Between fear and hate: a response to shooting in our church

This 9:32 minute audio is Greg Taylor’s response given the morning after a shooting inside the building of the church where he preaches, Garnett Church of Christ.

Click on play button to listen

We chose the following media link because it more effectively shows the Hmong community response.

Shooting at Hmong Party in Tulsa

The Hmong leader interviewed in the story, Linda Lor, had just spoken to me minutes before she was interviewed on camera and she assured me that the Hmong community is coming together, that this is a wake up call for them and for us in many ways to pay closer attention to Hmong (and all) youth, anger, forgiveness, love. She said, “this shooting was due to an unforgiven grudge,” a targeted shooting toward one man in particular within a family clan.

That clan is planning a gathering at our church this weekend. Please pray for love to reign in this place where a shooting took place last weekend.

The audio above states what we want to say for now: blessings, prayers, support, love for and to the Hmong community. We also want to thank all those in our church and community and the nation who have been praying for us here. We feel and value your prayers and know the Holy Spirit is working through us as we seek to respond in ways that Christ would want us to respond, not with fear nor with hate but with love for all, including those who try to do us harm.

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Does God Speak? Part 1

Cover of "The Power of a Whisper: Hearing...

Cover via Amazon

I want to tell you about a book that changed, affirmed, and challenged my hearing the voice of God. The book is called The Power of a Whisper and in this post I want to review and encourage you to read it. I include some portions of the review I wrote for a national magazine a couple of years ago when it came out.

The Power of a Whisper

Bill Hybels with Ashley Wiersma. Zondervan 2010, Hardcover (272p) ISBN 978-0-310-32074-6

Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels describes his life as a fifty-year whisper-fueled odyssey. The book is about learning to hear the “communicating God” [50] direct a person’s life. He waited nearly four decades to write this book because of the controversy the subject often breeds when people claim they’ve heard a message from God. [16]

In contrast to those making brash declarations about hearing God speak, Hybels points readers to the Holy Spirit‘s subtle “Wind Words,” saying the problem is not God’s silence but whether we have ears like young Samuel in the Hebrew Bible, who listened intently for the night-time whisper of God. Thus the operative question the preach-author asks is, “If you have anything to tell me, I’m very eager to hear it.” [96] Continue reading

That’s how it is with people born of the Spirit

Veterans Day 2009

It all began with the shoes. I dressed to work out and stuffed my gym bag with my dress clothes and after dropping Jacob at school the plan was to work out, change into my street clothes and head to 3 meetings in a row.

The internet at home didn’t work and a 5 minute task took 45 minutes and the dog peed on the floor and it was Veterans Day and Jacob and I were going to take a cup of coffee and donut to Robert Garland and salute him for his service to our country. After the complications of the morning, we opted or a phone call to Robert to honor him.

Jacob was heading with his school to the Veterans Day parade and as we drove up to school he realized we’d forgotten his lunch. He’s incredibly responsible and makes his own lunch, so he was bothered that he’d forgotten, and I assured him I’d return quickly with the goods–had to be in a brown paper bag. And I brought that back and took it to his class and all was well.

Until I headed off for the first of my appointments. I had an hour and could squeeze in a short workout before that first meeting. I stopped in at the gym and realized walking in that I too had forgotten something “vital” to the day. Shoes.

I had forgotten to stuff in my dress shoes. I dress in my gym clothes on these days and put everything in I’ll need to head from workout to shower to work. In fact, when I mentioned taking the donuts to Robert Garland to Jill in the kitchen earlier that morning, she looked me over in my running shoes and gym shorts and said I was a walking contradiction. Running shoes and donuts.

And so I had a choice. I could make for home to get my black shoes to go with the black pants and oxford shirt I’d brought for the day, or I could stick with my workout plans. I chose to stick with the workout, and so I did, showered, dressed, discovered as I rummaged through my bag that I’d also forgotten . . . no, not my underwear, though that does happen, my belt. No dress shoes, no belt.

So I’m headed to the Grand Opening of the First Bank of Owasso in black pants, no belt, running shoes. The first thing Lance Newsom does when he sees me is to ask what’s the story behind the shoes. Well, I’m about to tell you.

