The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the subject of today’s episode of The Bible Study Podcast. Today’s special guest is Chris McCurley, preaching minister for the Walnut Street Church of Christ in Dickson, Tennessee. This is the first episode in a new series in which Wes interviews preachers about what they have been studying and teaching lately.
Chris has been studying and preaching through the Sermon on the Mount and has a lot of excellent thoughts to share. Wes and Chris discuss why the Sermon on the Mount is relevant for Christians, what Chris hopes people have been applying to their lives, and what he would do differently if he was preaching this series again.
We hope this Bible study is a blessing to you as we all learn to love like Jesus.
Links and Resources:
Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)
Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast
WES: Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. I want to begin today by reading from Matthew 5:3‑12. Jesus says, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Today we’re going to begin a new series of podcasts in which I’m going to visit with some preacher friends and talk to them about “What are you studying? What are you preaching? What are you teaching?” And just get their thoughts about what they’re thinking about, what they’re studying, and what they’re preaching.
Today we’re going to talk to Chris McCurley about his current series on the Sermon on the Mount. I hope that this study helps you learn to love like Jesus.
Chris McCurley, welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study podcast. Thanks for being here, Brother.
CHRIS: Yeah, thank you. It’s a pleasure.
WES: I am really excited to have this conversation. I’ve been actually listening to some of your sermons, and I’m excited to talk about them. We’re doing this new series where we’re talking to preachers about what you’re studying, what you’re teaching, what you’re preaching, what you’re thinking about, and just having you on to tell us about that and just kind of talk through some of that. So tell us what you’ve been teaching lately.
CHRIS: Well, so we’re doing a series throughout the summer called Summer on the Mount. It’s a take on the Sermon on the Mount and just kind of walking through Jesus’ most famous sermon and trying to extrapolate some lessons from there that will help us be better disciples, and it’s been a great study. I actually did this study once before when I was at Oldham Lane, and, of course, you never preach it the same way twice, but every time I preach it, I find new ways to do so, and, also, it really just hits me between the eyes, and I hope it’s been beneficial for our people.
WES: Awesome. So, obviously, you’re not just recycling old sermons.
WES: But what initially made you want to dig into the Sermon on the Mount?
CHRIS: Well, you know, I try to break up the year in like different segments, and so you got the first of the year through kind of the winter months when you kind of have the winter doldrums. Here in Tennessee, you have four distinct seasons, and the winter is ‑‑ it’s rainy, it gets dark at like 4:30. I mean, it’s ‑‑ you kind of have those winter doldrums. And so I try to do something to ‑‑ for the first of the year through till about spring. And then in springtime, we have probably our best attendance because, you know, folks are ‑‑ summer’s not here yet, they’re still in the routine of school and all that. And so then, in the summertime, I try to do something to kind of keep the interest going because you’ve got people in and out and all that, and then, of course, I think, you know, the fall, or when school gets back in August is really kind of the prime time for churches because everybody’s starting to kind of get back in a routine and, you know, that’s when we have some of our highest attendance, as well.
So all that to be said, I was trying to do something for the summer that would be kind of exciting and a good study that would keep people connected in the summer, and I just felt like this was something that we could walk through. Obviously, it fits within nine or ten weeks, so that’s nice, too. But chapters 5 through 7, just kind of looking through those and seeing what we can get from them and how we can use them.
WES: So where are you right now in the series? I should know that, but I’m not sure.
CHRIS: So we’re in Matthew 7, and we’re kind of to the part in the sermon where Jesus answers the question, “So what?” Which any preacher worth his salt will do. I think every preacher has really not preached unless they ask and answer the question, “So what? So what does all this have to do with me?” And I think that’s where Jesus has come to in Matthew 7. He’s tying everything up and he’s putting a bow on it, and, of course, he’s going to finish it with the two builders and two foundations and basically asking and answering the question, “So what are you going to do with this? How are you going to apply this to your life?” And that’s where we’re at right now.
This coming Sunday we’ll be looking at the Golden Rule, and we’re going to look at kind of the antithesis to the Golden Rule, which is the Iron Rule, and then also the Silver Rule, which is still pretty good, but it’s not quite there. And a lot of religions have a Silver Rule; and the way of the world, of course, is the Iron Rule: Get you before you get me. But the Silver Rule, a lot of religious leaders in the past have had some form of that, but it’s not quite the Golden Rule because it’s still kind of self‑serving. And so how do those stack up? Where are we trying to get to when it comes to treating others the way we want to be treated?
WES: So as you’ve gone through ‑‑ I’m always interested, and I hope our listeners are interested, too, but I know I am, just from a personal standpoint, but as you’ve gone through the Sermon on the Mount and as you’ve studied through it ‑‑ and obviously this is a text that we’ve all studied through multiple times as preachers and, hopefully, as Christians, as well, but as you’ve gone through it, is there a particular part of the text, a particular passage that either when you’re preaching it you’ve kind of come back to over and over again, or maybe even just in your own mind, a part that has resonated with you more ‑‑ maybe more so than the rest of it, something that has really stuck with you or you’ve really been mulling over a lot since you started the series?
