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.

Exchange of ideas and community

Cover of "Community: The Structure of Bel...

Peter Block's Community: The Structure of Belonging

Just handed Bill Campbell Down in the River to Pray (revised edition) he was asking about and Chris King just handed me Community: A Structure of Belonging by Peter Block–we are in the midst of our own mosaic of broken people here at Garnett and searching for God‘s vision of the world around us, how he wants to put us back together, how Christ wants us to live out his prayer for unity in John 17, how Paul encourages us to play harmony and be united in one thought and purpose (1 Corinthians 1:10).

I’m really glad to be in a community network of leaders like Bill Campbell and Chris King.

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.

The Gift

I received a gift in 1975 that changed my life forever. I was a young boy when Saigon, South Vietnam fell.

Fearing the take over by the North Vietnamese, Saigon practically emptied, with evacuation of troops, government, and civilian personnel, including many Vietnamese. In April 1975, President Gerald R. Ford ordered Operation Babylift, which would evacuate nearly three thousand orphans out of South Vietnam. A C-5A Galaxy plane later crashed, killing 138 passengers and hurting morale of the troops, but this did not dampen the resolve of the international community and the U.S. government. President Ford ordered American involvement in another operation. This one called “Operation New Life,” which resulted in evacuation of 110,000 Vietnamese refugees.

Most of those refugees traveled through Guam, and the majority made their way to the U.S. and some to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas.

I’ve never been to Vietnam, but in 1975, at Christmas, Saigon came to me and my family in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. With Operation New Life in full swing in 1975, I never imagined New Life would come to my hometown, to my living room, and I would be changed.

Christmas the year before, in 1974, was an eventful one. Up to that time, the biggest thing in my life was getting great Christmas gifts! I wanted something loud and dangerous, to the consternation of my mother.

There I am on the front yard, down on Mission Road where we lived, and my brother is handing me the gift, and he’s ecstatic, his hair is standing up, he’s just removed a helmet and pushed it down on my head, and he hands me the handle bars and there I am holding the prized gift of all gifts for a seven year old boy: a mini bike.

So I do what you’re supposed to do. I rev the engine with the throttle . . . and the mini bike begins to move. But there’s a problem . . .

I have not mounted the bike. I’m standing next to it . . . and the mini bike begins to move. So I do what I have to do. I move with it, slowly at first, then I pick up speed.

Now I’m running, trying to keep up with the mini bike. How can I jump on? I do not realize there is an option to let off the throttle and just stop it. Faster, Faster, I’m running, I’m sprinting now, I’m crying out for my brother to catch me, help me!

I can’t keep up, the mini bike is too powerful, too fast for my little legs. My brother says, “Let gooooo!” and I think he means the mini-bike itself. He means the throttle. Let off the throttle!

So I do what I have to do . . . I let go, of the whole shooting match. I let the mini bike go and stand there in the middle of the yard and watch the mini bike finish the trip, like a riderless horse.

The mini bike continues on down the slope and over a brick retaining wall several feet high. My hands are on my helmet as if I’d just thrown an interception in the Super Bowl’s last minute. What have I done? The gift for our whole family, the kids, the neighbors, the cousins.

My brother and I walk over to the mini bike to examine it for damage. Looks like nothing shattered. Maybe it’s OK. Then we pick it up and look at the front fork. It’s bent. I tear up. I’ve ruined Christmas for my brother and the rest of us. I’ve ruined our gift on the first day.

To ride the mini bike straight down the road from that day on, you turned the handle bars at a 20 degree angle.

I’ll never forget hiding behind the Christmas tree that night, sulking, warming my hands on the big red and green Christmas tree bulbs on the tinder box of a live Christmas tree. The bulbs were 6000 degrees Kelvin and yet another Christmas miracle occurred that year that fire did not engulf that tree spontaneously each night as the bulbs heated up.

And it was in that living room with the sculptured shag carpet, the gold threaded ivory drapes, the first-ever totally electric house in the city, a house so modern it prompted my mother to be quoted in the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise newspaper, a modern housewife they called her, and she said, “I go from room to room pushing buttons.” We mimic that quote, quite literally, to this day.

In that living room was a meeting that would change my life . . . and it had nothing to do with a mini-bike . . . that wasn’t the gift that changed my life. Another gift came in the form of a family who traveled across the world.

They had come as part of a mass evacuation called Operation New Life . . . some of the 90,000+ who’d made it from South Vietnam, through Guam, and received asylum in the United States . . . made it as far as Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Then a friend of my dad’s urged him to sponsor a Vietnamese family. My father and mother have devoted their lives to helping those with little or no hope, the poor.

So Christmas 1975, in that living room where I had worried so much about a hunk of metal, the twisted mini-bike, a family came from across the world and entered our lives and changed me in ways I am trying to explain, but I would never be the same.

