The Narrative Lectionary

For the past several years I have been preaching along with the Revised Common Lectionary. There are many beneficial reasons for this which I have enumerated in other blog posts. I’ve enjoyed the RCL and although it has its own weaknesses, it is a well respected and often used lectionary.

Beginning September 10th I’ll be preaching along with the Narrative Lectionary. I decided a long time ago that just preaching what seemed to me to be a good text for the week was not a good plan. I would end up preaching texts I enjoyed and avoiding texts that are more difficult. Preachers compose series of sermons that are topical in nature, which runs the great danger of snipping verses out of context and using them in ways they were never intended.

So what can our church members expect from the lessons through the NL?

*Expect to start at the start. Yes, it’s ingenious but we are actually going back to “In the beginning…”. The first five sermons are in the Pentateuch, Genesis and Exodus to be specific. The second lesson is a good example of why it’s good to use a lectionary. If ever there was a story to avoid, it’s the one where Abraham is told to sacrifice his son. Who gets that? But it’s the text for September 17 and we shall examine it.

*Expect to spend the Fall sermons moving us through the Old Testament through most of December. Those Old Testament prophets were forward looking, seeing in the distance a Messiah. 

*Expect to begin the New Testament studies on Christmas Eve with a few sermons from Luke. Starting at the New Year we will be making our way through the gospel of John. The first half of each year is focused on one of the four gospels. It’s John for 2018.

*Expect the crescendo of John’s Gospel to come at Easter time. From there through May 20 we will be looking at texts relating to Paul’s ministry in Acts and Philippians. 

*Expect the summer to be made up of three series of sermons that are more topical sounding, but are based on Scripture. The summer series for 2018 are the Ten Commandments, I John, Ruth, and Stewardship. 

*Expect that we won’t have covered everything in the Bible, so we’re going to start in Genesis again in September 2018.

As you can see, the reason this is called the “Narrative Lectionary” is that it attempts to cover the sweeping story of God’s people from the beginning through the life of Jesus and the early church. There’s one story there, even though we often see it as a jumbled assortment of stories. Notice also that this story is woven into the important days and seasons on the church calendar … Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. In Churches of Christ we haven’t always paid attention to these… and sometimes we’ve pretended they didn’t exist. But each one of those seasons is an emphasis in the story of the Bible. 

By following links above you can know what the texts are for each week. Feel free to study ahead. Prepare some questions to cover in LifeGroup that Sunday night. And please, pray for your preacher. I can tell you I’m excited about the days ahead. 

For those who are not attending Forsythe Church of Christ each week, you can always follow our podcast  (or search for Forsythe Church of Christ at iTunes). You can also read the weekly sermon notes posted at our WEBSITE. You can subscribe at our website and those notes will arrive magically in your email inbox every Sunday morning.

Thanks for reading, JD

Back to Basics

Faith Unshackled: Back to the Basics

Ryan Lassiter

As I think about this summer blog tour theme of “Faith Unshackled”, I have been thinking about what often shackles our faith. And sometimes, I think we have just made it too complicated. It is like we say, “It can’t be that simple!” and then start arguing doctrine, dogma, and Scripture to avoid the obvious.

I have been studying a great deal lately the greatest commandments. There are a few different versions of this in the gospels, but my favorite has become the one recorded in Mark 12. One of the scribes sees that Jesus is a legit teacher, so he asks him the big question. “Which commandment is the first of all?” In other words, what matters the most to God? Most of us know the story. Jesus says something like, “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.” But in Mark’s recording, the scribe gives Jesus a robust “Amen!” “You are right he says!” Then he goes on to repeat back essentially what Jesus has already said and the scribe tacks on, “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”. But here is the part I love. After the scribe says this, Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Wait? Loving God and loving neighbor puts us in a place where Jesus basically says, “You’re getting it now. You’re getting closer. You’re discovering the way of the kingdom”?! Can that be?!

Overwhelmingly churches (mine included) give a list of core values and beliefs that are something like, “We believe in God, we believe in the Bible, we believe in salvation, we believe in baptism” and on and on. But for some reason, I have never seen a church say, “Our core belief is this: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you are near the kingdom of God.” That seems a bit too simple doesn’t it? Yet, that is more important than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Or, if I might contextualize and paraphrase it a bit, that is more important than all of our “right beliefs”, “sound doctrine”, etc.

Then we have Matthew 25. I have heard multiple sermons and lessons on this text and how it teaches the reality of final judgment, which by the way I affirm. However, do we ever ponder the question, “What does Jesus say puts one on the wrong side?” If we do, the answer isn’t burnt offerings, sacrifices, correct doctrine, worship service attendance, reading the Bible, understanding baptism, etc. (though those are all REALLY important to talk about and do). Rather, the answer is those that gave food and drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, visited the sick, and welcomed the strangers. I think it would be fair to put that under the heading of “loving God and loving neighbor”.

So when I think about unshackled faith that lives for Jesus with reckless abandon, I think it is best we get back to the basics. The church has been like the football team that has come up with really great offensive and defensive schemes, but forgot to teach the basics of blocking and tackling.