CHRIS: Yeah, no doubt the Beatitudes. You know, when you read through those Beatitudes ‑‑ I kind of always had this impression that you know, some people kind of naturally have these. I mean, I know of some people that are just naturally meek, and I wish I was just naturally meek, but I’m not, and so I really got to work at it. But when you look at the Beatitudes and you see the listings there, you see that they’re not random. You know, they all build on one another, because there’s nobody in ‑‑ there will be nobody in heaven who’s not first poor in spirit. And then recognizing your poverty of spirit, you spiritually mourn, and then that leads to, you know, repentance and, you know, meekness, gentleness, all those kind of things, so there’s a logical sequence. But, also, when you read through these, you realize nobody is naturally these things. Nobody. Not to the extent that Jesus is weighing them out. And so striving to live by that, I mean ‑‑ and, really, it’s a character description. It took me a long time to figure that out. Jesus’ favorite topic was a kingdom, and he’s saying, “Hey, the kingdom has come. It’s still coming, but it’s here in part and I’m bringing it, and here’s what it looks like to live as a kingdom citizen.”
And then, you know, I think ‑‑ you and I kind of talk about sermons a lot and I’ll hear one of yours, and I’ll say, “Hey, where did you get that?” Or “What do you think about me using this or that?” And I think we read the same things a lot, you know, because we talk about that, as well. But one thing that you said, and I actually used this ‑‑ you said it’s something like an announcement for the losers of society, and I took that and I kind of fleshed that out because when you think about it, who’s Jesus speaking to? I mean, there could not have been a more unpromising group of people. You know, I mean, they had no rights. They ‑‑ you know, their children had no rights. I mean, they could be tossed aside, murdered, whatever, without any reprisal. And it’s to this ragtag group of listeners that Jesus says, “Y’all are the winners,” you know? “Live like this, you win.” And I always tell our folks, read the Bible with the end in mind. Go ahead and turn to the back, and if you look at the back, you see that we win. And now go back and read everything in light of that. I love the Beatitudes.
WES: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, that’s part of the sermon that ‑‑ I’ve listened to bits and pieces from a couple of the beginning sermons in this series, and it’s funny you gave me credit because I don’t remember saying anything like that. But
I did listen to that part where you said that the Beatitudes were a winning formula for the losers of society, and I wrote that down because I thought, “That’s good.” So I wanted to bring that out because I do think that that is exactly what ‑‑ it’s this upside‑down kingdom idea that Jesus is presenting, and it’s something that, if we really take this to heart and we really think about it and apply it, it would change ‑‑ not only would it change the world, but it would change us. It would change even those of us that claim to be disciples. If we really believed this ‑‑ I mean, even if you just focus on the idea of “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” we don’t believe that. Like, I mean, I’ll stop and ask people all the time when I’m preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, particularly the Beatitudes ‑‑ we don’t believe that. I mean, I have a hard time believing that, that “Really, Jesus? Are you really telling me that this is a blessed life? The blessed life is being persecuted; the blessed life is suffering this way?” When you read Luke’s account of this sermon ‑‑ maybe it’s a different sermon; it’s certainly a similar sermon, but Luke’s account of the Beatitudes ‑‑ I mean, he doesn’t even say “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He just says, “Blessed are the poor,” and, I mean, it’s like really? Like this ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ is the blessed life? And it really ‑‑ it turns everything on its head. It turns everything upside down.
CHRIS: It does. We filter life through convenience, and so, for us, blessedness is “I’m healthy. I’ve got a great family who all have a great education and great jobs. My marriage is good. Everything is good. God has blessed me.” And I think that if you read through the Beatitudes, you kind of notice that, you know, God would say ‑‑ or Jesus, I should say, would say, “Yeah, that can be a form of blessing, no doubt. And certainly, you should ‑‑ you should praise God and thank God for those things. But did you thank God for the struggle? Did you thank God for the difficulty?” Because one of the things you learn from reading through the Sermon on the Mount is following Jesus will interfere with your life. It’s going to be costly. And it’s not about being a pretty good person that holds the door open for people or lets somebody cut in front of you in traffic. Jesus often said, in so many words, “You better count the cost because this could lead to your death. Just understand that.” And I think ‑‑ you know, we often ‑‑ my kids used to say, “Life’s not fair,” and I’m like, you know, “Whoever said life was fair?” Because Jesus certainly didn’t say life would be fair or that it would work out in your favor in this life, but certainly that it would in the next.
