The First Grilling

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Last night was Wednesday night. (“Well, duh!”) At the church we currently serve, we have an all-church dinner every Wednesday evening. The menu varies from week to week. But it is always good AND, unless your group is “doing the dinner”, you don’t have to cook it, serve it or clean it up. I have learned over the years how much the menu impacts the attendance. There are some things that I KNOW will bring out a larger crowd. Whether it SHOULD be that way or not is a different story! But it is absolutely the truth! 

Last night’s menu was one that I knew would draw a bigger crowd. It was…drum roll, please…the first grilling of the season! (“Ta-da!”) People like grilled meat- let’s be honest. And so, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, while pretty simple on the “grilled meat” scale, are well-received- Especially the first one of the season! 

The problem yesterday, here in northwestern Illinois, was the weather. Grilling usually denotes sunshine, warm temperatures and cold beverages. There was NONE of that yesterday! The temperature hovered around 34-35 degrees. The wind was blowing. It was drizzling. And, at a few points during the grilling process, the drizzling turned (once VERY quickly!) into rather heavy snowfall! It was CRAZY for the 18th of April! 

But our grillers are of hardy, pioneer stock and were not to be deterred by a little foul weather! They brought a tent-like awning to cover the grill area. They brought a second, tabletop grill to supplement the large grill. They wore coats, gloves and stocking caps. And they, by golly, grilled! They braved that nasty weather and they grilled. And they did a great job! 

We had a great turnout. The meat turned out great. (At least I was TOLD it did! Since I am not eating sold food right now, I had to watch others eat!) And the chatter in the dining room was almost deafening- always a sign that lots of folks showed up and they enjoyed themselves while they were here! 

I joke often that, as United Methodists, we DO know how to eat! But there is great fellowship in breaking bread together. In addition, there are folks who come on Wednesday evening who need that free meal and for whom it is probably the best meal they’ll have all week. So while, for some churches, they find it hard to justify either the “ministry value” and/or the cost of such a program. We see it as a GREAT outreach and relation-building tool. And so we budget for it in a way that keeps it free to the people who attend. No strings attached. Just show up and eat.
Soon, this ministry will be done for the season. We will wrap it up by mid-May and then start it back up in the fall, when school starts. Frankly, I miss it when it is gone. But it’s nice to take a breather, retool, rejuvenate and then gear up for the new season. In the meantime, I will have visions of “the first grilling” dancing in MY head! 

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 Cell Phone Soup Pot

cell phones

I sat in on Junior High Youth last night- for the first time in a WHILE- and it was fun! (An aside- for the second night in a row, our United Methodist Men left me wishing I was able to eat solid foods! Monday evening, they had their monthly dinner/meeting. They served venison meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It looked GREAT!! Last night, they took their monthly turn cooking dinner for the Junior High Youth and made what they call Swamp Slop. It’s basically beef stew with hamburger. They serve it either over or next to tater tots or biscuits…or both. It was complimented by homemade bread pudding-made in large part with a variety of flavored donuts- complete with “secret sauce”. I cried a little on the inside and then went home to have my protein shake!!) 

Anywho- I digress! I sat in on Junior High Youth. Oh yeah…I remember! And I introduced…drum roll please…the cell phone soup pot! You see, “back in the day”, when I did Youth Ministry regularly, nobody HAD a cell phone! But at my last church, our Youth Minister was going to be gone for a month. So, I agreed to cover Youth for that time. The first thing I noticed was that A. nearly every kid had a cell phone and B. they all had them out the whole time. So, on Week 2 of that “run”, I instituted The Cell Phone Bucket. I brought a small bucket from home and, when youth started, I got it out and made a big production of putting my cell phone IN it. I then went kid by kid, collecting theirs in the bucket. At the end of the night, they got their phones back…of course. 

So, I decided, ahead of time, to resurrect The Cell Phone Bucket las night. But I didn’t have a small, decent-looking bucket. But I was NOT to be denied! So, I got a soup pot out of the church kitchen. (Youth meets in the dining room because we, as a growing church, are cramped for space!) The funny dynamic that happened was that I told the kids, as I put my phone in the soup pot, that they could either put theirs in the soup pot or in their pocket. But if it went in the pocket, it had to stay there or go into the soup pot. I immediately saw about half of them put them in their pockets. That is until the other half put theirs in the soup pot with mine! Then EVERY phone in the room came out and into the soup bucket! It was great! 

I shared with them that, at the end of the evening, they would of course get their phones back. But I also shared that, because so many phones look so much alike, we would get them out carefully, so that no one accidentally grabbed the wrong phone. They then ate and did their “lesson”. I had a nice chat with them after their lesson and before they prayed. Then, it was over. 

