Author: JenHarris

Writing for me is therapeutic. I've slept with a pen and paper by my bed since college because the words often spew from this mind in the middle of the night. I am passionate about the underprivileged. I love new experiences, traveling, and being an encouragement to women. Much of my writing is through the lens of family life and the impact the love of Jesus has on it. I am the mother to five amazing children, the wife to one wonderful man, daughter to the best parents in the land and eleven hooligans call me Auntie. I am saved by the One and Only Jesus.

In the waiting.

Reflections on 2 Samuel 24

Is your marriage not what you’d thought it would be? Do you have thoughts in your life of this isn’t fair?  Maybe your career hasn’t taken off like you thought it would or you’re still single and pictured yourself married and a parent by now. Maybe you’ve struggled with your own health or the illness of a child.  Maybe financially you’re still struggling and you are waiting for God to rescue you from it. Waiting for Him to make it better. Bring redemption. Bring the answers. Waiting on the Lord is tough stuff. I think it gets even harder as we become a society more and more set on instant gratification and dinner served in seconds shooting out of vending machines. We are a world of conveniences. Waiting is never convenient.

In today’s passage, we see David has been promised the thrown but he has to wait for Saul’s rule to end for the opportunity. Saul doesn’t like the idea of that and is literally hunting him to put an end to his life. You would think David would be doing the same so the victory promised him could begin. But he doesn’t. He is given the perfect opportunity when Saul unknowingly comes in to the cave where David and his men are and David spares his life. Why? God had told him he will reign. Here is what makes David different. He waited. He wanted his choice to be within the realm of God’s goodness. This is what sets him apart and why God called him a man after his own heart.

David desired to stay in the will of guide for his life. His life tells us he wasn’t perfect at it but he consistently tried. When we are in the waiting we tend to do several things. One, we take matters into our own hands. We get too impatient and we do things on our own. We rely on our own power, our plan, our drive. Secondly, our own desires blur the clarity of the will of God for our lives. It becomes about us. I’ve never been this happy or this feels so right. Finally, we begin to justify our choices when we confuse the coincidences of our lives with the will of God. I remember about 8 years ago I was offered a job I had only dreamed about. It was with a ministry I loved. It was something I had prayed for. It was doing God’s work. I was sure the opportunity would never come again. Yet I felt this tug in my heart. As I looked at the hours and the work it would require and the ages of my children and demands of my family, it became clear I would not be able to do both well. is word told me to put my family first. Not my own desire. Not my own satisfaction or happiness. It was really tough at the time. I felt defeated and like I would never have the impact I’d long for. I felt like God would never be able to use me outside of my home. But my faith told me He would. My faith told me He loved me and would use me. My faith trusted His sovereignty and His timing. It was not easy. Six years later that same organization came to me. This time with a position that worked with my family.  Flexible hours even. The desires of my heart aligned with His will.

In our scripture, David was able to wait on the Lord because of 3 main reasons.  One, he trusts the sovereignty of God. Two, he believes his unrelenting love for him. Third, David abides in the word of God. Those same three things are what I had to keep my focus on 8 years ago. It reminds me of a sermon I heard from The Summit Church in North Carolina,  “ The way to achieve the purposes of God is not by compromising the commands of God.”  Pastor Tim once said that God will not ever bring to your life something that is against His word.

Do you know how easy it would have been for David to justify killing Saul?  The thrown was promised to him. So many of us would have seen him walk through the hole in that cave and thought God had handed Saul to us on a silver platter. We may have even uttered the words, it was a God thing. That wife you know that’s been unhappy in her marriage, God did not bring that handsome, kind, flirting co-worker at just the right time. Satan did.  It’s not fate. It’s temptation. God doesn’t bring things to us that will take us from His purpose, His goodness, His word, His will. God’s will always aligns with His word. Always.

To wait on the Lord we have to recognize his unrelenting love for us. We have to trust His sovereignty. We have to ensure our hopes are in His word. Then we have to lay it at His feet and wait.

~Jen Harris

He dwells here.

2-corinthians-13_5The Holy Spirit. The all too forgotten component of the Christian life. Maybe because it’s the unseen. Maybe because grasping the concept feels a lot like an adult trying to understand Minecraft. Maybe because as earthly beings we feel a bit whackadoo talking about a spirit or other dimension to this life. But oh how real it is. If we, as believers, could understand and embrace the Holy Spirit, I believe our world would be blessed in abundance. When we operate from the place of the Holy Spirit in us, instead of our own desires, urges, needs…we look like Jesus. He is present in us. He changes things. Not us.