And so I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve tried to get across to our people is we have this sanitized, cauterized view of discipleship and, you know, you come to church and you ‑‑ you know, you don’t drink, you don’t cuss, you don’t run around with women that do, and you’re going to be fine. And when, in actuality, Jesus is saying discipleship begins with a funeral. You know, be ready to die. Die to yourself, but also, if you’re going to follow me, it may lead up a hill and on a cross, so…
WES: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And to think of that as being the blessed life, that ‑‑ you know, we tend to think of that as, “Well, wouldn’t that be unfortunate? You know, I guess I would do it if I had to. I guess I would suffer if I had to, but I sure hope I don’t have to.” But for us to adopt the mindset that says, “No, no, no, I would consider myself blessed to suffer for the sake of Christ” ‑‑ the early church rejoiced that they were counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus. And I just can’t help but think, and I reflect on it often, that when we think about persecution ‑‑ we often stand in the pulpit and we thank God ‑‑ “Thank you, God, that we are so blessed to live in
a place that’s comfortable and free and we don’t have to suffer persecution.” And it’s like, okay, I mean, I hate to not thank God for that, but Jesus never said blessed are the unpersecuted. Blessed ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ are those who don’t suffer. He said the opposite. He said ‑‑ he says, no, it’s our brothers and sisters in China that are worshiping in underground churches, they’re the blessed ones.
WES: It’s our brothers and sisters in North Korea that have to bury their Bible in the yard and dig it up to read it. They’re the blessed ones. And we ought to be thanking God that he’s blessing them that way, praying for the boldness that we would be willing to follow Jesus even in such circumstances, and preparing ourselves to count ourselves blessed if we do suffer that way.
CHRIS: No doubt. I cross‑referenced James when he says the prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. He compares the prayer of a righteous man ‑‑ he compares that to ‑‑ or he joins that with Elijah and, you know, he didn’t pray for national security. He prayed that God punish the nation because that would bring them back into compliance. And, you know, I talk about how many times we stand ‑‑ you know, “God, thank you that we can worship in this country, you know, free of reprisal and all that kind of stuff,” which I think is good. I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing and we shouldn’t pray that. I’m just saying it’s interesting how you see this different take on it when you study the words of Jesus. But also, you know, when James makes that reference, you look at what Elijah did, and you’re like, wow, you know, this is a whole different deal. “Don’t let it rain. We don’t need crops. We don’t need convenience. We need to suffer,” and I’m like, wow. I’m not encouraging anybody to pray that, but, you know, it makes you wonder sometimes if maybe a dose of persecution is what we need. I don’t know.
WES: Yeah. Yeah, no doubt. Let me ask you this. You touched on it earlier. You said we were reading the same things. So are there any additional books or any additional resources that you’ve studied or that you would recommend for others to better understand the Sermon on the Mount?
CHRIS: Well, I mean, there are two books that I think every preacher should have in their library, and “The Words and Works of Jesus Christ” by J. Dwight Pentecost, and “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” by Alfred Edersheim. Those two books are a little hard to read, but, man, they just shed so much context and a backlight on everything that’s going on in the gospels, but, you know, especially the Sermon on the Mount. I love “The King Jesus Gospel” by Scot McKnight.
WES: Yeah, me too.
CHRIS: Great book. I think I’m like everybody right now reading “Salvation by Allegiance Alone,” which is Matthew Bates, which has been good. “Accidental Pharisees,” Larry Osborne, I read recently that kind of help with all of this. None of those are specifically about the Sermon on the Mount, but they have helped me in kind of ‑‑ I don’t know, getting a behind‑the‑scenes look at some of this because a lot of Jesus’ words were aimed at potential followers, but a lot of those words were aimed at the Pharisees ‑‑ or at least he propped them up as an example of what not to do. And so, you know, like “Accidental Pharisees,” for instance, is one that was good for me because it made me realize, you know, I’m striving to be a disciple but it’s very easy for me to be a Pharisee, and, you know, in the church we’re all concerned about being liberal. Nobody’s concerned about being a Pharisee, it doesn’t seem like it. It’s kind of like, well, at least, you know, you’re erring towards conservativism, if that’s the case. No, they’re both ditches. You don’t want to be in either one of those.
But those are just some that have helped me. How about you?
WES: Oh, that’s great. No, I’m going to take note of some of those. I haven’t read some of those, but I’m ‑‑ like you, I’m reading ‑‑ “The King Jesus Gospel” is fantastic, but I’m reading Matthew Bates’ book, “Salvation by Allegiance Alone.” He has another one out that is ‑‑ I can’t remember the name of it. I’m going to pick that one up next, but The Gospel Explained or ‑‑ I forget exactly the title of that one, but I want to check that one out, as well. And I just ‑‑ I think you’re exactly right. I think that just getting that big‑picture view of what does it mean to be a disciple? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does it even mean to ‑‑ as Bates talks about, what does it mean to have faith in Jesus? And it really gets to ‑‑ in fact, his book was really interesting on this point because he’s making the point that we almost disregard the gospel accounts and everything that Jesus says in favor of what Paul says about salvation. So Jesus is all about following me, like actually doing these things, living this way. This is a new life that you have to adapt to. He ends the Sermon on the Mount by saying listen to my words and then do them and you’ll be like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. And so he’s telling them to actually do something. And then we get to Paul and we say, well, I guess what Paul is really saying is you don’t have to do anything, that really following Jesus is just believing in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, and then you don’t actually have to do anything. It’s fine if you do, but you don’t really have to do it. And it’s like, no, no, no, in order to reconcile these two things, you have to understand that faith is commitment, faith is allegiance, it’s loyalty ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ to a king, and of course that means be obedient. I think in churches of Christ, we’ve had the tendency, I think rightfully so, to emphasize that faith is more than just an intellectual pursuit. It’s more than just giving a sense of truth. But we’ve tended to stop the ‑‑ what it means to be obedient or what it means to have faith at baptism and maybe live faithfully, but by that, a lot of times we mean go to church on Sundays.