This was my first experience of people from another culture. The family who came to our house that day in 1975 is named “Vu.” They were mother, father, grandparents, and many children.

I remember the faces of the Vu family. I remember their faces didn’t look like mine. Their eyes were slanted. Or were my eyes the ones slanted? Their skin was a different color. They spoke a language I didn’t understand. But they didn’t understand my language, either. The Vus, in 1975, that Christmas were the first Asian family I’d ever met.

I remember going to the Vu’s downtown apartment. That’s where I ate my first eggroll.

During those turbulent years my family loved a Vietnamese family. And they loved us. They kept feeding us eggrolls. Our two very different families treated one another with respect and concern and love. Many of the Vu family still live in the United States and on occasion we’ll get a Christmas card from them and hear they are doing well.

As an eight-year-old child in 1975, I thought that mini-bike was the most important machine on the planet. I remember quietly moping next to our Christmas tree, thinking I had committed a terrible offense by wrecking our family’s motorbike. But my parents reminded me that the mini-bike was only rubber and steel. They reminded me of this fact by welcoming the Vus to sit by our Christmas tree with us. That’s where I looked at their eyes and watched them open the presents our family had given them.

I’ll never be the same after that visit and our visit to the Vu family home. I learned three things that Christmas in 1975:

  1. I learned that Christmas means helping someone desperately in need. Jesus entered a desperate world, and my parents showed love and received love from people desperate for a new life.
  2. I learned that eggrolls are good to eat.
  3. I learned that giving alone is not what Christmas is about. Christmas is first about learning how to receive, then you become a great giver.

Jesus first received flesh and blood, says John 1:14-18. He received food and clothes and was taught how to pray by his mother. He received the Holy Spirit. He received bread and fish from a little boy first before he gave fish and bread. He received a foot washing long before he washed feet. Jesus teaches us to receive. So Christmas is a good time to learn how to receive grace of God through the thoughtful gifts of our loved ones. When we grow in the grace of receiving, we learn something vital about God. Giving, doing good works, follows receiving the incredible gift of grace.

Maybe that’s partly what pointed me toward faraway lands like Uganda, where I worked as a missionary for seven years with a church planting team. With all its sugar cane and tropical plants and heat, Uganda looks and feels a lot like Vietnam. In Uganda I learned to eat food unlike what I grew up eating. I learned to keep the throttle low and my defensive driving skills high. And I learned that giving to those who are desperately in need is what I’m called to do as a follower of Christ. Maybe I went to Uganda because my parents taught me early in life that the motorbike was just rubber and steel, but the people of Vietnam and Uganda and the United States are all God’s creation.

And what I received in Uganda is another life-changing experience. I will truly never be the same after living in Uganda with my wife, Jill, and three children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. We loved and were loved by our wonderful Ugandan friends. My parents taught me at an early age how to make and be friends with people very different from us, from far away, who had come in Operation New Life. We, too, received New Life through their friendship.

I still eat eggrolls every chance I get, but these days I try to stay off motorcycles. But more four decades later, one of my best memories of Christmas is watching Vietnamese children open their presents and remembering the day I learned that to give may be more blessed than receiving, but we have to receive first. And Christmas with the Vus was about friendship of receiving and giving.

And those early childhood memories of my father’s and mother’s love shown to a Vietnamese family stick with me, because the Vus gave to us as well. I hope one day my three children will remember something I did to serve a Ugandan or American or anyone desperately in need. But even more than that, I hope my children know how desperately we all need grace, how we all need to receive love and grace of God before we really know how to give good gifts.

May your Christmas be filled with the same grace and truth that Jesus was filled with, that he received. May joy and memories of lessons learned and people who have blessed your life as my Dad and Mom, true servants of Christ, planted in mine by loving–and being loved by–a family of Vietnamese refugees. I didn’t know how to ride a mini-bike but I was paying attention to the coming of New Life.

Recovering Sinners

A crew from Wednesday Bible Study Group at Garnett

A crew from Wednesday Bible Study Group at Garnett

I’m a grateful recovering sinner. I’ve enjoyed meeting each week with a group of fellow recovering sinners. Many of those meeting have never read the Bible before in their lives. Many do not yet have a relationship with Jesus. Some are skeptics, all are struggling with addictions and sin.

Peggy, Gene, Jessica, Shawn hanging out at Bible study Wednesdays Garnett

Peggy, Gene, Jessica, Shawn hanging out at Bible study Wednesdays Garnett

We pray together and share love, joy, and sorrow with one another and study a Bible book together. This is a group that has grown out of friendships we’ve made with people in the community who come for our Neighborhood Kitchens Meal each Wednesday. The class is about half long-time followers of Jesus and half first-time investigators or followers.