I leave that nice event and head to a meeting with a man from OKC who is to talk with me about financial planning. I have a friend in Portland who has helped me mutual funds and investments. I have a friend in Minnesota who has also helped me over the years. A man in Nashville has done my taxes for eight years and still does. Great men and very helpful to me. Another man in Tulsa helps the whole church staff with a retirement account, so I’m not short of people who can potentially direct me in financial matters. But I was meeting this man this day because of a book he’d sent me two weeks ago. He authored a book called, “YES! I can get my house in order.” He bases the book’s title on the story of Hezekiah when he is told to get his house in order for he will die. I too want to get my house in order.

I’m in a time in my life where more is going on that I can possibly handle. And yet I want to control and gather in and “reign over” all that I see and like David on his rooftop, I think I can conquer anything, work anything out, I have the strength and can work out anything to suit me and work in my life. But there is too much. Too many trains leaving the station and I can’t be on everyone but I’m running from train to train, riding different ones and working here at church, editing a magazine and books, counseling people in chaotic lives while trying to hold it together myself, trying not to overdraft my life, and I need someone to help me get my house in order. I want to take my family back to Uganda in 2010 so my children can see the place where they grew up, two of them were born, where they’ve had so many beautiful experiences and friendships, to renew and uphold and bless those we love, our Ugandan friends.

So part of my heart is in Uganda and part of my heart is in writing and part of my heart is in my family, and part of my heart is in this church, in this Event Center, in every ministry that every one of you wants to start, in Neighborhood Kitchens that I’m fighting for funding to continue to serve this community, in starting FriendSpeak that we are launching today, in Angel Food and Food Pantry to even a thumbprint somehow on women’s ministry and my desire for women to have a voice in worship and praying in public assemblies and for their Women of Worth ministry to be rebuilt and all ministries here to rebuild and renew and for God to do a new thing, and I think I can be involved in all those things, and we’re seeing some awesome rebirth in children’s ministry and student ministry and outreach, Ben and Beth West are interns finding new and existing and sustainable ways to bring this community together for one ultimate reason: to share the good news of John 3:16 that God so loved (entire) world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

But so much is happening in my life, your life, so much chaos, we have failed to get even that most basic truth and life-transforming belief into our lives by way of sharing it with others we meet because too much is going on in our lives, too much good, too much unfocused good too much bad and unimportant activity and badly structured lives where we’re running from one thing to another. And it’s not that we’re malicious in this. It’s that we are complicit in a group lack of ability to focus because we’re trying to hold too much together at once.

For our church, we’ve chosen Servianity as our addiction, our obsession. We serve people and there’s nothing wrong with serving people, in talking about serving people, in “ministries,” but this church has always been about serving and ministry and it’s time we stop in our tracks and look down at our running shoes and ask, “What is the Spirit of God asking us to do?”

For me, I’m a recovering legalist, recovering doer of works-righteousness. If I can just do one more thing for God, write one more book, do someone one more good turn, start yet one more ministry, then maybe God will love me. I’ve not followed Jesus as much as Servianity. Jesus taught us to serve and not to be served. It’s part of who we are, but unlike Jesus, we take no time to pray, go to the mountain top to refocus, try to do too much in too little time, and we’re in our running shoes, looking goofy, huffing and puffing and trying to keep up with the appointments and all the time God is blowing across our faces, the wind, and he’s speaking and are we listening? Not usually. Why? Because that’s not all. We turn up the radio, be it music or talk radio, we crank up the phone, text, and all the time we’re waiting for what the next person is going to speak into our lives, what trend, what new thing we can pay attention.

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. Not driven by activity, our culture, our busy-ness, our appointments, running in our goofy running shoes from one thing to another . . .

Sometimes it takes an event in our lives that sets off a chain of other events so that we pay attention. For Nicodemus it was a night conversation. For me that day I had conversations in my running shoes with several other people who were the face of Christ to me. A man named Dave Jewitt and another named Keith Carter. That day I sat down with them both for the first time in my life and shared a struggle I have with keeping it all together. And in their eyes I saw the kingdom and a sparkle and a focus and a vision. One said, “You must have vision, not just financial strength . . . God’s vision.” The other said you must narrow your life to One Degree of Particular Purpose so God can use your gifts, your Spiritually given gifts so that we can truly be people who are born from above and live out the gospel that God so loved the world.

That’s how it is with people born of the Spirit. They are not driven by activity, our culture, our busy-ness, our appointments, running in our goofy running shoes from one thing to another . . .