 2 Corinthians 4:6-7  “ For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

It is a common rhetoric to hear that God is being removed from our schools, our government buildings, our social climate. If that is the case, it is our fault. They cannot remove God from me. He is God with us. We are promised the power of the Holy Spirit. At all times. So if God isn’t present in my school, at my work, in the grocery checkout line, it is because I did not allow Him to work through me. It is because of my own disobedience or lack of knowledge that He is within me. I understand the comfort that seeing the Ten Commandments may bring or a cross on a Christmas tree or the outrage it stirs in your heart if someone wants to take it down, but do not mistake a symbol of Christianity for the ever present love of Jesus. And if the love of Jesus is absent from the life around us, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions and quit pointing fingers.

“If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him in to the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing of the Kingdom of God.”  Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways

My husband works in manufacturing facility and when he started his career there 14 years ago, he was amazed at the crass language he commonly heard and how generally people spoke to and about one another. I have been with my husband for over 23 years and have never heard him say a cross word about a single person and never heard him curse. Never. In 23 years. Stubbed toe? Nope. Idiot in traffic? Nope. Nail to the thumb? Not then either. Not that I think everyone cusses but I do think most people have let one fly here or there once in their life. Anyway, I digress. We would pray that He could represent Christ in the way he carried himself. That the Holy Spirit would work through him. And he did. Gradually the conversations around him began to change. When his staff would come to him to complain about another he would ask if they had spoken to that person about it first. When another manager started cussing in frustration over a project, my husband told him that he was happy to talk with him when he calmed down and was respectful. Then he simply walked off.  Sometimes my husband is blissfully naïve to the reactions around him. When he told me what he’d done, the reactions played like a short film in my head. Some ending in tragedy and other’s comedic. He would ask his employees about their family, encourage and support them. He treated them like they mattered to him. The point is, the way my husband carried himself, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, in those instances and others changed the environment around him. Each of us have that power. Each of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to impact the world around us.

I am the mother of 5. My mood sets the tone in my family. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fair and is burdensome but what a responsibility God has entrusted to me. The days I allow the Holy Spirit to lead me are the days we work well. The days there is joy in my home, love, patience, goodness.  The days I do things on my own, out of my emotion, mind, my own free will…the result is what some might call #momfail. I cannot love my family well depending on my own faculties. I have to tap in to the power of the Holy Spirit. I have to be in prayer and tuned in.  My children will not have a relationship with God because they saw their Dad study the Bible or because we forced them to church every Sunday. They will not love God because of the lecture we give or because they aren’t allowed to watch R movies. They will love God, they will know God because they felt Him in our home. Because they saw the Holy Spirit filter in forgiveness, redemption, mercy, grace, love.  Not because their parents are good. Because God is good.   “In a very real and sobering way, we must actually become the Gospel to the people around us-an expression of the real Jesus through the quality of our lives.”   Alan Hirsch,  The Forgotten Ways  

It is impossible to watch the news and not feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and absence of Jesus. Don’t even start to read comments on social media to any news article or you will lose faith in humanity for sure.  It may scare you or even anger you. I get that. But friends, we are the answer. We are God’s plan. Christ in us is the hope of the world. It is up to us. If we want Jesus in our world, we better bring Him. Colossians 1:27 “ To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Holy Spirit is alive in you. He dwells here. Allow Him to get to work. Our world depends on it.

 

~Jen Harris

Other scripture studied:

Galatians 2:20  My old self has been crucified with Christ.[a] It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 3:17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

 

Sharing your witness…

I’m not sure any other phrase in the Christian church can send people running faster.  Our relationship with God is personal. Religion is politicized. We don’t want to offend anyone. We want to respect their beliefs. We don’t want to be the card carrying Jesus Freak preaching in the robe on the corner. Words like testimony and witness scare some of us. Others of us shake our heads in agreement and start to hum an Amen at the sound of the words. We are ready to proclaim the good news for all to hear. You can recite scripture, the top ten sins and exactly what others are doing wrong in the eyes of Jesus at a moment’s notice. You’ve got your baptism story and the transformation that followed in to a nice, neat three minute speech so you can win souls for Him.

Honestly, I am not sure either of those outlooks connect lives to Christ. I think connecting lives to Christ requires our lives to be our witness and our attitude to be our worship. It takes vulnerability. For most of us, that’s not easy but if we are to show how the love of Jesus has changed or impacts our lives, we must share our lives with others. For someone to see the power of God in my marriage, they must know a little bit about my marriage. For someone to understand the impact the mercy and grace of Jesus had on someone’s overcoming addiction, they must first learn they were an addict. To see the healing power of Christ one must first see the sickness. It is impossible to share the heart of who God is if we refuse to show our heart to others. Yes, our messy, imperfect, sometimes sinful heart.  Our need for a Savior is directly related to our desire for one. If I don’t think I need a Savior, then what role does Jesus play in my life? I have to be willing to share why I need Jesus.  People will relate to my why. Not just the unbeliever but to encourage the believer as well. My failure, my doubt, my insecurity, the burdens of my past, my poor choices, my predicament, struggle, my health, my crisis, my sin. When we can share our why, people start to think about their own. We must authentically, imperfectly, be ourselves.

