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.

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.

 

He Must Become Greater

As we grow older, we tend to become control freaks. We need to control everybody and everything, moment by moment, to be happy. If the now has never been full or sufficient, we will always be grasping, even addictive or obsessive. If you’re pushing yourself and others around you have not yet found the secret of happiness. It’s okay as it is. This moment is as perfect as it can be. The saints called it the sacrament of the present moment. –Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs.

I recently took a six week sabbatical, and one of the best things I began during the sabbatical was counseling with Terry Ewing of Plumbline Ministries.

One of the big issues many of us deal with in counseling is control. The question could be framed this way: Are you God? Or are you not God?

It seems a ridiculous question. Of course I’m not God. But sometimes we act like we think we are God. As Richard Rohr says in the quote above, as we grow older, we tend to want to push ourselves and others around, judge, tell others what they should and shouldn’t do. A counseling professor I had years ago called this “shoulding on people.” We spout opinions about the way the world should be if we were in charge. We think we’re all knowing because we have a phone and the internet. We take on much more responsibility for situations sometimes than we ought.

It was helpful to me last week in a couple of situations to simple step back from getting emotionally involved in a problem at home or work and ask myself, “Am I God? Can I control this situation?” No. This is the stuff of AA or CR or the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Stop there. This means everyone around you. You can’t change people around you. The prayer could helpfully add, “and people” to read, “Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things and people I cannot change,” which is to say everyone around me.

Sunday as I preached I asked the church to repeat, “I am not God.” It felt good for some to release the pressure to carry burdens only God can carry for us. I am not God, and as such I do not control the world. I can cry or be pained for the world, lament war, famine, refugees, and do something about it by planning my life around helping the poor, the refugee, and bringing peace wherever I’m present, but I cannot ultimately change the world’s situation or carry the burden of the world on my shoulders. I am not God.

There was a man named John the Baptist who made a public confession that he is not God. He had to. He was over-appreciated. People thought he was from above. They thought he was the Messiah. Or they thought he was a prophet come to announce the Messiah. Some people in the days John the Baptist lived thought Elijah would come back and herald the coming of the Christ. So it became important for John to proclaim what he was not.

When people asked him (John 1:19-34) “Who are you?” he first said who he is not. “I am not the Messiah. I am not Elijah.” Then who are you, John? “I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Repent! I’m preparing the pathway for the Messiah.”

Later, some of his disciples saw Jesus with his disciples on the other side of the river baptizing (John 3:22-36), and they stirred the pot with John, seeming to prompt comparison and competition between John and his cousin Jesus. Here, after already saying who he was not, John goes further to describe himself only in relationship to Jesus.

He says something that is golden and rings down through the years to us today as a mantra that could change our churches, our families, our lives if we took this into our lives as well.

“He must become greater. I must become less.”

NPR’s Morning Edition tells the story of Julio Diaz, a 31-year-old social worker from New York City who after work one night exited the subway onto a nearly empty platform. As the train left, a boy about twelve years old was standing near Diaz. The boy pulled a knife to threaten Diaz and asked for his money.

Diaz gave the boy his wallet and the boy fled. Before he was too far away to hear, Diaz shouted at the boy and said “Wait! You forgot something. Here, take my coat.” Diaz was taking off his coat when the boy stopped, turned around, and looked puzzled.

“Are you crazy? Why are you doing this?” the boy asked.

“Well, if you’re willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was to get dinner. And, if you want to join me, you’re more than welcome.”

The boy agreed to join Diaz. They walked to the diner and sat in a booth. Soon the waitress came by and asked Diaz if he’d have the usual. She chatted a few minutes before putting in the order. The manager came by the booth to say hello to Diaz and his young friend. The dishwasher came out to say hello.

Watching all this, the boy asked, “Hey man, do you own this place?”

“No, why?”

“Because you know everybody.”

“I just eat here a lot.”

“But you’re even nice to the dishwasher.”

“Well, haven’t you been taught that you should be nice to everybody?” Diaz asked the boy.

“Yeah, but I didn’t think people really acted that way,” the boy said.

The social worker in Diaz saw an opening. He asked the boy what he really wanted out of life. The boy’s face was downcast, and he didn’t have much of an answer.

When the bill came, Diaz told the boy, “Look, I guess you’re going to have to pay this bill for me, because you have my money, and I can’t pay for it. But if you give my wallet back, I’ll gladly treat you.”

