Why the title Wake Up, Sleepy One?

Why the title Wake Up, Sleepy One? Sometimes we get so focused on surviving life that we loose perspective on the big picture. Wake Up, Sleepy One is meant to help you refocus and rediscover what you should prioritize. The title is taken from the following scriptures: Romans 13:11 and Ephesians 5:14.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why You Should Take Your Kids to Church

Full disclosure: As a youth pastor, I’m a little biased about the value of church.  However, I’m writing this primarily as a parent of a teenager who is ready to graduate from high school and who has been filling out a lot of scholarship applications. 

Too few parents realize the value of involving their kids in church.  First and foremost, a good Bible teaching church and youth program will improve your child’s academics.  How, you ask?  If they are learning the Bible, they are learning history, geography, a boat-load of vocabulary, some mathematics, plus literary genres and writing styles, as well as many cultural references that have helped to shape Judeo-Christian societies for millennia.  Simply put, if you’re not Biblically literate, your education is lacking.  Over and over, I’ve seen how reading the Bible improves literacy and academics as well as critical thinking and reasoning skills.  There is a reason why the Bible used to be the foremost textbook in American schools.   

Secondly, in order to be an informed citizen and function well in society, you need to know something about laws and the purpose of government.  Did you know that our legal system and government are based on the Bible?  If you read the laws established by Moses in the Old Testament and the way he set up a representative style of government, you will have a basic understanding of our government, our justice system, and the laws upon which our society is built.  This is another benefit of knowing the Bible, and again, this is not something your kids will hear in a public school.

Much is being written now about emotional intelligence.  What is emotional intelligence?  It’s knowing how to interact well with others and make good judgments to avoid and solve problems.  Sounds like a great skill, right?  Some say it is the key to personal and professional success.  Where can you find an education in emotional intelligence?  Read the Bible and put its teachings on how to treat others into action.  Better yet, find someone at your church who can explain the Bible and put its relational teachings into real-world contexts for young people.  Treating others well will open many doors relationally and professionally. 

Let’s talk about morals.  Nothing can shipwreck your life faster than bad moral decisions, such as getting involved in bad relationships, pornography and promiscuity, under-age drinking, illegal drug use, and other behaviors that can become addictive.  No one wants these things for their kids.  Being involved in church with other young people and having an outlet for good, clean fun is a valuable way to safeguard your kids.  If your church is doing a good job, your child will receive a moral education from studying the Bible that is not being taught anymore in public education.  Establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ gives young adults a huge reason to refuse to be involved in damaging activities as well as the moral fortitude to stick with their convictions in the face of peer pressure. 

Let’s get back to those scholarship applications.  Most universities and scholarship committees are looking for a combination of good academics, extra-curricular involvement, sound character qualities, leadership skills, and community service.  It wasn’t until my daughter began listing her community service activities and leadership experience that I began to take note how integral youth ministry has been in her personal development.  Again, if your church is doing a good job, your kids will have opportunities to serve others in your community.  It could be preparing meals or food baskets for those struggling with poverty, it could be ministering to the elderly in nursing homes, volunteering at community organizations, helping in the nursery, teaching a Sunday school class, making a presentation for other teens, praying with those in need, raising funds for missions, attending conferences, playing music, singing in the choir, or helping to set up before and clean up after events.  Any of these activities are experiences that can be listed on a resume for community service.  If you can encourage your child to take the lead on some of these activities, all the better.  Sports involvement is great for physical fitness, but doing community service regularly with a church group establishes the habit and priority of caring for others.  This is something that will help your child become an outstanding young adult and be recognized as such. 

Finally, it’s never too late to get involved in a good church youth program.  I encourage you to prioritize your time and make room for church and a good Biblical education.  The benefits are both immediate and eternal.

Monday, September 12, 2016

To Take a Knee Or Not: Exactly What Am I Protesting?