Sometimes it takes an event in our lives that sets off a chain of other events so that we pay attention.

For Nicodemus it was a night conversation. For me it was a pair of forgotten shoes.

Frosty was a what?

When my daughter was about 3 years old she was singing Frosty around Christmas time.

“Frooooosty, the snowman . . . ”

She couldn’t remember the next line, so she sang it again, then added what she thought it said.

“Frooooosty, the snowman . . . was a very sorry soul!”

21st Century Restoration: Will you join?

The community was surprised when rough and tumble “Spike” Walker converted to Christ at a brush arbor meeting. Spike—my great grandfather—my grandparents and parents were all baptized in Oklahoma and Kansas Churches of Christ.

But in the seventies, about the time I was baptized, a scandal broke out in my family. My uncle and aunt, Rudy and Kathy Taylor, transferred from a Church of Christ to a Christian Church—a painful move because many family members viewed them as leaving The Church.

Rudy’s father—my grandfather—then resigned as elder of the church. “He and my mother truly believed I had ‘left the truth,’” Rudy said. “And they moved from the community where we all lived because of what they perceived as humiliation. My father was disappointed in me, and I in him for his response. He gave up the greatest responsibility in life because he thought he was no longer qualified as having ‘believing children.’”

But something a woman in the Christian Church said to Rudy has always stuck with him: that he ought to be thankful his parents and family cared enough that they would take a stand, even if it was wrongly handled. Rudy says he holds no grudges—just grief for what was lost. “My parents didn’t see me baptize our children. It was so sad for me to listen to my children tell their grandparents about being baptized, obviously thinking that would bring a smile and congratulations. Their news was greeted by silence. It always took some parental explaining when we left Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house,” Rudy said.

And many of our families and churches have some explaining to do.

Embracing a New Worldview

The worldview that Churches of Christ have a privileged place above denominations, insider knowledge of scripture, and a unique place in history is flawed. These notions cause or at least contribute to rifts in families and churches like mine. Leaving one Christian church for another Christian church is not the same as leaving Christ or the truth. My uncle and his family were seeking Christ and truth at least as much as my relatives staying in Churches of Christ.

The worldview of my “church upbringing” taught me to suspect and debate the Methodist and Catholic alike, to reject forms of worship unlike ours and in most extreme cases to view anyone outside Churches of Christ as not truly Christian. At times in our history the idea of making converts shifted away from reaching people who did not know Christ to those who worshiped in ways different from us. And we believed convicting others of our views was tantamount to converting them to Christianity.

In spite of this, the stubborn autonomous streak in us has allowed some communities within Churches of Christ to break free from this conceit and become learners again. And though I’m proud of my family and Stone-Campbell heritage, I want to see our movement grow into a new future faith—one that drinks from wells dug by our faithful fathers and mothers, digs new wells, and questions stagnant thinking of the past and today.

This story is personal and risky for me, but this is where I believe new restoration begins: with a change in worldview that brings us to our knees before God and each other, honestly reflecting on our past and imagining a new future.

So my wife and I believe and teach our children that we are part of the larger body of Christ, and that God is much bigger than Churches of Christ and the Stone-Campbell Movement. I know this is no news to many reading this, but I also believe what I’m about to say will challenge all of us in the Stone-Campbell family. We want to fellowship with and participate in the life of Christians worldwide and in various denominations.

We want to focus on Christ and why the world cannot live without him, to unite and be faithful to Christ’s prayer that we be one (John 17). Living in Uganda and fellowshipping with people of diverse ethnicity, denominations, and politics did more than anything to change my worldview. People with these differences can and will journey together in Christ. This is not just part of the gospel—it is the result of God’s work in Christ and our duty to be faithful participants. Our worldview is different from that typical of two or three generations of Churches of Christ. For example, my ten-year-old daughter asked, “What’s the difference between that Methodist church and ours?” I said there are no differences important enough to explain right now. “Both believe Jesus is God’s Son and the Holy Spirit lives in us.”

The world is changing and our worldview ought also to change. Rather than asking, “Are the Baptists or the Catholics right?” millions are asking a question on a completely different plane: “Is Jesus the Lord or should I follow Muhammad?” I’m more concerned to tell Muslims and sinners about Jesus than I am debating matters of precise doctrinal formulations with fellow Christians. I’d rather show a wanderer the gospel of Jesus than “convert” an Episcopalian’s view of scripture to mine.