The boy handed over the wallet. Diaz paid the bill, and then he pulled out a $20 bill, placed it on the table and pushed it across the table to the boy. “I know you could use this, but I want to ask you to give me something in return: your knife.”

The boy took the $20 and handed over his knife to Diaz. I don’t know what Diaz’s beliefs are, but he was living like a man who had a mantra like John the Baptist’s: He must become greater. I must become less. My money must become less. My coat must become less. My time must become less. My own life must become less. The person right in front of me is Jesus, and Jesus must become greater.

In Luke 3:10-14 people ask John the Baptist what they should do about the preaching by John about being fruitful, and fruitless trees getting cut down. The crowd asked, “What should we do?” John replied, “You have two shirts? Give one away.” Tax collectors asked, “What should we do?” John: “Don’t collect more than you should.” Soldiers, “What should we do?” John: “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”

Diaz lived not just the mantra of John but some of these exhortations of John the Baptist.

What would it be like to live the mantra of John the Baptist, “He must become greater. I must become less”? When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I gained some sympathy weight. I was also eating for two! I didn’t need to gain more weight. Jill needed to gain weight, so I went on a diet and called it the “She must become greater, I must become less diet”!

When people think of you, who is bigger in their minds? Jesus or you?

 

If I were to write the name Arthur Conan Doyle, would that mean anything to you? Of course you could google it, but without doing that, do you know who he is? And yet he created a character you most certainly know. He created a character bigger than himself as a writer. Stephen King is a name you know because he has sold millions of books. And probably in his day, people knew Doyle, but the character he created was so big it continues in our imaginations today and is recreated over and over in dramas and stories. The character’s name is Sherlock Holmes.

When people think of you, who is bigger in their minds? Jesus or you?

 

Living this mantra of John he Baptist is not easy or immediate. In fact, it’s more like the process described in the song I heard as a teenager when an elder of the church I attended stood up and read all the stanzas in a monotone, but all these years later I remember it and asked our worship leader, Cory Legg, to lead the song in our worship. The song title is, “None of Self and All of Thee.” But the four stanzas progress from early discipleship where the disciple proudly says, “All of self, and none of Thee.” As life’s trials come, the disciple says, “Some of self, and some of Thee,” then later “Less of self, and more of Thee.” Finally, humbly the disciple says, “None of self, and all of Thee.” This is a lifetime of discipleship and step by step emptying of our selves as Jesus emptied himself (Philippians 2).

A portion of the Prayer of St. Patrick strongly ties to this mantra of John the Baptist and the question, “Who is bigger when people think of you?”

Christ be with me, Christ within me
Christ behind me, Christ before me
Christ beside me, Christ to win me
Christ to comfort me and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger
Christ in hearts of all that love me
Christ in mouth of friend or stranger.

One version of the prayer says, “Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.” Who is bigger?

The mission team Jill and I served in Uganda with had a mantra first said by mentors at Harding University. “Do something bigger than yourself.”

What does it mean to live this mantra in each of our lives. For a ministry at our church that does media during our Sunday services, their mantra is “do not distract but point people to God.” They want the microphones, sound, projection, video all to work without distracting from the point of it all: Jesus. This team of media volunteers want, as John the Baptist wanted, to point to Jesus. He must become greater. We must become less.

What does it mean for a church as a whole to take on the mantra of John the Baptist? My opinion must become less. My ministry must become less. My preaching must become less. My worship singing or playing must become less. My family, my children, my grandchildren, my job, my reputation, my, my, my . . . must become less in order that Jesus becomes more.

He must become greater. I must become less.

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)

God invites us into His heart

Evangelical Christians of the last century have come to use a common, “Invite Jesus into my heart.” While I could argue the phrase is not very accurate biblical language, I want to instead flip the phrase on its head with what I think is a more accurate biblical and theological thought.

God invites us into His heart.

Since the beginning of biblical history, God has made moves to invite humans into His life, heart, and story. He has called upon humans saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Leviticus 26:11-13 is the first time and Revelation 21:3 is the last time God or Christ is quoted as saying a phrase about being our God and humans His people. God also states His desire to dwell among us, which was put into practice in the incarnation (enfleshing) of Christ.

I gave a few examples in my sermon yesterday about the difference between God inviting us into His heart and us inviting Him into our hearts.