WES: We didn’t necessarily mean live out the Sermon on the Mount. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and give your tunic. All of these things are what it looks like, in practical terms, to have faith in King Jesus.
CHRIS: Absolutely. And I did tell our folks ‑‑ and I’ve tried to emphasize this throughout the series, is that ‑‑ you talked a moment ago about persecution, as well, and one of the things that I’ve tried to reiterate with them is, you know, we are different from the standpoint that perhaps we’re not going to face ‑‑ I mean, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to face death or even persecution. Okay, maybe some mocking or ridicule here and there for your faith, but, I mean, you’re probably not going to face anything like what people did when they were following Jesus, in terms of persecution. So I don’t think the question for us so much living in this day and age is, you know, are you willing to die for Jesus, but just are you willing to live for Him? Because I think that’s the key, and I think that’s where, you know, we miss it because there are so many things vying for our time, and maybe that’s more of a distraction than anything else, is the fact that just life gets in the way, and are you willing to live for Him? Are you willing to give the first allegiance to Him above all else? And that’s kind of where we have landed on that. So I do think, you know, the question for us is a little different. You know, I think when Jesus saw a crowd, it was basically, are you willing to die for me? And, for us, you know, that’s probably not the pertinent question, really, but are you willing to live for me?
WES: Yeah. Yeah, no doubt. So before we take a little break, let me ask you this question real personally. How has this study changed you? How has gone through the ‑‑ you said in the very beginning that it hits you between the eyes, so how has it changed you?
CHRIS: Well, it’s helped tremendously because, you know, I left work after 14 years that ‑‑ I could have retired in Abilene. I loved it there. I raised my family there. We were happy there. Our two girls were up in this area, along with our families, and so, you know, we had always said if we ever get the opportunity when the kids are all gone ‑‑ we can do whatever we want. We’re empty nesters. We can live anywhere. Maybe that’s the time to maybe start somewhere else fresh, and so this opportunity came along. We’re so glad we took it, but we still really miss Abilene. And, you know, I moved here in November without my wife. She had to finish up at ACU until May, so I was here for six months without her. So I did a lot of studying and a lot of reflecting, and during that time I was preparing for this series. And as you read through that and you prepare for this series, you ‑‑ I don’t know. I’m probably overstating it and I’m being really dramatic, but, you know, when you’re by yourself, it’s getting dark at 4:30, you know, it’s raining every day ‑‑ I think I felt like I moved to Seattle when I first got here ‑‑ but you’re pondering things and you’re thinking about life because you have a lot of time in the evenings to just sit and think. And I’m looking through the Sermon on the Mount, and I’m reading through it and I’m studying for it, and I’m just thinking, wow, you know, like if I didn’t have my wife if I didn’t have my kids ‑‑ because at that time I didn’t, but I could ‑‑ I was going to see them again. But if I didn’t have all that, where would I be? Would Jesus be enough? Would that be enough for me? As difficult as that would be, would that be enough? And so I really started contemplating that question and then looking through this sermon and going, yeah, I mean, you know, I’m not living like this like I want to, you know. And so, I mean, I internalized it a lot more because it was like I was on a six‑month retreat, you know, and I had an opportunity to really reflect and ‑‑ yeah, I mean, it bothered me. I think if you’re not humbly troubled by the Bible, that’s a problem anyway, and I was certainly humbly troubled by what I was reading there, and I guess just where I was at in life probably had a lot to do with that, as well.
WES: Yeah, and that’s a good word, humbly troubled. I like that. I’m going to start a series next month about the parables of Jesus, and I’m calling it “Uncomfortable.”
CHRIS: Oh, I love it.
WES: And I think so often we get so familiar with the texts of the New Testament, particularly passages like the Sermon on the Mount or the parables of Jesus, that they don’t discomfort us the way that they should. And you’re right; we should be humbly troubled.
Let’s take a little break.
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WES: Okay, Chris. Well, this has been a really rich conversation already. I want to get into sort of what you hope the congregation is getting out of these lessons. That’s the first question I have. But I want to read ‑‑ I want to read some of the things that I wrote down that I really like, some of your quotes from one of your lessons. You said what the world ‑‑ you’re obviously talking about salt and light. “What the world needs is a salt‑and‑light revolution.” I love that. Here’s one. You called the Beatitudes “a winning formula for the losers of society.” We talked about that in the first half. And you called it a “declaration of dependence.” So good.
