On the Air

Click here to listen to my first interview as an author: Sunday, 1/11/09 on Urban Literary Review (BlogTalkRadio) with L. Martin Johnson Pratt ( @iluvblackwomen on Twitter ).

Click here to listen to my Saturday, 7/11/09 interview with Evangelist Maureen Chen and her co-host Juergen on Kingdom Club on BlogTalkRadio.

Robin Tramble interviewed me on 7/14/09 on the subject "Why Forgiveness Tests Our Faith", during her awesome Dynamic Women of Faith Telesummit. (Recording issues required that the interview be split into two parts - Part II is here.)

My transformation from atheist to born-again Christian minister was fodder for a second 60-minute interview with Evangelist Maureen Chen and co-host Juergen Mair on Kingdom via the BlogTalkRadio network on Saturday, 7/25/09.

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Stepping into the Light: You’re a Christian, what now? is a great primer for the new adult Christian, as well as a devotional and inspiring Christian living guidebook.

Written by Diane L. Harris, the daughter of a South Bronx born Jew and a Jamaican-American ex-Episcopalian Jewish convert, Stepping into the Light is the fearless testimony of a former atheist who admits that while Christian salvation erases the threat of eternal damnation, becoming a Christian is not a magical pill for the ills of life on earth.

Combining curiosity, transparency, a gift for simplifying erudition and a palpable joy, Minister Diane explores the questions for God that inundated her as a “baby believer.”

With clarity and wielding a humble sense of humor, this woman of God leads the way to a down-to-earth relationship with a loving Messiah by answering such important questions as: What’s the meaning of salvation? Who do I become when I’m born again? Do I need to know about spiritual warfare? How is the Old Testament relevant to me as a Christian? What does the New Testament teach? What promises does God have for me? Can I contribute to the kingdom of God?

If you are a Christian, “baby believer” or not, who is asking yourself, “what now?” this book is written for you.

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Stepping into the Light: The Blog


Tithing and Dancing with the Stars

Are you ever confused about what it takes to be blessed by God? Do you wonder whether you should give up trying to figure out how to be a Christian when you hear theological arguments about whether tithing--or anything found in the Old Testament--is valid today?

The other day, a young mother wrote to me on Twitter, "Mrs. Harris, will you tell me the truth, do I need to tithe and go to church in order to be blessed?"

My answer is, first, what do you mean by blessed? If you mean "saved", the answer is "no". Probably that's not what my questioner meant, but I'd be negligent not to cover this anyway. The only requisite for salvation is your sincere acceptance of the fact that Jesus died to pay the price your your sins, and then to repent and ask God's forgiveness based on His sacrifice.

Now, do we need to obey Malachi 3:10 and tithe? Do we need to obey Hebrews 10:19-25 and worship in groups? Can we be blessed without tithing and going to church?

That question is kind of like asking "can't I have fun on the dance floor without any dance lessons?" Of course you can have fun without lessons--if fun is your only goal; however, if you're a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, you won't get very far unless you follow the lessons given by your professional dance partner.

When it comes to dancing, what is your goal: to have fun or to win Dancing with the Stars?

When it comes to being blessed, what is your goal? Are you hoping to gain material things--a new car, a few extra dollars? Are you hoping to gain favor on your job, or find a new friend? All of those things are wonderful and--surprise--you don't even have to be a Christian to be blessed like that. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

But for Christians, the Bible says "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33) In other words, getting material things that anyone can have should not be the priority of a follower of Christ. The blessings we seek first from God should be spiritual. We should consistently look for ways to draw ourselves closer to our God, because we may be saved by grace but we can only know the true joy of salvation by conforming ourselves to His will.

One day, during my tumultuous teenage years, I had done something to aggravate my dad, and it happened to be Friday--the day he gave me my weekly allowance. My dad was upset with something I had done and he called me ungrateful and threw the dollar bills at me. In turn, I erupted and tore the bills to pieces. Of course, I later picked them up, taped them back together, and spent them.

The point of telling this story is that the money from my dad was a blessing, no matter how I got it. But the fact that I got it in spite of not pleasing him obviously did not bring me any joy, because I still remember the unpleasantness of that day which was over thirty years ago.

