This message by Pastor Kevin Harris explores the foundation of the church and Jesus’ purpose for the church in today’s world. The focal text for the message is Matthew 16:13–20.
My father passed from this world into the next on April 9, 2015. I gave this eulogy for his memorial service on April 11, 2015 at Central Baptist Church in Magnolia, Arkansas.
– Kevin Harris, Fort Worth, Texas
His name was “Harold William Harris.”
His mother called him “Harold.”
Many called him ‘Hal’.
He was known by his family as ‘Daddy, Dad, or honey’.
Many people in Magnolia and Hope called him ‘Mr. Hal’.
Occasionally, when he was in trouble with my mom, she called him ‘William E!’ — after his father. Because he really did take after my grandaddy in so many ways.
After the birth of his first grandson, Ryan, my dad decided that wanted to be called ‘Pop’. It didn’t take long for all of us to start calling him ‘Pop’ — even by those who were honorary members of The Harris Family.
We are here today to honor the life of my father. But anybody who knew Hal Harris well, knew of his humility. Pop was a shy man about public accolades. He would much rather see his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ proclaimed.
Pop’s main desire in this life was that he be known as a good and faithful servant of Christ. He understood clearly that our faithfulness to God pales in comparison to the faithfulness that God shows toward us, which is so clearly spelled out for us in that old hymn that we just sang [Great is Thy Faithfulness].
I have been told by many of you — both before and after his death — that Hal Harris was well known and recognized for his sweet and encouraging personality, for his acts of service to this church and the people of Magnolia and Hope. But perhaps the greatest hallmark of his character was his great faith in God.
I have seen this goal of his met in many ways throughout my dad’s life. But nothing held a candle to the way his light for Christ shined in the last few years of his life.
His long battle with cancer, especially after the cancer went to the bone three years ago, echoed with the refrain of his great faithfulness. He would not hesitate to tell anyone proudly how his faith in Christ sustained him through the great inconvenience that cancer had on his life.
Many of you have remarked upon the fact that Hal Harris was inspirational to you. So many of you have said that his Sunday School lessons given in the Adult Men’s Sunday School class had a great impact on your life and the on way that you have lived. I know that many of you have sought out his advice just as I have done as his son.
Of course you all know that dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer over 16 years ago. This was a diagnosis that he shared with his father and brother. As a result of the hereditary connection with this cancer, he never failed to warn his sons, grandsons, and nephews to get their annual checkups and to know exactly what their PSA number was and to be aware of any fluctuations from year to year in order to allow for early detection and treatment.
It was three years ago that we learned of Pop’s diagnosis revealing that his cancer had moved into the bone. We as a family were told that we may not see Christmas together due to the rapid progression of his disease. We thank God that we had three extra Christmases with him.
This news seemed to light a fire in Pop as he realized that his time was short. He began to do things that some would view as odd. I sat in restaurants with him as he asked waitstaff how he could pray with them. This often took people by surprise. But Pop was truly sincere and more than once I saw him take the hand of a waitress and pray openly and honestly for their concerns right there in the middle of a busy restaurant.
Pop really cared about people and was very encouraging to anybody that he met. I know for a fact that he asked some of you how your walk with Christ was and he always sought to encourage others to gain firm assurance of their salvation in Christ.
Many of you know that, in recent weeks, dad began to get some confusion in his words. This was the result of a small stroke and the loss of his ability to communicate his thoughts frustrated him greatly.
We had one of these incidents on Easter Sunday morning as we watched the church cantata playing on TV. It was rather alarming and we were attempting to diagnose the severity of his condition. We asked him several diagnostic questions like:
“What’s your name? When were you born? What is my name?”
Pop’s confusion was pronounced and he had some difficulty answering any of our questions.
Grasping at straws, my brother, Keith, asked him, “Pop, are you a Razorback fan?” He responded quickly and with great resolve, “NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!!!”
Pop has always been and always will be a Razorback fan, if such a thing is possible in Heaven. He was very proud of his second granddaughter, Morgan, who recently started a new job working in the athletics department at the University of Arkansas.[I won’t have you all call the Hogs, because I might have trouble with Brother Mike if I do that. Not to mention my mother.]
