is born into sin. This goes way back to early church fathers, associated big time with Augustine and has continued to be discussed into the Reformation and since. The big question is, are children born into sin. Most Evangelicals don’t believe so. So we ask, Must we view children as lost before they can be found? Continue reading

Are you preventing children from coming to Jesus? Part 1

Our Lord Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” We sneer at those villainous religious leaders–or even disciples–who prevent children from approaching Jesus.

But we have to ask the question, “Do we hinder children from coming to Jesus?”

And when we ask that question in the negative, why not put it in the positive sense also: “Do we do much intentionally to help our young children come to Jesus in our families and churches?

I want to do some sweeping through Christian history, Scripture, a couple of studies of practices related to conversion or faith-shaping of children in the last century, and make some conclusions or applications and issue a challenge to us all. Continue reading

Down in the River to Pray now available on iPad

If you have an iPad or iPhone and have never read Down in the River to Pray: Revisioning Baptism as God‘s Transforming Work, get it from iTunes in ibooks format. The revised and better edited shorter version of the book John Mark Hicks and I co-authored is available here. Or click the image below.


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.

http://vimeo.com/connectionwired/greencountryeventcenter

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

God
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.

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

Salvation
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.

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

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

Edward Fudge on John Stott

From Edward Fudge (gracEmail)

John Stott: Model of Kingdom Greatness

He chose the bachelor life to devote himself more fully to the gospel–but when he died last Wednesday, thousands mourned the loss of their beloved “Uncle John.” Although Chaplain to the Queen of England, he lived in simple quarters. He was “one of the 100 most influential people in the world,” Time magazine opined, yet he traveled in a sm all car that was second-hand. Those who knew him best recall his humble spirit and recite his deeds of quiet service. And last Wednesday, July 27, 2011, a few close friends and relatives at his bedside read aloud the words of St. Paul who also fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the faith. Then, as strains of Handel’s “Messiah” overflowed the room and wafted heavenward to Him who reigns for ever and ever, ninety-year-old John Robert Walmsley Stott fell asleep in Jesus Christ to await the resurrection unto immortality and eternal life.

For half a century, John Stott ministered in association with All Souls (Anglican) Church, Langham Place, London–as curate, rector and, most significantly, as rector emeritus commissioned to serve as pastor/teacher around the world. Stott had known All Souls since childhood, when he and his Lutheran mother went together to the parish church in their neighborhood. Stott’s father, a knighted but agnostic London physician of prominence, did not join them. Truth be told, young John was not always an exemplar of piety either–often sitting in the balcony, from which he sometimes dropped paper-wads on the hats of the ladies sitting below.

Cover of

Cover of Basic Christianity

The true legacy of John Stott is immeasurable by human perception. He wrote more than forty books, all in longhand with pen and ink. Best known is Basic Christianity, which has sold more than two million copies in more than 50 languages. In 1974, Stott masterminded and then convened the International Congress on World Evangelization which drew believers from 150 nations, until then likely the most wide-ranging meeting of Christians ever held. Stott chiefly wrote the Lausanne Covenant, a theological declaration resulting from the Congress–calling Christians both to evangelism (the Great Commission) and to social responsibility (the Great Commandment). The Langham Foundation, also Stott’s creation, continues serving the Third World church by its twin programs of training pastors and distributing books. Whether delivered in person or in print, John Stott’s biblical exposition was meaningful, clear, and uncontrived.

A decade ago, I was privileged to hear John Stott preach. True to reputation, his messages were simple and filled with power. l also was touched by his deep personal kindness. At the conclusion of the first meeting, I waited in line to shake his hand. “Dr. Stott,” I said, “my name is Edward Fudge, and it is such a pleasure to meet you in person!” A smile came over his face as he asked, “Are you my friend Edward Fudge?” Although honored worldwide for two generations of solid biblical teaching, Stott had recently come under intense attack for stating that he “tentatively” believed that those finally lost would be totally annihilated in hell rather than suffer unending conscious torment. His question reflected his familiarity with my book, The Fire That Consumes. “I hope so,” I replied, honored for h im to call me his friend.

