What is your first experience with the Bible?

When I write a book, it comes after years of experience, research, and writing in a particular area. I wrote a novel set in Uganda where I lived seven years and listened for hours on end to stories of ordinary and extraordinary Ugandans. I wrote a book on a doctor in Honduras after interviewing and conferring with more than one hundred people.

I’m researching for an upcoming book and I need your help to understand the wide range of experience people have with the Bible.

My experience with the Bible began in the 1970s when I was given my first King James Version Bible by my parents, Terrel and Charlotte Taylor. In the featured image of this post is the title page where my Mom wrote, “[Presented to] Gregory Taylor [by] Dad and Mom: We love you and pray that you will always want to study God’s Word and follow what it says. May God bless you. November 6, 1975. 

While I heard Old Testament stories from Bible class teachers as examples of faith, that two thirds of my first Bible seems untouched, unread. I read and marked New Testament passages about belief and baptism. For those first few years of my experience with the Bible, I wanted to believe and be baptized so I could go to heaven when I died and not go to hell.

To say that I read the Bible with confusion and fear would be an understatement. Anselm’s motto, “Faith seeking understanding” is a good description of my search for God as an eight year old. My early experiences were also marked with what felt like failure. We were given reading plans and encouraged to read the whole Bible. I never did, and tripped up weeks into any plan, growing bored, confused, and feeling like I was missing something.

One last and important thing: As Adam and Eve had a competing desire and sinned, so also in those early years I was introduced to a competing desire and sinned. I was living the early Bible story already and didn’t realize it. Television images, girls, and a magazine that my neighbor, aptly named Adam, pulled us breathlessly into the woods to show my brother and me competed with the words of God for my imagination. Doubts would come later, and I’ll write more about doubt and this competing for my imagination in my book.

What is your first experience with the Bible? I’m looking for brief responses about your first experience with the Bible, and I may contact you for an interview by phone about your other experiences. You are welcome to respond on comments below, or send email to gregtaylormail@gmail.com. Answer the question, “What was my first experience with the Bible?” as deeply and honestly as you can.

Thank you, and I look forward to your responses!

Greg

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.

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.

Some weep and some rejoice

There’s a great story in Ezra about when the second temple foundation was laid. Half the exile returnees rejoiced and half wept. No one could distinguish the sound of weeping from the laughing (Ezra 3:11-13).

What do we make of this story. The exiles had come back from Persia with a calling to build the temple that even Cyrus the King of Persia was behind and thought commissioned by God Himself. God seems to have one intent, though it seems He directs His people differently over time, to build, not to build. The intent seems to be that God wants to be present with His people, and He’ll do whatever it takes to do that, whether it means building the temple or tearing it down.

Weeping. Laughing. Building. Tearing down. Sometimes we can’t tell the difference. What was happening was that God’s people were together and you couldn’t tell laughing from weeping.

In churches, synagogues, and mosques, sometimes you can’t tell the difference between crying and laughing. People come seeking God together and inevitably people are either suffering or rejoicing, or maybe some of both. What’s important? Seeking God. Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Backsliders: seek God. Seek how He has revealed Himself.

I believe God has revealed himself in three major ways through time. As Creator with authority over the universe. As Savior calling us to his Lordship. As Spirit inviting us into His life. Whoever you are, wherever you are from, whatever you have done, whatever religion you have grown up in, seek God. I believe this is how God has revealed himself over time. I don’t limit God to this but this is how historic Christianity sees God revealed. Orthodox Christianity shortens this revelation to the word, “Trinity.”

Excerpt of Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount

By Randy Harris with Greg Taylor

By Randy Harris with Greg Taylor

DOING WHAT JESUS SAYS

For two thousand years many Christians have considered the Sermon on the Mount to be the most important words in the whole Bible. You would think that the words considered to be spoken by Jesus and written down would be easily interpreted and followed.

But over the centuries these words have become the most hotly debated words in history. And that’s part of the problem. They’ve been debated more than followed. Some parts of the sermon are either so problematic or difficult that they’ve been left alone by preachers and teachers. Have you ever been invited by a church leader to shape your life around this teaching of Jesus? My guess is that you haven’t.

This is your invitation to the most important teachings of Jesus Christ. There’s a lot to know, but most importantly there’s a lot to do. When it comes to the knowing part, I’m going to err on the side of non-technical explanations rather than complicated and detailed. Why? In order to focus on the doing of the words of Jesus.

