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The Case for Small Churches

This article was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-6-the-case-for-small-churches/

It is also the transcript for episode 6 of my podcast Churchthink.

 

Christian author, speaker, and podcast co-host Skye Jethani recently published an article entitled “The Case Against Sermon-centric Sundays.” Among other arguments he makes, he mentions that our current church model does little to foster community and alleviate loneliness in society, since services largely consist of hundreds of people sitting silently while listening to the sermon, singing a few songs, and then leaving (not to come back for a whole week).

In 12 years of being a Christian, I’ve never heard anyone question the traditional church model. While I don’t agree with everything in Skye’s article, it’s still been a game-changer for me. Do we need to rethink the way we do church? If we reshaped church, could we actually start helping people out of loneliness? Why isn’t anyone else talking about this?

His article led me to listen to Richard Jacobson’s The Unchurching Podcast, which advocates for house churches instead of institutional churches. Again, while I don’t agree with everything Jacobson says (especially his insistence that the pastor role should be done away with), I am intrigued by the house church model.

Now, I’m not throwing everything out and switching to house churches. It seems to me that there are pros and cons to house churches and institutional churches. But one thing I think we can take away from Skye Jethani’s article and the house church model is that, when it comes to church, small is better.

Large churches and mega-churches have some benefits (for instance, they can provide a large space for the surrounding community to use, or they might be able to work on large missions projects that small churches couldn’t), but I have to wonder if the pros of small churches outweigh the pros of large churches, especially if large churches are becoming the norm and the goal of pastors is to grow until they can afford a big building. Constructing a close-knit community should be a top priority for all pastors, because discipleship, mission, and relationships are most effective inside of this kind of community. Establishing this kind of community often becomes harder the larger a church grows.

I’ve basically attended four churches since becoming a Christian. Two have been large churches (over 1,000 people per weekend) and two have been small churches (under 250 people per weekend). In the case of the first big church, I tried various small groups, volunteer activities, and I even interned there. My feeling of connectedness went up at some points, but the vast majority of my time there (several years) I didn’t feel connected no matter what I tried. In the case of the second big church, it took two years of trying small groups and various activities before my wife and I found a group we really felt connected to. If we hadn’t found that group, we probably would’ve left the church. However, in the case of the two small churches, I found community immediately—and when I say “immediately” I mean within a month.

Churches should focus more on fostering community than on producing a show that will supposedly attract people. Community is personal; attractive shows are impersonal. Attractive shows focus on making the consumer happy; community focuses on personal relationships and gently encourages people to use their gifts and talents for others’ benefit. Shows tend to isolate and compound loneliness; community breaks the chains of isolation and loneliness.

Our focus is misguided. Pastors and church leaders shouldn’t be focused on growing until they bust out of their current building’s seams or on creating a great show. Instead, let’s focus on building community. Make close-knit community a bigger priority than growth. That way, when growth gets in the way of the community’s closeness, the church can go plant a new church (with whom they can maintain a close relationship and still do things together).

I’ll be honest: I’ve struggled with loneliness to one degree or another most of my life. The times I haven’t struggled with it are the times I’ve been closely involved with a small community of people who met together frequently. In those times, I’ve felt effective in the cause of the gospel because I frequently participated in outreach activities and discipleship activities with my community.

Some may be thinking, “That’s the reason for small groups in a big church.” Small groups can foster this kind of community, even in a big church, although it seems to me that extroverts have an easier time engaging in big church settings than introverts (no matter if it’s small groups or Sunday service). However, small churches, by nature, make finding close-knit community easier. In a small church, even on Sundays we walk into the community. There’s much more accountability for attendees to become a part of the community and contribute, since everyone sees our face and the relationships naturally built from talking to people in the small community suck us into community activities. And if we really don’t want to be a part, then we can leave (as opposed to just coming on Sundays and doing nothing else). Small churches are more likely to foster participation instead of isolated consumerism.

In big churches, we often (especially for introverts) have to go find the community. Many people in the Sunday service don’t know each other, so we’re not likely to find community just by talking to one or two people. We have to put in the effort to try a small group, and if that group doesn’t work out (which can take weeks or months to realize), we have to try another. And during all this time we feel disconnected and perhaps lonely. For people who are already struggling with loneliness, this can be an extremely discouraging process, prompting them, potentially, to give up. Furthermore, it’s much easier to simply be a casual, non-participating member in a big church. That’s more people not giving time for missions, discipleship, and other Kingdom activities.

