It’s Anarchy!

anarchy

Lately, the internet provider at the church has been more than a little…hinky. OK- let’s be honest- it has been BAD! Even worse than usual. And that’s SAYING something. (And yes, we are in the middle of “making some necessary changes”!) Pretty much every day, multiple times a day, the Internet goes…GULP…down! It’s hard to get much of anything done, depending on what you’re doing! (I still remember a former parishioner, who was in charge of a committee responsible for getting me a new laptop, who said, in response to my questioning why the one they wanted to order had NO modem, “We couldn’t see ANY reason why you would need to be on the internet at church!” I…just…WOW!)

Frankly, in this day and age, how in the world can I do much of…anything…without the Internet? How can I function if I can’t check my email and keep up with parishioners on Facebook? I can’t access all my files if I can’t get to my One Drive account. Then there’s this blog! It reminds me of a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Will Ferrell as a TV news anchor. In the middle of the broadcast, the teleprompter (the thing that feeds them the words they are supposed to say) quit working! To say chaos ensued would be a GROSS understatement!
After rebooting A. the modem, B. the router and C. the laptop, I SOMETIMES manage to restore Internet service before the entire structure of society crumbles into anarchy…but JUST barely! But it gets me to thinking about some things…and I don’t necessarily like what I come up with!
I am a self-professed techno-junkie. My iPad goes everywhere I go…as long as there is a wifi connection, that is! I tend to have the latest in smartphones- they do everything but walk your dog and babysit your children…and I believe they are developing apps for those! I don’t read “real” books anymore- I read everything on my Kindle. If it weren’t for electrical outlets and docking stations, I would be IN TROUBLE! Are you that way? Does you life revolve, in large part, around the latest technology? (The fact that you’re reading THIS answers that question to SOME extent…doesn’t it?!) What do you think about that?
Now, don’t get me wrong- this isn’t leading up to my saying I’m going to chuck it all, stop writing this blog and swear off electronics. I mean…get real! But what it DOES make me realize is that I need to make sure I BALANCE the technological side with the human side. I am convinced that to ignore things like Facebook and Twitter or the overall presence and impact of the Internet in this day and age would be a POOR choice on a pastor’s part. If we aren’t changing, growing and adapting, how can we expect our parishioners to? But on the other side of that coin, we cannot allow the technology to REPLACE the human touch. There still needs to be face to face, hand to hand personal contact with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How do YOU do with that balance? My guess is, if you are like me…and nearly everyone else on the planet…you tend to lean more toward one end of that spectrum than the other. And that’s OK. What’s important is to be self-aware…know where you are, and be willing to try and make changes to get a bit closer to the center…wherever that may be for you! learn how to adapt to changing times while still hanging on to your core values. Do that…and everything else will pretty much take care of itself!

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Scandalous: The Virgin Birth

Scandalous The Virgin Birth

I have a strange (but valid) theory! (Now, I say valid, but MOST people who hear it lean more toward “crackpot” than “visionary”! YOU be the judge!) I have noticed that, when I am at a wedding reception…ANY wedding reception…an interesting phenomenon occurs. At some point in the evening (I guarantee), a group assembled on the dance floor will spontaneous burst forth with (wait for it) The Electric Slide! It matters not one wit whether the DJ actually plays the song or not- irrelevant. Some collective “pack mentality” kicks in and it…just…happens. BUT…have you noticed…it is almost exclusively those with 2 X chromosomes who are participating? Almost NEVER do you see more than one or two of the XY chromosome types dancing (and some of my friends have questioned the chromosomal makeup of those folks)! Why is that? (That’s the less than subtle literary cue for my theory to come to the forefront!) Remember 5th Grade, when Mrs. Sedrick separated the boys and the girls? The girls went off with her to mystical destinations unknown, while the boys went to Mr. Ray’s room and watched (yes, it’s true!) the “birds and bees” filmstrips (and got really uncomfortable and tried not to snicker, as we were explicitly informed of the fact that heinous punishment would swiftly follow THAT particular crime). But what of the girls? They wandered off to “we don’t know where”, and came back with a knowing, conspiratorial smile on their collective faces. I have become convinced that they were taken off and (this part is known in the biz as “the reveal”) TAUGHT THE ELECTRIC SLIDE! Think about it, and suddenly it all makes perfect sense! They are the only ones who actually know it. When and where did they learn it? It HAD to be sometime when the boys weren’t around. (And let’s be honest; boys don’t stay away from girls very long- never have, never will). Therefore, ipso facto (I’ve been waiting YEARS to use that phrase!), while we were subjected to those filmstrips, they were off with Mrs. Sedrick, learning The Electric Slide! By the way, I personally would have paid GOOD money to see Mrs. Sedrick do The Electric Slide. Sometimes, choreography trumps biology! 