Easter Sunday was our last good day with Pop. We are blessed that his convalescence was brief. But in his rapid decline we could see him slowly withdraw disconnecting from this weary world as his mind turned toward the glory of the next.
I gave Pop a book for Christmas titled Heaven, by the author Randy Alcorn. Pop allowed that book to prepare him for his move to his new address. Alcorn had this to say about death:
“God uses suffering and impending death to unfasten us from this earth and to set our minds on what lies beyond.”
As we gathered around Pop’s bed near the end, there was a great anticipation among us as we saw him go through this process. We saw it very clearly that he was nearing the finish line of the race of his life. We, together as a family, cheered him on, encouraging him like a runner in a marathon.
In my mind, we were clearly standing on the leading side of the finish line but I could also see a great crowd of faithful spectators standing on the other side of the finish line cheering him on as he arrived. And right there at the end of his long race was the throne where Christ was waiting to embrace this long expected friend of the Father.
Pop wanted for you all to know what he knew:
The Secret That Takes Away Death’s Sting
Pop knew that the only thing that can take away the curse of this world is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who died on our behalf, the one who has gone ahead to make place for us to live with him for eternity. Without this relationship there is a great fear of death and the sting associated with it.
As Christ stood with his disciples at his Ascension, he knew that he was departing from their presence to be in Heaven. Christ told them to “be of good cheer.” If you count yourself as a follower of Christ, these words apply to you today just the same as the disciples on that great day.
We, The Harris Family, have a great cheer and an odd sense of relief in knowing that Pop finished well in the race of his life. He was welcomed into the arms of Father God as well as the arms of his earthly father, his mother and sister as well as many others who ran along ahead of him from this world into the next.
The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church of Colossae and in reality to us all ‘Set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above not on earthly things.’ – Colossians 3:1
Pop knew what this meant. And he would encourage you all to live your lives with your eyes toward the prize. We cannot set our eyes on Christ without setting our eyes on Heaven and we cannot set our eyes on Heaven without setting our eyes on Christ. In other words, the whole purpose of Heaven is Christ. And while we plant our feet on this earth, which can be weary and difficult, it is the job of the Christian to overcome the doldrums of this world with great anticipation for the glory of the next.
Pop finished his race a winner and I pass along this question to you all… How well will you finish the race of your life?
There I was, in the middle of a stressful workday when I received an unexpected call. It was not a call on my cell phone or even a voicemail, but a call from God. He was calling to say, “I want you back in full-time ministry.” This call set off an emotional, spiritual, and financial roller coaster ride in my life.
While I have served in a lay-ministry role for several years, I have not considered my calling to ministry in almost 18 years when I dropped out of seminary and went to work in a secular job setting. I kept my wife in school and helped her get through her two Master’s degrees. Then I helped support her through her early years of working as a marriage and family counselor to the point that she has established a remarkable counseling ministry to the Hispanic population in Fort Worth. I thought this was enough. I thought I was fulfilling God’s desire for my life. Apparently He had other plans.
This call, this interruption to the status quo in my life, came as a surprise to me. It probably should not have been such a surprise, after all there were plenty of warning signs. But I was not paying attention to those. I was just busy living life and taking care of business and family.
After three years of volunteering as the lay ministry leader for HISchild Orphan Care ministry, leading the Operation Christmas Child effort at Christ Chapel, and establishing Foster Family FUNday, I have often found myself wishing that I could do this kind of ministry work on a more regular basis. But after each ministry project was completed I would return to my secular job with the feeling that I was missing out on something bigger and better. Several times over the last year or two, friends and family would indicate that they thought I would be good in a full-time ministry position. I would laugh it off or just say “I don’t think that is what God has for me right now.” When my boss asked me during my annual evaluation if I had considered full-time ministry as a possibility, it surprised me. Then it stuck with me. I found that question ringing in my ears throughout the days that followed.
