Author Archives: Aaron Harris

A Band of Brothers. (Actually, a trio of brothers)

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It was the summer of 1994.  I headed off to begin my life as an adult.  College bound, it seemed so hard to believe.  For the first time in my life I was on my own, as on your own as you can be when your parents are still paying your bills.  Over the next several years I would make acquaintances that would turn into friendships that would last a life time.  I met some great people, but there are two friends that I truly call the best friends that I have had.  The funny thing is, we didn’t get to know each other well until our sophomore year. Tim, Gene, and I were three very different people.  Gene was from Michigan, Tim was from Illinois, and I was from Nashville. We had different family backgrounds, liked different sports teams. Tim and Gene were roommates in Ennis Hall, and I lived in Goen Hall.  I ended up in their room, to study philosophy together, and we just hit it off.  That summer Tim and I shared a room together and worked campus security.  It was a great summer.  As I look back on it there are so many good memories that the three of us shared together.  We had our first apartment together.  Tim introduced me to my wife. Those years were some of the happiest times in my life.

There are times now that I sit back and reflect on our friendship over the years.  Times that still make me laugh (Sociology class).  I can see these memories so vividly in my mind.  How we use to do donuts in the Church of Christ parking lot when it snowed in the infamous TimFrg2.  I remember how Gene and I had the same year and model car, a 1986 Toyota Corolla, his was silver, mine was maroon. I remember how mad Tim would get in our apartment when Gene would find his stash of Swiss Cake Rolls. When Tim mishit his drive at Mccabe golf course, got mad and went to run and kick his golf ball and slid down a muddy hill. And then there were all of the shenanigans with the water balloon slingshot. There are so many memories.  There were times I wanted to kill them. We talked, and laughed, and pretty much did everything together. Over the years I have stowed away a treasure chest full of memories that will be with me till the day I die.

In those days we had so many wonderful times, but that is not what makes a person a good and dear friend.  See, there is a difference.  The best of friends are there for the fun times, the good times, but are also there when times are tough.  A couple of months ago I got word that Gene was having serious heart trouble, and the initial diagnosis was that it was not looking good.  I am not to afraid to admit that I wept and prayed for my friend that night.  In my darkest hour after Mom died, at her funeral, I stayed in the back till just before the funeral started.  It was just my wife and me.  I was looking at the picture collage we had of Mom and wiping the tears from my eyes.  As I turned I looked, and out in the parking lot, there came my Friend Tim.  All the way from Ohio.  He gave me a big hug, and it meant the world to me that he was there.  We have had some good times, and some tough times, and one of the great things is we have been there for all our highs and lows together.

Facebook reminded me today that Tim and I had been friends together on Facebook for nine years.  Nine years is a long time, but sorry Facebook, Tim Gene, and I are going on twenty-three years now.  There are numerous stories that I could tell to further illustrate our friendship, but this is about more than just the good times we had, and the shenanigans we pulled.  I sat down to write this weeks post when I saw Facebook’s reminder, and it made me reflect on what a tremendous gift it is to have friends like Tim and Gene.

One of the greatest earthly gifts that God has given us is the gift of friendship.  Everyone needs someone they can truly be themselves with. People who will lift you up and call you out.  As I get older I often sit back and reflect on the time that has passed.  I will be forty-two in a little over a week, and as I reflect on the last twenty-three years I can honestly say there are things that I wish I had done differently.  There are some decisions I have made that I wish I could have back.  There are a lot of good things as well.  One of the things that always brings a smile to my face is remembering all the good times that the Tim, Gene, and I have had, as well as the times when we were hurting and were there for each other.  When I think of this, I am reminded of how the writer of Proverbs tells us that friends will love each other always, but it is through adversity we find our brothers.  That is what Tim and Gene are.  They are my brothers.  They are part of my family.

I hope that you have someone that you can lean on.  Someone that you can carry your burdens to.  Someone who will do extremely stupid things that make you laugh. Who will do things that infuriate you one day but turn into priceless treasures the next.  If not, there is still time.  Seek a friendship like this.  Find someone who will shoot bars of soap at you while you are doing night watch. Find someone who will make hats out of t-shirt sleeves with you.  Who will walk by a class that you were forced to go to by your girlfriend and laugh and wave at you through the window as they are skipping it. If you find someone to make those memories with, you will also find someone to weep with you when you are broken.  To pray with you, when you need answers.  To pray for you when there doesn’t seem to be hope. Yes, Friendship is indeed one of the greatest earthly gifts that God has given us.