My prayer is that we could continue the important discussions about doctrine, Scripture, and beliefs, but that we would not neglect the seemingly simple and most important. My prayer is that we would get back to the basics. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. And by the way, I don’t think you can do one without the other. Maybe the best way to love God is to get back to the basics and go love a neighbor. Maybe then the kingdom of God will come near.


Ryan Lassiter is the husband of Sarah, and father of 3 (almost 4!) beautiful children. He is also the preaching minister at the Hunter Hills Church of Christ in Prattville AL. Prior to that he served as a minster at the Golf Course Road Church of Christ in Midland TX, and he and his wife Sarah have also spent time as missionaries. Ryan graduated with his masters in Missional Leadership from Rochester College and his passion is helping people join God in his mission of redemption and restoration. He blogs at www.ryanlassiter.com.

Trusting Faith

Trusting Faith
By Scott Elliott

Words do not stay the same. The definition or influence of a word can change over time. Sometimes they are overused and lose their power. Words that were once quite meaningful can become meaningless. Christianity is a religion that relies on certain words. The Bible is a story, and you cannot tell a story without words. Some of these words are essential to Christianity, and yet Christianity is a religion that has been around for many, many years. Christians have clung to important words while also dealing with an ever-changing world where the meaning of words can change.

Faith is one of the most significant words belonging to Christianity, but what does it mean? Over the years, many have equated it with belief. For these individuals, faith is the same as mental assent, but I believe a careful reading of the Bible will prove this definition to be inadequate. Certainly, belief is an element of faith, but it goes deeper than what a person may hold to be true.

Several times in the Gospel of Mark, faith is contrasted with fear (Mark 5:36). One of the most famous stories where this occurs is when Jesus calms a storm (Mark 4:35-41). You can imagine how frightening it would be to be on a small boat in the middle of a lake during a storm. Your boat could be capsized by the wind and waves. You would be susceptible to lightning strikes. You would essentially be helpless until you could reach shore. This is the situation that the disciples found themselves in. They were scared, and through it all Jesus slept. Finally, they decide to wake him. He calms the storm, and then says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

If faith were merely belief, then fear would have no power over it. It’s possible to believe and at the same time be afraid. Faith is more closely related to trust. When we trust, fear goes away. This is what Jesus was looking for in the boat. The disciples were believers, but they did not have trusting faith. If they would have had faith in Jesus, then they would not have been afraid.

The contrast between faith and fear that Mark provides is helpful in evaluating our level of faith. It might be difficult for some to gauge their commitment to God adequately. We are great at critiquing others and not so great at self-criticism. However, if we think of fear as the opposite of faith, then it is much easier to identify areas where we are afraid. Wherever we find fear, we will likely also find a lack of faith. If we fear the political future of America, then we need to trust that God is sovereign over all. If we fear our neighbors who do not look like us, then we need to seek to love them all the more while trusting that God has created all people in his image. If we fear what will happen to the economy or where our next check will come from, then we need to trust that God will provide.

Radical faith is when we put our trust in God even when the future seems uncertain. We see this in story after story in the Bible beginning with Abraham. What we discover from Scripture is that God is always faithful. It would be difficult to trust in a chair that looks weak and fragile, and that has never been set in by you or someone you know. There would be no reason to trust the chair. However, if you saw a big sturdy chair that always provided a safe and secure seat for anyone who rested in it, then you would have no problem trusting the chair. God gives us every reason to trust him. We can always depend on God.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications. Scott’s blog, Resurrected Living, can be found HERE. Follow him on Twitter @tscott_elliott.

Your Ultimate Prayer Partners

Your Ultimate Prayer Partners

…We do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26, NRSV

The end of Romans 8 is so rich that one could spend hours contemplating the truths there and still not reach the end. It is encouraging to know that when we are in prayer we never pray alone, for the ultimate partners in intercession are with us. With just a cursory glance we see the Holy Spirit involved in our prayers in five ways (Romans 8:26-27):

1. The Spirit helps us in our weakness

2. The Spirit intercedes when we do not know what we ought to pray for.

3. The Spirit prays with sighs too deep for words.

4. The Spirit and the Father are in sync with one another.

5. The Spirit intercedes in accordance with God’s will.

Each of those principles deserves much consideration, but they demonstrate the reason our prayers are so powerful: it is not our own spirituality but the participation of the Father and the Holy Spirit in our season of prayer. It is by the presence and power of the Spirit that we cry out to our Abba (Rom 8:15-16). Even more, we read in verse 34, “It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”

The Father, Son, and Spirit are intertwined in your prayers in such a way that we are ultimately confident that our prayers are much more powerful than we can imagine. They are much more in tune with God’s will than we know. They are in process of being answered as we utter the words.

This is why Romans 8:28 is truer than we realize. Never separate that verse from prayer! Your prayers matter because your ultimate prayer partners are tirelessly enmeshed into the eternal providence and power of God! Never be intimidated by prayer! It unlocks a Divine partnership!     