The day that God impressed on my heart that He wanted me back in His service, I picked up the phone to call my Life Stage Pastor. My hands were shaking, I was near tears, my stomach was in knots, just as if I was in the middle of a giant drop leading into the barrel roll on a roller coaster. It can be an exciting, yet frightening time when God taps you to serve Him. Henry Blackaby calls this a Crisis of Belief in his book, Experiencing God. This is what Moses felt in the pit of his stomach when he stood before the burning bush saying, “Who am I, that I should go?” (Exodus 3:11). When faced with a God-sized task, we often find ourselves questioning whether God picked the right person for the job.
My encounter with God set me on a journey of prayer and waiting. I began to pray night and day as I continued my daily routine, “God show me what you want!” It was not long after this call that my family was blessed to go on a family mission trip to El Salvador. There is nothing like seeing your family sharing the gospel to put the winds in your sail. A few weeks after returning from El Salvador, I had the opportunity to go to Ecuador for an Operation Christmas Child gift distribution. This gave me the chance to see how our work with collecting shoeboxes helps to bring the gospel to children all over the world. Both of these mission trips just affirmed God’s call and reenergized my desire to serve Him.
As I continued to pray to the Lord about His will, He answered me repeatedly by telling me to wait on Him and rest in Him (Psalm 31:24; Matthew 11:28). So, that is exactly what I did. I continued to wait and rest and pray… until I lost my job.
I showed up to work and learned that I no longer had a job. My normal response to something like this would be to panic and rush out to find another job. However, the Lord impressed on me that this was not something that should cause me to panic. After all, at this point I had been praying for two months for God to show me His will for my life. How could I come to any other conclusion other than that God had taken away my job so that I could rest in Him and trust in His provision?
After discussing this with my wife we decided to take a very radical step. We decided that I should do exactly what God was telling me to do… rest and pray. This concept absolutely flies in the face of modern logic. Who… in this economy… in their right mind… with any common sense would consider waiting on God when bills need to be paid? But God has promised us repeatedly throughout this time that He is in control of the situation and is taking care of us in ways that we could never have imagined.
I should probably add a disclaimer here that this path is not for everyone. It is not necessarily easy to sit and wait while you are unemployed. And, to be honest, God’s word for me will very likely be quite different from His instructions for someone else. My wife and I prayed earnestly about this and felt that God was leading us into a time where we needed to learn how to trust in Him rather than ourselves for our daily provisions.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:25-33 NET
We have certainly tightened up our belts and our budget during these lean times. But God has been faithful to His word. We have not wanted and have not missed a single meal. He has proven to us time and time again that we can trust in Him in good times and bad times.
Trusting God – totally trusting Him – is not so easy. There are days where I turn to Him and trust in Him completely. But the next day I may find myself struggling with anxiety or self-pity. I find that there are days where I can stand firm in defiance against the attacks of the enemy and other days where I am hunkered down in a foxhole under attack. But my Lord is strong and able to protect me from the enemy as long as I stay in His protection.
My journey of living in God’s will is not over. In fact, in many ways the journey has just begun. I have not yet found the best fit for a ministry job. And after several weeks of being unemployed, I continue to rest in Him and trust Him to provide for us daily. God is working in moving in ways that are remarkable. He is working out the details and putting together the perfect job for me. There is no place I would rather be than in the sweet spot of God’s will. Life with God is a rich life filled with joy and purpose.
This post was originally published in -ology, a ministry magazine of Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Both Easy AND Hard
Should a Christ Follower expect life to be easy or hard? We, in the US, have it easy (in the global perspective) and, therefore, expect life to be fairly easy. We expect our faith and spiritual formation to come pretty easy as well. But to what detriment is an easy faith in Christ?
Christ himself promised us that following him would be extremely hard. But at the same time he said that it would be easy.
Confused our first response is, “Hard AND Easy? How can it be both?”
Christ came to us saying, “Give me your ALL. I don’t want a piece of you or some small morsel. I want ALL of you.”
Our response is usually, “What you mean ALL of me? You’ve got to be kidding!”
We often want to carve out some small portion of our existence and hand it over to God Almighty as though it is some great reward, all the while expecting to be praised for giving of ourselves. We say, “Hey, don’t say I never gave nothing of myself! Look at what I gave you! That’s some good stuff there!”