I’ve been watching the debate over Colin Kaepernick with great interest because I have many dear friends from diverse backgrounds and many family members who are veterans.  I want to share some thoughts.  

First, let's understand the true meaning of the term "discrimination" and how it has been completely distorted in recent decades.  The real definition of “to discriminate” is to recognize a distinction; to differentiate.  To understand that a plant is different than a rock is to discriminate between the two.  Most of our schooling focused on learning to discriminate between similar and dissimilar things.  But now in popular culture "discrimination" only means the condition of be prejudiced and acting unjustly against someone because of a particular trait or a category.  How sad that we’re no longer allowed to notice and celebrate the things about one another that make us unique, different, and sometimes astonishingly similar—all because everyone is convinced that "to discriminate" is a terrible thing!

General Washington takes a knee.
Second, let’s not confuse the American ideals found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with the failings of individuals and of the government.  Here’s an analogy to explain what I mean.  Unfortunately, we’ve all met this person—the one who claims to be a Christian but is unethical in business, or unfaithful in marriage, or commits some other ghastly sin clearly against scripture.  Now I hope you wouldn’t take notice of this person’s failings and wrongly conclude that Jesus did likewise and that all the principles of Scripture are therefore trash.  I hope instead you would realize that this person—for whatever reason—did not behave like Jesus in living up to Christian ideals.  So it is with our country.  Many Americans throughout history have not lived up to the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence—that all people are created equal and that they all have rights given to them by their Creator that cannot be taken away, including the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness.  The people of this country have not always lived up to these ideals, and yes, slavery was a gross affront to our principles of freedom.  But our founders set these ideals on paper because they knew that we could and should work toward becoming like them.  Our founders outlined our essential liberties in the Bill of Rights and limited the power of the government to control us so that we would be free to become the people of the Declaration of Independence.  Have we studied the principles and ideals the founders outlined?  Or are we just angrily concluding that the failure of imperfect people to live up to American ideals makes all American principles junk?

I understand that Kaepernick and others are protesting discrimination and prejudice, which is a worthy cause.  But I’m not so sure they've chosen a good way to do it.  Focusing a protest on The Star Spangled Banner—the song and the symbol that represent for so many all that is good about America—allows people to misinterpret the protest as an act of disrespect.  Or even worse—they might think it is an expression of hatred for America and her principles of freedom for all, which ironically is what should protect us from injustice and acts of discrimination in the first place.  Is America perfect?  No.  Because people aren't perfect.  Are the core American ideals good?  Yes, but we only benefit from them to the extent that we live by them.  

Take a Knee and Pray With Me
So perhaps taking a knee during the national anthem or raising a fist is not the best way to protest the failings of imperfect people.  If you’re going to have a movement and get buy-in, it’s best if you design your movement so that it can’t be misinterpreted.  Here’s my suggestion: How about standing during the national anthem with hand over heart to demonstrate respect, and then having a moment of silence after the song—and take a knee then—to pray that all Americans (including the one in the mirror) will be able to live up to American ideals, to love one another, and to fight against prejudice.  What if I'm too angry to pray?  Well, that's probably the best time to pray.  God can handle anger, and earnest heart-felt prayers are sometimes the most effective ones.

One final thought:  I’ve heard people declare they won’t say the pledge of allegiance.  My question is this: To what are you pledging allegiance?  To all the actions, good and terrible, of all Americans?  Or are you pledging allegiance to the ideals of America…to liberty and justice for all?  Think about it…     

Saturday, November 21, 2015


"Good fences make good neighbors."  Have you ever heard this phrase?  Fences and boundaries keep things where they belong (for example, dogs inside a fenced yard and cows inside a fenced field).  Fences keep damage from occurring.  Consider the fence around a garden that keeps animals and lawn mowers out.  

It may seem counterintuitive, but fences improve relationships, especially when fences are installed for protection.  Consider what could happen if your neighbor's pool yard isn't fenced.  A young child could wander by, fall in, and drown. Guard rails on roads prevent us from leaving the roadway and crashing off cliffs.  Fences protect, they keep things where they belong, and they prevent damage from occurring.  