We can accumulate all the tangible blessings we want with or without pleasing God. Things like money, cars, houses, clothes are fun, even necessary, but they are only a part of our days on earth. Psalm 103:15-16 says "As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows it over and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more."

When you days on earth are gone, and you return to Father God, He has to take you in if you have been saved, but do you want Him to do it regretfully because you were disobedient or joyfully because you lived to please Him?

In conclusion, let me just say that until you tithe you will never understand the power of obedience. Before I became a tither I could not understand for the life of me how anyone with as little as I could afford to tithe. It baffled me. But then I stepped out on faith and just did it, and wonder of wonders, I found that when I obey God and give back just that little ten percent of what He has given me in the first place, I lose nothing, but gain the joy of knowing that my Father is pleased with at least this one act of faith in His word.

Malachi 3:10 says "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (underlining mine) God is not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19). Try Him.

(Photo of Kristy Yamaguchi winning DWTS 2008)

(in my next post: the benefits of going to church)

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3 of My Favorite Blog Posts

After nearly 150 posts on this blog, I realize that I have a lot to say, and have only just scratched the surface since I began Stepping into the Light just over one year ago. I've also discovered over the last year how much I enjoy reading other people's blogs--before I started my own I had only read a handful of mostly professional bloggers as a volunteer blog commenter for The Borgen Project.

But enough beating around the bush. The point is, I've decided I'll take a break today and point my readers to some of my favorite blogs to read, by mentioning just three of my favorite blog posts from recent months, in no particular order:

"Why Are You Not Sure There is No God? (From a Copywriter's Standpoint)" by my adorably direct buddy Bingkee (Vivienne) who keeps a widely varied blog called "I Love/Hate America" which is about a Filipina immigrant's (Bingkee's) love-hate relationship with American culture.

"Coming Out of the Desert" by one of the most delightful, down-to-earth, uplifting people I've met online, Yvette Nietzen, who is always a breath of fresh air on her Fresh Wind Ministries blog.

"Childhood Abandonment, Drugs, Insane Asylum: It's All Good." John Shore is flat-out one of the best writers I've ever had the pleasure of reading. He's got a rich story to tell and a why-this-is-funny way of telling it. I don't want to jinx John, but I predict that one day one of his books will be a New York Times #1 bestseller. In the meantime, I'll keep going back to John's blog for a regular dose of righteous wit and humorous testifying. 

This was fun. Just the anticipation of the enjoyment some of you will get out of the posts I've shared is making me all tingly inside. Maybe I'll make this a monthly feature.

(Photograph by Michelle Dennis 2008)

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Unskilled Fan of God

Bless the name of the Lord
How merciful and endless
He's compassion in a low place
And breath to those without life

How best can I show
The world I really know Him?
Must I follow, allow in my breast
The boomerang of spurned love?

Tear yourself from wordly matters
Heart in tatters
Surrender it to Him

He'll repair the broken pieces
God releases
His awesome healing power

Bless the name of the Lord
Who accepts amateur praises
Gives them to the angels for perfecting
And pours them back into His people

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4 Best Bible Study Aids

When was the last time you read a Microsoft Word or Excel instruction manual--whether in book form or online--for entertainment purposes? Personally, the answer to that question is "never." But when I've work assignments that require new software skills, or when I needed to find out how to format my first book for printing, I was motivated enough to pore through the appropriate manuals in order to find the information I needed from them.

Bible study is similar. Before I was born again, I could no force my way through more than a few verses at a time without falling into a deep sleep. The fact that I knew it was an important book could not keep my attention, because there was nothing I thought I needed from it. Once I began a new life surrendered to Christ, I could not get enough of reading the Bible; suddenly, it really was the greatest story ever told to me.

Reading the Bible is important to allow the words into your memory and your spirit. But reading alone is not enough to enable a Christian to take God's word from the page into practice.

Once you have read through the Bible at least once, it's time to start studying in order to understand the who, what, why, and where behind each story related in the 66 inspired books, as well as to see how it's wisdom relates intimately to your own everyday life.

