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.

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians

by Helmut Thielicke

Helmut Thielicke.

Thielicke says some have “theologian’s disease” and use truth not to build their congregations by instruction but to tear them down.  Destroying a church in this way is the “starkest possible contrast with love,” Thielicke writes.  (31)

Thielicke says the greatest danger of knowledge about God is that you may lose sight of the Almighty in the process.

Says the first germ that causes theologians to catch this disease that infects congregations is when a minister no longer treats Holy Scripture as a means to come near to God but only as an end in itself of “exegetical endeavors.” Continue reading

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

Does God Speak Audibly to People Today Like He is Portrayed Doing in Bible Times?

In this second blog post that’s part 2 after a review I did of Bill Hybel’s The Power of a Whisper, I clarified some the title. The part 1 blog title was, “Does God Speak?” When I read it again, I thought, of course He does. He speaks anytime He wants, and has throughout time.

Foster Bible Pictures 0060-1 Moses Sees a Fire...

Foster Bible Pictures 0060-1 Moses Sees a Fire Burning in a Bush (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The clarified question is, “Does God continue to speak audibly to people today like He is portrayed doing in the Bible?”

First, let’s review how God speaks in Bible times:

  1. Through messengers called Angels (to many)
  2. Through donkeys (to Balaam)
  3. Like a friend (to Moses)
  4. Through tablets (10 Commandments)
  5. By burning stuff (burning bush, pillar of fire showing presence, burning up wet sacrifices – Elijah)
  6. Through dreams (Joseph, Daniel, kings, prophets)
  7. Whispers (Elijah)
  8. By tricks or tests of God (Gideon – was his fleece test appropriate as a test of God?)
  9. Direct voice (to Moses, many prophets)
  10. Prophets themselves as messengers
  11. Through incarnate Son Jesus
  12. Through written texts of Law, Prophets, Gospels, Letters, and Apocalypse
  13. Through the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire causing Apostles to speak intelligible languages spoken in first century world
  14. Through blinding light and vision of the Son (to Saul later named Paul)
  15. Through visions called Apocalypses (to Daniel, John)
  16. Apostles thought God speaks by casting lots or drawing straws for decisions

Have I left some examples out? I’m sure I have. Comment and write your examples from Scripture, citing who and the situation. Continue reading

Steadfast Through Every Change

I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase that Leonard Allen spoke to me over coffee at Pour Jons. When talking about the unchanging nature of God Leonard suggested the phrase, “Steadfast through every change.”

Because, God does change His mind. He changes his strategies. He changes His heart. He is moved. In Christ, He is vulnerable, changing according to the actions of those around Him. But He is steadfast in every change.

I looked up the phrase because I wondered if there is a hymn or poem or Scripture text that uses this exact phrase. I understand that Steadfast is the English translation of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words for the concept of God’s love that never fails. It’s often paired with “love” so that in Lamentations Jeremiah speaks of God’s “Steadfast Love” and in English we sing a song that’s beautifully tied to my faith growing up as a boy: Continue reading

A Prayer About the Arrogant

Psalm 73 marks the end of David‘s prayers and beginning of the worship leader, Asaph‘s in Book 3 of the Psalms.

The psalm moves from God’s goodness to Israel, to the psalmist losing his grip on reality, to a diatribe prayer about the arrogant culture in which he lives, to God’s faithfulness, ending with this beautiful line, “But as for me, it is good to be near God . . .”

What stood out initially to me in this psalm was the section about the arrogant that sounds a lot like me. It sounds like many in the first world.

My wife and I have a code that we don’t post on Facebook when people talk about certain things, but we say it to one another, and perhaps we ought to actually post it at times (we’ll get unfriended if we do, but may be for the best!). The thing we often say when someone is gripping publicly about some superficial thing like service at a restaurant, is “FWP.”

“FWP” — What’s that?

First World Problem. So, you had to wait for 30 minutes ON YOUR BUTT, while someone brings you food, and you are complaining about it? The salsa wasn’t as good as always, your coke was flat, the waitress wasn’t perky enough. These are first world problems. Half of the world goes hungry. You ought to be guilt tripped about that. Maybe we need to just start unfriending or hiding people who use social media to complain. As Steven Furtick says, paraphrased, “As Christians, we have a responsibility to be happy.” I’m sure Furtick said it somehow more colorfully than that.