People who say things like, “These kids today!” or “This generation is going to be the end of civilization!” are not hanging out with the same kids I experience at our church and local schools. I see kids who are deep thinkers. I see kids who are fun-loving. I see kids who are fun to be around. I see kids who want to question and learn. For my money, if the kids I see regularly are any indication, we are in good hands! 

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! 

Finding God in the Ordinary

1ac03-eggcartonscriptureI am a big proponent of finding God in the everyday and seemingly ordinary. We are, in my mind, somewhat conditioned to think that God only shows up in major, miraculous, “burning bush and parted sea” kinds of ways. And yes, God DOES show up those ways. But my experience is that those are the exceptions and not the rules.
I find God MUCH more often in the ordinary and everyday. I see God in the sun’s rays peaking through the clouds. I see God in the flowers that are trying to bloom. I see God in the laughter of my sons. I see God in the amazing intelligence of animals! In other words, I see God’s presence and power…well…pretty much everywhere. But even I was surprised where I saw God recently!
Look at the picture that accompanies this post- can you tell what it is? If you said, “Egg carton”, you’re correct! That is the 24th verse of Psalm 118 printed on the inside of the lid of an egg carton. A few things caught my attention about the whole thing.
One- I eat a LOT of eggs these days! So I open a LOT of egg cartons each and every week. And I recently noticed Scripture passages printed on the inside of the lid!
Two- That particular passage is one I quote often in prayer. Every day that we are upright and breathing is a gift from God. Therefore, we NEED to rejoice and be glad, because this IS the day that God has made! Too many people squander their days, thinking that they have all the time in the world. But don’t you know that NOBODY, on their deathbed, says, “If ONLY I had spent more time at work!” No. They say, “If only I had spent more time doing what was REALLY important.”
Three- God really DOES show up in the most unlikely of places. We expect God to show up in church…and He DOES! But he also shows up at home, at school, at work, in the car, even in the egg aisle at your local supermarket!
Look for God today. Look in the obvious places, to be sure, but make sure you also look in the less that obvious places, because He is certainly to be found there, too!
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!

 

A Visit From the District Superintendent

District Superintendent

Yesterday, an interesting thing happened in worship. The United Methodist “system” includes District (sometimes called Conference) Superintendents. They are ordained clergy who are, among other things, intended to be “the pastor to the pastors”. It seems to me that it is a hard, often thankless job that I am grateful there are folks to serve in that capacity. They are asked to NOT be regularly serving a local church, to NOT be regularly preaching and TO be regularly be in meetings regarding the governing of the Conference as a whole.  

Yesterday, as we were in the transitional phase between our second and third morning worship services, I was greeting people. Suddenly, I looked up at the next face I was about to greet and saw…our current District Superintendent! It was his first opportunity to visit us on a Sunday morning! It was an unannounced visit (which is NOT unusual, unless they have been specifically invited for some event. Their schedule is such that they don’t always know where they will be on a Sunday morning until right before OR the day of!)  

I was pleasantly surprised to see him. We greeted each other warmly and he went to find a seat. My take is that District Superintendents often would prefer to be a “fly on the wall” during a visit like that. But I wanted people to know and to greet him…so I announced it! During the greeting time, I saw several people intentionally go and greet him. That did not surprise me- we have a very friendly congregation.  

We had a great worship service- well attended, Bell Choir, etc. And we had a great morning in general- nearly 300 people between the three worship services. After the service he attended, I made a point of finding him. (He was in the process of making a point of finding ME at the same time!) What I DIDN’T do was walk up and say, “Well? What did you think?” Not my style, not my goal. Instead, I simply offered how glad that we were that he could join us. 

I LOVED his response! He leaned in (because he knows I am hearing impaired!) and said, “I was SO blessed to be here!” He went on to comment on the energy, the upbeat quality of the worship and the welcoming nature of the congregation. While I didn’t seek out that information, I was delighted to hear it. Not because he is my District Superintendent but because our goal is to be a welcoming congregation who is committed to trying to help connect people to Jesus Christ! All in all, a great day of worship! Thanks to our District Superintendent for stopping in to worship with us! 

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! 

Liar, Lunatic or Lord?: Liar

There is an author named Paul Maier. In 1994, he published a fiction book called A Skeleton in God’s Closet. The gist of the book is that a Christian archeologist discovers a tomb in Jerusalem that holds an ancient skeleton. And EVERY fact about the skeleton points to it being the remains of…Jesus of Nazareth. The book then focuses on two things- the archeologist trying to prove that the skeleton is a hoax while wrestling with his own faith as he continues to be unable to prove that fact. He has a crisis of faith. I WON’T spoil the ending, just in case you ever read it!