But why are we talking about fences and boundaries?  Because your relationships need boundaries.    

Young people, no one except your immediate family should have 24/7 access to you.  This generation faces a unique challenge and danger because social media and cell phones can strip away a much-needed boundary. Your friends should not expect 24/7 access to you.  You need time away, time with your family, and time alone with God to stay grounded spiritually.  Put a boundary there.  Restrict technology use to specific hours only. Relationships need boundaries.

What about special relationships that may become romantic?  These relationships need some serious guard rails.  First of all, a romantic relationship can make you vulnerable to being hurt, so don't be in a hurry to rush into one.  And don't put all your cards on the table immediately, as this will open you up to rejection and disappointment if the other person doesn't feel the same way you do.  If it's God's will, that relationship will develop without you pushing it forward. If you move too quickly, you'll likely frighten the other person away.  Enjoy and be content with friendship over romance.  Set a boundary there.  Understand that God is the author of romance and will write a better love story for you than you could ever imagine.  So let Him be in charge of your romance, even if His charge is "not yet." Be determined not to violate God's boundaries.

Finally, we put valuable things behind fences.  Malls have cops, the White House has Secret Security, and bank vaults have giant locks.  Have you noticed that no one guards a dumpster?  Military bases have blockades and fences, and so does Area 51...

Area 51 has boundaries around it with huge warning signs.  You can be arrested or shot for entering.  No one without proper clearance knows what is in there.  What if Area 51 had no fence around it and anyone could walk in without consequences?  There would be no mystery and people would lose interest in it.  The high security creates a mystery and a fascination.  But if there was no fence, no one would care about Area 51.
If you want some young man or some young lady to be interested in you, set a boundary.  Don't allow access to your physical body.  Wear attractive, but modest clothing.  Be a mystery until the appropriate clearance is obtained through a wedding ceremony.  Set a boundary there and guard it with high security.  Realize that you are valuable and valuable things are kept for special purposes.  They are not available to everyone--only to the authorized one.  

When God restricts and disciplines us, it is for our good.  When He puts boundaries around us, it is because He is protecting something of amazing value:  YOU!!!  He doesn't want disappointment or hurt to separate you from Him.  

What boundaries do you need to set in your life today?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rebuilding the Walls

I prepared these remarks for our Sunday, March 15, 2015 church service, in which Pastor Jim Palmer, Assistant Superintendent of the Ohio Ministry Network, presented a certificate of ministry to me before my congregation.  

From left to right: Jeff and Mary Harmison and Jim Palmer
Nehemiah was grieved when he heard that the walls of Jerusalem, the hometown—if you will—of his people, were broken down.  He knew that meant they had no defense against their enemies, and he was worried about his countrymen.  They needed protection.  Nehemiah was not in Jerusalem.  He was in Persia, serving the king of Persia, and he began to pray that God would intervene and make a way for him to travel to Jerusalem to help his people.  And God did exactly that.   

A couple of years ago, I became increasingly aware of the need for God’s people to be equipped to defend and share their faith.  Spiritually speaking, we have an enemy out there who hates us.  He hates our liberty, and he wants to do everything he possibly can to intimidate us into silence so that we won’t share the gospel with those who don’t yet know Christ.  He wants us to be ashamed of our views so that we won’t speak the truth, so that we won’t take a stand on controversial issues.  He wants to brow beat our kids into abandoning their faith and embracing things they shouldn’t.