Christianity is most effective in community. Community, by definition, becomes harder the larger it is. That’s why Jesus ran around with a small group of disciples. If our churches stay small and focus on community, they will be more effective churches, which will positively impact the surrounding culture. And one of the best results of this would be more and more close-knit communities, which would reduce the growing problem of loneliness.

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Express Yourself to God–Even If It’s Anger

The following is an excerpt from my new book 20 Encouragements for the Depressed Christian https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B089KVKTCX/

 

I became a Christian when I first started dealing with depression. I didn’t know where else to turn with my pain, so I started crying out to God. And God took me in and began changing me.

Thus, my first few years trying to deal with depression were my first few years trying to understand God. Unfortunately, I had this notion that there are certain emotions you don’t express to God because, well, He’s God. That included anger, despondency, and anxiety. God is holy and anger is sin—right? So I can’t bring that to God. He’d be mad at me.

The result was I kept many emotions inside. I didn’t express them to God because that would be sin, and I didn’t express them to other people because that would be sin. But, of course, this only made everything worse.

There’s this notion within evangelicalism that we can only tell God certain things. We’re given blanket statements that anxiety, depression, and anger are sins. (Prominent theologian John Piper once said, “It is never, ever, ever, right to be angry with God.”[ii] Suffice to say, I disagree.) Thus, when we feel these emotions (and everybody does), we assume we can’t express them to God. He’d be mad if we did.

One of the first things my therapist had me do when I began depression/anxiety therapy was to read Psalms and to journal honest prayers to God. It was exactly what I needed. I began to see in the Psalms that expressing oneself openly to God is completely okay. Indeed, God seems to encourage it (Jesus quotes a Psalm on the cross). The psalmists do not expect harsh judgment for speaking honestly with God. On the contrary, they expect God to be closer to them when they talk openly.

I realized after a while that my journaling had brought me much closer to God, even though I expressed many negative emotions to Him. And through the years, over and over again I see that God is not displeased when His people express frustration or anger at Him. In Jeremiah 15:18, Jeremiah asks God, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” And God’s response, instead of anger, is reassurance: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman…I will make you a wall to this people, a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you to rescue and save you” (Jeremiah 15:19-20). Paul asks God to take away the thorn in his flesh (implying frustration, anxiety, and pain, at the least—feelings that could be construed as failing to trust God), and God responds again with reassurance, not anger. Most importantly, Jesus models for us how to interact with God: He doesn’t hold back negative emotions. He quotes Psalm 22 on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the night before His death, He prays in anguish for God to “take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).

I suspect other Christians with anxiety and depression have had this problem of expressing themselves to God. We’ve been exposed to bad teaching that treats sin as a list of “Thou shalt nots.” Thus, when we feel certain “unpermitted” emotions, we think we’re bad people. But that’s not true at all. In fact, this is exactly the kind of teaching that Jesus was so opposed to. Throughout the Gospels, He criticizes the Pharisees for treating the Law as a list of Do’s and Don’ts, when all along God meant for the Law to be wisdom that benefits His people and draws them closer to Him. That’s why it was okay when David ate the consecrated bread (1 Samuel 21). That’s why it was okay for Jesus’ disciples to pick and eat heads of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).

What John Piper and some other preachers seem to misunderstand is that sin is a heart issue—it’s not just doing or feeling something from the forbidden list. So yes, there is an anger at God that is sin—if it comes from a heart antagonistic to God. But if anger at God comes from a place of wanting to understand, of loving God but being confused and frustrated, then it seems to me that God is perfectly okay with it. And no matter what, God wants us to express ourselves to Him. That’s how we grow closer to Him.

 

Piper, John. “It Is Never Right to Be Angry with God.” DesiringGod, 13 Nov. 2000, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/it-is-never-right-to-be-angry-with-god. Accessed 18 April 2020.