And then this one ‑‑ I think people will like this one ‑‑ or I think everybody needs this one, whether they’ll like it or not. It says, “If there is any hope for this world at all, it’s going to be found in you. You are the difference maker, but you have got to get out of the salt shaker and into the soup. You lose your saltiness, you lose your distinctiveness, you lose your usefulness when you stay in the shaker and sit behind your computer and rail on the world and all of its problems.” So good, so good.
CHRIS: Yeah. Thank you.
WES: Hits all of us right between the eyes. So what is it that you hope people are getting out of these lessons, maybe things that they didn’t know before or hadn’t thought of before?
CHRIS: Well, I think the biggest thing is understanding that you know, this is ‑‑ Jesus ‑‑ it’s going to disrupt your life. If you’re living this way, it’s going to be a disruption to your life, and that’s okay. I think too often we want discipleship to be easy and we want it to be convenient, and it’s just probably not going to be. I mean, one of the most frustrating things, as a minister, is seeing people bow out early, flash‑in‑the‑pan Christians. They start off so well and they burst out of the starting blocks and they’re running so well, and just the slightest thing throws them off course and they’re done.
And I’ve said it before, you know, you can talk to Christians ‑‑ when it comes to politics, I mean, they’ll vote for a man or a woman who maybe only represents them in one area, and maybe they’re just despicable human beings in every other area, but hey, at least they stand with me on that one area. But when it comes to church, everything’s got to be in alignment. Everything’s got to be right and everything’s got to be good or I’m outta here, you know? And it’s not easy. It’s not easy following other people. It’s not easy, you know, being a disciple and being a part of his church, because where you have people, you have problems. And I just think I want people to understand that we’re all in this together. Even when it’s messy, we’re all in this together. It’s not convenient always, and it’s always going to interfere with your life, but that’s okay because it should. And I just think we’re all limping disciples, right? And we’re all kind of, you know, trying to get to heaven on two flat tires sometimes, and so how do we make it through this life? How do we live life down here that matters up there? And I think that that’s my responsibility, as your minister, is to help you, you know, maybe come to see that this is bigger than you and it’s bigger than your convenience.
WES: Yeah. I remember a conversation that I had with a guy one time. I think about it all the time. I’ve talked about it a lot, too. Somebody that I knew really well and we were talking about his baptism because he was wanting to get baptized, and he said, “Now, listen, I know I need to get baptized and I know I need to start coming to church more. What else? Is there anything else? I think that’s pretty much it, right?” And so, I mean, it was just ‑‑ it was just like this idea that that’s all there really is to be a Christian, is get baptized and go to church.
And it’s like ‑‑ I told him, I said, “No, no, no, everything changes. Everything changes.”
WES: From this point on, everything changes. Not just what you’re doing, but why you’re doing what you’re doing. Everything changes. It turns your world upside down, and I think you’re so right.
So let’s move on from like the ‑‑ what do you hope people see or understand or know to what do you hope people are actually doing differently? How do you hope that people are applying these lessons? What would you see as a success? If somebody came up and said, “Hey, Chris, you know, this week I did this, that I hadn’t been doing before” ‑‑ what would you see as a successful application of these lessons?
CHRIS: Yeah. Well, I mean, I would hope that they’re being a mirror because I think that’s what we were made for, is to mirror, to reflect the image of God, the one who made us. And so I would hope that they’re being a mirror and reflecting the image of the Almighty God in the world around us. And, you know, this salt‑and‑light revolution, getting out of the salt shaker and getting into the soup, and ‑‑ you know, I said it in that lesson. I don’t like the soup, necessarily. There are things in there I don’t like. There’s celery and, you know, stuff like that. But, you know, when salt gets in soup, it’s hot but it dissolves and it changes the flavor of the soup, and I would hope that our folks are doing that, that they’re going out in our community and they’re making a difference, that people are seeing them and saying, you know, “I don’t know what they have, but I want that.”
Dickson is a small community and we’re a downtown congregation, so there’s a lot happening just right around us, and Walnut Street has always had a really solid reputation as being a strong church, and so I hope that our folks will use that to their advantage and go out and ‑‑ we’ve kind of been for a church that does stuff and helps people, and I hope that we will only take that and ride it and make it even bigger. So that’s some of the things that we’ve talked about is, you know, none of this does any good if it stays within these four walls. You know, I think we’ve been long on knowledge and short on practice when it comes to, you know, the church, and so I tell our folks all the time, it doesn’t matter what you know if you don’t do something with what you know. I mean, at some point, that head knowledge has to travel 18 inches down to your heart and turn into hard action. And so I’m hoping that our folks will take it and use it, and otherwise ‑‑ you know, you weren’t saved to sit, you weren’t saved to soak, and you weren’t saved to sour.