Will there be backlash for this attempt to change our worldview? Different tension points for the next generations? Certainly, but we believe in unity and dialogue with Christians across denominations, across the Protestant and Catholic divide. Unity will expand the kingdom of God, help us become missionaries in every land and culture, and bring people to Christ, who teaches that unity and love draw people to himself. This is already happening. The next generation imagines giving up their lives for Jesus—not with bombs strapped to their chests but with clothes of Christ wrapped around them, in faith that the kingdom we seek penetrates bone and marrow by the sword of the incredible life of Jesus, the God of the universe made flesh once in Christ and again in us.

A new restoration is rising and is broader than the Stone-Campbell Restoration because it includes Christians from most traditions who are discovering Jesus and the Bible like never before through the power of the Holy Spirit, in house churches and large churches and with tools as varied as Bible translations, the internet, emergent learning communities, and Christian universities.

Restoration language echoes through several overlapping movements that include “Missional,” “Emergent,” and “Simple Church.” This new restoration is making disciples un-tethered to specific denominations but still moored to and fueled by ancient Christianity.

They want to break out of the box of modernism and not march to denominational drumbeats. They want to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

This new restoration of “simple Christianity” is not simply full of fads and methods but inspires Christians to live at intersections such as Hollywood and Vine and to wonder what would happen if inhabitants of the city set on a hill stepped into the red light district. For example, two ministers decided to start to call men out of addiction to pornography and women out of the sex industry. They were criticized by fellow Christians for going to porn trade shows to call people to new life in Christ, but they endured. They have helped tens if not hundreds of thousands of people rise out of sex addictions and have led porn stars to Christ—who says to them “where are your accusers” and “go and sin no more.”

A woman decided to start a program for prisoners being released to help them learn not just job skills but how to start their own businesses. A micro-loan helped one man buy a food cart and eventually to purchase two catering trucks.

A Christian rock group is helping with water wells, mosquito nets, education, and training in African countries, which many believe will send more missionaries abroad in the next decade than developed nations such as the United States.

These examples only scratch the surface of a new generation of Christians who, like Jesus, are going to sinners, prisoners, and the poor. For too long I have allowed competition and sectarianism to deter me from cheering on Christians of all kinds worldwide. Jesus said, “I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me . . . Then this world’s people will know that you sent me. They will know that you love my followers as much as you love me” (John 17:21-23, CEV).

I’m ready to truly live that prayer and let it shape me. Are we willing to lose our reputations or die to fulfill the prayers of Christ? Am I willing to die for my faith in Jesus Christ, not in war, but in whatever peaceful, radical form that might take in my lifetime? Am I willing to keep agitating for a better world for the poor, for clean water for one billion who have none? Am I willing to keep advocating for peace as long as there is war? As Ghandi said, may we be “the change we wish to see in the world” as we consider how we can join this new restoration of Christians who are living images of Christ in the world.

Will We Join the New Restoration?

Churches of Christ have come to the valley of decision at the foot of a mountain of sectarianism. We have no denominational charter to dissolve, but I believe this is one of those mountains Jesus said a little faith can move. If Churches of Christ continue to believe we occupy a privileged place above Christian history, scripture, and denominations, we dishonor and fail the Stone-Campbell plea for simple Christianity; we’re dead on the vine rather than blossoming like a field of wildflowers, Christ’s “little ones.”

One ChurchWe’re called to unity with all Christians everywhere who call Christ Lord. When Jesus prayed his unity prayer, he didn’t parse every doctrine and neither will I here. We live the Christ-life and follow the rule of the Holy Spirit to keep that everlasting covenant God the Father has kept since creation. Christ and Paul and our own more recent forefathers such as Thomas Campbell call us to produce fruit and look for fruit of the Spirit in the lives of fellow disciples. Will Churches of Christ, Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ join this new restoration? It is not—and never has been—only our restoration, but rather a plea for all Christians everywhere of all times to reunite the family and mutually claim the fact that we’ve all been adopted and none is the “rightful” heir. But our family can help participants in the new restoration break free from religious molds and live their faith in the marketplace.

