Moments to Love

Valentines’ day is a commercial holiday designed to sell cards, flowers, jewelry, and gifts. It is an artificial holiday that doesn’t mean anything.

Maybe.

It might also be an opportunity for you to express your love for your spouse. You can look beyond the noise and see this as the perfect day to communicate your feelings. After all, if you are like most married couples, you probably do not show your love enough.

You can treat this as just any old day and grumble against all things Valentine-related.

Or not.

Life By a Thousand Smiles

Our men’s group at Church discussed how much every individual needs encouragement. There is so much positive power in our words and even in the smallest actions.    

Then one of the men, also named Matt, said, “Instead of death by a thousand cuts, we could look at it as life by a thousand smiles.”

What if you thought that every smile, handshake, hug, and the kind word was an action breathing life into the recipient. Maybe then we would be more willing to share our lives in the name of Jesus. 

Each day is set before us both life and death. We can choose to kill others with a thousand cuts or give life by a thousand smiles. 

Relationships are Messy

Most of us long for clearly defined relationships. We want to know where we stand with people and have boundaries that keep them in their place. We like to say, “These are my friends, those are my coworkers, and that group of people are my acquaintances.” We enjoy adding labels and want to know where we stand with everyone.

Unfortunately, relationships do not work like that. That person at work who is an acquaintance might step up and be a friend at an unexpected time. The person you think of as your best friend might disappear for a time as they walk through a dark valley. A stranger at Church might be the exact person to fill a need in your life that was left by a parent. We never know when our relationship with someone will change entirely.

People drift in and out of our lives, while others stay, and their relationship morphs into something new. What seems so clearly defined today may change unexpectantly. The perfectly structured hierarchy of relationships you have around you may be a chaotic mess by the end of the weekend.

There are only two things you can do about this fact. One is to push away from all people and try to live alone. The other is to ignore the possibilities and be as friendly as possible to everyone.

Just know that one of these will make you crazy, and the other will make you loved.

Curiosity Fatigue

I recently heard a teacher make a brief comment that I had to write down. He said something like, “One of the biggest problems most people face is curiosity fatigue. We get tired, and we stop asking the questions that will help us move forward.” 

When we are new to something, we begin with this sense of wonder. We ask numerous questions about how things work, why we are doing these things, and the outcomes of the activities. Then, as we get more familiar with the work, we stop asking questions. This can happen a few hours into the day, a few weeks into a project, or a few months into a lifestyle change – including following Jesus. 

As new believers, we know there is so much to learn and do. If we are not careful, we lose that curiosity over time and often settle into complacency. 

One way to rekindle your faith is to sit down and start writing out all the questions you have about God, Jesus, religion, the Christian life, and the Church. Begin listing all the things you once wondered about and have slowly forgotten. Then allow those questions to push you to find answers. You need to reignite your curiosity, and that will reinvigorate your faith. 

Maybe your biggest problem is that you have simply stopped asking questions and accepted everything. Perhaps it is time to inquire and investigate about faith. It can be the doorway to growth rather than death.   

Significant or Enjoyable?

While driving on my birthday, my wife asked me an interesting question. From the silence, she asked, “What are the 50 most memorable events of your life from the first 50 years?”

At the moment, I was not sure how to answer, and I am still not sure. By memorable, do you mean significant or enjoyable?

I wish that all the events that shaped our lives were fun experiences that made us smile and laugh. But often, the most significant events are those that come with tears and pain.

Losing my best friend and my dad have shaped every interaction, conversation, and relationship in my life. The call to change where I minister has come with goodbyes and tears. Sitting in a doctor’s office and listening to him has impacted my wife and I’s future. These moments have molded me and left a lasting memory that time cannot erase.

Most of us chase happiness and try to avoid pain at all costs. Yet, sometimes those difficult moments will become the catalyst for significant changes in our lives. They can redirect us and open our eyes to a new world of possibilities.

What were the most memorable moments of my life so far? It is hard to say, but many of the answers are surprising. I only hope that all of them left me a better person.

Don’t Waste Another Day

Your calendar belongs to you and no one else. Your job does not control it. Your school does not control it. Not even your children control it. 

Sure, if you value those things, you will give them the time they require, but be clear they do not own you. 

You have a choice about where you spend your time. Don’t let people bully you into their schedule, plan, or agenda because it helps them. 

Seek God’s direction, talk to the people impacted most by your choices, and then decide the best way to spend your time. 