Hugh Palmer, the present rector at All Souls Church in London, remembers that Stott often began sermons by asking the Father that “Your written word of Scripture may now and always be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our Teacher and Your greater glory our supreme concern, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” For fifty years, God was pleased to answer that prayer. Glorifying God by serving him faithfully defines true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. The life of John Stott remains a model of such greatness.

God does not leave us where he found us

We say around Garnett that you can come as you are, but God loves you too much to keep you that way. Everything about who God is demands that our lives change. I love how Anne Lamott says it,

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-18

Is God listening?

In my twenty years in ministry I’ve heard myself and many I walk alongside asking the question, “Is God really listening?” Great question. Let’s dig in. In the next few weeks on my blog, I’ll reflect on a few of the pressing questions we ask as human beings.

Is God Listening?

Hagar was Father Abraham’s second wife, and his first wife Sarah didn’t care much for her and nagged Abraham till he send Hagar away.

Sent into exile, the trembling Egyptian servant girl huddled in the desert between Kadesh and Bered where an angel of the Lord appeared to her. The angel said she should name her son Ishmael, which means “God hears.” The angel added, “for the Lord has heard of your misery.”

In her passion and misery, she gave the Lord a new name: Beer Lahai Roi, which means, “You are the Living God who sees me.” For she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

The stories in Scripture intend to sweep us into their drama and get us to ask the same questions. Does God really follow lonely people into the desert? Does God enter the cancer ward, 11th Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a brothel where forced sex workers cry out to God like Hagar?

Does God listen to us? Most of us don’t really know. Why?

The biggest reason we don’t know if God is listening is because we don’t speak to him, don’t know how or find the whole enterprise intimidating and lack the patience to learn how to speak to God.

A few years ago a book came out called, How to talk so your teenager will listen and listen so your teenager will talk. What if we put that in terms of talking to God. What would it be like if God spoke so his creation would listen and listened so his creation would talk?

Through Hagar we learn God does listen and see us. The prophets are exemplars of what it looks like to be crazy enough to believe that God is really listening and interacting with us.

The psalmists believe God is listening but they also apparently believe it’s OK to question the fact simultaneously. It’s almost like the whole exercise of writing poetry/songs implies that belief that God is listening but the words themselves make us wonder otherwise.

David cries out in Psalm 39:12, “Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.” Psalm 5, David reminds God to listen. So is it OK to remind God to listen? According to the psalmists, it sure enough is. Have you reminded God to listen lately? We often talk about God, as I’m doing in this post, chunking back and forth ideas about whether he listens, whether he doesn’t. What if we got about the business of reminding God to listen?

Did Jesus remind God to listen? Jesus believes that God listens, and in the Gospel accounts we find Jesus taking time to climb mountains and find solitary places in gardens to speak his heart to God.

Jesus also knew the psalms and would have prayed them like Jews of his time did in worship assemblies. He even talked back to God on the cross, quoting Psalm 22. “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?”

One way to find out if God is listening is to pray psalms and call on him to listen. God’s word to us in the psalms is also humanity’s words to God, many times asking God to give an ear to our cries. Pray the psalms. Take Psalm 5 or Psalm 39 and call upon God to listen, to give ear to your cries. Lift up God’s name and his qualities of lovingkindness and goodness.

The words of the psalms give us a voice when we often lose our voices. The psalms are a collection in the middle of our Bibles that teach us to talk to God and reminds God to listen. If it bothers you that you’d have to remind God of something, then quit complaining that he’s not listening or wondering if he does. Speak that doubt and that reminder to God who can be entrusted with your heart’s deepest, darkest doubts.