  1. Have you ever asked someone over to dinner then two days later realized while eating at their house, they’d flipped the invitation on you! That’s what happened in our relationship with God in use of this phrase, “invite Jesus into your heart.” God invited us into His heart, to know His love, His vast power, goodness, mercy, compassion, and unfathomable depths.
  2. Asking Jesus into our hearts is like a bucket asking the ocean to fill it. The ocean has no problem filling the bucket but the bucket loses out on a lot of ocean! No whales, no shrimp, no seashore, no dolphins, no waves, no power, no sailing, etc. Just a bucket of salty water. It’s not that Jesus can’t come into our lives and change our lives, but He desires that we come into His life, His story, His heart.

We join the journey with God. He is God and is not in the business of joining our journey as it is. He is in the business of turning us around and bringing us into His bigger story. A phrase like, “I need more God in my life” is small and insufficient for God. Instead, why not say, “I need to submit my life to God”? It’s God’s world that we are in, it’s in submitting to His life-giving reality that we find our own story in His.

God is not calling us to put more of Him in our story but for us to put more of ourselves in His story.

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.

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.

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.

Are you ready for your mission trip this summer?

You’re thinking about a mission trip in 2010 . . . and you have questions, perhaps for you, a friend or relative, students or a whole group . . .

Can I drink the water? But I don’t speak the language! You want me to sleep where? They eat what? How am I going to raise that much money? Is it really God’s will for me to go? I don’t know how to share the gospel.

Are you ready for your short-term trip? How do you get ready? More than two million Americans will go into all the world on short-term missions trips in 2008. Are you ready to be one of them?

Anne-Geri’ Fann and I have written a short-termers survival guide! We have years of experience as both long-term and short-term missionaries and have led teams there–and the always important . . . back safely. With humor and brevity–the book is just over 100 pages–we help you prep and pack for the trip, and we put our arms around you while you’re gone (I suppose you could cuddle with the book), and offer perspective as you re-enter “normal” life.

How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions: the ultimate guide for sponsors, parents, and those who go will help you:

Pack your suitcase and prepare your heart
* Build genuine relationships with the locals
* Understand cultural differences
* Deal with physical fatigue
* Combat stretched emotions

There’s even a chapter for clammy-handed parents!

With humor and experience, help you ask questions you can’t hide from and help you focus on your true mission, so you can act like the One you are calling people to follow while on your trip, and not like an ugly American!

Order it or find it at your local bookstore.

* Paperback: 136 pages
* Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2006)
* ISBN: 1418509779

Short-term missions

Adam Langford joined a long-term mission in Jinja, Uganda, in part, because of short-term experiences in Honduras and Uganda.

My friend, Johnna Raymond, said, “We challenged our interns to give it over to God, all of it. Adam did.” Adam Langford and Moses Kimezi died January 16 as they worked to take good news to the poor and proclaim the joy of Christ. Both Moses and Adam were like that: the spirit of Christ oozed from their pores and their quick laughing smiles.

Literally millions of people in the United States and worldwide are preparing right now for short-term trips, particularly on spring and summer breaks.

Missionary hero of mine, Sam Shewmaker, asks, “Who are the 50 who will ‘replace’ Adam Langford in the mission field?” And who are the 50 who will ‘replace’ Moses? Indeed, we can’t replace Adam or Moses, but they have inspired us, called us once again to missional lives, to suffer with those who suffer, to take fresh water, healing balm, words of comfort, listening ears and learning hearts and serving hands.

Will you hear God’s call through this tragedy? Jason and Jody King already have. They had already made a short-term trip to Jinja and have been planning to go back for two years to Jinja and work with the team that Adam and Moses served with. Jason and Jody still need support. Will you hear God’s call to help support them? Will you either support short-term missionaries or long-term if you can’t go yourself? Or will you go?

Please, please do not go into a short-term trip light-heartedly or with the flippant spirit of “tourism for Jesus.” You need more than a passport and shots. You need the humble spirit of one who is willing to die for others, willing to be a transformed traveler, an incarnational presence of Christ as you discover the amazing diversity and learn deep truths yourself from Christians and God-fearers worldwide.

Here are some resources for you as you prepare. May God bless you, and please write me to find out more about short-term trips that make long-term missionaries. If you have any questions about how to support short-termers, train them, or go yourself, feel free to write.