Maybe it is going to work and giving a full 8 hours of work, but perhaps it is taking a day off so that you can do something that fills your soul. 

Maybe it is signing your children up for another activity, or perhaps it is telling them no so that you can spend more time together as a family. 

Your life results from your choices; if you don’t like it, choose differently.

What Defines You?

I am always fascinated by how people I know introduce me to other people. For example, will they say, “This is my pastor,” or “This is Matthew Harris,” or “This is my friend,” or “This is my dad?”

I listen to their words because it helps me understand how they view their relationship with me. Do they see me as a leader or a friend? Do they see me as just another person they know or someone who cares about them? Our relationship is defined by a label. 

This truth applies to our relationships on earth and the ones with God. Do you call him God or father? Is he Jesus or your Savior? Do you see yourself as a child of God or a person of faith? 

John, the Apostle, calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7, 20) That is perhaps one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture ever written. It communicates how John viewed himself. Jesus’ love for him defined his life. 

God, our father, sent his son because he loved the world. He loved you and me. When you get to heaven, God will introduce you to others as his beloved child. Will you allow those words to define you now?

Connection Through Criticism

Criticism is rampant in any group you are connected with, especially the Church. You put a few Christians in a room and give them enough time, and someone will start to complain. It might be about the facilities, the lesson material, the teacher, or the other people in the room.

What is fascinating to me is that if you listen closely, you will find that when one person complains, then another will join in and then another until everyone has issues with the situation. 

There are numerous reasons that this dynamic plays out in groups of people. One is because we want to connect to other people emotionally. If we are unequipped to do that, we quickly resort to our basic instincts. We display our dislike of something and share a complaint, knowing that someone will connect to us through our negative emotions. That means people complain to connect to others in a meaningful way. 

One sign of maturity in your faith is when you quit using negative feelings as your bond to others and start using positive. You can walk into a room and start saying all the positive things you see and feel. This will generate others to share the good things they see. Soon everyone is feeling closer without the ugly residue leftover after criticism. 

All of us want to connect to others emotionally, the easiest way is through negativity, but the most fulfilling way is through positivity. Both of these outlooks will make friends; just know that one group will eventually level their complaints against you. 

Rising to the Challenge

A group of golfers talked about their game and the courses they play. I was intrigued as each one of them spoke of places where it was increasingly more difficult to play. They said of one club where the course was hard to score very well, and they loved it, and another that was too easy. They thought it was an excellent place for a beginner, but it was not the place to go as you played more. These golfers want the challenge of a complex 18 holes that pushed their skills to the limit.

This conversation had me thinking about faith and the Church. Far too often, I land on the exact opposite side of this equation. I try to make everything sound easy. I say things like, “Just give your life to Jesus. Make a little time to grow and serve. It would sure be great if you could give a little money too.”

This is never found in the words of Jesus. He is always clear that following him is the most challenging path you will ever choose. The gate is narrow, and the road is winding. It will require you to take up your cross daily. His way demands that you surrender all to Him and live with total trust in his provision and grace. The journey of faith is not for the weak in heart and soul. People will persecute you, others will turn their back on you, and you will never be without an enemy. Following Jesus will mean you will need to use all your resources, and your skills will be pushed to the limits.

Perhaps one reason that faith in Jesus is decreasing in the United States is because we are telling people that faith is easy and people are looking to rise to the challenge of something more demanding. I know this is true in golf, and quite possibly true in life too.

Your Sermon

I once read the story of a preacher who walked with his wife through cancer. They stood by each other’s side through treatment and the bad news. He held onto her through the final weeks of her life until she faded into the glory of her heavenly father.

He took a few weeks off from his usual preaching schedule to grieve and set his affairs in order. Finally, he returned to the pulpit to restart after this challenging year.

He stood up the first Sunday back and thanked people for their prayers and support. Then he notified them about a change in plan from his regular sermon schedule. Instead of the originally planned series, he would take a few weeks and talk about pain and suffering. Then he said something like this, “I have always had these sermons in my mind, but NOW you will listen to me.”

I often think that everyone who follows Jesus has a sermon of their own. There is this message that God gave to us through his word and our life experiences. Everyone has walked down a path that has taught them about faith in a particular situation. And the lessons we learned on that journey are worth sharing. Someone else out there needs to hear how faith maintained us because they are struggling on that same road.

God has given you a sermon to share with people, and because of your experience, people will listen to every word you say now.