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is the author of seven books. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

 

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Why Christians Should Take a Vested Interest in City Planning/Design

We are a product of our built environment. If you put me in a crappy house that doesn’t smell good and it’s got a bad bathroom and broken faucets, I’m going to be a crappy person. If you put me in a small cute house with good door handles and good faucets [and] a good shower, that I can walk to the park when I get mad, I can walk down the street and get a cup of coffee without having to have a car—I have more money in my pocket that way—I’m going to be a different person. I’m also going to have an interaction with different people who may be able to help me with my problem, whatever my problem is.[i]

 

These words from Monte Anderson on the Go Cultivate! podcast sum up why I’ve come to believe that city planning/design is an issue in which Christians should become more involved. I’ll be frank: I strongly believe America should re-evaluate the way we design cities and towns. I believe this primarily because it would make life better. It would alleviate many of our social, economic, and environmental woes.

I’ve made it no secret that I think loneliness is a massive problem in America. Much of the reason for our loneliness is the way our towns and consequently our lives are structured. Living in isolation—except for when we have to go to work or run errands—is our default. We are isolated units who meet together when necessary and then disperse back into isolated units. One of the main reasons for this lifestyle is how spread out our cities are. We have to drive (generally an isolated activity) to get anywhere.

It’s not impossible to be social. But neither is it easy. It takes considerable time to drive (if you even have a functioning car); it takes increased effort to create plans while accounting for drive time; it takes no small amount of money to buy a car, maintain it, pay for gas, and pay the taxes necessary for road upkeep (not to mention other infrastructure and police). I know for me (and I’m sure for other introverts), getting out of the house is hard enough, so putting these extra obstacles in the way just makes me want to stay inside more. And when you’re driving, there’s very little chance you’ll have the opportunity to socialize on the way to wherever you’re going. If you’re walking to your destination, you may run into neighbors and people walking their dogs. If there’s a small ice cream shop on the way, you could quickly pick up a cone or a milkshake. But when you’re driving, it’s just you and whoever is in the car with you. What do we expect when we make socializing harder? Of course it’ll result in loneliness.

There are many ways Christians address our country’s problems. Some of these problems can’t necessarily be solved or alleviated by redesigning cities, but many of them can. The flawed planning/design of our cities is a root cause of many social ills, yet I don’t hear Christians talking about it. Is it possible that we’re focusing on symptoms and not the cause? Here are a few examples.

I recently heard a pastor state in a sermon that all Christians should care about the environment. I agree. It was part of a passing statement he made while giving examples of how we pursue God’s kingdom in our professions. He didn’t get political and he didn’t elaborate much on practical steps for creation care. But he did say that we should, before driving somewhere, think about whether the trip is absolutely necessary. That way, we can drive less and release less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

I don’t disagree, but the statement feels to me like a half-hearted attempt at environmentalism, like slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound. Pastors encouraging their congregations to think twice before getting in the car will do essentially nothing for the environment. Perhaps a few people will drop a trip or two per week for maybe three weeks. But then they’ll revert back to normal. Why? Because you have to drive to do well-nigh anything in our country.

If we re-evaluated our city structures, though, we could drastically reduce automobile dependence. It would become manageable for people to walk or bike to where they need to go. It would also reduce the need for parking lots and streets, which would mean fewer trees cut down and less disturbance to the ecosystem. This would actually solve problems. But who knows a preacher who discusses this approach? I don’t.

Exercise is another example. We’re told to go to the gym, to jog when we have time, to fit it into our daily routines. Yet, as a certified fitness trainer, I hear from people all the time that they’ve tried, but they just don’t have the time to fit in exercise. So our health suffers. But what if exercise had to be a part of our daily routine? If we could walk or bike to work instead of drive, our daily exercise would be taken care of. But most people work way too far from home to bike, let alone walk. And what if we could walk or bike to most of our daily errands or friends’ houses? But most of us live so spread out that walking to even the grocery store isn’t feasible.

Pastors tell us if we’re lonely to get out and see friends. But they also tell us not to drive unless we have to. They encourage us to serve at the church food bank. But there’s little mention of how Christians can advocate for affordable housing. We’re slapping band-aids on problems and not thinking about root causes. Treating symptoms is helpful, but it doesn’t solve problems. And the church needs to solve problems.