But how do you study? What tools help you to see the whole picture, not just the individual psalms, dusty proverbs or a collection or famous quotes?

  1. First, motivation or desire is paramount. Without a reason, you'll be drifting off to dreamland two pages into Genesis as I once did.
  2. Second, get your hands on a few key books to help you see the overarching themes of the Bible, its amazing continuity, the drama and help you see through the profound symbolism infusing so many of its pages. I'd be nuts (and remiss) not to recommend a copy of my own "Stepping into the Light" to start. Pages 73 through 192 walk you quickly through both the Old and New Testaments to do just what I've described above. I also recommend Dr. Chuck Missler's "Learn the Bible in 24 Hours" for a fascinating overview of the history and symbolism contained in the Bible. To round out the starter set of recommended books, I'd pick John MacArthur, Jr.'s "How to Get the Most from God's Word". There are many books of commentary and apologetics that are extremely good, but these three are a great start.
  3. Third, there are great resources today online. I'm very familiar with www.crosswalk.com, which enables the Bible study to look up topics or Bible quotes and choose to see many commentaries on each chapter and verse. Dr. Charles Stanley's In Touch Ministries ( www.intouch.org ) has a feature that allows the reader to read about the promises of God on many different subjects. This is a great help in focusing your studies. (There are also lots of crackpots online, so be sure you are familiar with the background of your online hosts before you swallow their meals whole.)
  4. Fourth, but certainly not least, get involved in a good group Bible study, preferably in a local church. The pastoral guidance and interactivity of a midweek church Bible study group will encourage your maturity in Christ and give you more to bring to your Sunday morning worship experience if you fully participate.

If you have any additional advice, especially for new Christians or beginning Bible students, please offer it here in a comment. We all need every help we can get to get all we can from God's word so that we can learn to truly do His will.

(Photograph by anonymous photographer in Bahrain)

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9 Worst Bible Study Habits

We can call ourselves Christians all we want, but without good Bible study habits, we never will be effective in the kingdom. The word "Christian" means "follower of Christ": we are to do the things that Jesus did and make the decisions He made. We can't be Christ-followers without as deep an understanding as we can get of who Christ is and why He is and what our God expects from our lives.

Before we get to good Bible study habits, let's look at 9 of the worst Bible study habits:

  1. Just reading or memorizing without critical thinking. Reading and memorizing the Bible are good habits, but they don't constitute study. Study is looking at what is behind the words on the page, why those words were chosen, what they mean. In my next post, I will list several aids for this.
  2. Reading without a plan. Just skipping around from one Bible book to another, a verse here, one there, will not provide a satisfying study experience. Later this week, I will do a post on suggested study plans.
  3. Getting only one viewpoint or commentary. Your pastor may be brilliant; you may have found a wonderful online study resource or a great Bible commentary book, but getting only one viewpoint--no matter how brilliant or well-intentioned--can easily lead to error. We need well-rounded study.
  4. Knocking God. If you are studying the Bible to find out what God did wrong, instead of what you need to do right, you might as well skip it. You'd be better off ignorant than disrespectful of your Creator.
  5. Thinking you have to "get it" the first time. I doubt that even the writers of the Bible thoroughly understood why the Holy Spirit was giving them the words they wrote down. Don't be so hard on yourself. Did you understand everything about biology or trigonometry the first time your teacher introduced it to you?
  6. Procrastination or not studying at all. This will get you nowhere.
  7. Confusing study with devotional time. We each need quiet time (preferably at the same time each day) with God--time to pray and to read His word, just to be with Him. This is necessary and helps to smooth the wrinkles in our lives. But quiet time is not study time. Study is very active.
  8. Having no specific time. Work, kids, television, the internet, church, friends--all of these (especially TV) will pull you away from time you should be studying God's word. If you don't schedule it, you won't do it.
  9. Not applying what you learn. This will be the subject of a later post, but let it suffice for now to say, if you're not planning to use it, what is the reason for learning what God has to say?