Today, our freedom and our religious liberties are under attack, and the moral walls of American culture are lying in ruins.  We, the church, know the Answer.  Like Nehemiah and his countrymen, we need to step up and confess our shortcomings and our sins to God.  We need to seek God's favor and direction, and then we need to get busy rebuilding the walls where we live.  Every one of us has a role to play in this effort. 
About two and half years ago, I began to pray and seek God for wisdom about my part.  What can I do to make a difference?  What can I do to share my faith with others?  What can I do to equip God’s people—especially our kids and students?  God has given me several assignments, but one of the assignments was not something I anticipated.  He called me into ministry and told me I needed to study for my credentials.  So two years later, here I am.  Daily, I want to take advantage of every opportunity God provides to love others, show His compassion, speak the truth, and rebuild the walls—and I want to challenge you to do the same. 

Finally, I want to thank all of you for your prayers and support.  I would not be standing here today without them.  I want to thank my family and especially my husband and my kids, who are partners in ministry with me.  You three are a huge blessing to me, and I’m so grateful for you. 

Written Saturday, March 14, 2015.  Those who heard Pastor Palmer’s address on Sunday may note some striking similarities between his message and these written remarks, which I did not deliver in their entirety, due to the fact that Pastor Palmer had just covered very similar concepts during his introduction.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Will the Real Church Please Rise?

Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the term "church."  If you ask a child to tell you what a church is, the answer will likely involve a physical building with a tall steeple, which is technically correct.  But the church is more than a building.  In fact, in Biblical terms, the church is not a building at all.  The church is people--people who are following Jesus Christ--and therefore, the church is much more than a building.

According to the Bible, the Church includes all Christians "who have received forgiveness through Jesus Christ and placed their faith in Him as the only sacrifice for their sins."  There are "no boundaries as to age, race, gender, or denomination.  Every believer collectively makes up the Church and is the dwelling place of God through the Holy Spirit."

The preceding quotes are from the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths, specifically Truth #10: God Designed the Church for a Purpose and a Mission.  From scripture, the founders of the Assemblies of God identified a four-fold mission for the Church:

  1. To seek and to save people who are lost in sin by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ (evangelism)
  2. To be a corporate body in which people may worship God (worship)    
  3. To build up and equip people so that they may grow to maturity in their Christian faith and become more and more like Jesus (edification)
  4. To demonstrate God's love and compassion to all the world (compassion) 
Personally, I think the vast majority of American Christians have a very skewed image of the Church and its purpose that too often revolves around getting rather than giving.  They go to church to get something, and many of these folks fall victim to the "What's in it for me?" mentality.  When they don't think they're getting enough out of it, they quit going.  What they don't understand is that a church experience should be as much about giving as it is about receiving.

Look again at those mission objectives above.  If you're a not a Christian, most of those points are about receiving: receiving the Good News, receiving a new understanding of God through a worship experience, receiving teaching and knowledge from the Bible, and maybe receiving a tangible gift that meets your physical, financial, emotional, or spiritual needs.  However, if you are a Christian, you should help give the Good News to others; you should give your worship to God; you should give yourself by learning and helping in various ways to teach, encourage, and equip others; and you should give some of your time, talent, and resources to help those in desperate need.

You see, there is only so much growing you can do through receiving alone.  After you pass a certain point, you stop growing, and the only way to continue maturing in your faith is through giving.  The apostle Paul reminded us in Acts 20:35 of Jesus' words: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."  Jesus told his disciples as he sent them out to minister to others, "You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment." (Matthew 10:8)  Everyone, no matter how old or young, no matter how rich or poor, how busy or how disabled, can find some way to give to God and be a blessing to others.  And the awesome thing is this: as we give to others, God meets our own needs in ways that only He can.

So let's go back to my original point.  Can your church building share the gospel with the lost and hurting?  Can your building worship God?  Can your building encourage, pray for, or teach others?  Can your building give to the poor and needy?  No.  Only people can do these things.  A church building is a valuable tool to be used in accomplishing these objectives.  But it is just a tool.

You are the Church.