Romans 1:12 – That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

1Corinthians 2:1-6 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. …

In sharing our lives with others we must be careful not to be boastful or prideful but to point to Christ through the fruits of His presence in our lives. The good works we do, the faithfulness and patience we have, the gentleness and love we share…the peace and joy in our hearts and the self control in our lives…We must share our story not for our own edification but to the glory of God. Sharing our story is how we share Jesus. Sharing our lives and living out the Gospel in our daily lives is the most effective way to change hearts for Christ.

John 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Matthew 5:15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

1 Peter 3:15 – But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

Just as important as the why is the heart of why we share. You see, it isn’t our responsibility to convince others of who Jesus is. He can do that. It isn’t our job to save people from the fires of hell. The Holy Spirit will work in the heart of that individual. God instructed us to show them the love of Christ.  Our goal in sharing our testimony should be to share the love of Jesus with others, to tell them the Gospel story of how it is available to us all and to do so because we are so overwhelmed with His love and goodness for us that we want everyone to know the treasure we have found. Not to be right. Not to be above. To love. Christian witness absent of love is no witness at all.

Colossians 4:5-6 – Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone

John1:6-8 There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.

Romans 8:16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God

The impetus has to be on the love of Jesus. Not the convincing, the persuading, the saving….when we share the love of Jesus with others well….the Holy Spirit does the work. He’s the one with the power. We don’t save people. God does. We are just here to show them who He is.

He is the guy that loved His neighbors. He is the guy that sat with the outcast. He is the guy that took the nails for us. The guy that hung on a cross for people that wouldn’t even acknowledge who He was. He was the guy that offered grace and mercy and understanding. He is the guy that knew his buddies would betray him, the guy that knew we would fail again and again and he is the guy that chose to love us anyway. The guy that gave us another chance, another new day. He is the guy that Peter could confess to and that helped the leper and the lame. He is that guy. He is the guy that cried out in the garden for there to be another way but embraced his own suffering for others to have the love of Christ. We have to strive to be that. The guy that looks different than culture. The guy that didn’t argue His rightness but bathed in His Truth. The guy that loves with abandon. The guy that shared His life with us and welcomed us in to His family. The guy that laid down His life for you and me. That is the Jesus we need to be. That is how others will come to know Him. Can I get a witness?

 

~Jen Harris

The meek shall inherit the earth

As we’ve traveled through these fruits of the spirit, I feel like people who know me would say I do some of them well and others they’d point out I really need to work on. They may say some come naturally and others through lots of intentional practice. Gentleness actually causes an uncomfortable giggle. If I believed in karma, this might be it.

I am loud. I am rough. I am cumbersome. There is nothing soft about me except perhaps my middle aged frame. I was ready to throw in the towel with the gentleness thing until I really studied this word…studied the heart of how Jesus demonstrated it to us.  The original Hebrew language translated the word as meek. But since “meek” is no longer common, some biblical translations use “meek” and “gentle” interchangeably. Gentleness describes our actions and meek our attitudes.

Gentleness is more the way we handle a person’s feelings and spirit than the way we handle anything physically. There might be hope for me yet. How do you approach someone that is hurting? Do you dismiss their feelings because you don’t understand them?  Do you ignore the hurt because it wouldn’t bother you? Do you tell them how they should feel instead of listening?  Do you nurture the souls of others? Are other’s feelings even on your radar? Is it more important for you to be right or for you to be gentle? Do you boast in your rightness or gently guide with meekness.  Time and time again, Jesus shows gentleness.

In Matthew 23:37-39, Jesus wept for Jerusalem. He wept over a lost opportunity. It reminds me of when our children make a choice that is not honoring God or your family and that intense hurt and disappointment it causes because of that great love you have for them. This moment in Matthew, for Jesus,  was like that time you set an expectation and consequence for your child and they do something to require the loss of privilege and they had this super fun event planned and now they will have to miss out. You were excited for the opportunity for them and you know how happy it would make them and you have to follow through anyway. Jesus wept because He couldn’t save them. He wept because He loved them. He wept because they didn’t see His coming. Do we?  Has he wept for us?  Missed opportunities. When we ignore His nudge. When we ignore His call on our life. When we choose comfortable over conviction…our own happiness over His hope…when we turn away from pain of others to placate ourselves. I believe He weeps.I believe He weeps when we fail to show gentleness to others. It’s a convicting thought of how many times I could be the cause of His tears.

