Your Comeback: Stare Down the Challenge

Your Comeback Stare Down the Challenge

The date- Saturday, November 26, 1994. The place- Texas Stadium in Irving Texas, then home to the Dallas Cowboys. The occasion- a high school football regional semifinal playoff game between the Lions of John Tyler High School and the Plano East Panthers. You think WE take high school football seriously- the game drew a crowd of 20,000 AND national attention…due to its wildly improbable finish.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Lions were leading the Panthers 24–17. The Lions hit a field goal early in the fourth quarter to make the score 27–17. Towards the end of the quarter, as the Panthers were first-and-goal, the ball was stripped from their quarterback and the resulting fumble was returned 90 yards for a touchdown and a 34–17 lead with 4:24 remaining. On the fourth play of the Panthers’ next possession, another fumble was returned 36 yards for a touchdown, giving the Lions a seemingly insurmountable 41–17 lead with only 3:03 remaining. Many fans were already headed for the exits.

The Panthers scored a touchdown to bring the score to 41–23 with only 2:36 left on the clock. The Panthers then successfully executed not one, not two but THREE onside kicks, recovering the ball each time and scoring a touchdown each time. They had, against all odds, taken the lead, 44–41, with only 24 seconds remaining.

But, there was to be one final twist in this wild game. Again, with only 24 seconds left, the Panthers kicked off. The Lions’ kick returner caught the ball at his own three-yard line…and promptly ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown, putting the Lions BACK on top 48-44 with 11 seconds left in the game! The game ended two plays later with an interception.

Between the two teams, seven touchdowns were scored in the final four and a half minutes. Interestingly, the winning Lions’ offensive team never touched the ball again after their field goal early in the fourth quarter. Their final 21 points were scored by their defense and special teams. Oh, and the kick returner who won the game with a 97-yard return run? It was the only touchdown of his high school career! The game has been billed by many sportscasters as the greatest high school football game ever played. What a comeback!

Today, we wrap up our current sermon series- Your Comeback. Based on the book by Tony Evans, this series focuses on fear- fear that you’ve fallen too far to be used by God. We have been focusing on epic comebacks of sports teams who seemingly had no shot at victory and coupling them with Biblical heroes with scandalous pasts to show that God can turn things around for anybody—including you! Week 1, we started with began with the notion that we are called to think different. Week 2, we took the word “different” to the next level as we talked about embracing the unusual! Week 3, we looked at what it means to not stay down. Last week, we spent some time focusing on the fact that we need to keep moving forward. Today, we come to the end as we talk about staring down the challenge.

     2Chronicles 20:14-17 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, as he stood in the assembly. He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’”

By this time in Israel’s history, the kingdom had been divided- Israel to the north and Judah to the south. At this point, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah. An alliance of nations decides to march against Them. King Jehoshaphat looks to God for help. Then this guy, Jahaziel- (Ja-ha‘-zi-el)- we don’t know much at all about him) tells King Jehoshaphat that God will deliver Judah without a fight. So, King Jehoshaphat goes out to battle with singers leading the way, singing praise to the Lord. An unusual battle strategy, to say the least. But it is exactly then that God works His miracle. He turns this alliance of nations against each other…and when the dust settles, the enemy has defeated themselves! The men of Judah then spend three days collecting the spoils of war left by their enemies. Jehoshaphat’s men stared down the challenge, in the face of overwhelming odds, and were protected by God. They did what God told them to, even though it made no “earthly” sense.

Notice- Not only did King Jehoshaphat’s troops stare down their challenge, did you see HOW they “led the charge”? They led…LED…with SINGERS! I don’t recall Patton asking Sinatra and Torme to join Nat King Cole as the “front line” when he attacked. But it DOES remind me of the stories my wife’s grandpa would tell about WW1 and how, as a member of the Scottish Regimen, they would have the pipers walk the top of the trenches at dawn to announce the coming of the Scottish troops! Joshua fought the battle of Jericho with trumpeters leading the way. Jehoshaphat’s troops were led by singers singing praise to God. They were NOT afraid. They were NOT discouraged. They did what God told them to do, regardless of how odd it seemed, and He was with them, assuring victory.