Can your building move around the city?  Can it go visit someone in the hospital or in the next county?  No.  But you can.  You are the church.  And the ministry of the Church can happen anywhere you go because you are mobile.  You can even do ministry out of the comfort of your home by inviting others over for a meal, a Christian-themed movie, prayer, or a Bible study, or just to minister to them by listening to their troubles.  You might find that your non-Christian friends are much more willing to visit your home than a church building.  That is ministry.  That is giving.

When we have a narrow focus and think that ministry only happens within the 4 walls of a specific building, we limit God.  The church is not a building.  You are the Church.  How can you give?    

You have been treated generously, so live generously. 
Matthew 10:8, The Message 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Beautiful Mess

In his book Jesus On Trial, David Limbaugh describes some of the seemingly counterintuitive paradoxes of Christianity that, upon deep reflection, force us to grasp concepts better than we would have if they had been presented in straightforward terms.  He writes, "If...all biblical truth were completely straightforward and comprehensible without the necessity to think deeply about it, we wouldn't learn the principles as thoroughly or grow as much." (p.67)

One of these paradoxes can be found in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  It is the concept that we are made stronger by our weaknesses.  After asking God to remove a difficulty in his life, Paul wrote that God denied his request, saying to him, "My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness." (CEV)  A related concept found in James 1:2 is that we will find joy in our suffering.  James wrote, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds..." (NIV)  Now what is this all about?  At first glance, we might wonder if James was smoking something... 

I've been hesitant to write about the things happening in my life over the last few months because I've wanted to avoid two things: 1) People interpreting my writing as an attempt to elicit sympathy, and 2) the temptation to become and the perception of being completely self-absorbed.  Neither of these things is appealing to me.  However, it has also occurred to me that if I share what my husband and I have been through and what God has done, others might be encouraged, or perhaps gain some insight as to the treasure that could be hidden inside the difficulties of life.  So here goes...

A few months ago, my husband's health took a confusing turn for the worse, so much so that he was unable to work.  There was a trip to the ER, followed by many tests and doctor appointments, with no answers readily forthcoming.  He now has a documented breathing disability, has had and is recovering from a minor surgery, and is ready to return to work, but cannot for complicated reasons that have to do with his employer.  Did I mention that all this has taken place while my house is in the middle of major renovations?  This situation has had many ramifications, including stress for everyone, health implications, financial implications (medical bills plus loss of income), career implications, anxiety, frustration, depression, changes in roles and schedules, and so on.  It sounds a little bleak, doesn't it?  As I write this, we still don't know if my husband will be able to return to a paid position with his present employer or if his job there is essentially over.  We will celebrate our 20th anniversary on Christmas Eve, probably with many questions still unanswered.

But as my husband and I have reflected back over the last four months, we've found we're profoundly grateful and, dare I say it?  Cheerful?  Even joyful?  Oh, I won't deny there have been other emotions along the way: anger, confusion, frustration, sadness, even grief.  But something else crazy happened along the way.  We began to examine our lives, the choices we were making, and the long-term effects of those choices.  We began to regularly take one another's hands and pray, baring our souls to one another, and taking our concerns and questions to God.  And God began to show us things.  Things we could change to make things better.  Things that were beyond our control that humbled us.  And blessings that we didn't realize we possessed until we faced these difficulties.  We realized that we were growing closer to one another and more appreciative of each other, as well as the people and the many good things in our lives.  And we were depending more on God.  And then God did something awesome for us:  He restored our sense of humor.  We intentionally began looking for the lighter side of things, and we began laughing more.  And finally, we came to the realization that this is season in our lives, a season with a purpose, and a season that will pass, but God's love is and always will be unchanged.  He is there for us always, through thick and thin, and we will be there for each other through this season and beyond.