The world seems FULL of shock and scandals. Every time you read a news item or turn on the TV, there seems to be yet another scandal unfolding somewhere. But have you ever thought about just how scandalous the birth of Jesus was? If you peel away the layers of the story, dig beneath the “comfortable poetry” that the Gospel accounts of His birth seem to be, the story reads like front-page news on the nearest “scandal sheet”. In this new sermon series- Scandalous– we will focus squarely on that fact…meet it head-on. Is this story REALLY scandalous? If so…why? Last week, we began with Joseph- a simple man of faith. He was just hanging out- the Ancient Near eastern version of being in the Great Clips, when new came that would rock his world. This week, we actually “back the truck up” slightly and peek into Mary’s visit from the angel.  

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. 

In a survey, people were asked to name a famous Mary- 1) Mary, Mary Quite Contrary 2) Mary, who had a little lamb, 3) Mary Poppins, 4) Mary Tyler Moore, 5) Mary Kay- of make-up fame, 6) Peter Paul and Mary, 7) Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen. With some 3.5 million of them running around, Mary is the most popular women’s name in the country. This Mary seemed like just another perfectly fine, normal, average Mary. 

You need to know a few things here. It says that Mary was a virgin. The Greek word, Parthenos, was intended to describe not only a woman who had never been with a man but also a girl of potential marrying age, usually fourteen or so. 

Also, what does the name “Mary” mean? Well, one of the meanings is, of all things, “their rebellion”. How cool is that?! This young Jewish girl God chose to be the mother of His Son is, in some sense, God’s rebellion against a darkened world. Things are NOT going to be the same any more. God’s going a new and different direction and this girl is going to be the poster child for His radical departure from the norm. This girl is God’s rebellion! Love that! 

Another think to note is this- your rank and status in society determined who would greet you and with what words. As a girl not yet married, Mary had virtually no social status. And even if she had been a person of status, neither the title (“favored one”) or the promise (“The Lord is with you”) would have been traditional choices. Mary was shocked not only by Gabriel appearing, but also by the greeting he offered her. In God’s eyes, Mary is that which brings joy. Isn’t that what we want, to have God see us as bringing joy? 

None of this is what Mary expected when she got out of bed that day. First, an angel appears out of nowhere. Then, he greets her as if she’s royalty. Now, he tells her she’s going to have a baby. But it gets better! The baby is going to be great, Son of the most high God, given the throne of David to reign over the house of Jacob forever. 

Mary tries to take it all in. But it’s hard to wrap your head around. She says, “I don’t get it. But I want to. I want to understand what it is God has in store for me.” She NOT surprised the Messiah’s coming. She’s only surprised she’s the one who’s been chosen. She calls herself a servant- a slave devoted to someone else and in complete disregard of their own interests. Scandalous.  

So, why a virgin birth? God wanted there to be NO question where this Baby came from. Mary is the earthly mother. But God Himself is the Father. Jesus is truly the Son of God, Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus IS God- the Greek word is homoosious- the very same essence of God. The scandalous nature of the virgin birth guarantees…and confirms…that. Sometimes, theology trumps biology! 