I’m not suggesting that we completely get rid of cars. I think cars are a blessing. It’s amazing that we can travel long distances in a relatively short amount of time. I just think we should use cars a lot less. Also, reducing automobile dependence would drastically reduce the number of automobile-related deaths.

One of the main arguments conservatives make against climate action is that it would decimate the economy. But if people and cities decided to restructure on their own, top-down governmental climate mandates would be much less necessary. Plus, people and communities would be more self-reliant, so the economy would be more healthy and resilient. (The current Covid-19 crisis is revealing some the fragility of our system.)

Rethinking current norms on city planning and design would make life better. Americans love their space and privacy (and I’m not saying people can’t own their own homes), but if we consider the benefits of living in smaller communities closer together (and these can be pockets of big cities), I think we’ll realize how much happier we’d be. Americans vacation to Europe and gush about how walkable European cities are. There’s no reason that can’t be done here. Plus, we’ll give our cities an American flare—I’m not saying we have to become Europeans. Nor am I saying life will be perfect. Accidents will still happen and people will still get sick. I’m not advocating utopia; I’m advocating what I think is a better way of life.

Our mission as Christ followers is for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, if there’s a way to improve quality of life and alleviate multiple social ills, we should be involved. I know there are some Christians already working hard at this. But frankly, most American Christians don’t care about this subject. It’s time we start the conversation.

 

[i] Clark, Jordan, host. “Affordable housing & incremental development.” Go Cultivate!, Episode 48, Verdunity, 11 Dec. 2019, https://gocultivate.simplecast.com/episodes/affordable-housing-incremental-development-m5He7hvQ.

 

This post was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-10-why-christians-should-take-a-vested-interest-in-city-planning-design/

It’s also an episode on my podcast Churchthink.

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The Problem with “That’s What the Bible Says”

If you’ve been around evangelicals for long, you’ve probably heard the phrase “That’s what the Bible says.” This is generally said to justify or defend an unpopular position the person holds when he or she is speaking during Bible study or debating a friend or preaching. It’s used as a trump card, a last resort, and as an implicit statement saying, “Don’t blame me, blame God.” In many cases, its use is motivated by intellectual laziness. In other cases, its use is based off of a genuine desire to adhere to God’s truth. In most cases, if not all, it’s a terrible thing to say.

One of the problems with the phrase is that it doesn’t take the relevant verses in context. By nature, the phrase simply plucks up a statement or a few words or a sentence and highlights that at the expense of everything else in the passage and perhaps even the rest of the Bible. This tactic doesn’t consider other passages to shed light on what that one verse means, nor does it take potentially contradictory passages into consideration. The phrase implies that this is what the text says and that there’s no other way to interpret it because this is literally what it says. In general, it shoots down any other attempt to understand the text because any other attempt would be failing to take the Bible seriously or to take God at His word. And if you’re not taking God at His word, you must be creating your own god and your own doctrines.

This is a non sequitur and a false dilemma. It’s a non sequitur because it doesn’t necessarily follow that just because one verse or passage of scripture says to do or don’t do something or to believe or don’t believe something means that should be the case at all times. It’s a false dilemma because there is another option besides believe what one verse literally says or reject the Bible.

For example, let’s look at anxiety. Some Christians say it’s a sin to be anxious because Jesus and Paul say not to be anxious (in Matthew 6 and in Philippians 4, respectively). In Matthew 6, Jesus is talking to a crowd that is probably filled with poor people who are obviously concerned about how they will provide for themselves (hence “do not worry about…what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear”). He wants them to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” and trust that “all these things will be given to you as well.” In Philippians 4, Paul gives exhortations to the Philippian church about how to live, knowing that they may face imminent persecution of some sort.

We can take away from both passages that God wants us to trust in Him through all life’s circumstances. He doesn’t want us choosing to sit around and fret instead of pursuing His kingdom. But we run into a problem when reading about Jesus the night before His crucifixion. Luke 22 says Jesus was “in anguish”; that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”; and that he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me.” Jesus never sinned, but He was clearly anxious the night before His death. What do we make of this?

