Fifth and final article in the amazing series “Electing to Follow Jesus” by Randy Harris you will want to read and share

After hearing Randy Harris speak at the 2016 Pepperdine Lectures, I wanted to share the message of the lectures in print form, got his permission, transcribed, then re-worked the material into five articles, with deft editing help from Karissa Herchenroeder.

We published the five articles about the church and politics in a series called, “Electing to Follow Jesus,” and we ran these articles at Charis Magazine during the run up to the election and shortly after.

We kept the principle names of candidates out of these articles. Why? We want these articles to be more timeless and serve a generation as a primer for understanding our own baggage, how we can take a prophetic stand but still be wrong, and how some Christians have chosen to engage or not engage politics.

We believe the articles will have a long-term impact. Thank you to Karissa Herchenroeder and Charis, the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX, USA).

Here are the links to the articles on Charis Magazine.

Claiming Our Baggage

The Gospel of Jesus vs. The Gospel of Peter

How to Be a Loser

Strangers in a Strange Land

Prophets of Justice and Mercy

This series represents a collaboration between Randy Harris and Greg Taylor, co-authors of Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.

Randy Harris is spiritual director for the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry and College of Biblical Studies. He also teaches theology, ethics, preaching, and biblical text courses in the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry at Abilene Christian University. Randy speaks at numerous conferences and churches throughout the year and has authored and co-authored several books, including the newest, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.

Greg Taylor is preaching minister for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greg is author of several books including “Lay Down Your Guns: One Doctor’s Battle for Hope and Healing in Honduras” and “High Places: A Novel,” and has co-authored several books.

Audio Devotional: “Remain in Me”

William Barclay says in his book, The Gospel of John, “The secret of the life of Jesus was his contact with God; again and again he withdrew into a solitary place to meet him. We must keep contact with Jesus. We cannot do that unless we deliberately take some steps to do it.” Arrange your life, Barclay continues, so that “there’s never a day when we give ourselves a chance to forget him.”

Listen to this audio devotional today and “remain” in His love. The Bible reading is from John 15:1-11, NIV.

 

Acts of the Church 1

Garnett Church of Christ is going through an important movement right now. We are selecting new elders, we are selling our building, and we are seeking some restructuring in our staff to more fully live out our mission “to invite all people into Christ-centered lives.” We believe all people–inside and outside of the church, staff, elders, members, non-Christians–must take steps closer to Jesus. We want to become less self-centered and more Christ-centered everyday.

As part of this new movement in our church, we are returning to the roots of the church in the book of Acts in the New Testament. So January 19, we began a new preaching series on Acts, then directly after the worship at 10, we are digging deeper into study of the book of Acts in an all-church auditorium class.

In this auditorium class I’m teaching like I taught in villages in Uganda. Different men, women, teenagers will read the text we are studying, some will go out of the room to practice a skit they come up with to act out the text, others will ask good questions of the text. We will pray over the text, be confessional, ask our honest questions, be willing to say, “I don’t know,” and focus on questions that help us become more Christlike.

During this study, we are also looking for themes about leadership, because our elder selection process calls for study of elder qualifications and selection. Acts contains good stories about how the early church selected leaders.

Sunday we enjoyed laughter, good questions, and a skit by three men–Conner Fields, Clarence Davis, and John Dickmann–that showed how the apostles prayed, asked the Holy Spirit to direct them, nominated two men, then drew straws to select one man to replace Judas so there would be twelve apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes and a continuation of Christ’s selection of twelve apostles who would lead the first church.

Here are the questions class participants asked with any comments I can give right now.