When I hear the word gentleness, my aunt Karen comes to mind. She is soft spoken and agreeable. Her eyes make intentional contact and she listens to every word you say. She even hugs softly. That is the image I have of gentleness. I think it’s the image many of us have. Soft, almost timid…reserved. I think there are some on the outside that may see her as weak, a pushover, or passive. I would argue that isn’t the case. I would argue she is more like Jesus.  I would argue that she is able to lay down her pride and choose gentleness. I have seen her strength in her ability to take the higher road. I have seen her choose Godly over “told ya so”, Holy over arguing her point, wisdom over rightness. I have seen her calmly and with great conviction express herself and not worry about what anyone does with her truth. She knows it is true. That’s all she needs.  I know how her gentleness, much like Jesus’, makes me feel heard, valued, worthy of her time and love. That is gentleness. I have seen the gentleness of Jesus in her and how much better the world would be if we could all follow suit.

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~Jen Harris

 

 

 

Peace be with you

John 14:27 NIV

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Mark 4:35-41 NIV

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

What does the fruit of peace mean? Peace with God? Peace of mind? Peace among us? Yes. Yes. And yes. I think it is all of those. But I think if we have the first, the others follow. If we can quiet ourselves enough, if we can still ourselves enough to tap in to the love of God, the sovereignty of God, the magnitude of God’s goodness, we can fully rest in His peace.

We must first make peace with God. We need to come to terms with His place in our life. We have to recognize His love and forgiveness and accept it. This has to happen before we can ever have peace with ourselves.

Shalom, the Peace of God. Peace from a biblical perspective is not just the absence of trouble but it is the deep quiet presence of God in your spirit. It cannot be touched by our circumstances. In fact, it is often an authority over them. That is why it is the peace that passes understanding. It’s hard to wrap our earthly minds around.

How in the midst of chaos, war, ugliness, pain, can we have peace? I think we have to fill ourselves with His promises. Study His life and His love. When we equip ourselves with His goodness from His living word…it is only then even possible to understand the peace He can bring. And then we have to practice it. We have to center ourselves in the heart of Christ when the world is spinning around us.

I have seen His peace lived out in other believers that have gone through tremendous earthly suffering. It is humbling to watch…that peace that makes you weep and draw closer to God. Real peace doesn’t come in the everyday comfort of routine. Real peace is shone when it is challenged. When you are face down in the depths of your pain and can trust God anyhow. When similar situations have people crying out in despair and you are crying Glory to God in the midst of it. That is peace. When we can trust His will for our life. When we are sure about His presence with us. I have seen that peace firsthand.

I have seen peace in the suffering of a pastor and friend that fought cancer and then fought it again. I saw it in his wife’s heart while in the midst of that she lost her siblings over the course of a month. It’s in her love of Jesus and her clinging to Him through it all. It’s in their not knowing the why but trusting the Who.

Peace is in the heart of the 16 year old we love fighting for his life in the hospital while the medication to fight his cancer has taken it’s toll. Peace is in the grace of his parents praising God through this storm and hand in hand with friends around his bed thanking God for the opportunity to witness to others through this. Peace is knowing that God loves him more.

Peace is in the prayer vigils for gun violence and the hearts of police officers hugging and engaging the hurt of the black community. Peace is in the not being afraid of our differences.

I witness peace in the locked arms of my family as we surround my Mamaw’s bedside praying her in to the arm’s of Jesus. Peace is in the knowing heaven waits.

Peace is in the person that struggles with the burden of shame and is haunted by memories but knows that is not how God defines her. Peace is in the knowing she is made for more. Peace is in the letting go of what we can’t control. Peace is in handing the control to our Heavenly Father.

Peace is in the wife that prays for her marriage that the world told her long ago to abandon. It fills her heart even as her husband’s behavior tries to steal it. Peace is in the prayers of people holding space for her.

I’ve seen peace in the fostering and loving of a child that after two years is going back with their parents. Peace is in the trusting God will keep her safe and in the knowing that you are doing what He asks of you…to love even when it is throat grippingly painful. Peace is in her return two days later.

Peace is in my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s that sat staring blankly most days but could sing the spirituals of his youth with the light of Jesus on his face.

Peace is in the cross. Peace is in knowing the celebration is yet to come. Peace is in trusting that whatever I am going through is nothing compared to the fullness of heaven. Peace is in the sovereignty of God.

When we are able to focus on the peace of Jesus, when we have peace with Jesus; peace with others becomes instinctual. We cannot have peace with Him and of Him and not live in peace. External peace is a natural consequence of internal peace. The overflow becomes like a popsicle on an Indiana summer day leaving little drops of peace in our wake. That is peace. In us. With us. Around us. That is the peace of Jesus.

 

~Jen Harris

That we all may be One.

As I lie down, I hear the news from Dallas. No, no, no. First 4 and then 5 police officers killed. Even more injured. 2 civilians. Sniper fire. Peaceful protest. The ache in my chest is deep. The tears come again. This is not the answer.

That very morning I had wept as I read another man shot and killed by the people we trust to protect. Another black man. Two in two days. A sick feeling rises up in the pit of my stomach. That sense of fear and anger bubbles up and settles in my throat. Surely not. My heart hurts thinking of the unrest that is sure to come. What that means for families like mine. What that means for racial tensions in our country. What that means for the police officers honorably serving. What it means for the black community.