There is obviously a kind of anxiety God doesn’t want us to have, and there is obviously a kind of anxiety that He is okay with. I think God doesn’t want us to willfully choose to worry about the future, our provisions, or our circumstances. But I think there is a natural, neuro-chemical type of anxiety that we don’t have much—or any—control over. We can choose to fight through it or succumb to it, but it’s there regardless. That kind of anxiety isn’t a sin. How could it be? We didn’t choose to have it.

Or take addiction. I once talked to a woman about joining my website as a writer. I had read an article on her website about addiction and I told her I disagreed with her position that addiction is entirely a spiritual issue. She pointed me to Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” She then told me that this verse shows that all sin begins in the heart, and so all other attempts to deal with addiction are vain.

I don’t disagree that there are spiritual elements to addiction. But research shows there are significant physical elements to it as well, and an effective approach to fighting addiction includes both. Nor do I think this verse implies that there is nothing else that affects behavior except the heart.

For one, this verse is a proverb. By definition, proverbs are instructive statements that are generally true. They aren’t meant to say that whatever the proverb states is literally always going to be true. For instance, is it always true that a “troublemaker and a villain…who plots evil with deceit in his heart” will have “disaster…overtake him in an instant”? Will every bad person “suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (Proverbs 6:12, 14, 15)? No. We all know that bad people sometimes get away with their actions, and if they don’t they still aren’t immediately blotted from the face of the earth. Some bad people repent and end up living holy lives, which is the opposite of being destroyed “without remedy.” If we take Proverbs literally, we will end up very confused—because we’re not reading it the way it was meant to be read.

So yes, in general everything you do flows from the heart. Our moral choices come from our heart, which is why Jesus says we know people by their fruit. But someone with brain damage can’t always control his or her actions. If we read this verse literally, then it means that person is choosing these actions and that he or she is completely responsible for them. This is the kind of interpretation that defies common sense and makes Christians look hopelessly ignorant. In regards to addiction, yes, we need to address the heart, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to address. There are external and biological factors that influence our behavior, and these factors may give us a propensity towards a certain sin, which is why they need to be addressed. Again, the woman I talked to about being a writer for my site committed a non sequitur (and a false dilemma and some sort of argument from exclusion): just because the text only says “heart” doesn’t mean there’s nothing else involved.

If the Bible was just a one-by-one list of rules, perhaps we wouldn’t have this problem, perhaps we could say, “That’s what the Bible says.” But that’s not what the Bible is. The Bible is made up of several different genres that all have different expectations about how they’re supposed to be read. The Bible was written 2000+ years ago, and if we don’t consider each book’s cultural and historical context then we run the risk of misunderstanding what the text is saying. We can’t simply read one verse or passage and say, “Look! That’s what it says!” We have to consider the rest of the Bible, especially the contradictory verses (like in my example with anxiety and Jesus the night before His death). We have to let scripture interpret scripture, and from there try to draw conclusions. The Bible is hard work. As C.S. Lewis said in his book Reflections on the Psalms: “No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish”[i].

I think we need to ditch “That’s the Bible says.” The phrase has done a lot of harm. It shuts people in cages and can discourage them from digging deeper to really understand the Bible. Even for those who genuinely want to uphold truth and don’t quite understand why the Bible says what it does, something gentler like, “I’m trying to uphold God’s truth and this is what I take it to mean” would be better.

I’m not saying the Bible never means what it says. I’m not saying we can make up our own version of truth. I’m not saying we shouldn’t take the Bible seriously (in fact, I’m saying we should take the Bible more seriously through deeper study). What I’m saying is we need to take the Bible on its own terms (for example, reading each book with its genre in mind) and sometimes do further study to truly understand its meaning. When we do that, the Bible will make a lot more sense—including some of its most baffling passages. I’m suggesting we think twice before uttering, “That’s what it says.”

 

References

[i] Lewis, C.S. Reflections on the Psalms. Inspirational Press, 1958, p. 192.

 

This post was originally published on my website: https://www.wrhwriting.com/episode-3-the-problem-with-thats-what-the-bible-says/

It is also the transcript of an episode of my podcast Churchthink.

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Momentary Troubles, Eternal Glory

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18

 

I consider these two verses to be perhaps the most comforting verses for a suffering person. Our current troubles don’t feel “light.” They didn’t to Paul, and they don’t to us. But believers in Christ have the greatest joy just ahead: we get to be with God in His kingdom forever.