  1. Where does it say 120 followers? (Acts 1:15)
  2. Should non-apostles cast lots to make decisions? While the idea of apostolic succession has been strong in the Catholic Church, in order to keep biblical interpretation and direction of the church strong, the weakness of this approach is that it leaves the 99% of non-apostolic leaders weak. I believe Christ left us the Holy Spirit to fill us and lead local communities of followers, and apostolic succession tends to rely on men and not the Holy Spirit.
  3. How were lots cast? This can be easily looked up online. I don’t know exactly how, but it was a kind of chance, like drawing straws or throwing dice, but the apostles nominated, prayed, then considered this method the word of the Lord.
  4. Is this the last time angels appear in the New Testament? Not the last time there is a vision (Peter received a vision and heard “a voice” in Acts 10; Paul received a vision from Jesus, later “a man” telling him to go to Macedonia, then a messenger to encourage him, “I have many people in this city,” one time when he was discouraged.
  5. Is Acts the last book written chronologically in the New Testament? No, written around AD 64, and books were probably written from AD 50 – 94.
  6. Why is Judas’s death account again added to Acts and does it agree with what’s in the gospels. Acts is more of a commentary and reason given for needing to choose another man.
  7. Who are the women disciples? Acts 1:14 says “women and Mary the mother of Jesus.” It’s significant that the women are mentioned, that women would take a role in the new church, an increasingly important idea throughout the gospels, with Jesus often interacting with women, women following, caring for Jesus, being the first to witness and tell of the resurrection.
  8. Why so little written about the 40 days of appearing? We find some mention and additional stories in the gospels, particularly John’s gospel (John 20-21), very powerful stories.
  9. What was the difference between John’s baptism and the baptism the church practiced beginning in Acts 2. For a discussion of this, see the book I co-authored with John Mark Hicks, Down in the River to Pray. Basically, John’s baptism was about preparation for the Messiah and repentance. The baptism in Acts is baptism characterized by three important things: into the name, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for forgiveness, and to impart the Holy Spirit.
  10. What is the significance of the twelve apostles? Without a doubt the twelve was a significant number because of the famous 12 tribes of Israel, so it’s no accident that Jesus selected 12 apostles, and it’s no accident the apostles wanted to remain 12 as long as possible as the new church began.
  11. Was there an apostle from each tribe? I don’t think so; this is not explicitly said or denied in Scripture, but these guys are not the famed patriarchs of their tribes but fishermen, tax collectors, and they probably would not have been considered as leaders of tribes at that point in Jewish history, but I have not researched this good question much.

Next week I’ll preach on “An Acts 2 Church” and we’ll look at what it means to be an Acts 2 Church more deeply in our class, act out the pentecost events, and ask more good questions. See you next week.

A text that tells us ‘Certain Great Things’

New Testament Professor William Barclay (1907-1978)

The following is a mash up of something William Barclay wrote, quoting mostly verbatim from a certain commentary about a Bible text that “tells us certain great things.” Can you read the clues from Barclay and guess the Bible text? In the process, I think we all might unlearn some things we thought about this text or God, and lean into a new relationship with God through deeper understanding of this text.

Comment with the Bible book and verse you think Barclay is referring to.

  1. This has been called ‘everybody’s text’ . . . the text tells us certain great things . . .
  2. This text tells us that initiative in salvation starts with God . . . It was God who sent His Son, and he sent him because He loved the world He had created. At the back of everything is the love of God.
  3. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes the picture is drawn of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus.
  4. Sometimes the Christian message is presented in such a way that is sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men and women from condemnation to forgiveness.
  5. It tells us that the mainspring of God’s being is love. . . . It is easy to think of God as seeking human allegiance in order to satisfy his own desire for power [or glory] and for what we might call a completely subjective universe.
  6. The tremendous thing about this text is that is shows us God acting not for his own sake but for ours; not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring a universe to heel, but to satisfy His love. . . .
  7. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not smash people into submission; He yearns over them and woos them into love.
  8. It tells us of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved Him; it was the world.

Comment with the Bible book and verse you think Barclay is referring to and a brief new way you see God in this text.

For God so Loved the World

English: Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Nicodemus_comin...

English: Henry_Ossawa_Tanner_-_Nicodemus_coming_to_Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicodemus asks, “How can this be?”

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

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

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

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

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

And Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Woman Disciple?

Gheorghe Tattarescu - Magdalena,

Gheorghe Tattarescu – Magdalena, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Received this question from a member of our church today about last night’s The Bible series segment (March 24).

Greg,

We watched the Bible last night. (My husband and I) were discussing Mary with the disciples. I can’t remember that. What passages in the Bible could I find that? (BTW, It was a great day on Sunday!!!)

Great question! I would say that not only were there women traveling with the disciples, but The Bible series didn’t portray enough of the women! There were actually several. Luke 8:1-3.

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Source: Biblegateway, NIV)
 
Pretty cool what we learn along the way! Let me know if there are any other questions.

Down in the River to Pray now available on iPad

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