Five Areas Christians Need to Focus Their Attention Continually

Some days I laugh at myself and my blog. I look back through my posts and realize I have written similar articles over and over. One reason might be my senility, but I know there is a deeper truth. I tend to repeat myself in my blogs and my sermons because there are some fundamental areas we need to be investigating and seeking growth continually.

1. God’s Great Grace for Us. We fail. We sin. We fall short of the glory of God. We wander away from the truth, and we cross boundaries we never should have crossed. We do it, and those around us do it.

We need God’s grace and love to forgive us. We need the second chance in our hearts that only Christ can provide. We need to be continually be reminded of his grace to us and those around us. A believer lives camped out in the shadow of the cross, and there we must remain.

2. Your Walk of Faith with Jesus. Simply put – are you growing as a believer? Do you know more? Are you living more of what you are learning? Are you stretching yourself to apply God’s word and will into every aspect of your life?

Each believer needs to focus on the idea of growth. Developing spiritual knowledge, depth and lifestyle should be a priority to every believer.

3. Your Relationship with Those Closest to You. How is your Christian life affecting your marriage, parenting, and grandparenting? How is your faith reflected in your life as a child, a sibling, and relative?

Christians need to focus a fair amount of time on how they are living out their faith with those closest to them. Believers should strive to be the best family member possible.

4. The Need for a Body of Christ. The last 50 years have introduced us to a new concept in the life of faith. We now believe we can live outside of the body of believers. We think we can grow in our belief independent of other Christians. I am convinced this is a lie from the depths of hell.

Christians need to connect to other believers. They help us to grow, mature and learn. They push us to become more grace-filled. They help us to minister and use our gifts. I have yet to meet a single believer in my life who I would say is showing any growth in their faith who does not attend a Church meeting regularly.

5. Sharing Your Life and Faith. Each one of us is not just called to grow and become giants in the faith, but rather we are to share our life and faith with the world. We shine our light into the darkness of our world wherever God has placed us. This might happen as we share a little piece of the kingdom of God with a cup of cold water or in the moments of leading other people toward faith. We do not walk with God for merely selfish reasons.

These five topics reappear in a hundred ways in my blogs and my sermons. I have devoted my life to teaching and leading, little did I know how much I would talk about the same things. I guess when we have all perfected these I will move on to other topics. Until then, expect more of the same.

Why I Support Church Youth Group

Tonight our Church will kick off its Wednesday evening youth group for Jr. and Sr. High students. Somehow every year I end up being a part of the leadership of this area of ministry. I never wanted to work with teenagers, but each year God has other plans. That is not to say I do not support what the Church does each meeting, in fact, it is quite the opposite. I am a firm believer in the power of youth group.

1. It teaches our youth the Bible. I am not sure where else our young people are going to hear a passage from the Bible read and explained. There is Church on Sunday and hopefully family devotions, but that is about it for teens. I am not sure why anyone would want to miss this opportunity for their children.

2. It exposes our teens to Godly leaders. Each year I am impressed at how some of our adults give up their Wed. evening for 2-3 hours for the sake of our young adults. They model faith, service, and commitment to everyone who attends the group.

3. Our youth hear someone else saying what their parents say. I hope you teach the Bible at home and have spiritual discussions, but if you are the only voice your children hear then they are missing out. They are not getting wisdom from multiple voices that underline to them what you are trying to teach. Our young people need to hear that other people believe the same thing as their parents.

4. Our youth need to make connections with other Christians. This has been a huge struggle for my wife and me in raising our children. Our kids need to get connected to other Christian teens. I am not saying they need to have Christian friends exclusively, but they need to have some. They need to see and hear the faith of people their own age. This is why part of our youth group time is broken down into small groups so that they can talk through issues and get connected to like-minded believers.

5. It offers a spiritual recharge in the middle of the week. If your teen comes to Church on Sunday morning and that is all they receive, then they have to go six more days to hear anything about faith. We offer a chance for each teen to be reminded of the Bible and Godly living in the middle of the week. This will hopefully encourage them on their daily walk of faith in their school.