You know, what you said a while ago is so true because baptism ‑‑ we kind of see that as the finishing line. Okay, you know, made it. I’m good, I’m in, and I’ve got my fire insurance policy. And I really feel like ‑‑ repentance even, before that ‑‑ I mean, that’s a radical reprioritization of life’s values effective immediately, and baptism is just the starting line. You know, that’s just where it all kind of kicks off. So, you know, you’re exactly right; this is an all‑in proposition.
WES: Yeah. I mean, we tend to think, when we talk ‑‑ even me, when you say the word “repentance,” I tend to think about repenting of sins of ‑‑ as we say, sins of commission. I’m repenting of the things that I’ve done that I shouldn’t do, so I need to stop doing those bad things. But we also repent of the sins of omission. We repent of not being the image‑bearers of God that we’re supposed to be. We repent of not being, not doing, not going. And if we truly are repenting people, it’s not just about, as you said earlier, you know, stop drinking and smoking and chewing and going with girls who do ‑‑ you know, it’s not, you know, just stopping those things. It is becoming proactive and going out and being the kingdom of God, going out and living out the Sermon on the Mount in our daily lives.
So yeah, I love that idea of getting out of the salt shaker and into the soup, and I love what you talked about in that sermon, just about the fear of getting lost, the fear of it being hard, being hot, being things that we don’t like. And you got pretty specific about some of those things in how we look at the culture and we think, oh, it’s just so bad. But we sit back and we just wring our hands and we just ‑‑ we get upset and we, as you said, get on our computers and we rail against the world rather than, well, if it’s getting so bad out there, it’s our responsibility ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ to be in the community.
CHRIS: Yeah. And I always go back to Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and I ask our folks, “Do you believe this?” “Oh, yeah. Yeah. Amen. We believe that.” Okay. Well, not everybody does. So, like, do you believe that God created everything or everything happened by accident? You can’t be surprised when people have a different worldview than you when they don’t believe this basic tenet of Genesis 1:1. And so rather than spewing venom and being so caustic, understand they’re coming from ‑‑ they’re running a different race than you are. They’re coming from a whole different starting point and, therefore, maybe what they need is some compassion mixed with our conviction and try to get them to understand kind of better where we’re coming from. And I know this: Once you slam a door, it’s hard to get it back open, but if you can at least even leave it somewhat cracked ‑‑ but, you know, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. If we believe that, that shapes our worldview. Everything you believe about that one statement says everything about you going forward. But it shouldn’t surprise us if somebody else doesn’t believe that, that they don’t share our worldview, right? And I think we believe that it’s the government’s job to uphold our Christian values and all that, and so when they don’t, we get angry and all that. You know, it’s our responsibility, ultimately, to be the hands and the feet of Jesus and to live out this upside‑down kingdom, and, you know, he’s counting on us to do that.
WES: Yeah. Well, a lot of it comes back ‑‑ I keep thinking of different passages in the Sermon on the Mount, that keep coming to my mind as we talk about this, but it comes to mind Jesus saying, about judging, don’t judge others. By the same judgment that you judge, you will be judged. And he says we have to take the beam or the log out of our eye before we take the speck out of someone else’s. But so often ‑‑ I grew up in different churches and around different Christians that ‑‑ when that passage got quoted, we were so quick to say, “Oh, yeah, but it doesn’t mean ‑‑ it really doesn’t mean don’t judge. You know, there is a right kind of judging,” and there’s a lot of truth to that. There is a right kind ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ of judging and there is a judgment that we should exercise, but Jesus did say that; it does mean something.
WES: So often we just want to throw it out and say, “Well, it’s not what other people say that it is.” Okay, but wait. There is a wrongness to our just sitting back and being critics, especially being critics of what other people are doing and failing to recognize where we’re falling short. We’ve got to start here and make the changes in us that we need to make rather than just being ‑‑ I keep thinking about the two Muppets, the old Muppets that sit up and they’re just critics of everything.
CHRIS: Stadler and Wilhelm, yeah.
WES: Yeah. You know, but that’s how, so often, we are as Christians, we just sit back and poke at what everybody else is doing rather than saying, “Where am I falling short? What do I need to change? What do I need to do differently? And if I was doing these things differently, would people see my good works and give glory to my Father who’s in heaven?” Because that’s what it is to be salt and light.
CHRIS: Yeah. You know, I was a former coach, and so I raised my son to be a coach on the field because I thought he would play for me someday, and then I got into ministry and ruined that. But, you know, I used to tell him, I said, when you walk off that field, if you guys lose, just do your best to make sure that you weren’t the reason. You know, if a costly penalty, whatever it is ‑‑ you know, I mean, you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. But I tell you, you don’t ‑‑ hustle never has a bad day. You can always hustle. You can always play hard and all that. So when you walk off that field, make sure that you gave everything you had, win or lose, and that way you can sleep at night. And I kind of feel the same way about that in discipleship, is that you know, I ‑‑ other people don’t dictate who I’m supposed to be. Jesus does. And so, therefore, I’m striving to be like him. I’m striving to be someone who follows in his footsteps and lives the life he would have me live and glorify him in everything that I do. And if I do that, win or lose, people or situations, whatever the outcome, I have done all that I can do and I can sleep at night. And I think that the most important thing is that some people are going to respond positively, some are going to respond negatively, but who they are doesn’t dictate who I’m supposed to be in those situations. I just give it my all the time.