 

P.S. If this made you think of your friend, pick up the phone and call them.  Cherish every moment you have with them.


2 Cane Poles, a Honey Bun, and a Pepsi.

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Life used to be much simpler.  When I was a kid, or as my kids refer to it “the stone age”, it didn’t take much to make me happy.  When I was four years old my Dad became the pastor of a church in Ahoskie, NC.  Now, Ahoskie, NC. may not have had shopping malls, or big restaurant chains, and my parents had to drive across the state line to the Tidewater area of southeast Virginia to go Christmas shopping.  What it lacked in commercial appeal it more than made up for in outdoor adventures.  Those were some of the happiest years of my childhood. I can remember eating raw peanuts out of the field with Dad as he took me hunting.  I can remember being taught how to wring a chicken’s neck on one of the local chicken farms.  I remember the little golf course Dad used to take me to. I had a little sawed off iron that I would piddle around with while Dad went golfing. Those were fun times.

The best times, though, were those warm summer afternoons. I spent most of my day playing in the church playground, shooting my bb gun, making a racetrack for my Hot Wheels, building a fort in the back yard pretending I was B.A. Baracus, climbing one of the pine trees in my yard and swinging upside down on one of the branches, picking honey suckle, or just lounging around in my GI Joe underoos. (Look it up kids, yet another reason my generation’s childhood was better than yours) Dad would come home from the church office and I would see him standing there with two cane fishing poles.  He didn’t have to say a word.  I knew what time it was.  It was time for me and Dad to head to the Chowan river and wet a line.  I loved that time, just me and Dad, sometimes my sister would come along, but most times it was just us.  I felt like a big man.  Sometimes he would let me sit in his lap and steer the car as drove down the back roads.  On longer trips he would bring the cooler, and we would have Spam sandwiches.  We laughed and fished.  He was my Dad, but he was also my best friend.  I learned a lot about life, about parenting, and about being a man on those little fishing trips.  He wasn’t disturbed by emergency calls.  He wasn’t checking Facebook to see if there was something going on that he needed to know about.  No Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC.  If somebody needed him they were going to have to wait, because we were on the river, and there was no way of getting in touch with him at that moment. My favorite part though was on the way home.  Every time we drove home he would pull in front of this country store and say “alright A.J., how about a Honey Bun and a Pepsi.” It was just fishing and a snack, not that big of a deal, right.  Maybe to you, but to me, I felt like the king of the Chowan River Basin.  That is one of my favorite memories, and it is just as vivid today as it was 37 years ago.

I thought about that yesterday as we were over at Dad’s for our annual Easter tradition.  After church we all get together and enjoy each-others company.  As we were recovering from our meal, Dad made the comment that all of us were on our smartphones.  I didn’t think about it, but instead of making memories we all were glued to our screens.  My kids were glued to YouTube, and I was checking ESPN.  Now, this may be hard for some of the younger readers to imagine, but no one in my family had a cell phone till I was in college. My first video game system was an Atari. You kids call that retro now. I didn’t have a home computer till I was in the 5th grade, and we had these things that were called floppy disks to make it work, and they were actually floppy.  Our television didn’t have a remote control, my sister and I were the remote control.  We didn’t have a cordless phone, our phone was mounted to the wall, so there were no private conversations, and it was a rotary phone. (Look it up on your Google machine) Technology has come a long way, but I am afraid we have sacrificed so much for the sake of convenience.

As I watch the news, I can’t help but notice how increasingly hostile people have become toward one another.  I watch the discussions on Facebook, and Twitter and see how hateful people are to each other.  Technology has given us the ability to do some amazing things.  Technology has also taken some things from us.  Character traits we claim to value like decency, and civility can be abandoned by the quick click of a button. Facebook, and Twitter have given us an opportunity to say some of the most rude and unkind things to people.  We say things that we would never say in face to face conversation or debate.  It has allowed us a feeling of anonymity, and we choose to use it to speak words that tear down. There is rarely constructive debate, and often people are just downright hateful.

When Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees about which the greatest commandment was he said “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NASB) Somehow, we like to preach about the first part, but skip over the second part.  Love your neighbor.  I wonder how much better the world would be if we genuinely loved our neighbor. Mr. Rogers once wrote “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” That is such a wonderful statement.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t fight for just causes, and that we shouldn’t stand up for those who don’t have a voice.  What bothers me is the vitriol and animosity that I see on in the news, and on social media. We are so quick to argue, we don’t stop to think if it is even worth arguing over.  If it is worth speaking out over, then how we speak out is just as important. I know some people love a good debate, I am one of them, but we must make sure we are not using the crutch of anonymity to say things so rude and mean spirited that we would never say it to their face.

