My Son is Also My Hero

Jacob Taylor speaking at 2017 BAHS Graduation

Two years ago, my son watched my daughter, Anna, graduate from Broken Arrow High School. That night Tram Le gave a speech because she was the top student of the class of 2015.

Jacob decided that night he wanted to be a hero like Tram Le.

Two years later, May 15, 2017, Jacob gave that speech in the same slot in the program as Tram.

Listen to Jacob’s Speech – start at 33:00

He called seniors to choose: be a villain or a hero. There is no middle ground.

I’ve gotten a front row seat, an inside look these last two years as Jacob has struggled to live out this decision. There was no middle ground in the last two years of many sleepless nights as Jacob set out to study and do well in AP classes and on the PSAT in order to become a National Merit Finalist. There was no middle ground when he decided night after night to stay up late and finish studying. There was no middle ground when he decided to not only study but also serve and lead in school, church, and community.

After commencement, Jacob left for Project Graduation in a hurry and left a few things on the table.

There was no middle ground when he ate healthy food and went running–he told me one time that studying is “dynamic” and sometimes an idea comes clear to him while running.

This reminds me of the Chariots of Fire story where Eric Liddell says when he runs he feels God’s pleasure. I can tell that as Jacob learns and grows, he’s feeling God’s pleasure, and he’s not just a student of science and math but also Scripture. And he knows his own wisdom and knowledge is not enough. He seeks God’s direction and Spirit’s guidance in daily prayer.

So Jacob gave a speech along with two of his classmates. All three of the speeches Monday night worked well together. Lexi Bagrosky spoke about senior memories and her laugh line was, “No one has all the answers, unless of course they cheat off of Jacob Taylor.”

Jacob, Jada, and Johna graduate!

Noah Osborne spoke about living with a passion for a cause bigger than ourselves. Then he said a line from the senior class motto, “Remember, if anyone is interested, I have some free love to give.” He followed that by saying, “But the only reason I have that love to give is because God sent Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, and I can’t help but express my love back to my one King without an act of worship, so if you know this hymn sing along.” Then he sang “Amazing Grace” and many in the crowd of 10,000 sang along. He stopped singing to listen as the crowd finished, “was blind but now I see.”

Jacob grabbed most of the guys’ attention with his speech when he started, “In my favorite movie, The Dark Knight . . .” He quoted Harvey Dent: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” What he meant, Jacob said, was that there are two paths in life. Then he quoted “a man he admires,” who said, “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no middle ground.”

Jacob with Sammy, our driver and helper in the fish food project while in Kenya Summer 2016.

There was no middle ground when Jacob decided to join a team of young engineers developing a sustainable way to feed fish in Kenya.

There was no middle ground when Jacob has stood up as an example for other students, even when he felt embarrassed or wanted to see others awarded or congratulated as well.

Jacob has made his choice. He has chosen to be part of the solution. Another example: the day after graduation, Jacob traveled with a school group to help with Special Olympics in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Jacob has taught me so much in his eighteen years of life. He’s the first to coin the term in my hearing at least of a “missionary-engineer.” I’ve gotten a front row seat to watch Jacob as he’s been preparing himself to change the world, to be a hero.

One of my favorite things to watch over these last few years is the relationship Jacob has with his mother and my wife, Jill. She is the AP lead at Broken Arrow High School and teaches calculus and Algebra 3 there. It has been fun listening (without comprehending) to their conversations about calculus and the learning environment of Broken Arrow High School. Jill has had a greater role in Jacob’s academic success by far, and not just by genetics but also by her hard work and dedication to working with Jacob over many years of school.

One of the things we have talked about with Jacob since he was old enough to understand–which wasn’t very old for Jacob–is this: “Jacob, God has blessed you with a great mind and heart. Now give back to Him by using your gifts for God’s glory.”

I believe Jacob is doing that. Yes, I’m proud of my son. But I’m also a student of my son’s life, work ethic, courage, and wisdom. Though my son, Jacob is also my hero.

Watch this video as my hero celebrates with some of his friends!

 

Drive Uganda 3: Hitchhiking in Uganda

In Uganda, hitchhiking is common as the cold.  But don’t picture a hippie with a joint in the 60s.  Think of an old lady with creaky joints in her 60s.  A lady of this description flags me down one Sunday on a rural dirt road.  We greet each other through a cloud of rolling dust.

“How did you sleep?” I ask.