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Hold Out Until the Honeymoon

Chaos foments storms that knock even God's children off balance
While creativity snores like a passed out vagrant, chaos rises
Threatening damnation to its lovers
Tempting the called and delivered to draw up and die

The meek search for calm water sheltered by a certain rock
A pool fed by a word rushing out of the side of the mountain

They open their mouths and drink clumsily and wide-eyed
like men whose tongues had been singed to their desert-dried palates

They wait a while, letting the power soak them to life
Then they open their mouths again
And the holy words they've accepted by grace
Soar into the atmosphere like missiles aimed at the enemy

Hitting the storms of chaos in their eyes
The majestic words of Jesus calm all who watch
And hold out
Until creativity rises like a strong, beautiful, victorious bride
On her honeymoon with the welcoming king.

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Praying for Air France Flight 447

As we pray for the 228 people presumed lost on Air France flight 447 somewhere in the deep of the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and France, and for those who love them and are afraid to be left behind, remember that God calls us to pray for each of our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members who are lost because they don't know Jesus.

Flight 447 was cruising normally when something so sudden happened that the pilot had no time to make an emergency call. The plane has seemingly just disappeared. Was it wind and hail? Lightning?

Whatever happened, it was unforeseen. But those we care about who don't have Jesus in their hearts have an end in sight that is foretold in the Bible. When all of us are separated by Jesus at the time of judgment, Matthew 25:41 and other scriptures tell us that the unsaved (those who don't accept Christ's gift of grace) will be separated from God eternally. It wont be a sudden catastrophe like the fate of the lost Air France jet; it's been foretold and retold again and again.

Pray for and love those whose loss you will mourn eternally unless their hearts are moved to love God for the gift of grace.

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I Know I've Been Changed

What does it mean to be born again? It means I know I've been changed, and I know Jesus did it. He bore the pain of my rebirth, just as surely as my mother bore the pain of my natural birth.

I will sing with the angels and praise God forever, because Jesus came down from heaven and allowed His name to be mocked and His side to be pierced so I could drink the living water inside Him and be washed clean in His blood. I was on my way to a hot and dirty hell when He stooped low to lift me up with Him.

My eyes see the world in a different way than before my change--not through rose-colored glasses, but through love that fights to exist in spite of the evidence of the unloveable that I see around me.

My heart is so full of gratitude that I can't give up following Jesus even when my natural (wo)man wants to.

Jesus is my compass and joy is due north. Love and forgiveness surround me even when I'm in despair. He will never leave me nor forsake me. He never has.

I want that for you too.

("I Know I've Been Changed" sung by Pastor E. Dewey Smith, Jr. of Greater Travel Rest Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia)

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7 Reasons for Christians to Pray

  1. Pray for the people of God. Lift up those who belong to Him and call on God to forgive. Would you rather surround yourself with people on whom you've given up or with people for whom you have hope? (As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. -1 Samuel 12:23, NIV)
  2. Pray for those who have not accepted God in their hearts. Who are we not to pray for those who are where we once were? (Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. -2 Thessalonians 3:1, NIV)
  3. Pray for the sick, if you have faith that God is a healer. If you have no faith, leave the sick alone; no one needs faithless prayers. (And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. -James 5:15, NIV)
  4. Pray to let God know you love Him and want to be closer to Him. We can't take God for granted; even God needs to be told that we love Him, though He knows our hearts. God wants your sincere profession of love, so He may answer in kind. (Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer nor withheld his love from me! -Psalms 66:20, NIV)
  5. Pray when you are happy. Share your joy with the Lord who gave it to you. (My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you--I, whom you have redeemed. -Psalms 71:23, NIV)
  6. Pray when you feel helpless. Whatever trouble we bring to God, He will answer. Speak up, then listen for His response. Repeat until your trouble is over. (For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but has listened to his cry for help. -Psalms 22:24, NIV)
  7. Pray to forgive and to be forgiven. (For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. -Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)

When our prayers are in line with the will of God, and when they are offered in the name of Jesus, who sacrificed Himself so that God could hear us, those prayers unite us with God through both our suffering and our joy. He suffers and rejoices with us. (Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

(Photograph by Michael Murphy)

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