I spent half my morning trying to write about it. Trying to find the right combination of words that unify instead of divide. Trying to portray my frustrations and my anger through a grace filled lens. Trying to find the phrasing to capture my heart and pierce through your own. Trying to see Jesus in this space. Come Holy Spirit, Come. Give me the words, I prayed.

I wrestle through the day unable to focus and blotting hot tears. I work hard to find statistics from a neutral enough place that will help you see. Then another act of violence against police…and another…With all my heart I want to write my experience, my emotions, my pain. I want my voice to be heard on this…And I realize then, the only words I can share, are those that point to Christ. His spirit presses in on me, Matthew 5:9 blessed are the peacemakers….

John 17:21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

Not only was God’s dying wish that we all be One, but He went so far as to say our unity is how the world will come to know Him. Jesus basically says that the world can judge His ministry by how His people love one another, by how we are united. Unity amongst the people of God enables the world to know Jesus. How are we doing at that? Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Unity literally brings Jesus to earth. This isn’t about looking the same or acting the same or believing the exact same thing. This is about abiding in the Spirit of Christ. This is about mourning with those that mourn; holding space with the hurting. Celebrating with one another, breaking bread together. This is about dying to our own desires so that God’s glory can shine. This is about hurting when a black man dies AND a police officer. This is about grieving with both.  We cannot be reconciled with Christ and not with His people. The first bears fruit to the second.

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“There is an infinite number of rays, all coming from the same sun: a single will, particular for each person. The closer the rays come to the sun, the closer they come to one another. We too…the closer we come to God, by doing the will of God more and more perfectly, the closer we come to one another. Until we are all one.”   

~Chiara Lubich

Our world isn’t in a mess because of any political ideology or separation of Church and State. It’s easy to point a finger at Obama, Trump, guns, police, Black Lives Matter, urban culture, media, or the radical right and the liberal left. It’s much harder to look at our role in it. The world is a mess because we are failing at what Jesus has asked of us. If you want Jesus in your school, be Jesus. If you want Jesus in your neighborhood, be one with your neighbors. Jesus himself is warning that the world will doubt His love, His goodness, His ministry if love and unity aren’t present among His believers. It’s on us, kids. This gets particularly tricky because often the most divisive, unloving actions come from Christians in an effort to ‘speak the truth in the name of Jesus.’ He doesn’t ask for our conformity. He asks for our unity. He asks for our love. Jesus shows up where we are. No one can separate God from me. He is in me. I am in Him. Where I go, He goes. It’s a huge responsibility but it’s also a huge freedom. We don’t have to work so hard to legislate Jesus. He will be where we are if we bring Him…if we live our life according to His will.

The early church was practically obliterated because of deep racial division and oppression. Gentile and Jew. Slave and Free. Rich and Poor. Man and Woman. The church took the lead in unifying every tongue, nation, tribe, race; in the name of Jesus. The cultures remained different. The skin, different. The customs, traditions, different, but One in the love of Christ. One in His love for others. His love for us. His desire for Unity. We can do this. We have done it before and we can do it again. It will take each of us praying for our own heart’s darkness to come to light and for unity amongst us. It will take each of us setting aside our own biases and embracing a life intentionally united.

El-Shaddai, Mighty God, I cry out to you in anguish. I look at the faces of my children and the faces of the men lying dead in our streets and fear grips my gut. I send my husband off to work and wonder what will happen if he gets pulled over. What kind of person will that officer be? I know what kind of man my husband is. But the police officer won’t. What will they assume? God be with them both. Please, Lord, heal our nation. Don’t let us forget. Don’t let us sweep it under the rug. Don’t let us pacify the hurting, but I boldly ask for significant systemic change. I know you are able, Lord God. I ask that injustice by the few be condemned by many so they know there is no place for that here.

Merciful Father, protect our police officers. Encourage them and calm them. Quiet their fears. Bring forgiveness and peace and respect in to the relationship with the black community. Bring forward heroes that put down bitterness and embrace healing. Take the anxiety from their families and bless their service to their communities. Let the light of your son shine bright in the darkness. I pray there is an army of angels asking to be used by you for the sheer purpose of racial reconciliation. Give us courage to do the hard and holy. All powerful God, make the violence stop,

Father God, for the families that have lost loved ones, I plead with you to let your presence be felt in a concrete way. Surround them with love from their community. Give them your strength. Keep their spirits fresh in the mind of others so our continued prayers will carry them. May we mourn with those that mourn. All of those that mourn. Let us love one another well. Let us follow your example.

Abba Father, I call on you to unite your children. Help us to see our humanity. Open our eyes to the struggles of others. Give us your eyes to see the value of their experience. Take our pride away so we believe them. Take away our desire to dismiss other’s feelings and fill us with the grace to affirm. Let us lead with love not fear. Let us listen with the intent of understanding instead of defending our point of view. Help us to shoulder the pain of others. Help us to offer hope over politics. Grace over our need to be right. Love instead of Hate. Provide opportunity instead of blame. Peace over unrest. Settle our souls.