Immigration is complex

Just back from a seminar called “Immigration 101” taught at Tulsa University by Attorney Laura Bachman. One thing is clear. Immigration in the United States has no easy answers. She started with the question, “Why doesn’t someone just get their green card?” She answered by showing the complexity of the law and the long process of becoming a U.S. citizen. At minimum, it takes 3 years and can take a decade.

One of our neighborhood elementary schools that we partner with in Neighborhood Kitchens called the church this week asking if we could help a family in crisis. The mother of three children was unable to work because she is undocumented, and her husband is out of work. (I’ll call her Maria.) Maria was desperate and needing assistance. Together with two school workers, who both speak Spanish, we outlined the process she would have to go through in order to help her children.

Her goal was to get social security cards for all of them, and she lacked one. This allows her to apply for WIC and food stamps.

We helped her with groceries, some money, and I prayed for her there in the school room we were using. But the road ahead for Maria is long.

In general, people in our neighborhood in East Tulsa have fake ID cards. They obtain them from various places in East Tulsa. A person can attempt to use this to get social security or other forms of ID or assistance. Sometimes people get caught using them and are naturally nervous.

What would it take for someone to get a legit ID?

Two or three forms of ID. And most people don’t have that, a birth certificate, a passport. For someone from Mexico, they would have to apply for an $18 ID from Mexican consulate in Little Rock, Arkansas, or they could apply for a passport for $200. Many opt for getting fake IDs. I don’t know how much they cost.

Those who are undocumented, not legal permanent residents or citizens are living scared. And some say well they should since they are breaking the law. But how does a kindergarten child break the law? How is a mother who is brought illegally to the U.S. and is forced to remain home bound for 10 years breaking the law?

Most of us are not lawyers or immigration officials, so we need help in this area, and that’s why I went to this seminar. But when I told my wife, Jill, a little about the complexity of becoming a citizen, about Maria’s plight this week, she asked, “What do we do?” That’s always a great question for us, and sometimes we can’t do as much as we’d like, but here are some suggestions.

  1. Get in touch with someone in your city or state who is an authority on immigration.
  2. Find out lawyers who deal in immigration law or take clients who are seeking to immigrate.
  3. Love people without doling out easy answers. Don’t assume someone can “just get their green card” or that they are maliciously not fully legal.
  4. Help where you can give assistance to people struggling, and encourage each person to do the right thing, not to use fake ID, and help them get resources, legal advice to know the process that will protect their rights but also lead them down the path of legal immigration.

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.

Amazed at Family & Children’s Services

Met yesterday with 40 case workers and therapists at the East Tulsa Family & Children’s Services office. I was amazed and overwhelmed that this “army” of workers rolling back in after a long day of case work and counseling at schools.

I told them how much I respect what they are doing, how ministry is done not at churches but in our lives, our jobs, our neighborhoods . . .

That’s why Jeff Krisman and I had come to meet with this group, hosted by the director, Whitney Downie. We were sharing with them about Neighborhood Kitchens, a place where people can come and share a meal and their heart. We’re a group of educators, government worker/volunteers, business people, representing a variety of faith communities who want to change the world . . . starting in East Tulsa.

Each week we host a meal and invite our neighbors and so far each week we have 70-100 adults and children who are coming to eat and talk about how to make our community a better place to live–less crime, teen pregnancies, gangs, drugs and more life, healthy families, joy, and shalom.

Jeff Krisman has a vision and he asked me and the Garnett Church of Christ to join him. We did. You can read more about it at www.neighborhoodkitchens.pbwiki.com. You’ll see at this link that we’re working with several community groups, including the East Tulsa Prevention Coalition and OU-Tulsa to develop the project.

We asked the group at Family & Children’s to participate in the Neighborhood Kitchens project, help us assess where people are in need. Then I told them each day when I see my kids off to school I kiss their heads and whisper the priestly blessing of Numbers 6 over them. I said I wouldn’t be kissing any of them on the heads but would say the blessing over them and the tremendous and challenging work they do. I told them our church comes to the community with the humble realization that we can’t educate, fund, counsel, do all this group does and schools do and businesses do, but we can open ourselves up, be the church we are and share God’s love and partner with our community.

So I said, “May God bless you and keep you . . . the Lord make his face to shine upon you . . . and give you peace.”

African Children’s Choir at Garnett in Tulsa

African Children’s ChoirGarnett Church of Christ is hosting the internationally renowned African Children’s Choir. They appeared on the Jay Leno Show and have appeared at the G8 Concert and other global events. Their singing was recently featured in “Blood Diamond.”

If you are in Tulsa, the state or nearby state, please join us in “letting the little children come” and welcoming them as Jesus would welcome them.

We want to help those attending to become more aware of global suffering and provide several “next steps” such as water well drilling, micro-credit programs, and children sponsorship that we can all participate in.