Right here at the beginning I want to give you a brief sketch of how the Sermon on the Mount has been handled differently since Jesus’ words were first written and passed down. Don’t worry—I’m not going to bore you with a prolonged explanation of what scholars have said over two thousand years; but the broad strokes of the use of the Sermon on the Mount are fairly important to understand as we get started.

Early church leaders thought the words of Jesus could be practiced literally, and the Didache, a Christian document from the early second century, includes lots of language that sounds like words from the Sermon on the Mount.

In the fourth century when large numbers of people were baptized into the Catholic Church, Christian leaders began to make a distinction between those who really keep the hard teachings of Jesus (monks and bishops and the like) and those who are baptized adherents of the church who are expected to follow only the basic precepts.

So over the centuries, the Sermon on the Mount became something that was for extra credit. Eventually people believed the sermon was just too hard to do, that Jesus was proclaiming an ideal of the new kingdom, but that his words were not meant to be practiced literally. Some church leaders have even thought Jesus intentionally set a high standard to illustrate how far short we fall and how much we need the grace of God.

On the other hand, from the sixteenth century on, a group called the Anabaptists thought that Christians should practice the Sermon on the Mount literally, that there should be no dif- ference between clergy (church leaders) and laity (regular folk) when it comes to following the words of Jesus.

In the last five hundred years the church has argued about whether Jesus really said everything in the sermon or whether Gospel writers just based it on true events of Jesus’ oral teachings but bent it toward their own way of thinking. That would make the sermon a way of showing Christ’s authority as the Messiah, rather than an actual manual for living.

The bottom line is that over two thousand years the church has believed and practiced the Sermon on the Mount in one or more of five ways:

  1. We can do this.
  2. Church leaders can do this but it’s too hard for regular folk.
  3. These teachings of Christ are too hard for anyone, and if we try to follow them it leads to legalism.
  4. The teachings are too hard but they show our need for God’s grace; keeping the laws literally is not the point.
  5. Yes, they are too hard but by God’s blessing and grace we must try to keep them.

My journey has taken me through all of these approaches as I’ve studied, heard, prayed, and tried to live the sermon. But I have come closer to the fifth category than ever before. This book is the story of how I’ve gotten there and what I’m trying to do about it. And it’s an invitation to you to come with me, to live the sermon, to do what Jesus says. Category number five above is really a return to what the early church thought: We can do this. But we certainly need God’s empowerment and grace in order to obey what Jesus says.

So this book is not just a study of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a way of discovering what Jesus says so we can do what Jesus says. My intention is not to add information or advance scholarship about the Sermon on the Mount. The simple historical sketch I just gave is about as much as we need for our purposes.

What I’ve written here is different from other writings on the Sermon on the Mount. For more than two thousand years we have benefited from scholars, translators, and interpreters who have indeed debated and taken different positions on the words of Christ, yet they have been talking about the most important words we have on record of the teachings of Jesus. I believe that by using the best translations available and accept- ing that these words were written based on the oral teachings of Christ and written down for us by Matthew and Luke, we must take these words seriously as a rule of life. In fact, many Christian communities throughout the centuries have based their rules of living together on the words of this sermon.

So I’m not attempting to write a scholarly book on the Sermon on the Mount. I’m trying to provide a field manual for living the life Jesus wants for us.

This book, which includes content from a film series I did by the same name, can stand alone, or it can be used along with the DVD as a field manual for groups or individuals who want, not only to know more about the Sermon on the Mount, but also to live what it teaches.

The Sermon on the Mount is full of hard teachings, but at my core I believe Jesus wants us to live out these teachings, however imperfectly. I believe also that by living these teachings Jesus gives us incredible and abundant life. He even promises that if we practice the commands and teach others to do so, we will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” He says that those who hear his words and put them into practice are wise. Those who do not are foolish.

Jesus didn’t intentionally make this so hard we can’t possibly live any of these teachings. I believe the teachings are doable, but the problem is that the church has long taught that these truths are so unattainable and impractical that they’ve simply been ignored.

What G. K. Chesterton said about the Christian life is par- ticularly true about the Sermon on the Mount: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Not only has it been found difficult and left untried, but even to suggest following the Sermon on the Mount as literally as possible—we’ll make plucking out your eyes and cutting off your hands a quick exception—appears to many as some sort of fanaticism.