Let us remember that when we’re suffering. Our suffering is temporary. For the believer, suffering always has an end. For the believer, joy in Christ has no end.

Persevere, persevere, persevere—even through the worst of times. Let us say with Paul that it will be so worth it.

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

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Simple Ways to Maintain Physical Health with Little or No Exercise Equipment

I recently contributed to CityView Church Pearland’s blog about maintaining physical health during Covid-19. I gave an example of a beginner-level workout, as well as advice about cooking/eating healthy. Here’s the link to that article: https://www.cityviewpearland.com/blog/physical-health-during-distancing

Here is another example of a workout you can do with little or no equipment. This one is a little more advanced.

 

Start out with 3-5 minutes of light calisthenics for warm up. Examples include power walking, light jogging (this can be done in place), lunges, lateral shuffle, jump rope or jump squats (if you’re comfortable jumping; if not, don’t worry about it), lateral lunges, or squats. Do a combination of these at an easy pace.

For each exercise, do 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

  • Single leg balance with multiplanar reach. Balance on one leg. Extend the other leg forward and then bring it back to neutral. Next, extend it directly to the side (right leg would go out to your right, left leg to your left) and bring it to neutral. Then, extend it behind you diagonally. Cycle through all three motions as many times as you can (while staying balanced) for 15-25 seconds. Do both sides. Here is a video of the movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo4P9Y_AQt8
  • Pushups. Try not to let your hips sink down or raise up too much.
  • Lateral lunges. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Lunge directly to your right, keeping your trail leg extended. Keep your hips pressed back as you squat down on your right side (your knee shouldn’t go forward over your toe). Come back to neutral and do the same on the other side (8-12 reps each side). This is a way to get your hip abductor and hip adductor muscles involved in a good leg and cardio exercise. If you have a dumbbell or kettlebell, hold it up at your chest during the exercise.
  • IYTs. Lie on your stomach with your arms straight above your head and thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. Bring your arms straight up a few inches off the ground. Then, move your arms so your body creates a Y and do the same thing. Then, lower your arms to 90 degrees and bring them off the ground. Think about engaging your back muscles to raise your arms, and do 3-4 reps each way. If you have a stability ball (yoga ball—same thing), you can do the IYTs on it. Keep feet on the ground—lay your stomach on the stability ball.
  • Mountain climbers. Starting in a pushup position, lift one foot up toward your chest. Return to starting position and repeat with other leg, alternating back and forth as fast as you can for 8-12 reps each leg.
  • Single leg glute bridge. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Extend one knee until leg is completely straight. Push up through the heel on the ground and bring your hips up until knees, hips, and shoulders are directly in line.

For a cool down, do 1-3 stretches. Some good stretches are child’s pose, t-spine twist, quad pulls, and knee hugs.

 

Do an exercise routine like this 3-5 times a week. Another great idea for exercise (and something you can do on the days you don’t do a workout) is walking, jogging, or biking. This article does a great job discussing how sunlight and fresh air can combat sickness: https://medium.com/@ra.hobday/coronavirus-and-the-sun-a-lesson-from-the-1918-influenza-pandemic-509151dc8065. Just make sure to keep your distance from others! If you can open windows in your house, do it. It will help to get as much sun and fresh air as we can right now.

These are also great ideas to consider anytime of the year, especially if you suffer from anxiety and/or depression. You don’t need any equipment and you don’t need to drive anywhere!

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

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Good Days and Bad Days

There are so many factors that contribute to how we feel each day. The weather, the economy, our boss’s behavior, our spouse’s behavior, our kids’ behavior, how well we slept the last few nights, how much we’ve exercised, our diet, if our favorite sports team won, etc., etc. Some of these are within our control and some of these aren’t.

Sometimes we fail to take care of the things we can control, and we feel miserable because of it. That’s okay. Jesus is there with us and forgives us if we fall. The best thing to do is to pick ourselves up and do our best for the rest of the day.

Sometimes we take care of ourselves perfectly—and the things we can’t control fall apart. That’s okay. The best thing to do is to do our best with our situation.