This is more than just a free concert by an incredible international group, we want to humble ourselves to receive from the children the gift of beautiful music and to return the blessing with our awareness, action, money, and our very lives.

Garnett Church of Christ, 12000 E. 31st St., Tulsa, OK
Email

All Saints Day and Halloween 2007

We’d just started out trick or treating last night and already my children are wondering, “What about next year.” Jill’s taught the children to figure how days fall on the calendar, and though their father still doesn’t get it and can’t explain leap year, they know, and they know that next year Halloween falls on Wednesday night, and they wondered aloud, before any candy landed in the bottom of their bags, “If we have church that night, how will we trick or treat?” And I was taken back thirty years or so ago, and if I could figure the years and account for leap year, I could tell you what year, but I can still see my mom’s watch on my sister’s arm, that stretchy silver watch that said “I’m a mom” and we twisted it so many times to see the time in various boring situations it eventually broke but tonight Debbie was wearing it because it was Wednesday night and there was church, but in those days there was no consternation about Halloween and Christians boycotting Trick or Treat and turning off their porch lights and Trunk or Treats in the church parking lots, and so we went, the three of us, my brother and sister and me in made up costumes and mom’s makeup, and we watched the time because we had to get back in time for church, and it was the most miserable trick or treat of the year and I still remember pouring out my sack of candy in the utility room and looking for the Paydays and the chocolates and beginning to sort but not having enough time and having to leave the candy in that unsorted and chaotic pile and I thought about it the whole time I was at church as did all the children.

Now I hear of churches, regardless of the night Halloween falls, who have alternative “Festivals” and “Harvests” and I have to smile because some say the whole thing started 2,000 years ago with the Celtics celebrating the time of harvest when the line between life and death is blurred and the spirits wander the world, just like our children dress up as ghosts and wander the neighborhoods, and then the church came along and said, “let’s have our own alterative for this” and they began in the early centuries of the church what is called “All Hallows Day” (Day of holy ones who’ve gone before, or All Saints Day), and the night before became “All Hallows Eve” and eventually Halloween. Through the years Christians kept shifting the emphasis because the “secular” influence kept pushing the occasion back to the spiritual world, and they wanted to make it more calm and less wild, so they began community celebrations that were more wholesome, and then in the twentieth century Christians again realized the culture that spends 2.6 billion dollars, second only to Christmas, had taken over the holiday and began alternatives such as Festivals and Harvest Celebrations, which is funny because that’s the “secular” way all this began, while the “secular” folks today go on calling it “All Hallows Eve” or Halloween, the religious name for the day before today.

Well Sunday, October 29, at Garnett, we had our Fall Festival, as this church has done for two decades, but this year was different in that we made a decision months back that for the first time we would intentionally set a bulls eye for welcoming, taking pictures of, and following up through sending that photo of the children in costume to 250 families. This is a Group Magazine curriculum called “Heroes” but the specific goal of 250 was our own contexualizing of a goal based on how many have come in past years and our desire to do more than just say, “Well, we had a great turn out” and miss the fact that more people have come to our church to visit than on 52 Sundays.

We had more than 700 and we’re currently doing a database to send the photos and tell the families more about our church, our Christmas Eve service, and Vacation Bible School, and Angel Food Program. At the same time, I told the congregation Sunday morning that the leadership of our church encourages all of us to “turn on the porch light” on Halloween, be in the neighborhood, go trick or treating with children or grandchildren, and put yourself in a place to meet and visit with your neighbors.

Halloween is one of those chances for us to experience a “thin place” where God can be present unexpectedly when we pay attention to the opportunities that our culture gives us. This is the day that people open their doors, literally wait by the door, so hungry for their neighbors to care, to ring the doorbell, and while much good is done to gather Christians at churches and it’s a conscience decision that individuals and church leaderships have to make, much is lost when Christians gather on dark nights, failing to be light when they otherwise could be.

So today is All Saints Day, a day when the martyrs are celebrated for their service and deaths for the sake of the call of Christ in their lives to stand against the prevailing culture, and so the church must continue to be light on dark days, to not retreat but advance, and stick out our necks, and in many cases martyrs I respect are ones who were killed by their fellow Christians who thought they were off track, such as anabaptist Felix Manz, who was  executed in 1527 by being tied down with weights and thrown from a bridge in Zurich into the River Limmat by the Church/Town Council.

I don’t know if I’ll die for my views on Trick or Treat, or even for what I’m about to say at the end of this post, but it’s more serious than just my childhood desire to sort candy and not go to church. We’re talking here about the loss of our voice and witness in the world today, and we’ve allowed ourselves to float in the backwaters of an insulated Christian culture, rather than seeing opportunities to be part of our cultural stream that needs light and life. So today, I encourage you to begin now–we have a year to plan: next year, let your light and the light of Christ shine.

Cancel Wednesday night church on Halloween 2007 and meet your neighbors.