I teach at a small university in Texas. Each year I stand in front of eager—and sometimes not so eager—students and teach them the truths in the Sermon on the Mount. I always have to convince them that Jesus is really serious about living this life. This isn’t “Suggestions on the Mount.” This isn’t Jesus raising the bar so high that we can only try and fail and so learn a lesson about the grace of God—though certainly that will happen over and over in our lives.

No, this is Jesus standing in the hills around Capernaum, probably overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a breeze blowing, and eager—and some not so eager—people hanging on Jesus’ words. Some wanted to catch him in theological corners and then try to paint him in. Others wanted just to be healed of diseases. Still others heard those words and believed that they could follow Jesus and do what he said.

So, here is the beginning and the end of the Sermon on the Mount: doing what Jesus says. And that’s what this book is about.

The question for us is not, “Can you do these teachings?” They are doable but not doable perfectly, so expect some failure, some resistance from yourself and others.

No, the question is, “Will you try?” This book is a field guide for those who choose to try.

Greater

Steven Furtick. Multnomah, $19.99 Hardcover(224p) ISBN 978-1-60142-325-2

 

Releases September 2012

 

The death of Steve Jobs prompted the megachurch pastor and author Steven Furtick (Sun Stand Still) to read a saying of Jesus Christ about doing great things. The ambitious claim of Jesus was that disciples will not only do things they see Jesus do but “will do greater things.”

 

English: Pastor Steven Furtick, lead Pastor of...

 

Furtick weaves stories of his own life with that of the lesser known (than Elijah) prophet Elisha. The spiritual fodder about being greater that Furtick squeezes from his and Elisha’s stories is impressive. Furtick is self-deprecating, unguarded as he relates stories of his “lesser loser life” [15] and shows how to move from “good enough” or even “greatness” to “greater,” which is a way of living that exceeds human effort through the power of God.

 

Greater includes a full discussion guide with questions for church small groups or individual study and a short word on how to start small in each of the area of focus. Like many sermons turned book chapters, the book is full of personal and Bible stories but seems patched together. Lacks in-depth focus on the central Bible text (John 14:12) that sparked the book. Still, Furtick’s laugh out loud turn of phrase, enthusiasm, and faith pops even in print.

 

Are you preventing children from coming to Jesus? Part 1

Our Lord Christ said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” We sneer at those villainous religious leaders–or even disciples–who prevent children from approaching Jesus.

But we have to ask the question, “Do we hinder children from coming to Jesus?”

And when we ask that question in the negative, why not put it in the positive sense also: “Do we do much intentionally to help our young children come to Jesus in our families and churches?

I want to do some sweeping through Christian history, Scripture, a couple of studies of practices related to conversion or faith-shaping of children in the last century, and make some conclusions or applications and issue a challenge to us all. 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.

http://vimeo.com/connectionwired/greencountryeventcenter

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

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

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

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

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

What Connection Church Believes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Garnett Church of Christ Believes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burning an Oak Skateboard

I’m reviewing a new book by Sergio De La Mora, pastor of the third fastest growing church in North America, according to Outreach Magazine.

He tells a painful story about how his father–who he dedicates the book to with deep love–did something that was the most painful thing he’d experienced to that point in his life as a teenager. An aspiring semi-pro skateboarder, young Sergio had skipped Sunday afternoon mass to practice at the “bowl,” and when he returned home late after the family had been to mass, his father asked him to come outside with his skateboard. Sergio’s father tried to break the skateboard. “Dad, that’s oak wood. It won’t break,” Sergio said. So De La Mora’s father took the board inside and threw it in the fireplace and burned it while he and his brothers and sisters watched, speechless. His father said, “Sergio, nothing in your life will ever come before God again. Put Him first and you can have anything. Put Him second and you’ll have nothing.”

God’s goal, he says is to change our hearts in a revolutionary way. Only God can do that and he starts in the deepest places of our lives. “God’s goal for our lives isn’t to simply make us happy. His desire is to make us holy–more like Him.”

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)

What’s Next @ Garnett Church of Christ?

My co-worker and good friend, Wade Hodges, will be leaving Garnett Church of Christ effective March 1 to follow his dream of planting a church in Austin, Texas.