Some of these reflections come from working through the book, Talking Back to God by Lynn Anderson. I’m preaching through the book this summer at Garnett, and we’d love to have you come and join us 10 am Sundays.

What’s Next @ Garnett Church of Christ?

My co-worker and good friend, Wade Hodges, will be leaving Garnett Church of Christ effective March 1 to follow his dream of planting a church in Austin, Texas.

Wade is one of my best friends and has personally challenged me in every area of my life, from my faith to my health to my thinking. He has challenged our church’s and larger Christian community’s narrow assumptions of faith and what it means to live the Christ-life and has prepared us to be a church that embodies the kingdom life he’s preached for six years. Wade, your jokes will be missed by a few of us. But missed by all will be the way you drive deep the sword of the word to penetrate heart and soul and bone marrow. Wade, we will miss you. Thank you.

Heather has been a great co-worker as we’ve worked together in outreach, and her skills as a counselor and administrator have been invaluable as we’ve reached out to the Hispanic community in Tulsa. She has launched and help to grow the Garnett Bilingual Preschool to sixty students, with instructors in Spanish and English, leaving a legacy of a solid ongoing program that impacts dozens of families in our community. She has been both a good friend to many in and outside our church, and she knows how to get things done. Heather, we will miss you. We will miss Wade’s and Heather’s sons, Caleb and Elijah, but we know this great family is following their hearts and dreams, and we’re happy for them.

In some ways, the Hodges and Taylors are trading places. Jill and I came to Garnett with seven years of experience with a church planting mission team in Uganda. We know what it’s like to have a burning in our hearts to start something bold and new in the name of Jesus Christ.

Garnett will continue to support Wade and Heather for a time while they launch the new church in Austin, and we encourage others to support them financially, spiritually, emotionally, with prayer as they seek out people who are searching for Jesus and what it means to follow him today without many of the trappings of traditional religion. See Wade’s blog to follow him and email him if you want to know more or support what they’re doing in some way.

What’s next for Garnett?

March 1, I will move to lead minister at Garnett Church of Christ. I want to thank the shepherds for their confidence in me. I’m honored and humbled and have accepted their offer to lead the staff and preach. Would you please say a prayer for Wade and Heather today in their church planting mission? And would you please say a prayer for Jill and me and our children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, today?

The Hodges are following their dream, and I’m ready for the challenges ahead in leading and preaching at Garnett. I’ll continue my focus on outreach to the community but will hand off some other duties to other capable people in the church as I move into weekly preaching. Wade’s such a great preacher, he’ll be a tough act to follow, but with God’s help I can be myself, tell the truth, and make a different kind of impact that’s helpful in the kingdom. I’ll end below with some great words of commissioning from one of our shepherds, Loy Johnson. Thank you to Loy, Rusty Anderson, Robert Garland, John Dickmann, and Jeff McIlroy for how they laid out the transition to Garnett congregation Sunday. As one person said, their leadership was “comforting” and at the same time challenging to the congregation, and they did that credibly, humorously yet sincerely. Thank you guys for a job very well done.

Jill is a full-time math teacher at Wright Christian Academy and teaches adjunct at Tulsa Community College. She also volunteers in the children’s ministry at Garnett. My deal with her and the churches we’ve served is that I have no stereotypical “preacher’s wife” expectations of her, and I ask our church to also allow Jill to carve out her own niche, as she has already done in the last three years here volunteering as a great Bible class teacher in children’s programs. Feel free to contact Jill directly if you’d like to encourage her or know how she feels right now. She is also on Facebook.

Finally, I want to end with an excerpt of Loy Johnson’s “Charge” to me.