God have mercy on us for the role our history plays in the devastation we see played out in our urban landscapes. Forgive us. Ignite in us a passion for change. A passion for a community that is different than the one we call ours. Unite us as one. Help us to practice grace and mercy and goodness. Help us to celebrate the beauty in our differences. It’s impossible for us to be colorblind Lord, so instead help us to say I see your color and it’s beautiful. I see the God designed differences and I celebrate them. We are all born of your image, Lord, may we believe that to the depths of our spirits. Change our hearts, Heavenly Father. Bring our bias in to the light. Work on it with us. Bring us in to relationship with one another and let the fear fade away. Heal our nation. Heal our hearts…that we all may be One for the Glory or your son Jesus Christ.

~Jen Harris

Warning! Compromise ahead.

We’ve all seen it before. That one person that seems to have everything and they seem to throw it away on a whim. You know, that person in power that you see on the news with the embarrassing headline and you think why on earth would you risk it all for that one moment? Names like David Weiner, Bill Clinton, General David Petraeus. Then there’s the stars that seem to have the glamorous life but lost theirs to drug addiction: Whitney Houston, Prince, Michael Jackson. What about young privileged kids that seem to have the world at their feet and instead make a choice to destroy it. Kids like Brock Turner or Joran Van Der Sloot, This week’s scripture is 2 Samuel. If King David lived in social media times we might have woken to the headline, “King David; death to Uriah, lust for Bathsheba.” They may have even gained one of those combination dating names of the rich and famous #Davsheba.

Here’s the thing about all of those headlines and King David. It was a long time coming. None of the falls from society’s grace happened overnight. In this life, we accomplish things. Great things. We get comfortable. We feel deserving. We take things for granted. Our pride grows. Our compassion shrinks. Our ego explodes. Complacency settles in and chokes out our desire to honor God. Complacency takes root in our hearts and temptations start to fester. It swallows up our purpose and spits out sin. We feel worthy and able on our own. We lose our dependence on God. We grow tired and without an ounce of intention our hearts drift from God’s purpose and seek our own. Our own happiness. Our own desires. Our own strength. Our thoughts, our hopes, our wants come first.

Complacency. It’s dangerous territory. We can learn many lessons from 2 Samuel and King David. There are signs before we go over the edge. Warning!! Warning!! Trouble ahead.

warning

The first of these is conceit. Our reputation easily goes to our head. That leads to a feeling of pride and entitlement. Entitlement is a strong motivator for temptation. I deserve it. I earned it. I’ve worked hard. You become the most important thing to you. It’s all about you. In our story we see that even though God is blessing David in abundance, he builds his own house before he builds one for God.

Comfort or complacency takes place when we’ve become confident in our own abilities. We pat ourselves on the back. In the tooting of our own horns, the needs of others are lost. We take other’s for granted and push our desires to the top. As our entitlement grows, our ability to see other’s needs around us diminishes. If we ignore these first two warnings, right around the corner is a compromise.

That opportunity. That one moment when your inhibitions are down and you make that choice, that compromise and it is a slippery slope from there. It snowballs and that one compromise becomes an avalanche of sin before you even know how you got there lying at the base of the mountain 20 feet under. We meet our handsome coworker for coffee because it’s just coffee. We allow that attractive secretary to confide her marital problems to us and comfort her. We lie to ‘protect’ our friends feelings. We have just one more drink before we go. That tv show is borderline pornographic but the writing is so good. We know people have fallen for less but that can’t happen to us. These little teetering on the edge of sin compromises that make us a little uncomfortable and have us defending ourselves with vigor, before you know it, have us knee deep in trouble and we can’t remember how we got there

The other great lesson in this week’s scripture is when there is repentance there is forgiveness and redemption.

“I have sinned against the Lord.” Then Nathan says, astonishingly, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 2Samuel 11:27

God always gives us a way to start over. We may have to live with some of the consequences of our sins but our heart is clean with God. For many of us, there will be times in our life when we lose sight of the path God has chosen for us and worry more about the path we’d like to be on. With human nature, that is bound to happen. The important thing is what we do about it. Do we find some accountability, confess it and step back in to God’s plan or do we push it farther and farther from our mind and slowly distance ourselves from the one who calls us close.

 

How’s your ego lately? How are you treating others? Have you made a compromise you need to acknowledge so it doesn’t happen again?

 

~Jen Harris

 

 

 

 

 

He chose to serve.

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John 1: 35-36The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God. 