I yearn for the simpler times, maybe we should turn the cell phones off every once in a while.  Log off Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, and Instagram.  Let’s make a commitment to engage in actual conversation, write somebody a letter. Let’s learn what it is to be neighbors again. Instead of constantly arguing with someone, find a way to be an encouragement to someone today.  Take your neighbor dinner, just because you want to do something nice for them. Trust me, it will do you a world of good.  The amazing thing is, the kinder you are to other people, the better it will make you feel, and it might make your corner of the world a little bit brighter.

If nothing else, go to your local sporting goods store, and pick up a couple of cane poles and find someone to take fishing.  If you need someone to go with you, I am in.  I will even provide the Honey Buns and Pepsis.


Burn, Baby, Burn

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It happened every Monday morning.  I would get up, take my kids to school, swing by my favorite breakfast stop for a cup of coffee, and then head to my office at church. As I walked in, I would look up at the constant reminder of my shortcomings.  There was a wooden plaque up on the wall just to the left of my office in the church lobby. Oh, that wooden plaque.  It was oak, had brass letter and number holders, and removable black and white letters and numbers.  Somewhere a craftsman named Azazel, at least that is what I imagined his name is, manufactured this source of my consternation.  In bright white letters it told me how many people we had this week, and how many we had last week.  It told me how much the offering was this week, and how much the offering was last week. Or, as I read it, this is how much you stink this week, and this is how much you stunk last week.  The only thing this holy jumbotron did not have was a giant testamints advertisement across the top.  Every time I would look at it I would feel like a total failure. So, to make myself feel better, I would log into Facebook see how my friends who were pastors were doing. I would read post after post of the thousands of people who had come to know Christ.  How they were having to hire a hostess to keep track of all the people they were baptizing. It was the same story replayed every Monday in my office.  After about an hour I was totally defeated.  I was done.  I would leave my office feeling like I had nothing to offer.  I felt like my church could do so much better than a pastor who was struggling to bring in new members.  They could do so much better than a pastor who was trying to find creative ways to cut cost’s, so we could meet our monthly obligation.

The truth is that my struggle was much deeper than just that sign.  I suffer from insecurity.  Most of my life I have had this feeling that I am not good enough.  This feeling has led me to times of depression, and more than a healthy share of self-loathing, and self-doubt.  There have been days where I couldn’t even stand the sight of myself in the mirror.  That may sound harsh, but this is real talk here. That is what much of my childhood was like.  I grew up with a condition called Nystagmus.  Nystagmus is a condition with your eyes that causes involuntary eye movements.  My condition is minor but, it affected somethings, like my handwriting, negatively.  I had an Elementary School teacher who used to call me up in front of class, have me write on the board, and then make fun of my handwriting. It has caused me a great deal of insecurity over the years. This insecurity, has led me to times of depression. This is harder to come to grips with when you are ministering in a church.  I am supposed to be the spiritual leader, but some days I still felt like that 4th grade kid who didn’t turn his homework in because he was afraid of being made fun of.  Over the years I have fought the battle against crippling doubt and fear, some days I have won, some days I have lost. Going through it is like being lost in a maze.  You can’t find your way out, but you don’t want anyone else to know that you are struggling to find your way out.

I tried to deal with it the best that I could. I had heard and viewed comments that convinced me that I just needed to be more positive, to pray more.  I had been convinced that maybe there was sin in my life. I was told God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, so toughen up and get through it.  It sure felt like I couldn’t handle much more.  I prayed, I tried positive affirmations.  I self-examined.  The more I tried to fix it, the more helpless I felt.  Don’t get me wrong, I had good days as well, but no matter what happened, the fear and insecurity always seemed to creep back and sink it’s claws into me. It is a vicious cycle of fear, insecurity, doubt, and faulty comparisons. It reached the point that I had such little confidence that I thought the church needed someone other than me and I stepped down.  It had reached the point that I thought I was incapable of leading a church.  I took a step back.  I felt like I was beaten, like I had nothing left to offer.