So, if you get the urge to post something to complain that you think might be a first world problem, go read Psalm 73:3-12.

Some weep and some rejoice

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

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

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

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

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

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.

This is it, the Apocalypse, whoa

This Spring and Summer has been a learning first foray into preaching Revelation. I told the Garnett Church of Christ congregation that if I take the risk to preach on Revelation, they ought to take the risk to read Revelation. Many did! And we learned how to read Revelation in a new way.

After three months of study, we love the conclusion of the angel St. John fell down in front of, just after he told John to get up and stop groveling at his feet, that they were fellow servants: “Worship God. The testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy.” We learned that Revelation is not about images & predictions as much as it’s about God on the throne, Christ ruling now and forevermore, and aligning our lives to the kingdom that is both already and yet to come, the New Heaven and the New Earth, that we long to live in and we long to see break into the world even now.

  1. Revelation powerfully reminds us that no matter how bad the world seems, God is on the throne, Christ rules the cosmos!
  2. Revelation calls us to be faithful witnesses in the pattern of Christ.
  3. Revelation reminds us that Satan is going down, that God will judge the whole earth & all inhabitants, & His judgments are just and true.
  4. Revelation shows us a hopeful picture of the New Heaven & New Earth, that God in Christ is making “everything new,” removing the curse, & will complete his goal: to dwell with His people forever.
  5. Revelation gives us fresh courage for living now as we live counter to our culture that opposes Christ & encourages self-rule, as we endure hardship, persecution, & wait patiently for Christ’s return.
  6. Revelation is not about images & predictions but about God. The final word of the messenger to John is “Worship God.” Revelation shows us how to live & worship God as ruler of the universe & not ourselves, Satan, or any other power that claims to be god in our lives.

Resources I find very helpful on Revelation

Living Jesus DVD


Living Jesus DVD by Randy Harris

ISBN 978-0-89112-370-5

$24.99 for more than 2 hours of content!

Add to cart

Jesus says you can do it.

Randy Harris believes it’s true. And he’s leading a movement of people who are doing it. College students and auto workers are following a teaching that changed the world. They are learning and living the message of the greatest sermon ever preached.

The Sermon on the Mount.

These famous words of Christ are controversial, often quoted, but rarely lived. G. K. Chesterton said Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.

Does Jesus really intend people to live out these hard teachings?

In twelve film segments, Randy Harris takes you into the teachings of Jesus that he says Jesus fully intends for us to obey and practice. Principles about integrity that’s not for sale, sexual purity that begins in the heart, and a life of obedience that’s a response to the profound grace of God.

This new DVD set is a training tool for people who want to live the way of Jesus. Centered on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the video includes 12 segments of 12-15 minutes each.

Order from Leafwood Publishers

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

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 Woman Disciple?

Gheorghe Tattarescu - Magdalena,

Gheorghe Tattarescu – Magdalena, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Received this question from a member of our church today about last night’s The Bible series segment (March 24).

Greg,

We watched the Bible last night. (My husband and I) were discussing Mary with the disciples. I can’t remember that. What passages in the Bible could I find that? (BTW, It was a great day on Sunday!!!)

Great question! I would say that not only were there women traveling with the disciples, but The Bible series didn’t portray enough of the women! There were actually several. Luke 8:1-3.

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Source: Biblegateway, NIV)
 
Pretty cool what we learn along the way! Let me know if there are any other questions.

Life Pyramid

Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jo...

Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John, affirmed as "beloved Son" by the Father, and blessed by the Holy Spirit's presence.

If you could boil down the teachings of Christ and all of Scripture to 10 words and put them in a pyramid, what would they be? Put one on top, two below that, then three, then four on bottom. Be creative, don’t cheat . . . much.

I’m going to pick a word to begin that means God, Christ, Spirit to cheat a little, but what I mean by that is what theologians have meant by it for centuries: that God is relating in three persons and out of that relationship we are created and invited into that communion.

Here’s my Life Pyramid that will continue to be revised. I’d be interested to see what you would put in your Life Pyramid.

Triune
Love  Sin
Justice   Rescue  Covenant
Transformation  Resurrection Creation  Kingdom