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.

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.

Outsider Interviews

From Publishers Weekly: Inspired by and supported with a foreword by David Kinnaman, author of the bestselling unChristian, this tandem book/DVD puts faces on Kinnaman’s findings on Christianity’s image problem. In four cities, the authors interviewed Christians but also agnostics, atheists, Muslims, gays, and other groups Christians are believed to reject. At the heart of the problem, they’ve discovered, is a Christian “swagger” that repels would-be Christians. They advocate the persuasive power of listening and truly liking people, choosing to use the word “like” rather than the overused “love.” In their words: “Jesus is the God who likes people.” Each chapter includes tie-ins to the DVD interviews and a reader’s guide for discussion. The book’s narrative, which recreates the road trip the authors took to do their interviews, seems self-indulgent and boring. But the combined impact of the book and DVD is stunning: the authors have heard and noted important ways Christians can improve their outreach by being more like Jesus, who meets people where they are. (July)

In memory of those who died 9-11 & since then

He was there by Arden von Haeger

"9-11: He was there" by Arden von Haeger

In the days following 9-11, the nightmare continued, even in our sleep. Some dreamed of towers falling again and again. I dreamed about the firefighters going up when others were coming down. About September 14 I began searching for an artist to paint a piece that would become Wineskins cover art for the Nov-Dec 2001 issue.

Artist Arden von Haeger and I began meeting, talking about what we as a collective were experiencing and what I was envisioning and the nightmare of 9-11. He sketched several pieces, and this is what he polished and we developed into the cover of the “9-11” issue. We completely changed what we were going to do for that issue. Can’t even remember what the plan was, but I think we just bumped everything up a notch.

We also have some posters of this that we’ve donated to firefighters and for fundraisers. It is the art without the Wineskins masthead and without the titling superimposed. If you’d like to use this for fundraising purposes, or to give to a firefighter or firehouse, or just purchase a poster, email me.

Super quote

“I’m proud to be the first African-American coach to win this,” Dungy said during the trophy ceremony. “But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord’s way. We’re more proud of that.”–Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy following last night’s 29-17 Super Bowl win over the Bears and protege Lovie Smith, Chicago Bear’s head coach.

AP story by Steven Wine

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.

Putting the hallow back in Halloween

Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America. We spend $6.9 billion. What is it about Halloween that draws us in?

We’re called to be light, even on culture’s darkest days. How do we live October 31? How do we prepare for it? How do we respond to our culture’s celebration, whether we boycott it or participate redemptively or mindlessly in it?

How often we separate sacred and secular: Halloween has become a secular celebration that we many Christians either boycott or cautiously or emphemistically participate in. How can we more effectively join our sacred and secular lives in such events as Halloween?

Our Ugandan friends are curious about other cultures such as ours, as we were curious and learning their culture. We found it difficult, however, to explain Halloween to our Ugandan friends. In fact, we were awakened to the fact that any holiday that glorifies gore and darkness is suspect at best and can lead to sin at worst.

Yet there we were, ironically, “celebrating” a holiday in Uganda, where we were trying to move Ugandans out of superstitions and belief that evil controls them, that evil spirits reign above the earth, that God is not in control; we were trying to preach Christ as more powerful than the evil one or evil spirits that most Ugandans very much believe in (Jn 4:4). We would talk about fetishes and charms they wore on their arms, under their clothes, put in their houses. We’d warn against curses they’d put on others to hex them and win power over them. We’d frown and condemn the spirit mediums who would dress up in cowry shells with a shepherds crook, get drunk, wear a leopard skin, dance around, smoke a pipe, and divine the nature of sickness or death in a village, trying to determine what was the cause, animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice . . .

And we were Americans come to “show them the way” and we were glorifying a holiday where we dress up as spirits and gools . . . or maybe fools. We weren’t parading in the streets, mind you, but our neighbors saw some of our festivities.

Were we wrong? Did we send a wrong signal? One tailor named Charles Oneka even sewed costumes for our children. Our close friends understood . . . but perhaps others didn’t.

But I tell you that story because when we got out of our culture, we learned something about ourselves that we otherwise might not have learned.

Like many other Christians recently, we’ve helped our children avoid dressing up as blantantly evil characters. Events have been changed from Halloween to “Fall Festivals,” and trick or treating has become “trunk or treats” at churches.

For example, churches like ours do Fall Festivals, Pumpkin Patches, or dramas about the Fires of Hell.

What is the biblical principle that guides us here? Should we join culture, celebrate with, revise events with Christian emphasis? Shouldn’t it concern us that we celebrate rightly as Christians? Do we celebrate outside of our Christian faith? Should there be secular and sacred separations in our lives?

Do we keep the porch light on the very one night of the year when our neighbors come to meet us, when we might meet our neighbors or do we turn the porch light off in protest and sashay to our “holy” events?

Our family chooses to leave the light on and be in the neighborhood on Halloween night. We celebrate with our culture and intentionally meet our neighbors as we trick or treat or receive trick or treaters. I will usually come home and write down the names of neighbors we’ve met.

The night is holy to us as a way to be good neighbors.

Stephen Colbert – “His kingdom is not of this earth”

“I love my church, and I’m a Catholic who was raised by intellectuals who were very devout. I was raised to believe that you could question the church and still be a Catholic. What is worthy of satire is the misuse of religion for destructive or political gains. That’s totally different from the Word, the blood, the body, and the Christ. His kingdom is not of this earth.”

Stephen Colbert, of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Source: Sojourners, who quoted from interview in Time Out

Rochester College student retreat

Just back from helping facilitate at the Rochester College Oasis, a student leader retreat.

Stayed in the home of dear friends, John and Sara Barton and their two children, Nate and Brynn, and Mark Moore, his son Benjamin Moore, and Mike Cope also stayed, and we had a lot of fun catching up with each other.

Sara does a great job as director of spiritual life and assembly (chapel).

One activity we did in the retreat that Sara led was what Charles L. Campbell calls “dislocated reading.” We were given two texts–one was the Good Samaritan–and instructed to break up in groups and go to 8-9 different locations around Detroit metro area. We went to places as diverse as urban poor neighborhoods, Eminen’s street, and Somerset Mall. At these and other locations, groups either read aloud or silently the passage of scripture and “saw” that text in a new way. We returned to tell our experiences, and it was a unique and moving afternoon for the group of 70 college students and for us who facilitated.