That was a very rough time for me personally.  In the time that I was out of the pastorate I was able to reflect on the journey, and in the years that have followed I have learned several things that have helped me win more battles. First, don’t get caught in the trap of comparison. As a pastor I wanted to be like Peter in Acts chapter 2. He spoke the word of God, and thousands responded. I saw so many of the people that I went to college with telling similar stories, why wasn’t that happening to me? The problem is that most people don’t get to be Peter in Acts chapter 2.  God also called Jeremiah to deliver a message that people would not like. “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do Not be threatened by them.” (Jeremiah 1:17) I needed to be reminded that success, according to God, is obeying Him, not how people respond. Keep in mind, In Acts chapter 2, thousands responded to the gospel. In Acts chapter 4 it got them thrown in jail. I am not saying that we should not study, prepare, and prayerfully improve the craft that God has called us to.  That should go without saying.  We should strive for excellence in all that we do. However, it is not our job to convict, and call people.  The Holy Spirit does the calling and convicting.  Heaven would be a lonely place if salvation were dependent on the ability of man.  Not only were my comparisons based on the wrong idea of what my job actually was, but they were also based on evidence that was unverified. I am reminded of what Billy Hannah told me once when I was struggling with this and talking to him about it.  He told me “Aaron, some preachers lie.” That blew my mind.  I was comparing myself to something I had no real proof was true. Even if it was true, it did not change what I was called to do. I needed to learn to look at it as though God had put me where I was at, at that precise moment, to deliver the word that He had given me.  If I did the best I could, then I could hold me head high regardless of how well it was received.

Secondly, it is ok that you need help.  I am the type of person who likes to fix my own problems.  The issue was I had run into something that I couldn’t fix, no matter how hard I tried.  God is with me.  I can turn to Him any time I feel anxiety, or I am depressed. He, in His infinite wisdom has given me a network of people who know exactly what I am going through.  I found someone I can sound off to, who understands what it is like to feel the way that I do sometimes. Talking to someone helps. It is not good for anyone to keep something like that bottled up inside.  If that is not enough, there is no shame in seeking professional help. Trying to cope internally with anxiety and depression is a doomed proposition

Third, open up about your struggle with the people you care about most. I tried to be “strong” and not burden my wife with what was bothering me. I didn’t want her to think that I was weak. You can only keep up that façade for so long. Those closest to you know when something is not right. Be open and honest with them. They will understand and try to help you.

Last, if you are a member of a church that has one of those plaques constructed by Azazel, do yourself, your church, and your pastor a favor, take it into the church parking lot and set it on fire. I know Sister Martha’s Great Aunt’s Second Cousin’s Husband’s first Wife’s step Dad donated it to the church in 1946, and it has been plastered to that wall since then.  Grab a crowbar, rip it off the wall, and burn it in the parking lot. Then you will at least have something useful, a fire. The amount of people, or money that was brought in last year, last month, or last week is in the past.  I can only control what I have in front of me, and what I do in the future.  I spent so much time worrying about who wasn’t there, or what the offering was that I lost track of the most important thing, ministering to the people who are right in front of me.

Just remember, if you are like me and have bouts with anxiety or depression, you are not alone. Many people in the ministry battle this.  Talk about it with someone you can count on.  Get help if you need it.  Stay close to and lean on those you care about most.


That is Why We Call Her Lauren Grace Lynne.

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March 23, 2005 is a day that will forever be sketched in my memory.  It all started earlier that week.  The last several months had been a whirlwind.  My wife was pregnant with our second child, and she was set to be induced in one week.  We had so much left to do, and very little time to do it in.  To top it all off, my mom had been in out of the hospital for several months battling cancer.  We had just been told that there was nothing more that the doctors could do, and mom wanted to spend what time she had left with her family.  I took consolation in the fact that my mom would at least be able to see her granddaughter come into this world.  It was Tuesday, and Mom and Dad wanted to have the whole family over for dinner.  We ordered Pizza Hut, Mom’s favorite, and had a special night at their house.  We sat in the living room, Mom had been to weak to get off the couch.  We laughed, told stories, and we were able to have one of the best evenings in quite some time.  We hadn’t had many of those lately.  That thanksgiving was the first time in my entire life that I didn’t share the meal with my mother, she was in the hospital.  We had seen the horrors of chemotherapy.  We had watched as she became weaker, and weaker physically.  We had prayed and wept. Our family had prayed and wept. Our church had prayed and wept. It had been a long and weary road over the last year.

That night was different.  Mom was able to eat pizza.  Now that may not sound like much, but over the past few months the chemotherapy had caused these awful sores in her throat.  Drinking water was painful for her.  But not Tuesday night.  She almost seemed like her old self.  It was getting late, and we knew we needed to go home.  My sister and I just stayed a little later.  How many more of these times were we going to have?  I couldn’t help but wonder.  I knelt beside the couch, gave my mother one last hug, kissed her on the forehead, and told her I loved her.  Had I known what the night would bring I would have hugged a little tighter, and stayed a little longer, but I didn’t, so I took my young family home.