The point is there are good days and there are bad days. If we always measure ourselves based on our very best on good days, we will have a low opinion of ourselves. That’s not reality: we can’t always be at our best. But we can make the best out of whatever the day has given us or however we feel. It may not be our “absolute best,” but it is the best we can do given our circumstances. And that’s what God calls us to—to be faithful right now, in our current context.

So some days we may not be as happy or gracious or creative or patient or energetic. That’s okay. Good days will come around again. Give yourself some grace. Relax, take a deep breath, and just do your best. That’s all God is calling you to right now.

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

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Seek First His Kingdom, and All These Things Will Be Given to You

The following is an excerpt from my devotional book Pursuing God’s Kingdom Day by Day https://www.amazon.com/Pursuing-Gods-Kingdom-Day-ebook/dp/B07SL2GHFM/

Considering the current Covid-19 situation, this passage might be helpful. I pray our nation would lean into God and have peace.

 

There are many things that can distract us from seeking the Kingdom. Money may be the primary distraction, although pursuing sexual pleasure and social status are big ones, too.

I can certainly relate to money. It’s not that I chase after fortune so I can have a big house and lots of cool stuff. It’s just that I worry about not always having enough to pay the bills. My wife and I have never had that problem, but it’s a worry at the back of my mind. What if this happens? What if that happens?

Some of you may relate. Yes, we should be cognizant of and wise about our finances, but we have to be able to trust God and not let worry consume our lives. It doesn’t matter how much you know about God’s kingdom and how to pursue it if you spend all your time worrying about money (or anything else). I understand some of us may have to work a lot to pay the bills, and that’s okay. As we discussed earlier, your work brings the Kingdom to earth. But if we’re spending our free time worrying about money and not seeking God, we need to seek help from our small group, trusted friend or pastor, a recovery group, or counselor. Or, we may just need to pick ourselves up and go serve someone.

Jesus addresses this in Matthew 6. He exhorts His audience not to worry about life’s necessities: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31). We should remember that His audience in this passage likely consisted largely of poor people. They were dependent on the harvest for food, so we can imagine they worried about the harvest’s productivity. Jesus knows that. He grew up in Galilee—He knows the people’s mindset and how they think about food. His response to this concern is to trust that God will provide because He “knows that you need” all these things (verse 32).

God wants us to trust Him enough to pursue His kingdom. In fact, He wants us to pursue His kingdom “first,” and, He says, “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). That is, make God’s kingdom your priority and He will provide life’s necessities for you.

Questions: What worries or distractions are keeping you from pursuing God’s kingdom? What steps can you take to break free from those worries and distractions?

Prayer: God, it’s hard sometimes to focus on your Kingdom. I’m worried about and distracted by _______ (fill in the blank). Teach me how to trust you instead and pursue your Kingdom. Show me the steps to take to get there. Amen.

 

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://wrhwriting.com/

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Just Because You’re Lonely Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Close to Christ

I’m a part of a few Christian mental health Facebook groups, and one thing I hear repeatedly is the notion that if we feel lonely it’s because we’re not close enough to Christ. Don’t get me wrong: I believe closeness to Christ can help loneliness. Feeling His presence is amazing. But He also hard-wired us for human interaction, and if we don’t get it, then the natural (and God-given) response is to feel lonely.

In our individualistic church culture, people talk as though your personal relationship with Christ is the only thing that matters. But a healthy walk with Christ necessitates that we seek out Christian community. God didn’t design us to walk with Him alone—He designed that a people would walk with Him. To deny others in favor of a one-on-one relationship with Christ is to object to His desire and call for our lives. Misguided Christians guilt lonely brothers and sisters into thinking they aren’t close enough to Christ when in reality to seek Christ at the expense of community is to fall farther away from Christ. Their solution is the problem. To walk with Christ is to walk with others. We should seek community while not neglecting our individual closeness with Christ.

If we feel lonely, we should do our best to find community. We should think of ways to invite others over or to create hang outs that others would want to attend. When we get frustrated, we keep trying. And during this process, we continue our personal prayer and Bible reading time. That, I think, is a better solution than simply telling people to get closer to Jesus.

 

W.R. Harris is the founder and owner of Persevering Hope. He is an author who has written six books to date. You can check out his author website here: http://www.wrhwriting.com/