Then, in 2003, Maier published a sequel- More Than a Skeleton. This fictional work focuses on a mysterious man who shows up in the Middle East, claiming to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. Our hero, the Christian archeologist, goes to try and prove or disprove the man’s claims. In the midst of that, he sees this man do things that seem to defy all odds. He seems to truly be Jesus Christ. But there is doubt. While thousands and thousands believe and follow this man, there are those who believe he is nothing more than a con man- a liar. Is he the “real deal” or is he merely a liar? Our hero has to try and figure that out.

Last week, we talked about author C.S. Lewis- prolific writer of 67 books and countless articles and other publications. He often wrote about, either overtly or covertly, Christian themes. We talked about the piece he wrote about Jesus that basically laid out what we called a trilemma- a choice among three options, each of which is, in some way, difficult to accept. Lewis’ three options were, in a nutshell, that Jesus was either A. a liar, B. a lunatic or C. The Lord. If He wasn’t divine, then the only other alternatives were that He was evil or deluded. Lewis said Jesus couldn’t be more than one of them. Therefore, we are left with a choice.

Today, we continue our current 4-week sermon series designed to delve into those three options, pick them apart and see where they lead us. We are trying to be as objective as possible- not simply dismissing the first two because we “know” the third choice is the “right” answer but instead weigh each one from its own merit. With all of that in mind, here is today’s Scripture-

     Mark 2:3-12 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

So, these four guys bring this paralytic on a stretcher to the house where Jesus is. Picture a small, one-room structure with a flat roof. They get there, see the size of the crowd and realize they are NOT getting in through the front door. So, they get creative! They carry him up to the roof and…dig a hole! You might imagine that to be a hard thing to do. That’s because you’re thinking “21st-Century roof”. But this was 1st Century roof! Picture a roof made of sod. So, they dug a hole in through the thatch and dirt. I imagine it meant a shower of dirt inside the house. They then lowered the man between the now-exposed structural beams and to the floor below. And Jesus is touched by the faith they exhibit, the lengths they are willing to go to in order to reach Him. He immediately tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven.

Meanwhile, some teachers of the law are there. They are appalled when they hear Jesus say that. They label Him a liar- “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus responds with a question, “Is it easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’? But so that you’ll know I’m not a liar…” He then turns back to the paralytic and says, “Get up, take up your mat and walk!” The man, as we know, DOES and everybody is amazed.

In 1992, Steve Martin and Debra Winger made a movie called Leap of Faith. It’s about a faith healer who tours the country, seemingly performing great healing miracles. We learn early on that he and his assistant have a scam going. They have a rather elaborate system of gathering information, choosing just the right people and then setting them up in such a way that it seems they are being healed. He is NOT what he seems. He is…a liar.

The teachers of the law that were at that small, thatched-roof house in 1st Century Palestine that day thought the same thing of Jesus- He was a liar. They weren’t sure how He did it, but “only God can do what He claims to do!” They had no doubt that this man before them was running a scam. And the question arises- what if they were right?

For anybody but God to claim to forgive sin was blasphemy. And the teachers of the law KNEW Jesus wasn’t God…right? Their reasoning was actually pretty sound. According to Jewish teaching, even the Messiah couldn’t forgive sins. That was something ONLY God could do. So, as far as they were concerned, they were on really good footing here.

People claiming to be the Messiah has been an issue throughout history. From before Jesus showed up to now, people crop up who claim to be the One. They have all proved to be liars…save One. But what if that One…wasn’t that One? How do we know? What makes Jesus different from all of the other people claiming to be the One?

Now remember- we are intentionally weighing each of C.S. Lewis’ options on their own merits. We are intentionally NOT jumping ahead to what we KNOW will be my logical conclusion when we wrap this up in a couple of weeks. And why IS that, by the way? Why are we even bothering with this exercise? There are two primary reasons:

  1. Ralph, whom you have heard me reference MANY times and whom I had the extreme joy of serving with at the first church we served. He was one of the finest human beings I have had the honor of knowing and, as a “retired” United Methodist clergy, was an unlikely person to be very open-minded about theology. But he always encouraged me to read things I disagreed with. His rationale was that, if I only read those authors whom I agree with, I would never stretch and grow.
  2. I went to a VERY liberal seminary. They had lots of beliefs, theologically, that I didn’t…and don’t…agree with. And while that was hard, especially early on when I was not only a new pastor but a relatively new Christian, it forced me to consider what I truly believed. I had no choice but to set aside merely depending on what other people had taught me and truly consider what I believed about my faith. In the end, I came out the other side a much stronger Christian.