Wade is one of my best friends and has personally challenged me in every area of my life, from my faith to my health to my thinking. He has challenged our church’s and larger Christian community’s narrow assumptions of faith and what it means to live the Christ-life and has prepared us to be a church that embodies the kingdom life he’s preached for six years. Wade, your jokes will be missed by a few of us. But missed by all will be the way you drive deep the sword of the word to penetrate heart and soul and bone marrow. Wade, we will miss you. Thank you.

Heather has been a great co-worker as we’ve worked together in outreach, and her skills as a counselor and administrator have been invaluable as we’ve reached out to the Hispanic community in Tulsa. She has launched and help to grow the Garnett Bilingual Preschool to sixty students, with instructors in Spanish and English, leaving a legacy of a solid ongoing program that impacts dozens of families in our community. She has been both a good friend to many in and outside our church, and she knows how to get things done. Heather, we will miss you. We will miss Wade’s and Heather’s sons, Caleb and Elijah, but we know this great family is following their hearts and dreams, and we’re happy for them.

In some ways, the Hodges and Taylors are trading places. Jill and I came to Garnett with seven years of experience with a church planting mission team in Uganda. We know what it’s like to have a burning in our hearts to start something bold and new in the name of Jesus Christ.

Garnett will continue to support Wade and Heather for a time while they launch the new church in Austin, and we encourage others to support them financially, spiritually, emotionally, with prayer as they seek out people who are searching for Jesus and what it means to follow him today without many of the trappings of traditional religion. See Wade’s blog to follow him and email him if you want to know more or support what they’re doing in some way.

What’s next for Garnett?

March 1, I will move to lead minister at Garnett Church of Christ. I want to thank the shepherds for their confidence in me. I’m honored and humbled and have accepted their offer to lead the staff and preach. Would you please say a prayer for Wade and Heather today in their church planting mission? And would you please say a prayer for Jill and me and our children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, today?

The Hodges are following their dream, and I’m ready for the challenges ahead in leading and preaching at Garnett. I’ll continue my focus on outreach to the community but will hand off some other duties to other capable people in the church as I move into weekly preaching. Wade’s such a great preacher, he’ll be a tough act to follow, but with God’s help I can be myself, tell the truth, and make a different kind of impact that’s helpful in the kingdom. I’ll end below with some great words of commissioning from one of our shepherds, Loy Johnson. Thank you to Loy, Rusty Anderson, Robert Garland, John Dickmann, and Jeff McIlroy for how they laid out the transition to Garnett congregation Sunday. As one person said, their leadership was “comforting” and at the same time challenging to the congregation, and they did that credibly, humorously yet sincerely. Thank you guys for a job very well done.

Jill is a full-time math teacher at Wright Christian Academy and teaches adjunct at Tulsa Community College. She also volunteers in the children’s ministry at Garnett. My deal with her and the churches we’ve served is that I have no stereotypical “preacher’s wife” expectations of her, and I ask our church to also allow Jill to carve out her own niche, as she has already done in the last three years here volunteering as a great Bible class teacher in children’s programs. Feel free to contact Jill directly if you’d like to encourage her or know how she feels right now. She is also on Facebook.

Finally, I want to end with an excerpt of Loy Johnson’s “Charge” to me.

Wade’s calling was one of pronouncement. Greg, yours is one of implementation.  It’s been said that a church takes on the personality of it’s pastor.  While the mission here at Garnett will remain the same, we understand that under your influence, the way it’s fleshed out is likely to reflect your passions and your personality – and we encourage that.  As Shepherds of this congregation, we give you the following charge:

  • Help us bring about unity, healing, and stronger family relationships within our body.
  • Help us practice what we preach.  Show us ways we can take an active role in healing the community around us.
  • Help us develop the same heart for others that you and Jill have already displayed.
  • Work within your giftedness.  Pursue your passions, but know your limits.  Focus on your areas of strength and allow others to serve within their’s.
  • May your ministry here at Garnett be marked by an expansion in God’s kingdom.  Through your efforts, may many people, both inside and outside of these walls, grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Going Missional

Leadership Journal and Wineskins Magazine feature articles in their current issues on the Missional Church. Wade Hodges and I wrote a piece called “We can’t do megachurch anymore” for Leadership Journal. An interview with Calvin Miller talking to me by phone is on ZOE/Wineskins A Life of Worship Podcast and if you’ve not read Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsh, you need to read the “Conversation with Fred” featuring Michael Frost.

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