Wade’s calling was one of pronouncement. Greg, yours is one of implementation.  It’s been said that a church takes on the personality of it’s pastor.  While the mission here at Garnett will remain the same, we understand that under your influence, the way it’s fleshed out is likely to reflect your passions and your personality – and we encourage that.  As Shepherds of this congregation, we give you the following charge:

  • Help us bring about unity, healing, and stronger family relationships within our body.
  • Help us practice what we preach.  Show us ways we can take an active role in healing the community around us.
  • Help us develop the same heart for others that you and Jill have already displayed.
  • Work within your giftedness.  Pursue your passions, but know your limits.  Focus on your areas of strength and allow others to serve within their’s.
  • May your ministry here at Garnett be marked by an expansion in God’s kingdom.  Through your efforts, may many people, both inside and outside of these walls, grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Kingdom Come

I have a new friend, Bobby Valentine, who I met earlier this year. When bloggers tell you about a “friend” you have to wonder if they haven’t just read each other’s blogs and now call one another friends, but I really met Bobby the old fashioned way ministers and teachers meet each other: at a conference.

kingdom-come.jpgBobby and I have a mutual writing buddy: John Mark Hicks. Bobby and John Mark wrote a great new book called Kingdom Come.

They both have great blogs that balance theology with life experience told authentically: Stoned-Campbell and Professing Professor
Here’s an excerpt from their very insightful new book:

As a summary of early Christian steadfastness, Acts 2:42 has served as an influential reference point in the believer’s church tradition but it has been especially important to the Stone-Campbell Movement. As early as the 1830s some even regarded it as the biblical “order of worship.” Others continued that perspective into the early twentieth century.[1] Harding, however, believed these “four duties” were listed “in the order of their importance.”[2]

Harding identified the four as (1) reading and studying the Bible, (2) ministering to others (especially the poor) as we share (“fellowship”) our resources, (3) participating in the Lord’s day meeting at the Lord’s table, and (4) habitual prayer. Sometimes Harding identifies all of these activities with the Lord’s day,[3] but generally understands Bible study, ministering to the poor, and prayers as daily spiritual disciplines. Believers should read their Bibles daily, “do good” daily as they have opportunity, and pray every morning, noon, afternoon and evening.

But these are no mere “duties.” Rather, they are “four great means of grace”—they are appointed means by which God dynamically acts among, in and through his people.[4] They are not avenues of human self-reliance but modes of divine transformation through which God graciously sanctifies believers. They are spiritual disciplines by which God conforms his people to the image of Christ.

Harding emphasized that the “life of a successful Christian is a continual growth in purity, a constant changing into a complete likeness to Christ.”[5] To “grow more and more into the likeness of Christ” should be the Christian’s “greatest” desire.[6] In other words, Harding believed discipleship was the central dimension of the kingdom of God. Consequently, one of the dangers of revivalism (“protracted meetings”) was the immediate interest in a large number of conversions where the only concern was “escaping hell and getting into heaven” as opposed to discipling people to lead “lives of absolute consecration to the Lord.” As a result, these “converts are much more anxious to be saved than they are to follow Christ.”[7]

In our small groups at Garnett I’ve emphasized Acts 2:42 as a model of what Christian community ought to consist of in our groups: fellowship, breaking bread, teaching, prayer . . . this excerpt from Hicks and Valentine’s book, however, drives me deeper into the “everyday apocalypse” (to use my friend David Dark’s phrase) of this passage.


[1] F. W. Emmons of Emmaus, Indiana (cf. Alexander Campbell, “Order of Worship,” MH 2ns [June 1838], 247-250) and Alfred Elmore of Covington, Indiana (cf. “title” GA 43 [21 March 1901], 186).

[2] Harding, “The Habits that Save,” The Way 4 (February 5, 1903), 356

[3] Harding, “Questions Concerning the Way to Heaven,” The Way 4 (12 February 1903), 370.

[4] Harding, “Questions and Answers,” The Way 4 (17 July 1902), 123.

[5] Harding, “Scraps,” The Way 5 (23 July 1903), 735.

[6] Harding, “Scraps,” The Way 5 (15 October 1903), 945.

[7] Harding, “About Protracted Meetings,” GA 27 (1887), 588.