WES: Yeah, that’s right. We have a saying that we say every night at my house before we say our prayers and one of those ‑‑ part of it is that we say, “Do what’s right no matter what,” and we come back to that saying all the time, that there’s no good reason to do a bad thing. It doesn’t matter ‑‑ so if they come to me and say, “Well, but they were doing this,” or, “My friends were doing that,” or, “This was going on,” or, “I was having a bad day,” or whatever it is, there’s no good excuse to do a bad thing. You do what’s right no matter what anybody else is doing. You follow Jesus no matter what anybody else says or does.
And when we sort of take those excuses off the table and we say, I’ve got to be doing what I’m called to do ‑‑ and I think that the Sermon on the Mount, in particular, especially as we think about our culture and this sort of moment that we’re living in ‑‑ I’ve heard a lot of people that have criticized those that encourage kindness, love, the Fruit of the Spirit. And so those preachers, ministers, theologians that are encouraging people, encouraging Christians to live like Christians, to be kind, to be gracious, so many people say, “Yes, that works sometimes,” or, “That’s the right response sometimes, but we’re in a moment right now where we can’t afford to be kind. We can’t afford to be loving. We’ve got to be as harsh with the other side,” whatever the other side is, “as they are with us. We’ve got to fight fire with fire.” And it’s like, well, wait. Number one, the context in which Jesus was speaking was way more hostile than the context ‑‑
WES: ‑‑ in which we find ourselves. But, number two, there’s never a time when the teachings of Jesus are irrelevant and they don’t apply to us.
CHRIS: I agree. And, you know, in sports we talk about the eye test. That doesn’t pass the eye test. Just look around you. That’s not working. It doesn’t take long. Just do a cursory glance at society. Get on Twitter. Twitter’s a bathroom wall, and all Twitter is, “You’re an idiot.” “No, you’re an idiot.” I mean, just look around you. It’s not working. And so you can say all you want, “Well, you know, we’ve got to hit it head‑on and we’ve got to be ‑‑ you know, we’ve got to be harsher and stricter because, you know, Jesus turned over tables and all that.” Well, you’re not Jesus, okay?
WES: That’s right.
CHRIS: So let’s stop saying that. But at the same time, I mean, it just doesn’t work, and I don’t think we need to keep doing something that doesn’t work. Not to mention, which is the most important part of this, I’m going to be like Jesus no matter what. And you can decide if that works for you or not, but I’m going to do that because I know that that’s the right thing. And I do know this: It’s never Christian to be unchristian, ever. So I’m just going to ‑‑ I think that’s the number one rule of Christianity, isn’t it? Don’t be a jerk. I think ‑‑ I don’t know if Jesus ‑‑
CHRIS: ‑‑ said that, but I think ‑‑ I think that’s the number one rule of a Christian is just don’t be a jerk.
WES: Amen. Let me ask you this, Chris. I know that I’ve never preached a single sermon where I was completely satisfied with it, where I thought I’d said everything that I wanted to say in the way that I wanted to say it. Every time I preach and every time I finish a series, I think, oh, I should have said this or I should have emphasized that a little bit more, or if I had to do it over again, I might say it this way. So as you think back on this series, is there anything that, if you had to say it over again, you might say it a little differently, or something that you would emphasize next time that you didn’t emphasize this time?
CHRIS: Yeah, I think so. I think, you know, you kind of ‑‑ when you preach it the first time ‑‑ I wouldn’t say you hold back a little bit, but you’re cautious or careful about the way that you, you know, kind of present certain things. And, you know, I’m still new here, so, I mean, there’s that, but that doesn’t mean you’re not convicted. That doesn’t mean that you don’t present the truth the way it is. But I think if I were to do it again, I would certainly probably emphasize even more ‑‑ maybe even do an extra lesson on just the fact that this is going to ‑‑ this doesn’t translate in the world around you, okay? Just understand that. This doesn’t translate to the world around you. It puts you at odds with the world because the kingdom’s different, and being a kingdom citizen is going to make it different for you, so I think I would probably emphasize that. I think our people know that, but I think there’s this tendency for us to either want to fall on one of the two extremes. We either want to just be loving and kind and everybody like us because we’re a child of God and we just show love to everyone, but then the other extreme is that we just are ‑‑ like you said a while ago, we’re harsh and we’re strict because we feel that’s what the world needs right now. And I tell our folks, if everybody hates us, you know, in the community ‑‑ if everybody hates us, something’s wrong. We’re not doing it right. If everybody hates us, something’s wrong. But if everybody loves us, something’s probably wrong.
WES: That’s right.