Every year when youth group kicks off, I am excited to see who shows up. I know that if this group of kids will continue to come, they will grow in some way spiritually over the next year. It may not be through my well-crafted lesson, but the kind words of a leader. It may come in our small group time as they hear the struggles of another teen in their faith. It may come in one of a dozen ways if they open themselves up to the possibilities.

I am thankful for youth group, and I pray God will do an amazing work again this school year.

Why Did I Wait So Long?

It was a private moment after her baptism, and she said something quietly to me as her pastor that I wasn’t expecting. She said, “Why did I wait so long to do that?”

She wasn’t asking for my opinion, in fact, I am not sure she was really asking me. It was more of something she was inquiring of herself and just said out loud.

It is a great question. Why do we wait so long to do something we know God wants us to do?

Why do we not make that confession of faith and get baptized?
Why do we hold onto grudges and never offer forgiveness?
Why do we not have that difficult talk with someone we love?
Why do we sweep our issues under the rug until it starts to destroy us?
Why do we put off going to marital counseling?
Why do we avoid taking steps toward spiritual wholeness?
Why do we wait so long to do the right thing?

I suppose each and every person has a little bit different answer to those questions. We wait because we are scared. We wait because we are unsure of the decision. We wait because of the influence of someone else. We wait because there is an unknown future that lies ahead. We wait because … the reasons are limitless.

Here is the thing I have learned over my ministry. Rarely, I mean it is extremely rare that someone acts on what they knew they should do and they regret it. The words, “Why did I wait” are never asked in the frustration of failure. They are posed in the light of success. Why did we put off something that was so helpful? Why did we not do the right thing years ago and get it off our mind?

The Bible’s focus is on the word “today.” Today is the day of salvation. We do not know what tomorrow brings. Act on that decision God has been lying on your heart for so long.

I would venture a guess that if you were to step up to the plate today and do the right thing, by tonight, you will lie down in bed and say, “Why did I wait so long to do that?”

Please Put the Camera Away

A friend of mine posted a picture yesterday that bothered me to my very core. I know his heart was right in one way, in another way it concerned me deeply. My pastor friend posted a picture of his worship team in a little back room of their Church praying together.

Several things bother me about this photo.

First, if everyone was praying why was your phone out? Why were you not focused on the prayer?

Second, why show me the picture? I think he wanted his Church to know how serious their worship team takes their responsibility. The leaders of his Church are not just performing on stage; they are trying to connect with God. And yet, this picture made even their prayer seem like a performance.

Social media provides us with an opportunity to share every aspect of our lives with the world. It seems like everyone is always performing for the camera and now it has invaded our spiritual life. Every week I see well-intentioned people posting pictures of their Church, a worship moment and even a prayer time. It appears that everyone wants me to know about their spiritual connection. I can only assume they want to inspire me to a greater level of holy living by showing me these pictures.

Honestly, this is not something new. In Jesus day, there was a group called the Pharisees. They loved to put their religion on display. They would offer long public prayers, makes sure everyone saw their giving and made themselves look sad, so others would know they were fasting.

I am convinced that if you were to have a one on one conversation with a Pharisees, they would be able to explain how their actions were meant to inspire others. They were showing off their faith to an unbelieving world. They wanted to be a light for others to follow to the truth about God. They could explain to you that they had pure motives in all their showy religion.

Jesus stands in contrast to this thinking in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells his followers to be careful about doing their acts of righteousness before men. He challenges them to give, to pray and to fast in secret (Matthew 6:1-18). Jesus says that God sees what is done in secret and that is where righteous acts should be performed.

I am so thankful that you want a living and vibrant faith. I am glad you want a deep connection with your Creator and Savior. I am thrilled that you are serving, praying, giving, reading, journaling, having a quiet time and growing deep roots in the faith. All I ask of you is that you put your camera away. You don’t need to post those pictures. Let your heart be open to God in secret, and he will reward what is done there.