I couldn’t sleep that night.  I had so many thoughts going through my mind.  I don’t know why, I just could not go to sleep.  I have never been more tired than I was at that time, but I simply could not sleep.  I have since learned that there is a difference between being tired and being weary.  I was weary, my soul ached.  In the early morning hours, as I lay in bed contemplating so many different things, the phone began to ring.  It was on my side of the bed, but I just lay there frozen.  I knew who it was, and I knew what it was about.  I lay there stiff as a board as my pregnant wife got up, walked around the bed and answered the phone. It was my dad, and he told me I needed to get to the hospital right away.  In the hours that followed my sweet mother left this world and walked into the next.

That was 13 years ago today.  As I am writing this I am reflecting on the things that I have learned in that time about grief, pain, and loss.  The first thing that I learned is that time does not heal all wounds, and it shouldn’t.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so.  One must simply hold out and endure it.  At first it sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort.  For the extent the emptiness truly remains unfulfilled one remains connected to the other person through it.  It is wrong to say God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve, even in pain, the authentic relationship. Furthermore, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy.  One bears what was lovely in the past, not as a thorn, but as a precious gift deep within.  A hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” This statement has become ever clearer and real to me with each year of my mother’s passing.  There are times when that wound is still present and still painful.  Last night I went to the hospital to visit a sweet lady from our church.  When I walked into the room it dawned on me that 13 years ago I was doing the same thing for a much different reason.  I held her hand, spoke with her a bit, and then we had prayer, and I left.  I held myself together in her room and in the hospital, but as I got to my car, there were tears in my eyes.  There were tears because this 41-year-old man missed his mom and was reminded of the pain that was present the moment we lost her.  As I felt that pain, and do from time to time, I was reminded of how lucky I was to have someone worth loving and missing that much.  It made me long for the time when I will see her again.  So yes, I was sad, but strangely enough I was able to rejoice in the sadness.

The second thing that I have learned is that God’s grace truly is more than sufficient.  The apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians “At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.”  In the immediate aftermath of Mom’s passing I had a hard time.  For several months all I could remember were the hospital rooms, sitting with her when Dad couldn’t be there.  Caring for her and seeing her at her most vulnerable.  It was hard.  The amazing thing is, over time those memories were replaced by really good ones.  Like her laugh, or when we would go out to eat once or twice a week when I was in college.  I can still hear her singing the Lilly of the Valley clearly in my mind.  Like when she wanted me and my sister up on Saturday mornings she would start vacuuming and hitting our door till we got up.  I remember her shopping with Aunt Dorene, and every year they would get lost.  I remember her baking Christmas cookies.  I remember the smell when I would come home from a rough day at school and she had made my favorite cookies, peanut butter with a Hershey’s kiss in the middle.  Those memories are mine, and God’s grace has helped flood me with so many good things, that I can’t focus on just the pain and loss.

Six days after Mom passed my middle child was born.  We had already decided that we were going to name her Lauren Grace Harris.  After mom died we decided that we wanted to honor Mom, so we added Mom’s middle name Lynne.  Mom wanted so much to see Lauren and hold her.  You could always count on one thing with my mom.  After the grand-kids had been to see her they would have bright red marks from Mom’s lipstick.  It was inevitable.  When Lauren was born she had something special.  On the back of her neck she had a birthmark.  A bright red birthmark.  It was about the size of the smudge of lipstick.  The nurses told us, you know what that is called, it is called an Angel’s kiss.  Now, I know that when we die we don’t become Angels, but it seemed that somehow God gave us that.  I don’t have my mother on this earth anymore, but I have an even greater gift.  A living reminder of my mom.  I have Lauren Grace Lynne Harris, who came to us in the midst of grief.  She is a constant reminder of all the things I have learned and am still learning on this journey.  I know this has been a long post.  I don’t know what you may face in life, but I do know this. Hold on, pursue Jesus, keep your eyes toward Him, and He will bring you joy, and Grace that is more than sufficient to sustain you.


But, He Was Such A Nice Man.