When we try to keep things in our hands, the outcome is predictable. But when we put things in God’s hands, who knows what can happen? On that first Christmas: God gave Mary an angel, a mystery, and a tiny package, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What did Mary give God? Herself! No arguments. No excuses. No refusals. Just surrender. Every year we knock ourselves out trying to find the perfect gifts to give – and we call that Christmas- but it’s not. Christmas is when we surrender ourselves to God, without arguments, or excuses, or refusals- just surrender. Is God on your gift list this Christmas? Don’t be afraid to give yourself to Him — your life will never be the same! 

It Started on the Kindergarten Bus

school_bus

When I was 5 years old, I contracted rheumatic fever- an inflammatory heart disease that can develop as a complication of inadequately treated strep throat. I hadn’t yet started Kindergarten. I went to the doctor’s office because I had joint pain and a fever. I was diagnosed and my mom couldn’t even take me back home- I had to be driven up the hill to the hospital immediately, where I spent the next MONTH. My recovery was long and slow. I didn’t start Kindergarten until after Christmas. 

I still remember my first day of Kindergarten. The other kids had the whole first semester to get to know each other AND the “lay of the land”. And then, there I was- the new kid on the block. Although my mom drove me to school and walked me into the classroom that first day, I rode the bus from then on. And it was there that a great friendship was forged! 

Living out in the country, the bus included EVERBODY, K-12th Grade. That was a hard place for a shy 5-year old to be. But there was a kid on the bus who was my age- we’ll call him “Bob”. Therefore, we were drawn to each other. It turned out, he lived out farther on the bus route than I did. He was also a Kindergartener- a member of the OTHER afternoon class. So, we were in the same GRADE, there at the same TIME but NOT in the same classroom. But because of the daily bus ride home, we hit it off quickly, “graduating” to playing together during recess.  

The next year- First Grade- the school district was re-zoned and I was moved to a different Grade School. So was he! We ended up in the same First Grade class. And we were literally in the same classroom every year through 6th Grade. In Junior and Senior High, we had several classes together. That bond we forged on the Kindergarten bus and playground only strengthened over all of those years.  

College led us to different places- the FIRST time in our lives that we weren’t at the same school! Then…life. He went one direction. I went another. But we always stayed in touch. (Since he is a better human being than I am, he has always done a better job of that than I have! Sorry, “Bob”! It’s NOT because I don’t cherish our friendship!) 

I say all of this because he drove 2 hours- ONE way- to have lunch with my wife and me yesterday. (They met in High School and have been friends ever since, too!) We had a great conversation, a great lunch and a great time. And then, it was time for him to head back home. And one thing always stands out with “Bob”- it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other. We always just pick right up where we left off.  

Cherish your relationships. Always seek to forge new ones, to be sure. But also cherish the ones you already have. Those relationships are the true gifts from God. And they are what will ultimately help us walk this journey called life. Thanks for lunch, “Bob”! 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

The 2nd Sunday of Advent

Advent 2

In the life of the church, the time leading up to Christmas is called Advent- a time of waiting. I have shared MANY times that I don’t wait very well (not terribly patient!), so this season is a challenge for me…a GOOD challenge, but a challenge  nonetheless! 

     Every year during Advent, churches around the country look at the symbols of the season. Today, let’s take a peek at the 2nd candle of Advent…as found on a Advent candle holder. The 2nd candle is known as the Candle of Peace. We light this candle to remind us that Jesus brings peace to all who trust in Him.  It’s also called the Bethlehem Candle because it was there that the final preparations for a coming Messiah were made. Its purple color represents the royalty of Jesus Christ.
     Now let’s look at the Advent wreath. It’s a ring that holds a set of four candles, and is often made with evergreen cuttings. Typically, three of the candles are purple, one is pink. Some Anglicans use blue rather than violet.  A larger, central fifth candle (generally white), which is lit on Christmas Eve/Day signifies Christ’s birth. The shape of the wreath represents eternity. 
     The light from the candles is also an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God’s grace to others. The flame of each new candle reminds worshipers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. The Advent wreath is believed to have been introduced by Martin Luther or Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant minister in Hamburg, Germany. It took about 100 years until home decoration with advent wreaths became a custom in Germany, later spreading to other countries as well.
  Here’s a prayer for the 2nd week of Advent: Loving God, thank You for the peace You give us through Jesus. May Christ’s light shine in our lives, showing us the path of peace between God and all people. Help us to prepare our hearts to receive His peace. We ask in the name of the One born in Bethlehem. Amen.