Learning to Disagree

I often think of Jesus 12 followers we call the Disciples. Within that group are people of widely varied backgrounds and some obvious political differences. There was a zealot and a tax collector in the group. That means one man worked for Rome and another was trying to see them expelled from their land, even if force was needed. There were fisherman in the group who would have clearly hated the Roman taxes. It was a hodgepodge of backgrounds and viewpoints, and I am sure they did not agree with everything. Yet, they were all choosing to follow Jesus together.

Fast forward two thousand years and Jesus’ followers have not changed very much. Each week as I look out over the crowd I see people who have polar opposite political views. The collection of individuals who follow Jesus usually have very little in common other than their faith in Jesus.

I often wonder if this is by God’s design. He puts us together with people of different viewpoints so that we can learn to overcome our differences.

Yesterday I was listening to a little talk radio. After about 20 minutes I changed the channel because of the constant yelling and bickering back and forth. One person stood firm as if he had everything figured out completely and the other person felt the same way. Anger, yelling and general bad behavior is how these people treated their differences.

For Christians, there is another approach to disagreement other than getting louder. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. The Biblical idea of love is about action. In simple terms, I treat people who I disagree with the way I would want to be treated. One sign of spiritual maturity is how we handle the people we most adamantly do not agree with on a topic.

I think God brings together people of widely varied backgrounds to teach us how to be his followers during disagreements. What if we stopped yelling at that person and started praying for them? What if we stopped sharing political pieces meant to hurt and posted articles intended to help? What if we sat quietly and listened to the other side and then smiled and hugged the person? I do not think we will ever reach agreements with every other Christian, especially on political issues, but maybe we can learn to work together for the overall good of the kingdom, even if it is just that piece of the kingdom in our hearts.

Midwestern Jesus Talk About Possessions

I have spent the last two days in Indiana helping my mother. She is searching and sorting through all of my dad’s stuff in preparation for a city-wide garage sale in a couple of weeks. Mom has been working on this project all summer, and I have been called in to finish some things. My area of expertise is in the fishing, hunting and camping gear. Dad and I spent countless hours together in the woods or on the lake through the years. I know about most of what he owned and even a little history to many of the items.

My project started in the garage and proceeded to the shed. Boxes have been pulled down, and every container opened to examine the contents. During the project, I have been continually reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 6.

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. (20) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The once treasured items are now garage sale fodder. Items that my dad saved money to purchase are now worthless. Many of the things had the option of trash them or burn them. The years had not been kind to all the of father’s possessions. Here in the Midwest the moth and rust are not the problems. The moisture and mold slowly destroy what the mice and bugs do not use as food or a bathroom.

I can’t help but think about how much money was represented in each original purchase. Thousands of dollars will now be sold for hundreds. What was bought for hundreds will now go into the garbage.

I know my father had faith in God and was a generous man. He gave to the work of the Lord and people in need throughout his life. He gave above and beyond in his tithes and offering. I am not sad in my thinking about how my father had a hard heart. I just keep pondering the use of our money.

Here in the Midwest maybe Jesus would say to us, “Do not store up for yourself stuff where mold and mildew damage and where mice and ants destroy. Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven because if you don’t know, one day, all your precious items will end up in the trash or a yard sale. For wherever you store your stuff is, there your heart will be also.”

The Bonds of Brotherhood

I am a leader in a group of Churches known as the Independent Christian Churches. We do not call ourselves a denomination because we have no governing bodies beyond the local Church. We are mostly united around our Bible colleges. We call ourselves the Restoration movement as we try to restore New Testament Christianity. Each year we have one major conference that makes an effort to brings us all together or at least all our leaders.

When our Church leaders come together, they speak of themselves as a movement or most frequently, a brotherhood. In the history of our Churches, the preacher was originally called by the title of “Brother.” The man who leads the Church was “Brother Harris” and not a pastor.

This concept is rooted in several pieces of thinking. First, the Bible frequently refers to the people in the Church as brothers and sisters. We should call ourselves by Bible names. The second was the desire to see everyone in the Church as equals. No one is greater than another, and we are all God’s children. Finally, is the desire to see everyone we encounter as a part of my extended family in Christ.

While I have never been a huge fan of calling people brother or sister at Church, I do find the concept challenges me.