So as I approach the end of the year and my 20th anniversary, I can say paradoxically that this has been the most awesome year, and I am so profoundly grateful for every difficulty and challenge that has happened in the last few months!  For they have shown me where my treasure lies.  It lies in my relationship with the Almighty, All-knowing Creator who loves me and wants the best for me even when it hurts, and it lies in the relationships I have with my spouse, my children, my family, and my friends.  The rest is just icing on the cake.  Life is better than good.  Life is a beautiful mess in the Master's hands, and I'm not afraid to share it with you!  Song writer Ellie Holcomb says it eloquently:

The Broken Beautiful

I know that I don't bring a lot to the table
Just little pieces of a broken heart
There's days I wonder if You'll still be faithful
Hold me together when I fall apart?
Would You remind me now of who You are?

That Your love will never change,
that there's healing in your name
That You can take broken things,
and make them beautiful
You took my shame
And You walked out of the grave
So Your love can take broken things
and make them beautiful

I'm better off when I begin to remember
How You have met me in my deepest pain
So give me glimpses now of how You have covered
All of my heart ache, oh with all Your grace
Remind me now that You can make a way

That Your love will never change,
that there's healing in your name
That You can take broken things,
and make them beautiful
You took my shame
And You walked out of the grave
So Your love can take broken things
and make them beautiful

You say that You'll turn my weeping into dancing
Remove my sadness & cover me with joy
You say your scars are the evidence of healing
That You can make the broken beautiful
You make us beautiful, oh oh
You make us beautiful

I can identify with Paul's paradoxical sentiments in 2 Corintians 12:9-10 (CEV):

He said to me, "My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness."  So I'll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ's power can rest on me.  Therefore, I'm all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harrassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I'm weak, then I'm strong.  
...because of Him.



Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson Fear and Hope

To all my African American friends, especially those who have expressed fear for their children in the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy, my heart goes out to you.  I value and treasure your friendship.  You and your children are always welcome in my home and church, and as much as I can make it possible, in every part of my community.  May I offer you a ray of hope?  Yes, we know racism exists in America, and looking at the news, you might be tempted to think it's everywhere.  But the good news is--it's not everywhere!  Don't be overwhelmed with fear.  There are many people who are eager to receive you and your sons and daughters and build positive relationships with you.

The Ferguson story has been tragic in many ways, but in my opinion the saddest part is its potential to erase good will between people and supplant it with fear.  It has also impressed on me the importance in our lives of personal responsibility and holding ourselves accountable before God and others.  Before God, we are all created equal; no one has an advantage or disadvantage because of their color.  God has created each of us uniquely beautiful.  Although our circumstances may be different, we all have freedom of will.  We all must choose how we will exercise our free will.  When we make good choices to love God, love others as we love ourselves, and follow His commands, His favor and blessings cannot help but to chase us down and overcome us.  We will have valuable, positive relationships with others.  Conversely, when we make poor choices, we will surely reap what we sow.  No matter what your color, if you radiate an attitude of disrespect, the probability of receiving disrespect in return rises.  These are universal principles; they apply to all.

So here is my advice to all--Caucasian, African American, or insert your race here--going through life with a chip on your shoulder, blaming others, and thinking that someone owes you something doesn't get you acceptance or understanding.  Working hard, taking responsibility for your actions, being honest, and trying to improve yourself everyday will take you anywhere you want to go (eventually).  People are looking for these qualities in young folks, and in African American men in particular, and are eager to reward these qualities when they find them!

Can I also say that the Church is your best ally?  Don't just associate with the segregated Church.  Get involved with the integrated Church.  You will be blessed by the openness and love, and this will combat the fear of racism being everywhere.  It is not!  We in the Church, and especially the integrated Church, are eager to love and help our brothers and sisters of every color because we know God loves all of us equally.

Finally, the media is skilled at sensationalizing a tragedy to grab an audience.  They do it like it's their job--because it is!  For every tragedy involving race that attracts the national spotlight, I am sure there are hundreds of stories of love, inclusion, friendship, fellowship, and mutual help between people of different races that are not told by the media.  Don't be fooled.  Teach your children to be wise, but don't teach them to live in constant fear of others!

Suggested related readings: 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Romans 13:1-10

Blessings to all!  Love ya!