CHRIS: Jesus was always Jesus, but some loved him and some hung him on a cross, so I think I would probably emphasize that more. But I’m glad you said what you did because I don’t ever feel like I’ve hit a home run. I never feel like I walked out of the pulpit going, yep, good job, Chris, that’s the way to hit ’em. But I never have, and I guess if I ever do, I’m going to probably be scared, so…
WES: I hear you. I hear you. I love what you said about the fact that we have to do this, what Jesus teaches us to do. We have to build our lives or build our houses on this rock. We have to follow these teachings regardless of what anybody’s response to them is. And some people’s responses will be positive, and other people’s responses will be negative, and Jesus told his disciples that they’re going to hate you. They’re going to despise you. If they hated me, they’re going to hate you. The world, and those that reject the rule and reign of God, are going to hate anyone who walks in the light.
My son ‑‑ I hesitate to share what my son said to me, but he said to me the other day, “Dad, this isn’t the way the world works. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there.” And I think that, unfortunately, I’ve failed to emphasize that exact point. I think that sometimes he’s under the impression that what I’m saying is, if we do things Jesus’ way, things will be easy for us or people will treat us well or people will like us, and that’s not what I’m saying. In fact, it’s often the exact opposite. Do things Jesus’ way and it’ll get you killed, but you will be raised to live forever, and the retirement benefits are way better than anything that you’ll get anywhere else.
CHRIS: No doubt. I love that. Yes. And I think that you know, that’s what’s missing, right? That’s the missing piece when it comes ‑‑ I know I’m guilty of that. I tend to think, you know, I’m serving God, I’m doing what he would have me to do; therefore, everything’s going to work out, everything’s going to be fine. And then, you know, you come up with a brain tumor, or you have cancer or whatever, and, you know, it just ‑‑ it doesn’t seem to make sense. But I think that’s because we ‑‑ I think we’ve gotten so comfortable here that it’s difficult for us to look there. And, you know, Jimmy Gibbon had always told me, you keep two feet on the ground but two eyes towards heaven, and I think it’s hard to anticipate heaven when you’ve created it right here on earth, and I know I have been guilty of that. I think a lot of people have, as well. You mentioned it right from the beginning. I feel like a hypocrite reading some of these passages and acting like I’m living them, or singing, you know, “I’m satisfied with just a cottage below.” I’m not, and I don’t feel good singing that.
But I think getting people to see that if it helps you draw closer to Christ and get to heaven, then it’s worth it, whatever that is. Persecution, whatever suffering, whatever it is, it’s all fuel. If it gets you to where you need to be, then it was all worth it. And that’s hard. It’s hard to accept. But I think that’s where I’m trying to come to in my life is that you know, it’s all fuel. Whatever it takes to get me there, it’s going to be worth it.
WES: Yeah, no doubt. Well, I encourage people to go to your church’s website ‑‑ I’ll link it in the show notes ‑‑ Walnut Street Church of Christ in Dickson, Tennessee, and listen to your sermon, your Summer on the Mount.
But before we wrap up, what are you teaching next? What’s coming up? What are you preparing for?
CHRIS: Yeah. So I’m waiting on you to get done because I’m just going to copy whatever sermon series you’re doing, and I’m going to do that one here. I’m doing WWJU, What Would Jesus Undo? And, you know, there was a book that came out ‑‑ I don’t know if you do this, but I’ll come up with sermon titles ‑‑ I like to do sermon titles that are catchy and that kind of hook people. And I’ll do them, and then I’ll, like, Google it, and like there’s 50,000 sermons with that title, you know?
WES: That’s right.
CHRIS: I mean, you think, wow, I was so inventive here. Look at how creative I am, and then ‑‑ but anyway, there was actually ‑‑ after I came up with this title of this series, I noticed there was a book called WW ‑‑ well, it wasn’t WWJU. It was just called “What Would Jesus Undo?” And I ordered the book, and I’ll be honest with you, it didn’t help me like I wanted it to, but ‑‑ so I had to go back to the drawing board and just do it from different passages of scripture. But we’re going to look at some of the things that Jesus would undo. We talk about what would Jesus do. What would he undo? Apathy, the curse, condemnation. Not only what would he undo, but what did he undo? And so that’s going to be the next teaching.
And then on Sunday nights we’re kind of engaged in a series, “Preaching what we Practice,” looking at the why behind the what. I think it’s easy for us to get kind of settled on “This is what we do.” Okay. Well, why do you do that? Because there was meant to be a spirit behind that. What’s the reasoning? So that’s what we’re doing next.
WES: Yeah, that’s great. That’s fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. Thank you for this conversation and for all the work you’re doing in the kingdom.
CHRIS: Yeah, thank you, Wes. I enjoyed it, and I appreciate you, Brother.
WES: You, too.
Thank you so much for listening to the Radically Christian Bible study podcast. If you have just a moment, we would love for you to rate and review the podcast on iTunes, or wherever you’re listening. It really does help people find this content. I also want to thank the guests who join me each week; Travis Pauley, who edits this podcast; Beth Tabor, who often volunteers her time to transcribe it; and our whole McDermott Road church family, who make it possible for us to provide this Bible study for you. Now let’s go out and love like Jesus.