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

Donating…Corn?

corn-harvest

Ministry is contextual. Are there “universals” that cross all boundaries and apply to “ministry” in general? You bet. But there is a LOT of context to be had in ministry…and it’s important to understand and identify that context. Here is the latest…and one of the best…examples I can give. 

The church we currently serve is in the middle of raising funds for a Building Program/Capital Campaign. We will, once we get enough “cash in hand”, be undertaking some pretty big projects designed to renovate, upgrade and/or replace existing parts of our “physical plant”. So, as part of our regular, weekly video announcements, we have begun incorporating updates on how we’re doing with pledges and “cash in hand”, as well as offering a variety of ways to encourage people to continue to support the overall project.  

This week’s Announcement Video is about half-done right now. (It is usually not finished…intentionally…until Thursday. This allows for A. the most up-to-date info possible and B. the fact that the “chief tech guy” on those videos is…ME…and Fridays and Saturdays are my days off!) And while the “theme” of the video is Buddy the Elf (He’s the “character” that does the videos during Advent- the season leading up to Christmas- every year), there is some info, week to week, that I want presented in a more…serious…way than my goofy characters! This week’s Capital Campaign update falls in that category. 

That portion of the video deals with giving corn to the church. Yep- you read the correctly- corn. A parishioner took a load of corn to the elevator and donated it to the church- the Capital campaign specifically. The elevator processes the delivery, calculates the value of that delivery, and then mails a check directly to the church. We worked out him doing a short video, explaining how it works and pointing out that other farmers could do the same thing.  

As I shot and edited the video, it dawned on me- there are a LOT of churches around the country that wouldn’t even have a gear to talk about donating CORN to the church. And yet, there are a lot of churches that would FULLY understand that. Why? Because ministry is contextual. 

Whether you are a pastor, part of a church staff or a parishioner, it is SO helpful to remember the fact that ministry is contextual. What YOU may or may not like or be drawn to really don’t matter. (Sorry, but it’s TRUE!) What matters is the context of the church you serve- German theologians would call it “Sitz im Leben”- setting in life. If the church you serve has a rural, farming connection, embrace it. On the other hand, if it is a very urban church, don’t worry about talking to them about taking corn to the elevator! Know your audience. Know your environment. Don’t be afraid of change…but don’t be afraid to embrace the roots, either! 

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

The Power of Influence

miami vice

Remember the Miami Vice days? The Jan (pronounced “Yahn”) Hammer soundtrack hammering in the background. The cigarette boat knifing through the water. And Crockett and Tubbs lookin’ all “fly” in their unstructured sport coats with the sleeves pushed up to the elbow. I was fresh out of college when the show first aired in 1984. Every guy wanted to look like Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas and every woman wanted to date them…or at least it seemed that way to my 23-year old sensibilities. Did I have the unstructured jacket with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows? You betcha! Did I have the freakin’ awesome pseudo-mullet hairdo? No…but I WANTED it! Did I think I was all that AND a phat bag of chips? You know it, partner! Was I actually just another cheesy goober who wouldn’t have known style if it had bit me right on the hindquarters? Sadly…yes!
Isn’t it fascinating who…and what…influences us? So often we are influenced by what it trendy, current and popular. Don’t believe me? Look at pictures of yourself from 10, 20 and 30 years ago. I’ll wait. (Whistle, whistle, kill time, kill time.) Back? See what I mean?! Who influences you? What influences you? What are the outside influences that impact what you do, what you say, what you think?
Now, here’s the tougher question- what are the things that influence your kids…your grandkids? What influences are shaping them as they grow? Are you aware of what those things are? Do you KNOW what your kid or grandkid does on the internet? What they watch on TV? What influence their peers at school have on them? If you aren’t…you should be. It doesn’t mean don’t let them get on the internet…or watch TV…or go to school! But you should know what they’re doing, what their influences are.
When we succumb to the world to the point that we are indistinguishable FROM the world…we have lost a sense of our connection to God. When we let the pressures and the prejudices of the world dictate who we are and what we do, we strain the relationship we have with our Creator. My prayer for you this Christmas season? That you will not allow the world to dictate how you act and who you are. My prayer is that you will instead allow the grace, glory and majesty of God steer you in the right direction. I pray you will let go and let God mold you into the person He wants you to become! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and try on my old Miami Vice jacket…it still might fit!