The Kibo Group
Partners with creative people in both short- and long-term mission capacities to develop solutions for sustainable and community development in East Africa.

International Mission Internships (IMI)
Places university students with experienced missionaries for six-week-long internships that include a two-night bonding experience with locals.

Harding University at Tahkodah (HUT)
The HUT training village offers economic and cultural learning games to show what real life is like in a developing nation.

Mission Alive
Experientially trains mission teams and Christian leaders as evangelists and church planters.

Youth Works
Provides weeklong youth mission trips throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico

Youth With A Mission (YWAM)
Sends out twenty-five thousand short-term missionaries each year. Participants make God known through evangelism, mercy ministries, and discipleship training.

Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI)
Seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. HFHI invites people of all backgrounds, races, and religions to partner with families in need through house-building projects.

Short-Term Evangelical Missions (STEM)
Offers training events, consulting, and publications to help churches and sending groups achieve maximum impact in their short-term mission programs.

Mission Year
Sends young people for one year to work in a poor urban neighborhood. In that time participants partner with a local church, volunteer at a social service agency, and develop relationships within the community.

Beyond Borders
Organizes reflective journeys and long-term apprenticeships that create opportunities for dialogue between the visitors and their Haitian hosts.

Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO)
Helps those working internationally with the poor be more effective, particularly in the areas of agricultural advancements and developing technology.

Casas por Cristo
A nondenominational ministry addressing the needs of the poor in Mexico through partnerships with churches in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (Casas por Cristo is Spanish for “Houses because of Christ”).

Source: How to get ready for short-term missions (Thomas Nelson, 2006).

Transformational Travel (Part 5):Jesus’ Table Ministry

What if we could sit at the table with Jesus and learn from how he interacted during his own table ministry. Well, you can. Just look at Luke and you’ll find nearly a dozen examples of Jesus as gracious guest and host of a table meal.

Jesus went to a party thrown by a tax man. Tax collectors were the con-men and turncoats of Jesus’ day who bilked Jews for more money than they really owed the Roman government. People couldn’t understand why Jesus would eat with them, yet Jesus showed that eating with even those who break Jewish dietary customs in order to share the gospel is more important than pleasing his own group or Jewish tribal practices. He said, and I paraphrase, “A good doctor doesn’t spend the bulk of his time with well people but the sick” (Luke 5:27-32).

But don’t imagine Jesus neglected his own people—he ate with the self-righteous Jews also. During the meal, when servants were likely coming in and out of the room bringing food, a prostitute slipped in and began pouring perfume on Jesus feet. The self-righteous host was indignant and lost respect for Jesus, wondering how a prophet would allow an obviously sinful woman caress his feet. Jesus did not refuse hospitality from this woman as well and at that table he forgave her sins. The people watching were amazed and wondered who this man was who could forgive sins.

You’ve heard the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Luke 9:10-17). Jesus is showing hospitality and commanding his disciples to feed others as well. So when people are feeding you, they are also fulfilling a mission Jesus called his disciples to do: “give them something to eat.”

In Luke 10:8 Jesus tells the seventy disciples he send out to “eat what is set before you.” The apostle Paul also exhorts Christians to eat food without questions when they are fellowshipping with others.

The table is part of Jesus mission; if Jesus believes eating at the table with people is part of his mission, don’t you think we ought to take the table seriously? You can find stories of Jesus accepting or giving hospitality in Luke 10:38-42; 11:37-54; 14:1-24; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 24:30-35, 45-49). As my friend John Mark Hicks says,

The table is a place where Jesus was both a gracious guest and gracious host. So the table is a place where the church welcomes strangers (aliens). The table has a missionary quality, especially in light of the fact that the disciples receive their call to missions at a table. The table is a place where Jesus receives sinners and confronts the righteous. The table is the place where Jesus extends grace to seekers, but condemns the self-righteous. Jesus is willing to eat with sinners in order to invite them into the kingdom . . . The last (sinners, poor, and humbled) will be first in the kingdom of God, but the first (self-righteous, rich and proud) will be last and excluded from the kingdom of God (Luke 13:26-30).

From “The Missional Table,” (Wineskins Magazine, Sep/Oct 2002).

Here is the kicker: eating together with God’s children in another country is one of the God-given and Jesus-modeled ways to be the body of Christ, to proclaim the incredible good news that the kingdom of God is near.