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We live in affluent society.  If you were lucky enough to be born and raised in the United States of America, then you started out wealthier than you could possibly imagine.  If you were born and raised in this country than you more than likely had a home with running water, air conditioning in the summer, and heat in the winter.  You probably were able to walk to a refrigerator or pantry and not only find the sustenance to survive, but a plethora of snacks that you keep on hand for when you just need an Oreo.  You more than likely had more than one family car.  You had free education, that you were required to attend, whether you wanted to or not.  Maybe you had an allowance.  If you are under the age of 40 you probably don’t remember life without cable television.  If you are under 25, you don’t remember having to watch your cable programming on a television set that weighed 200 pounds and was the size of a small Volkswagen. If you are that age you don’t remember phones that actually required, you to dial a number to talk to someone.  More than likely our family cell phone plans cost more per month than our parents first car, and our car payments cost more per month than our parents first house payment was. We have video game systems, computers, tablets, and self-cleaning ovens.  We have fire places for ambiance instead of necessity. The point is we are an affluent people.  Now you may not feel affluent but compared to most of the rest of the world you are.

If you were born in much of the rest of the world you have a much different definition of affluence. Nearly half of the world’s population, more than 3,000,000,000 people, lives on less than $2.50 per day.  Over 1,300,000,000 live in extreme poverty, less than $1.50 per day.  Things such as diarrhea kill hundreds of thousands of people globally because of a lack of clean drinking water. The stats go on and on.  The point is, there is a vast difference between what we consider wealth, and what the reality of the statistics tells us. So, what is the point?  Is this a post to try and inspire readers to give up some of their comforts to serve their fellow man? Well we should, and I hope that you would consider what scripture tells us to do. (Maybe check out what Jesus says in Matthew 25) No, the point is we should recognize the danger that is inherent when we read scripture through the eyes of affluence.

In Mark 10:17-29, Mark recounts the story of when a certain wealthy, influential young man came to Christ to follow Him.  I am not going to go into detail to recount all the details, I suggest you read the passage in its entirety.  There are, however, a few aspects that are relevant to this topic. First, this young man is sincere in his request.  His affluence did not make him insincere.  He really wanted to follow Christ.  Secondly, he approaches Jesus the right way.  He is not doing this for show.  He humbly, and respectfully makes this request to Jesus.  Thirdly, when he says he has followed the law, he is not intentionally telling a lie.  He believes he has followed the law to the best of his ability.  So where is the problem?  What is it that caused him to not follow Christ. Did he misunderstand what Jesus was asking? No, he understood it very well.  The truth is, he did not follow Christ because what Christ asked him to do, he was not willing to do.

After the man walked away, Jesus tells his disciples “And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “[h]Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:23-27. Now you may read this and think I am not rich, this doesn’t apply to me. You are probably wrong, you are rich, but that is beside the point.  Jesus is not saying wealth is evil, and having wealth is wrong.  There is evidence all throughout scripture that God blessed certain people with great wealth, and they recognized this and used those blessings for the glory of God. Wealth, and possessions are not evil, but they can be a significant barrier to accepting the truth of the gospel.

You see the beauty, and majesty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the simple fact that it does not rely on us.  There is simply nothing we bring to the table in this whole “saving” thing.  Why did Jesus tell this young man to sell all his possessions? Surely, he wasn’t serious.  Surely, he was just testing this young man. No, Jesus, was quite serious in this instance.  This young man had to let go of the thing he held the most security in to follow Christ. You see, this young man’s wealth had made him influential.  He was the guy parents told their kids they wanted them to be like.  He was wealthy, successful, went to church, lived a moral life, he was honest.  Jesus’ own disciples were amazed at what happened.  If this guy couldn’t be saved, then who could? That was the problem.  This is what we must be careful with.  Jesus was asking this young man a simple question. Am I enough?  This young man answered no.  His wealth, and affluence had clouded his view, and influenced what he thought it took to follow Christ.  It was pride, he viewed himself as good, and he did not think he needed saving.

Unfortunately, I think this Sunday church parking lots, lobbies, sanctuaries, and fellowship halls are going to have many in them like this rich young man. People of consequence.  Deacons, Elders, Trustees, Teachers, Pastors, and church members who would answer no if the same question were asked of them. What if Jesus asked you to sell everything you own for Him?  Is he enough?  The truth He is enough.  Had this young man been willing to follow Christ he would have seen first hand the He is indeed enough!  Don’t let our affluence cloud our vision.  May we see that Jesus is enough.  May we realize that we are all sinners in need of a savior.  Me we remember that our joy, and fulfillment are not found in the temporary, but in the eternal.

 

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

―C.S. Lewis


Grace To You.