I want to see this shift of worldview in Churches of Christ in my lifetime, and I will be “the change I want to see” in the Stone-Campbell Movement and beyond. I will admit I do not stand above other denominations in any way but am a fallible, messed up human being in need daily of immersion in God’s life and words, in Jesus’ cross and resurrection. I will admit I have no monopoly on truth or scripture’s interpretation. And I will join the great mission of Christ with my fellow disciples, showing my neighbors the good news of Jesus through prayer and words of blessing.

I will follow what I call the “Golden Commission”: to preach the gospel as I would have others preach to me—to show a fellow beggar how to get bread.

My uncle Rudy is a newspaper editor and publisher. His writing drips with faith. He says what I want to conclude with:

I grieve for those who have died without fully knowing the joy I have experienced as a sojourner in Christ. I love the Lord Jesus Christ today because my mother and father taught me, took me to church and lived like Him to the best of their abilities. My highest hope and prayer is that future generations will shed the traditions that separate God’s people, and keep the lines of spiritual sharing open for those times when we need to be talking about something more pertinent than what’s going on at 17th and Hillside Church. I pray for the day when His body will stand tall, walk straight, extend its arms, wiggle its fingers and toes, flash its eyes and smile broadly, totally unaware that once its members looked at other body parts as aliens.

A new era is dawning for the Stone-Campbell Movement and a new, larger restoration movement is emerging. Let us join our brothers and sisters in the grand journey of faith in Christ, and in a movement of the Spirit of God that brings us together in ways we never thought possible.

So, how do children come to relationship with Christ? Part 3

So, with part 2 in mind, how do we invite children into a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Do we view children simply as non-members until they come of age? Do we consider them prospects for evangelism as soon as they can reason and are able to say a prayer of repentance and submit to baptism? If we believe five or six years old is too young and we choose to wait and view our children as potential disciples, what age is right for disciple-ability or accountability? At what point do they become utterly sinful and ready for initiation or conversion? Or do we view our children as maturing participants in faith and nurture them?

These are not easy questions, but discussing openly can bring us to new understandings. When we do not ask these difficult questions about our children’s spiritual development, we fall back to the least common denominator within our particular tradition. The current least common denominator in Churches of Christ is the unwritten and rarely spoken idea of the “age of accountability.”

One study bears this out. Twelve years old is the average age for baptism among students in a study by David K. Lewis, Carley H. Dodd, and Darryl L. Tippens.[vi] Continue reading

A Step Toward Unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Connection Church Believes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Garnett Church of Christ Believes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hottest State

Map of USA with Oklahoma highlighted

Image via Wikipedia

It’s official: Oklahoma is the hottest state. Oklahoma is certainly a red state. But this is not about politics or being sexy. This is about heat, raw heat.

The Tulsa World reported that Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with Oklahoma Climatological Survey, said July 2011 temperature average statwide of 89.1 degrees was not only the hottest month in state history but also the hottest month for any state in the United States in recorded history.

Based on temperature records dating back to 1895 for the 48 contiguous states, Oklahoma is the hottest state in history, and we’ve just lived through the hottest month of our lives. Ah, it ain’t that hot.

Susan Ashton sings The Revelation Song

Susan Ashton has for many years been a favorite, and here she sings The Revelation Song at the Ryman Auditorium, part of a Songs 4 Worship Country.

Angelic singing of this powerful song by Jennie Riddle. Quoted here at Dream in Soul:

“…We needed a sight of Jesus, we needed somebody so much bigger than ourselves to lift our eyes up off of our daily, and off of the rubble and off of the worry, and magnify Him… To get to see Her, every generation, denomination, every nationality singing to Him, and just enjoying His beauty and His holiness, and Him wrapping Her up as one, it’s just overwhelming and humbling. ” – Jennie Riddle

revelationsonglyricsIn an article she wrote, Jennie Riddle says she “asked the Holy Spirit to help me write a song that painted Him; a song that the angels and creation were already singing, so that we could join in with One Voice, as One Bride, to One King.” She says the verses Ezekiel 1:26-28 andRevelation 4 were her inspiration:

“And then, as they stood with folded wings, there was a voice from above the dome over their heads. Above the dome there was something that looked like a throne, sky-blue like a sapphire, with a humanlike figure towering above the throne. From what I could see, from the waist up he looked like burnished bronze and from the waist down like a blazing fire. Brightness everywhere! The way a rainbow springs out of the sky on a rainy day—that’s what it was like. It turned out to be the Glory of God! (Message)

