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.

 

At the Foot of the Cross in the Middle of the World by John Barton

Recently my college roommate, Uganda teammate, friend and brother in Christ John Barton gave this talk at Rochester College. John and his wife, Sara, have radically committed their lives to Christ. They were the first of our friends to huddle us up and call a play that would change our lives. They said, “We’re going to Africa to do mission work. We’d love for you to come. But we are going with or without you.”

None of us could bear the thought of them going without us, and John in particular would surely need some help paying for several basketball courts in our future home. So we decided to go along.

Since that day, John and Sara, have continued that “play” and have been blazing a trail that others have followed. In particular, John is interacting in the U.S. and encouraging our Ugandan friends through Kibo and other ways to interact in loving, honest, and humble ways with Muslims and others who do not share our same view of Christ and the cross.

In this talk, linked below, you will find a view of Christ and the cross that is a powerful contextualization for today of these words of Apostle Paul:  “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:23-25)

Eat This Book

Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book inspired — of course — the title and some of the content in the following two sermons. There is more in the series that we’ll be posting at www.garnettchurch.org.

Eat This Book 1

 

Eat This Book 2

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.

Reading the Times

For a long time I’ve been a “reader of the Times.” Yes, I read the NY Times occasionally, but I’m talking about another reading of the times. There’s a manner of speaking that we “read the times” by staying aware of the news and what God is doing in the world. I do that occasionally, too. But I’m talking about another way of reading the times.

The kind of reading the times I’m talking about is that I use the date as a guide for Bible reading, using the number to correspond and direct my reading. In this way I respond to the invitation of God to listen to His voice through the Word daily and regularly in a way that keeps me moving through His story over and over.

There are hundreds of methods of Bible reading, but this one I keep coming back to. It goes something like this:

Today is August 15.

I divide the Psalms by 30 days to read five psalms a day. Lots of people do this, it’s nothing new, but doing it, memorizing, reflecting, praying these Scriptures is tried and true and the most ancient of spiritual practices of Israel and the church. It’s a tried and true method, but it’s only true when tried.

I try to read an Old Testament book daily and a New Testament book daily. There are 39 OT books and 27 NT books, so basically I use the day to pick a book.

So on August 15, I would read Psalms 71-75, Ezra, and 1 Timothy. I don’t worry if I missed yesterday, because yesterday’s book will come around again next month and the month after that.

You may wonder if I read straight through the Chronicles, running my eyes over all the name lists. No. I skim those and read for the story, stopping at places, making notes, enjoying a prayer of David or a song of Moses.

This kind of reading has nothing and everything to do with the reading I do for preaching. It has nothing and everything to do with the way I live my life. It has nothing and everything to do with what’s going to happen in my day. It has nothing and everything to do with what happened in Egypt yesterday. It has nothing and everything to do with politics. It has nothing and everything to do with how I treat my neighbor. This kind of reading has nothing and everything to do with how I relate to my wife and children, my co-workers.

When I read these books tied to a date, the only thing that matters is that I’m reading Holy Scripture and Holy Scripture when read, matters. It doesn’t have to be crammed into relevance in my life. What I learn when I read Holy Scripture is that my life is not what matters, and that my life truly matters.

In reading Holy Scripture, I learn that my life is consumed in the life of God. I learn that God’s story must become my story, that my story is a drop in the ocean. I learn that I am a bucket (I use this to mean vessel but it’s a little easier for us to picture today) that may contain God but realizes containing God is impossible, that God exists and is experienced outside of me infinitely, and I am learning to enjoy that, to desire to get my bucket in the ocean to float, sink, be surrounded by God and not “merely” inviting Him into my life. God invites me into His life.

God invites you into His life. Repeatedly, He said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Then in Christ incarnate He came to make that invitation personal to a bunch of fishermen. Come, follow me.

This is it, the Apocalypse, whoa

This Spring and Summer has been a learning first foray into preaching Revelation. I told the Garnett Church of Christ congregation that if I take the risk to preach on Revelation, they ought to take the risk to read Revelation. Many did! And we learned how to read Revelation in a new way.

After three months of study, we love the conclusion of the angel St. John fell down in front of, just after he told John to get up and stop groveling at his feet, that they were fellow servants: “Worship God. The testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy.” We learned that Revelation is not about images & predictions as much as it’s about God on the throne, Christ ruling now and forevermore, and aligning our lives to the kingdom that is both already and yet to come, the New Heaven and the New Earth, that we long to live in and we long to see break into the world even now.

  1. Revelation powerfully reminds us that no matter how bad the world seems, God is on the throne, Christ rules the cosmos!
  2. Revelation calls us to be faithful witnesses in the pattern of Christ.
  3. Revelation reminds us that Satan is going down, that God will judge the whole earth & all inhabitants, & His judgments are just and true.
  4. Revelation shows us a hopeful picture of the New Heaven & New Earth, that God in Christ is making “everything new,” removing the curse, & will complete his goal: to dwell with His people forever.
  5. Revelation gives us fresh courage for living now as we live counter to our culture that opposes Christ & encourages self-rule, as we endure hardship, persecution, & wait patiently for Christ’s return.
  6. Revelation is not about images & predictions but about God. The final word of the messenger to John is “Worship God.” Revelation shows us how to live & worship God as ruler of the universe & not ourselves, Satan, or any other power that claims to be god in our lives.

Resources I find very helpful on Revelation