Thanks for reading, JD

What God Knows

What God Knows

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … Romans 8:29

This is a statement that digs into the mystery of the things God knows. Many theological treatises have been composed to try to explain predestination and the consequences of the foreknowledge of God! I’m tired after just typing that, honestly. True, there is a place for deep theological discussion. I’m not dismissing that. But what is it that God knows?

In a word, he knows us. He knows those temptations that trip us up every single time. He knows the pattern of thoughts we revert to when we’re stressed or angry or sad. He knows the battles we face with bad habits and addictions and behaviors. Knowing all that, his one desire is that we be conformed to the image of his Son. He also knows we do not have the power to do that.

Acting out of love for us, God moves to powerfully shape our hearts so that they look more and more like his Son Jesus.  In a battle we were certain to lose, Jesus steps in and saves the day. While the threat of complete spiritual failure looms all around us, God calls … justifies … and even glorifies (Romans 8:30). It’s hard for me to see it in myself, but God knows.

God knows we win because he sees to it. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). And God knows that no enemy is powerful enough to reverse his victory. That’s why we’re not just conquerors, we’re more than conquerers through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). God already knew the outcome when he stepped into the battle to save us.

On a day when you don’t know if you can do it any longer … when you feel defeated and discouraged … stop thinking about what you know and consider what God knows. Remember he does know. And he loves and saves anyway.

Thanks for reading, JD

God Uses Us: Shackles and All

God Uses Us: Shackles and All

Jonathan Woodall

I was in the cemetery at my grandmother’s resting place.  This particular memorial park was an exclusively flat-stone only grounds, and each stone had a metal vase that you twisted out of the middle of the stone and turned over to display flowers.  My aunt had tried to pull it out for Mother’s Day, but it was stuck.  I was down on my hands and knees using a pocketknife trying to pry the vase free, it wasn’t budging!  I look over and my daughter is on her knees with her hands folded.  I asked what she is doing and she responded, “I’m praying that God will help you get the vase unstuck.”  Frustrated and very sweaty, I was baffled because I was sure the good Lord had more important things on his plate than helping me turn a vase over…I mean, God doesn’t really work that way does he?  When I returned to my car, I was blown away that at the very moment I was working, prying, and feeling defeated by a gravestone, my seven year old was praying.

Sometimes the things we perceive as strengths can become our most restrictive shackles to our faith. I think the ancient story of Adam and Eve plays out in us…you see, I was reminded in that moment and many others that I have chosen to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Moreover, I have studied the Bible and with that understanding comes the “shackle” of trusting myself to define not only if something is good or evil, but if God is likely to act or not act in a given situation. I think there is too many times where my familiarity with God through the Bible allows me to arrogantly move without an element of trust—to serve before prayer, as if God already affirms what I have decided to do. 

As I reflect on this type of “faith,” I think it is why I tend to accomplish only the things I am naturally good at doing, never venturing into the unknown, uncomfortable, or uncontrollable.  Those ministry opportunities or missions are just too sizable for my skills…it would take more than what I have.  I believe that true faith gives LIFE (like the other tree in the garden) and often moves beyond our knowledge, skills, and experience. 

Products of a fallen and broken world, I think that all of us come to God with a shackled faith of some sort. And I must admit that I like my shackles because they provide me with a way of understanding faith and they allow me to know that I am growing in faith. 

Whenever I ask the question, “Does God really work that way?” I am beginning to see that question as a growth question because it is a direct attack on my knowledge and experience.  When I reread the scriptures asking the question, “What does the Bible really say about this?” I see this question as a challenge to my study and the past interpretations.  And when I finally take an opportunity to trust God and lean on God, when I find myself on a plane to Africa, having dinner with a stranger, opening up a Bible study, or praying that God would intervene in our heroin crisis…I realize that God is in the process of breaking my shackles and setting me free to trust him more. 

We all have shackles, and God calls us anyway.  As I think about what it means to live an unshackled faith, I think about the New Creation described at the end of Revelation.  I think about all of the brokenness we have, all of the obstacles that make us cry to God to increase our faith, relieve our doubts, and give us greater perseverance.  But there is great day coming when our faith will become sight. 

John says that God will, “…dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Today we battle our shackles, but we learn to trust God, to believe God, and one day our hope is to be unshackled, face to face with God Almighty, Creator of the unbroken world! 

Prayer:  Creator God, call us to greater works and allow us the opportunity to trust in You more and more as that great day gets closer and closer.  Our desire is to be set free from the shackles that hold us back.  I pray that you reveal to me the limits of my faith so that I can identify my shackles and receive healing and wholeness from You.  Come Lord Jesus, so that our faith can become sight and our brokenness can be fully restored.  Lord God make all things new and that includes me, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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Jonathan Woodall serves the GracePointe Church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA.  He is married to Hayley and they have two children. Jonathan spent ten years in campus ministry at Soma Memphis serving the University of Memphis and served as a worship minister at the White Station Church of Christ.  Jonathan has a desire to see the church reach the next generation and is particularly drawn to the communication of God’s story through preaching and teaching, especially as it pertains to our contemporary context. Jonathan’s blog can be found at www.jonathanfwoodall.com and the church website is www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org  (PS – if you are coming to Hershey, PA for a vacation or whatever, come worship with us!)