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We all have heroes in are lives.  I am not talking about sports stars, or famous actors or musicians.  No, I am talking about the real-life heroes who taught us the truly important things life.  I have several of those in my life.  People like my parents and grandparents.  There are others as well, but one of the heroes that shaped much of who I am is my Papaw Thomas.  Glenn Thomas grew up in Williamsburg, KY.  Williamsburg is in Whitley County, just a short distance from the Tennessee and Kentucky border.  Glenn grew up during hard times.  He was born in 1923, the Great Depression hit just after his sixth birthday.  He was a typical boy, but he tended to get into mischief.  I used to love to hear him tell of some of the hijinks he pulled when he was younger.

One of my favorite stories was about his days in school.  He never was much for school, but he went.  In the hills of southeastern Kentucky, it can get pretty cold in the winter time.  The room where he went to school was heated with an old wood burning (It may have been coal) stove.  This was the depression, so they didn’t waste anything.  At the end of the day they would collect the papers they used to do their school work on in a pail to use to start the fire the next day.  An idea formed in young Glenn’s head.  He had some fire crackers that he had been saving for a special occasion.  Now these were before the regulations dictating how powerful firecrackers could be, so these were not the same black cat firecrackers you would buy today. Glenn brought his firecrackers to school with him one day.  At the end of the day he crunched his paper up, as normal, only this time he had a few of those firecrackers planted in the middle of each paper wad.  The next morning the teacher loaded the stove, and Glenn’s plan was set into motion.  Once the flames reached his paper the firecrackers did their magic, and much to Glenn’s horror, they nearly blew the entire stove up.  Pieces of chimney, paper, sparks, ash, and soot flew all over the room.  The teacher did not have to ask who did it, she immediately turned to Glenn.  I don’t know what kind of trouble Glenn got into for that, but I suspect he had a hard time sitting down for a few days.  He pulled mischievous stunts like this throughout his childhood.

Now, if you were to tell folks around Williamsburg, that young Glenn Thomas would one day be a pastor, and a church planter, they would have said you were off your rocker.  No one saw that out of him, except for one person, his mother.  She prayed for her children diligently, and she always knew that the Lord had something planned for them.  Years later when my grandfather was training for World War 2, he said he could hear his mother praying for him.  See she understood something that, I am afraid many of us don’t.  She knew that it didn’t matter what anyone else said, or thought, the only thing that matters is what God said or thought.

I interviewed my grandfather for a history project once and was able to find out a great many things about what shaped him into the man he became.  I never asked him who his heroes were, but I suspect his mother was one of them.  I believe that my grandfather would not have been the man he was if it had not been for his mother who saw value in him, and wanted God’s best to come to him, and go with him.

Did you know, the apostle Paul began every one of his letters with some form of the phrase “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ” Every one of them.  If you don’t believe me check for yourself. (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3) He also concluded every book with some form of “Grace be with you”.  Again, if you don’t believe me read for yourself. (Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Galatians 6:18, Ephesians 6:24, Philippians 4:23, Colossians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:28, 2 Thessalonians 3:18, 1 Timothy 6:21, 2 Timothy 4:22, Titus 3:15, Philemon 25) The question is why did Paul do this?  I think this is no formality here.  I believe that Paul was deeply invested in these believers and wanted God’s grace to come to them through these letters, and after they read them, he wanted God’s grace to be just as real to them as they went out into the world and lived.  Paul was investing something very special into the readers and hearers of the letter.

This is a powerful message to everyone who claims Christ.  We can share God’s grace with those who don’t know His son as their savior.  We also can invest in fellow believers through the grace of God.  May we pray for each other and seek to bless each other the way Paul did.  May we invest in someone that no one else sees the potential in.  May we see the world, and our fellow Christians through the lens of God’s amazing grace.  I am so thankful that my hero, had a hero of his own who introduced him to the grace of God, and a peace that passes all understanding.  I am so thankful, that my hero, had a hero who prayed that God’s grace would go with him.  Wait, come to think of it, I have another hero that I never met.  Thank you, Great Grandma Thomas.

 

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Philippians 1:2, 4:23


When God Doesn’t Make Sense.

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There have been times in my life where I simply could not see what God was doing.  Have you ever felt that way?  I think we all, if we are honest, have had times where we have sat back and wondered.  God, what are you doing?  Life is a fragile thing, and sometimes we get so caught up in our circumstances that we cannot see God.  We wonder if He is working.  We wonder if He hears us.  We wonder if He even cares.  These feelings are very real, but they are even more troubling when they come during pain and suffering.  In this world nothing confounds us more than when we are in the middle of some great tragedy, and we can’t see or hear God.  Pain and suffering are real, and a part of the human experience.  The problem arises when we try and understand why.  Why would God allow this to happen?  It doesn’t make sense that He would allow this to happen to us. What are we supposed to do when God does not make sense?  How are we supposed to respond?