Do I view other Christians in my local Church as part of my family in Jesus? I do not just attend the same Church as people each Sunday; I am connected to those people. I have a bond in Christ that is as strong as my natural family, if not stronger. I work for unity and the betterment of all of those people, even when times with them is difficult.

Do I view other Christians across the globe as part of my family in Jesus? The people who follow Jesus in other states and other countries are part of my family too. What hurts and what helps them affects a member of my family. The bonds of faith extend across all racial, cultural and geographic boundaries.

Recently my wife was writing a card to my son as he went off to college. She took out all the old journals she kept of his childhood. She ran across a story from elementary school. The teachers had told the boys that when they were at recess, they needed to pick other people on their teams than another Harris boy. As my son relayed this story to us, he paused and said, “Don’t they understand that we are brothers?”

At a young age, my son saw the bonds of the family meant something. I wonder if believers see the family of God in the same way. Do we seek to connect with other Christians simply because of our faith in Jesus? Each one of us is a part of a family. In Christ, you are my brother and my sister. That connection is real, but do I recognize it?

Pay Attention to Specific Biblical Instructions

Through my years of reading the Bible and teaching it in many settings, I have concluded something about Biblical instructions. I believe when the Bible, especially the New Testament, includes specific guidelines to point us toward the things that do not come naturally.

The Bible instructs young men, married men and older men on particular ways of living. Young men are to live pure lives, and married men are to love sacrificially, and older men are to be worthy of respect. Each of these instructions is not ways we would normally behave. Our natural instincts are to want to live wild, to seek selfish gain and to let ourselves go. God’s word points us a different direction.

My encouragement when you are reading the Bible is to pay attention to the specific instructions. What does God say to someone in your situation? As a wife, a mother, a young man, as a single adult or simply as a Christian? Chances are, the actions listed are not how someone without God would act.

Perhaps God is pushing you to grow in ways that are not natural to you. Maybe the right thing to do is also the most difficult.

Fake Relationships and the Christian

Yesterday at church I announced the move to two worship programs this fall. Most people greeted the message with understanding as this has been a topic for several months. The biggest concern was stated in the words, “but we aren’t going to know everyone.”

This is the fourth time I have led a Church to add a second program. I helped a congregation years ago in Indiana move not only to two different times but also two different types of worship. Then later I helped the Church I led in Iowa add a second program two separate times over eight years as we continually changed facilities.

With every adjustment, I was greeted with the same basic question: How are we going to know everyone?

Today I want to respond to this issue on two different levels.

1.You don’t know everyone now. The numbers just don’t lie. The average person can know the name and a general piece of information about 175 people. An above average person can push that number up over 250, but the details begin to get sketchier. I have told people that I would bet them I could bring up several people in front of the congregation and a large group would have no idea who they were or anything about them. Knowing about people is not the same as having a meaningful relationship. In fact, it is often a fake substitute for the real thing.

2. The goal is not to know everyone. The Church was never designed to be a place where you knew one or two pieces of information about hundreds of people. The Church is a place where you are to develop deep, meaningful relationships with a few people. Jesus modeled this in his ministry. He had 12 disciples, and within them, he had three that he favored (Peter, James, and John) and of those three John calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

My goal is for everyone to know about several people. Then within that group, to develop a few people who are more than acquaintances. This is usually about 10-15 people. Out of that group, there are 2-5 people you are really close to you personally. These people know what makes you laugh and what makes you cry. They know what brings you joy and what hurts you. Then within the smaller circle, you have one or two people with whom you can bare your soul.

Sunday morning is a time in which the Church gathers to worship together and expose ourselves to some like-minded people. Connections will happen in smaller settings. They happen in Sunday School and small groups. They happen as we serve side by side with people in a ministry. They happen over conversations in the kitchen. They happen when we invite other people into our home.

Honestly, I am not the least bit concerned about you knowing everyone. This often gives the appearance of having relationships while no one ever really gets to know us. Knowing about people is not the same as knowing people. The Church is a place where real relationships exist between believers for the betterment of everyone.