Christ responds, “That’s simply not good enough. It won’t do to offer me a small piece of you. It’s ALL or nothing with me.”
Christ has the nerve to say to us “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 NET). C.S. Lewis said it would be “like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp.” Christ is telling us here that following him will never be easy. But, to confuse the issue, moments later he says to us “my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:30 NET).
Followers of Christ in Postmodern Society
This is confusing to us in a postmodern society. How can it be both more difficult and more easy? Outsiders looking in at the lives of the followers of Christ see contradiction and conflict. They have a difficult time following the reasoning and rationale of the Christian mindset.
The postmodern society that we live in has an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” spiritual mindset. They think that anybody can believe whatever they want to believe as long as they leave everybody else alone.
D.A. Carson said it this way in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway Books, 2000):
more and more people believe that the only heresy left is the view that there is such a thing as heresy. They hold that all religions are fundamentally the same and that, therefore, it is not only rude but profoundly ignorant and old-fashioned to try to win someone else to your beliefs since implicitly that is announcing that theirs are inferior.
We, as followers of Christ, have a difficult decision to make. Can we afford to conform to the expectations of the culture around us? Culture tells us that religion is a private thing and each individual has the right to believe whatever appeals to him personally. This is called pluralism. It is the growing belief that “all paths lead to God.” But how do we reconcile the fact that my belief rules out the possibility that my neighbor’s belief is false.
We, as followers of Christ and the One True God, simply cannot accept this pluralistic view of God. We cannot accept or promote the belief that “all paths lead to God.” It flies in the face of the core truth of the Bible, “there is but One True God.” Therefore we have to ask ourselves, “Am I going to believe God or Man?”
The Almost Impossible Thing
Giving our ALL to Christ, C. S. Lewis called this “the almost impossible thing.” This means handing over to Christ every fiber of our being – all our dreams and aspirations, our baggage and precautions, our fears, our beliefs, and ultimately our actions. Christ tells us that it will be difficult to follow him, but he also promises us that great and mighty things will come to those who sacrifice themselves for his cause. “Whoever finds his life, will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” (Matthew 10:39 NET)
Christ describes this service to his cause as accumulating treasure in heaven:
Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NET)
In our culture it is a difficult problem evaluating where our heart is. Evaluating means taking an honest look at ourselves. And then there’s the problem of what to do if we don’t like what we find. Will we be ready to make the necessary course adjustments?
Too often, we miss the boat at the very beginning of the journey. At the beginning of the day all that stuff comes rushing at us, filling our mind, drowning out that other voice. It’s difficult to do, and I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but we must learn how to push back all that stuff and spend a few moments listening to that other voice and refocusing our day. We must daily dedicate ourselves to the cause of Christ. We must dedicate every portion of our lives to him and his cause. Then we must practice living out this dedication throughout the day, at work, at school, at home, at play.
Now, I know this sounds idealistic and impossible. “Really? Giving my ALL to his cause? You can’t really mean ALL!”
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Remember that it’s called “the almost impossible thing.” It won’t happen perfectly the first time or maybe even the hundredth time, but don’t give up. You won’t be able to measure your success in minutes or hours or days. But over time you will see a change. Eugene Peterson called this process “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”
That is what Christ wants. He is asking you, point blank, to sacrifice yourself to his cause regularly and methodically.
The Easy Part
“Okay, I get the picture, it’s going to be hard. But you also said it would be easy. How does that work?”
Christ called this life serving his cause being “in his yoke.”
“Yoke? What’s that?”
A yoke is an agricultural device used to tie oxen and cattle together in plowing the field. It is primarily a training device. It ties the younger, inexperienced ox to an older, more experienced ox so that the younger may learn the plowing process.
Christ is acknowledging that it is a difficult process to serve his cause, but with some discipline and training, the process will become much easier.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NET)
This process of learning from Christ requires discipline and will power. But if we will submit ourselves to his leading and training, the process will become almost easy. I call this process being an apprentice of Christ, because I am always learning and growing in him.