John 3:26-31 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’  It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success.  He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

“He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else.[a

This week’s focus verses and last week’s sermon compel us to take a look at our lust for power. In Sunday’s message, Pastor Keith tells us, in God’s economy, it is service not power that honors Jesus. Jesus himself gave us the best example of this. He became less and less. He became human. He did this to give honor and glory to God the Father. He was the greatest, the all knowing, the untouchable God that reigned on High and He became man to fulfill the Gospel…so His Father would be praised. It is the legacy He gave us. Father Alfonse says it in the most beautiful way.

“To believe in God means to open oneself to God. If science were the sole avenue to the Creator, then Jesus Christ would have appeared at Oxford, and as a scientist. But he didn’t. If philosophy were the sole means to God, then the Lord would have appeared in Athens; as a philosopher, the likes of Plato or Aristotle. But he didn’t. If music were the venue to God, then the Song of Songs would have started Graceland. But he didn’t. He chose to write no music and chose to play no instrument. He and his Apostles were no Paul Lennon or Beatles in the middle of the desert.

I think the Lord chose none of the above because he knew we would do them better. Instead, what he chose to do was something that had never been seen before, done before or thought of before. He chose to do something remarkable, the likes of which we still marvel at every single time we witness it, hear about it and think about it. He chose to be small.” ~Father Alfonse

The things of this earth muddy our perception of how important we are. Our power, our authority, the prestige and accolades, the attention gained and the ability to persuade…the profane, the consumer driven ridiculous, the sinful…these earthly things draw us in, fills our heads and our ego inflates like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float. We earned it. We saved. We fought. We worked. We accomplished. We won. We did it. And even in the good…God is lost. He is pushed to the back and we are made great. We are made bigger. We are praised. The world cheers and we gain recognition. It’s the American dream. It’s the goals we set. The sites we set our eyes on. Except we are forgetting that the single greatest thing we can do with our lives, is point to Christ. The greatest success I can have in this life is to reflect the love of Jesus.

“But among you, it will be different.” Pastor Keith pointed out that in Mark 10:43, James and John asked Jesus if when He is seated on the throne if they could be seated on His right and His left. The other ten Disciples hear this and respond with indignation. Jesus looks at them and says,

But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

He made Himself small. He served. He became man. For us. The single greatest person in the history of the world came to serve. His power is in His choice to serve.  His power is in His choice to be small. And His power shines bright  in our smallness, our less-than. It’s in our service that our life points back to His.

More of you, God, less of me. But among us, it will be different. Let this be our prayer upon waking.

~Jen Harris

Create a thirst

Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV).

This scripture has always been hard for me. As a child growing up I saw many Godly families, my own included, have children that didn’t make the Godliest of choices and some that walked away from their faith all together, at least for a little while. I’ve seen teens from the same families with the same great support and encouragement turn out a poster child for Christian teens and another with their mug shot in the paper. So it’s a verse I’ve struggled with. As a parent, at first glance, it is comforting. But the problem is it isn’t a promise. Oh if only it were. Most of Proverbs was written by Solomon as a book of guidance and wisdom, a sort of ‘Living a Biblical Life for Dummies’, if you will. As a parent with 5 children, I know I can teach each one the same exact thing and the outcome will look 5 different ways. Quite frankly the verse puts a lot of pressure on parents. If you do your job, they turn out right. It forgets to mention, that whole free will thing.

So I was excited to come across a bit of a different take on the verse than I have seen before from Greg Laurie’s devotion in 2009 entitled Raising Thirsty Children.

The phrase “train up” in the original Hebrew speaks of the actions of a midwife who would dip her finger into crushed dates and then put it in the mouth of a newborn child. The purpose of this was to stimulate the infant’s thirst for milk. So drawing from this concept, we see that to “train up” a child means to create a thirst within him or her…

thirst

I love this imagery. Create a thirst within them. We need to point our children to Jesus in every aspect of our living. We need to make the love of Jesus look so appealing in our own lives that they desire to have it in theirs. We can direct them to righteous living and set boundaries and rules to live by but the real transformation comes when our children can see the relationship, the intimate one on one, the need we have with a Mighty, Ever Loving, Always Present Savior. We need to long for Christ so that longing grows deep into the psyche of our children. The more we can present that to them…the more we live our own lives with an appreciation for the love, grace and mercy of Jesus…the better chance they have to grow into spiritual maturity.

Here’s the catch. In truth, anyone can fall short of the grace of God. Free will is designed that way. In truth, we can pour our hearts in to our children and love them large and leave them a legacy of goodness and they may still turn away from it all. That is the world we live in. That is why our success in parenting shouldn’t come from the success of our children and their choices but our obedience to Christ. Of course, our guidance and values and the example of an intimate relationship with Christ will certainly help but it is still up to the child to choose. We do our part and abide in Him. God will do the rest.

That is what God has called us to do. We are establishing external boundaries for our children’s protection, but we are also seeking to develop within them an internal motivation to know and love the Lord.