“Fine.  Take me to the church!” the old hitchhiker says.

“Which one?”

“The church up there.”

“Where?”

“There! UP THERE!” she points with her lips and hits every syllable hard.

“Huh? Wha? Wher–?  Ok, just get in and show me.” Continue reading

Randy Harris DVD in 3rd “Pressing”

Three years ago ACU Press, a film crew, Randy Harris, and I set out to make a film that would give Christian churches all over the world access to Randy Harris’s teaching that combines great scholarship, humor, but most of all his focus on living the gospel of Christ. The 2-DVD set is priced in such a way that anyone who ever has bought a movie can also buy this $25 DVD set.

Every small group, every class, even individuals and families can own it and use it, and it has more than 2 hours of content on the DVDs for $25. A lot of video series these days sell for 4-5 times that or space out the content into multiple DVDs you buy over time. We decided to make this accessible and affordable, and it’s working.

Living Jesus: How the Greatest Sermon Ever Will Change Your Life for Good and the companion book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount are selling well, and the DVD set is in the 3rd “pressing” and continuing to be shipping all over the nation and even places in the world. Order at http://www.leafwoodpublishers.com

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.

Edward Fudge on John Stott

From Edward Fudge (gracEmail)

John Stott: Model of Kingdom Greatness

He chose the bachelor life to devote himself more fully to the gospel–but when he died last Wednesday, thousands mourned the loss of their beloved “Uncle John.” Although Chaplain to the Queen of England, he lived in simple quarters. He was “one of the 100 most influential people in the world,” Time magazine opined, yet he traveled in a sm all car that was second-hand. Those who knew him best recall his humble spirit and recite his deeds of quiet service. And last Wednesday, July 27, 2011, a few close friends and relatives at his bedside read aloud the words of St. Paul who also fought the good fight, finished his course and kept the faith. Then, as strains of Handel’s “Messiah” overflowed the room and wafted heavenward to Him who reigns for ever and ever, ninety-year-old John Robert Walmsley Stott fell asleep in Jesus Christ to await the resurrection unto immortality and eternal life.

For half a century, John Stott ministered in association with All Souls (Anglican) Church, Langham Place, London–as curate, rector and, most significantly, as rector emeritus commissioned to serve as pastor/teacher around the world. Stott had known All Souls since childhood, when he and his Lutheran mother went together to the parish church in their neighborhood. Stott’s father, a knighted but agnostic London physician of prominence, did not join them. Truth be told, young John was not always an exemplar of piety either–often sitting in the balcony, from which he sometimes dropped paper-wads on the hats of the ladies sitting below.

Cover of

Cover of Basic Christianity

The true legacy of John Stott is immeasurable by human perception. He wrote more than forty books, all in longhand with pen and ink. Best known is Basic Christianity, which has sold more than two million copies in more than 50 languages. In 1974, Stott masterminded and then convened the International Congress on World Evangelization which drew believers from 150 nations, until then likely the most wide-ranging meeting of Christians ever held. Stott chiefly wrote the Lausanne Covenant, a theological declaration resulting from the Congress–calling Christians both to evangelism (the Great Commission) and to social responsibility (the Great Commandment). The Langham Foundation, also Stott’s creation, continues serving the Third World church by its twin programs of training pastors and distributing books. Whether delivered in person or in print, John Stott’s biblical exposition was meaningful, clear, and uncontrived.

A decade ago, I was privileged to hear John Stott preach. True to reputation, his messages were simple and filled with power. l also was touched by his deep personal kindness. At the conclusion of the first meeting, I waited in line to shake his hand. “Dr. Stott,” I said, “my name is Edward Fudge, and it is such a pleasure to meet you in person!” A smile came over his face as he asked, “Are you my friend Edward Fudge?” Although honored worldwide for two generations of solid biblical teaching, Stott had recently come under intense attack for stating that he “tentatively” believed that those finally lost would be totally annihilated in hell rather than suffer unending conscious torment. His question reflected his familiarity with my book, The Fire That Consumes. “I hope so,” I replied, honored for h im to call me his friend.

Hugh Palmer, the present rector at All Souls Church in London, remembers that Stott often began sermons by asking the Father that “Your written word of Scripture may now and always be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our Teacher and Your greater glory our supreme concern, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” For fifty years, God was pleased to answer that prayer. Glorifying God by serving him faithfully defines true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. The life of John Stott remains a model of such greatness.