We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus! 

 

 

Planned Spontaneity

planning-41699625 I have had MANY bosses in my day. (When you’ve had as many JOBS as I have had, you can’t HELP but have had a lot of bosses, too!) I have learned from all of them. Some have taught me how to do something. Others have shown me how to NOT do something. But I HAVE learned from all of them! There are two “bosses” that stand out, however, as having taught me the most. One is a pastor I used to work with/for/alongside. He taught me a LOT about ministry. I am forever grateful.
The other is a boss I had when I was still “out in the world”. I was managing photography studios and training photographers and she was put in charge of the geographic region of which I was a part. Honestly, most people within the company who knew her were shocked when she was put in charge and thought she was a horrible choice. I had NO previous history with her and, looking back, think she taught me more about management than any one person.
I could list MANY principles and ideas of leadership and management she taught me that I use every day. But today, I will focus on just one- “plan for the worst, expect the best.” That’s it. Really, it’s pretty simple. Pretty basic. Seems like either common sense or overkill, depending on your perspective and interpretation. But it is a principle of management that has served me well.
One of the MANY ways I apply that principle is as it related to Sunday morning worship. At the church we currently serve, we offer three Sunday morning worship services- 8AM, 9:15AM and 10:30AM. I have shared before how, with that kind of schedule, it is pretty important that “the train runs on time”. As it sits, there is only 15 minutes between the end of the Early Service and the start of the Middle Service. There is then a “luxurious” 25 minutes between the end of the Middle Service and the start of the Late Service. Leaving people standing around for an indeterminant length of time to be able to even enter the sanctuary for the service they attend is not a great plan. Then there’s the fact that between #1 and #2, those 15 minutes have to include getting one Praise Band OUT and a second one IN, doing a sound check, switching the computer and sound board settings over to #2 AND getting one “congregation” out and the next one IN! The transition between #2 and #3 is much the same, only there is A. 25 minutes and B. a LOT more people get IN.
When you add something like a Children’s Christmas Pageant to one of the services AND it happens to be Communion Sunday AND you are also adding the lighting of Advent Candles to each service, it can make that “train schedule” even tougher. And so, we “plan for the worst, expect the best.” We talk through each service. We break each down into its component parts and “guestimate” how long each part will take. We pull elements out. We move elements around. We figure out ways to shorten certain elements. We identify which element(s) can be adapted “on the fly”, depending on how we are actually doing. In other words, plan for the worst. Then, we expect the best. And we add one more piece to the whole thing- let the Holy Spirit do what the Holy Spirit does best if things start to go a different way than we planned them!
Being open to the work of the Holy Spirit is an IMPORTANT part of planning and leading worship. Otherwise, it’s all just a stage production and you are merely the Stage Manager. But it is also true that allowing for the work of the Holy Spirit doesn’t excuse you from doing YOUR work. The church we serve take the act of worship seriously. We plan. We strategize. We structure. And we geek out when it works right! But we also are willing to throw the ENTIRE plan out the window and go a different way if the Holy Spirit suddenly turns the steering wheel. Plan for the worst, expect the best!
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!