I think that is why this next piece is so important. “In the way he should go…” You cannot train up each child the same way. You have to encourage a child in their gifts, their passions, their God breathed life. What is it that God shows you in their spirit? What is special about them? Unique? Cultivate that. Each child has their own particular set of talents and strengths and each child will have their own catalyst toward growth. Each child will be encouraged differently. Some may need rewards to stay motivated and others may have an internal drive that is incentive enough. I believe it is imperative as parents for us to help our children explore their interests and nurture their gifts. When we do this, the probability that they will embrace God’s will for their lives and answer His call, increases greatly.

If we are being the salt of the earth (see Matthew 5:13), then we will create a thirst for spiritual things in others, and they will see something in us that they will admire. So, in leading our children and training our children, the most important thing we must do is to live it first.

~Jen Harris

 

 

 

 

Hey Jude

judeJude 3 Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.

The Book of Jude is a small 25 verses. But the lessons are large. The first thing that strikes me about this scripture, and possibly the least talked about, is the brief mention of a change of heart on the subject matter. Jude set out to speak to believers about their salvation that they share in Christ, but He ends up warning them to contend for their faith. He seems to respond in urgency to a nudge from the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t deliver his planned words and his well thought out message. He writes instead from the heart, where God resides. The first lesson we can take is to let the Holy Spirit interrupt our plans.

Jude 12 When these people eat with you in your fellowship meals commemorating the Lord’s love, they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you.[e] They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. 13 They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.”

In our Christian culture people like to point to prominent politicians and celebrity pastors and claim them to be false teachers. While there surely are some that come to mind, this letter from Jude instructs us to pay attention to the more nuanced and close at home. He writes of the false teachers that ‘worm’ their way in to our churches. He doesn’t speak about the mighty and powerful, he speaks of the man in your church who is a grumbler and complainer and seeks to satisfy his own needs. He warns of the lady next to you in the pew who focuses so much on grace that she forgets righteousness and holy living. He says be cautious about the neighbor that is so secure in the victory that they don’t show up for battle. Jude cautions us about those that care only for themselves and whose lives bear no fruit, those that divide instead of unite. He writes of the believer that sits in church on Sunday and leaves Jesus there the rest of the week. The most subtle and perhaps most dangerous, the one who ‘follows their natural instincts because they do not have God’s spirit in them.’ Being for Godin God, and of God is vastly different than a mere belief in Him. There is a whole lot of road between salvation and sanctification. The spirit of God makes all the difference. I might be a nice enough person without it, but everyone in my life should be happy I have it.

The people God is working in are doing the work of God…in their own lives and others. They are in partnership with Him. Christianity doesn’t happen to us. He commands us to take up our cross and follow Him. Jude tells us to contend for the faith; like in a prized fight. He is asking us to go to battle. He is urging us to be vigilant. This is serious stuff. The original language uses the word Epagonizomai, to contest or contend, which literally means to agonize about. Contending for our faith is paramount to our walk with Christ.

It is easy for us to point outward to the false teachings, the wolf in sheep’s clothing…it is easier to think they are out there. It’s a bit more uncomfortable for us to think it could be within our church. Within our ministry. Within our own hearts. Let us allow the book of Jude to be a catalyst for looking at those areas of our own lives.

Jude gives us some solid advice on how to protect ourselves from false teachings and how to contend for our faith. First, we must build one another up in the faith. Study God’s word and know the truths of it, know the truth of His heart. Compare those qualities to the people you look up to and then to your own heart.

Secondly, we must pray with expectation…with the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Those who count on their own power, their own brilliance, don’t have time for prayer. Those who have truly given their life to Christ know there is nothing better than God with us. The humble, the righteous, know that it is only through His power. They understand the importance of making time for it, for the connection to Christ it brings.

Finally he says to await God’s mercy. To accept it for yourself and then offer it to others. Accept it and then rescue others with it.

Jude 20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,[g] 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.”

Jude instructs us to do all of this so we might stay rooted in the love of God. So we stand firmly planted in God’s love for us and His love for others. And what does he say to do with those false teachers? Those that threaten our faith? Do we picket? March? Boycott? Does he tell us to scream with red faced anger the error of their ways? Should we point, ridicule, shame?

He prompts us to stay safe in God’s love. To hold one another up in our faith. To steep in the presence of the Almighty. To pray. To offer rescue and mercy. He prompts us to God’s great love. Us Christians are quick to talk about defending our faith but we need to pay close attention to how that was done. You see Jesus’ victory wasn’t won on a battlefield. He won in surrender. He didn’t have a crowd surrounding him for autographs, he wept while he asked, “why have you forsaken me?” He didn’t stand with his trophy in the winner’s circle. He hung from a cross with a crown of thorns. It wasn’t a moment of pride, but an act of humility. And then while his blood dripped down, he offered mercy…forgiveness…love. That is how you contend for your faith. That is the Gospel. That is the Truth.

~Jen Harris