“…a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was[like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightenings, thunderings, and voices… Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal… And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures… And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘ Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’…”

Jeannie also wrote of the impact of the song and how God has allowed it to move around the globe:

“’Revelation Song’ has taken on a life of its own, and it has been an intense joy to watch the Father “grow it up”, and to hear the Voice of the Bride sing to Jesus; Her voice is so lovely. I often get asked the song story, and even more often, the question of “how” it got “out there” comes up. My only answer is that God chooses what He chooses. No amount of maneuvering, strategizing, posturing, or pitching would have gotten my music “out there”… whatever that means. I remember telling Jesus with complete sincerity that I could wait until I got to heaven to hear my song sung (although, I also suggested that it would be a terrific song for the angels and great cloud of witnesses to sing when He comes back for us…In the event that He had not already chosen one for the occasion, I didn’t think it would hurt to ask!).”

Read more about Jennie’s story of how the song was birthed in her article on Also visit her on Myspace or at her official website,

Band of Brothers: A decade later

Band of Brothers | 'BROTHERS' IN ARMS The boy soldiers of ''Band'''s Easy CompanyA decade after it was made (originally released a few days before 9/11) . . . I have watched–finally–Band of Brothers. I’m speechless–accept to say with honor and respect to our men and women in uniform, “Thank You.” And to Spielberg and Hanks for making this film series: you have done a great service to generations who could not imagine the “War to End All Wars.”

Time is . . .

I used to make a big deal about the difference between time in the U.S. and Uganda.

I would ask American audiences, “Time is . . . what?” Of course they would answer as you are in your mind: money. Time is money.

Then I would say that in Uganda, if you asked, people would say “Time is . . . for friendship.” People love to host others in their homes and time seems plentiful to enjoy relationships.

But this is not the case in an ever-changing Ugandan culture where cell phones abound. I remember in 1999 a South African company had a slogan, “A Cell for every Ugandan” or something like that. It didn’t seem possible, and why would someone without clean water need a cell phone?

Well little more than a decade later, it’s really true. MTN was right. Cell phone networks grew and other companies came and it’s hard to find a Ugandan without a cell phone per family at least. And it’s funny how the long greetings have changed based on economic and social and technological factors. Now, air time is literally money. Money is exchanged on the air from person to person, phone to phone to pay for school fees, pay someone for a bag of corn, or to buy a coffin.

And now that air time costs and people buy “pay-as-you-go” cards, greetings over the phone have gotten shorter. Long greetings about family and goats and crops have been clipped and drastically shortened, so now Ugandans have become adept at quick calls and greetings and have, for economic reasons, learned to “cut to the chase.”

Part of the culture of visiting someone is that you often don’t ask why they have come. It would be rude, for example, to say, “What can I do for you?” when someone drops by your house. Isn’t it good enough just to see and visit with me? the visitor might think. So often there’s a lot of serving drinks and food and conversation, but for American sensibilities, we would often want the person to come out with it earlier in the visit. But when using cell phones, a person calling is using air time and quickly comes out with the request, the reason for calling.

Maybe time is still largely for friendship in Uganda but increasingly time is money. In many ways this is helpful to Ugandans. I mentioned above the bad assumption that a person must somehow go up the hierarchy of needs to get water before a cell phone. This is incorrect and presumptuous. Yes, at the same time a village may be struggling to get clean water, a cell phone still saves time from sending messengers by bus with news about sickness or death or business deals. Money is exchanged by cell rather than making trips to the bank. Even staying in touch rather than frequent expensive visits can be done by phone or text. So even though time is money, phones are saving people money — probably saving them more than the cost of having the phone.

Whole Person

I saw this billboard in the Tulsa Airport and it took me back to my early misperceptions of Oral Roberts University. As a child growing up in this part of Oklahoma, I didn’t understand what the whole person idea meant and even took it to mean that disabled persons were not admitted. This of course is not true, but it’s interesting how these misconceptions of others persists in various forms. The idea of the Whole Person is a good one, and it seems ORU was ahead of its time in pursuing a discipleship that integrates body and soul, health, life, mind. And to define the kind of student ORU is trying to produce, as in these five areas on the billboard, is noble and good. I feel much better and positive about ORU since the changing of the guard with new board members and president.