What if I told you that when bad things happen that it is not necessarily because of sin in your life?  What if I told you that you that you are just as precious to God in the middle of suffering as you are in the good times?  What if I told you that God is moving and is going to be glorified through you?  When things are at there worst we need to cling to the truth of God’s word that we are just much His children in times of drought as we are in times of plenty. You see God was with the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego before they went down to the fiery furnace.  He was with Daniel while he was still praying in his room, before he was thrown into the Lion’s den.  He wasn’t revealed until they were cast into their most helpless of situations.  He was there when they couldn’t hear him, see him, and it just didn’t make sense.  Tim Keller wrote “One of the main ways we move from abstract knowledge about God to a personal encounter with Him as a living reality is through the furnace of affliction.”

Whenever you go through times of pain and suffering, don’t lose heart.  The God who was with you before is not waiting on the other side.  He is right there with you, and He has already prepared the way out.  A way that will bring Him the most glory and be better than you could have ever imagined.  It may not be what you expected but trust His purpose.  Remember who you are in Him.  You are His child.

1 John 3:1-3 “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to. But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.


Percy and Gunner

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On February 19, 1942 at 10:00 in the morning the Japanese military bombed Darwin , Australia.  After the bombing raid was over a young airman named Percy Westcott came out to assess the damage.  In the midst of some of the rubble Percy heard a whimpering and discovered six month old puppy trapped.  He pulled the young dog out and discovered that he had a broken leg.  He immediately took the pup to the medics to get the dogs leg set.  The medic told Percy that he only worked on men with names and serial numbers.  Percy quickly responded this is gunner, and his serial number is 000 .

Percy adopted Gunner and he nursed him back to health.  One day Gunner began to become restless and bark constantly.  He repeated this for over 20 minutes.  Then the base was rocked by another Japanese bombing raid.  Percy noticed this repeated, every time the Japanese sent a bombing raid, Gunner would start barking well before radar picked up the incoming aircraft.  Percy reported this to his superiors, and they decided to test it out.  Sure enough the next time the Japanese sent a bombing raid, Gunner warned them more than 20 minutes before they arrived.  They were able to man their aircraft and take cover.  Gunner had saved lives.

Over the years Gunner sounded the alarm and saved thousands of lives.  He an amazing dog.  He could differentiate between the Japanese aircraft, and Allied aircraft.  He was perfectly calm when all other aircraft were approaching, but he immediately knew when he heard Japanese plains coming in and would sound the alarm.

As I read about Gunner and Percy, I thought about the beauty of doing the job that is right in front of you.  If Percy had ignored the whimpering of Gunner, thousands more would have died in bombing raids.  Percy however took care of the job that was in front of him.  He wasn’t seeking fame or glory, just wanted to do the right thing.

It reminds me of one of my favorite characters in scripture.  We all love reading about the miraculous things in scripture, and even dream of being like Moses, David, or Simon Peter.  We want the glory, we want the recognition, but one of my favorite characters was completely content doing the job that was in front of him.  He didn’t complain about being in the background, or not getting recognition.  Andrew, the apostle who had to be mentioned, as Simon Peter’s brother, rarely was in the forefront.  He was not someone who personally brought multitudes to Christ, he brought individuals.  Consider this though, there never would have been a Simon Peter, if there hadn’t been an Andrew.  Andrew introduced him to Christ.  Throughout his life Andrew brought individuals to Christ.  We never read about powerful sermons, or throngs of people responding to one of his messages.  No, but the only time Andrew is mentioned alone in scripture is because he was doing something honorable.  Andrew was the apostle who understood the value of personal ministry.

All too often people are discouraged because the serve Christ in relative anonymity.  They don’t get asked to speak at large venues, or aren’t asked to publish books, or write articles.  These are wonderful things, but the real fruit of ministering to others comes from doing the individual work.

So be like Gunner and Percy.  Do what is in front of you, and who knows God may use your work to bring thousands to safety.  To quote John Macarthur ”  Andrew’s legacy is the example he left to show us that in effective ministry it’s often the little things that count-the individual people, the insignificant gifts, and the inconspicuous service.  God delights in such things.”

1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ” but God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence.”