My goal for the remainder of this series- two more weeks- is just that. I pray you are challenged to take what you know in your head and filter it through your heart and come to some real conclusions about what you believe. Learning from others is essential- you have to start somewhere. But you also have to get to the point where you stop simply taking someone else’s word for it. That will only take you so far. Eventually, you want to get to the point where you are willing and able to look into the tomb for yourself and decide…for yourself…if Jesus is a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. Where you land, you find that you can run with a lie, but you can’t hide from the truth!

The Circle of Life

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There is a beautiful…rhythm in ministry. The last two days illustrate that fact. Thursday, I had a funeral to perform. A matriarch of the church passed away recently- a 66-year member of the congregation! I performed her funeral at one of the local funeral homes here in town. The funeral started at 11AM, preceded by a visitation from 10AM-11AM. Then, there was a nearly hour drive to the cemetery- in a town in Iowa. When you take in account the drive time there and back, along with the graveside service itself and the fact that people have to park, get out of their cars and get to the graveside, then spend some time at the grave afterward and then get back to cars and back home, about 2½ hours passed between leaving the funeral home and arriving at the church for the funeral luncheon. For a cancer patient, it made for a long day. 

Then came yesterday. I had the extreme honor and pleasure of performing a baptism at the church last night. You might be thinking, “A baptism? At the church? On a Friday evening? What kind of ship are you running there, Pastor?” Well, it’s TRUE that, in United Methodist parlance, a baptism is to be a “public declaration”. In addition, I have clergy colleagues who won’t perform one unless it’s Sunday morning during a worship service. And I get that. 

However, there needs to be some room for grace in what we do. And the truth is that, for this family, work schedules are such that Sunday mornings aren’t possible for everybody. And they brought SEVERAL folks with them- a public declaration! So, we did a Friday night baptism! (On a side note, my streak is still intact! 21 years in the ministry, 21 years of baptisms, and I have NEVER had a little one cry during a baptism. Never! And this beautiful little girl did NOT disappoint! My Lay Leader said he wished I hadn’t told him that- now he worries every time!)  

Now I know it sounds corny and all to reference Elton John and the Circle of Life here. I know it’s a bit trite and hackneyed, but it doesn’t make it any less true! In barely over 24 hours, I buried a 90-something year old pillar of the church and baptized a beautiful baby girl. Life truly is a circle. And my job allows me to not only see it on a regular basis but to be right in the middle of it. The family involved in the baptism is a great example. I have now 1. performed the wedding of “mom and dad” and 2. baptized both of their children. I am truly blessed to be able to be such a part of others’ lives! 

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! 

A Bad Day and a Half

hurling

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were…pretty interesting. About 12:45AM I was awakened by stomach cramps. Over the next 30 minutes, they turned into stomach pain like I have never had before. I got the sense that I might be headed toward hurling, so I went to the bathroom on the main floor- to not disturb anybody asleep on the second floor. 

I spent about an hour vacillating back and forth between what might come out the “southern hemisphere” and what might come out the “northern hemisphere”- if you know what I mean. One minute, I am seated on the “porcelain throne” and the next minute I’m kneeling at it. In the end, nothing came out the “northern hemisphere”. I can’t say the same for the other end! The cramps and pain continued, unabated, for over an hour.  

Finally, I got back to bed. I had missed a decent chunk of the night’s sleep. But I DID get back to sleep. I got up Wednesday morning in time to A. help our younger son get off to school and B. send an email to my Office Administrator saying I wasn’t coming in until later in the morning. I then went back to bed!! 

I had a 10:30AM meeting on Wednesday with a family who lost a loved one- we were going to talk about the funeral, which was to be yesterday. I got up in time to get cleaned up, dressed and over at the church. They came in. The meeting went well. I took good notes. I felt pretty decent, actually. We prayed. They left. And then, almost immediately, it hit me. I was running to the bathroom across the hall from my office because I was GOING to hurl! Before I knew it, I had the full-blown dry heaves. (I hadn’t eaten anything for a while and had nothing to “get up”!) I then went home and back to bed. I missed the afternoon. I missed our Wednesday evening dinner and programming. In fact, I slept most of the time…until it was time to go to bed. Then…I slept some more! 

So, what WAS all of that? I simply don’t know. Our younger son had what appeared to be the stomach flu on Monday night. So, might I have had the stomach flu, too? Yep! Might this have been a direct result of the radiology? Yep? Might this have been the cancer itself? Yep. The truth is, these days it’s hard to tell what’s causing what in my body. But…we just go with the flow, take things one day at a time and do what needs to be done. I am grateful for a family who is very supportive. I am grateful for a church family that is so understanding. And I am grateful for a God Who walks this journey with us! 

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!