God is omniscient- all-knowing. God is omnipresent- – everywhere. God is omnipotent- all powerful. So9 we say that God can do anything He chooses to do. And from a certain perspective, that is absolutely true. But I would argue that, even for God, there are some things He cannot do. Now, before you get the tar and feathers out- hear me out.

What can God, the Creator of ALL things, possibly NOT do? God can’t fully make me into the person He is calling me to be if I am unwilling or unable to stand and face my challenges, trusting that He has my back. Not gonna happen.

Your comeback can’t happen if you let the demons in your life keep you from moving forward. If you always let your circumstances dictate what you do, who you are, then you will NEVER be who God is calling you to be. It’s impossible. But if you refuse to simply pull the covers up a little tighter and try to hide from the world, from your challenges, that’s when God can REALLY start doing what He does best!

What challenges are you facing today? Maybe you have a financial hardship that seems insurmountable. Face it. Don’t make it someone else’s problem. Don’t try and tell other people they need to bail you out. Face it yourself. Maybe you are in the midst of a difficult, even toxic relationship. Face it. See it for what it is and figure out what to do about it. Maybe you are wrestling with issues of self-worth- you don’t matter or you’re not worthy of love. Face them, remembering that God made you who you are- you are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image. Maybe…maybe…maybe. I could go on all day with potential maybes. I might hit on yours…I might not. But God rules in spite of the situation you face. The problem isn’t yours- the battle is God’s. YOU know what your struggles are. And God knows what your struggles are. And together, you CAN face them. Together, you CAN stare them down. And together, you CAN move forward and find YOUR comeback!

Things They Didn’t Teach Me in Seminary

things pastors wish they knew

A gentleman from the church we currently serve JUST graduated from what is commonly referred to in our United Methodist Conference as The License to Preach School. (I say “commonly referred to” because 22 years ago when I went to that school, it WAS called that. I believe they have a different name now!) It is a two-week school that is A. taught by clergy in our conference, B. pretty doggone intense and C. the precursor for most ministers who lead a congregation in our conference. Whether you are on the “ordination” track or the “licensed local pastor” track, most pastors pass through the License to Preach School. 

Again, mine was 22 years ago. (It only SEEMS like 50 years!) It was held this same time of year. (It always is.) and then, I had about 3 weeks “off”. I reported to the first church we served on August 15th as their new (and first-ever) Associate Pastor and then, about 10 days later, I started seminary full-time. The next 3 years were a whirlwind, to say the least! 

From Fall, 1997 to Spring, 2000, I served the church “half-time”. (I use quotation marks because the truth is it is HARD to “only” serve a church part-time…and I failed! It was MUCH closer to full-time!) I also went to seminary full-time, taking a full load every semester so that I could get through in 3 years- the fastest you can earn a Master of Divinity Degree. I also tried to be a dad and a husband, with our second son being born just 3 months after my seminary graduation. My wife was the primary “bread winner” and spent a lot of time with our older son while I was at school, work or doing homework. It was a challenging time for all of us. (MANY nights, I fell asleep at the computer writing papers while my wife fell asleep at the dining room table GRADING papers!) 

In seminary, I had a professor who I didn’t always see eye to eye with. OK, we RARELY were on the same page! We tolerated each other much more than enjoyed each other. But she taught me one thing (Don’t misunderstand, she actually taught me LOTS of things!) that has resonated over and over since then. She said that, one day, I would come back to the seminary and have a list of the MANY things she didn’t teach me. Even at the time, I understood that A. it was true and B. it was intended to be metaphoric- she never actually thought I would REALLY do that. And I never actually did it. But, over the years, I have grown to more and more appreciate the honestly of that statement. 

By design, seminaries don’t really teach you to be a pastor- they teach you to be a theologian. They teach you how to think theologically. They couldn’t possibly teach you how to be a pastor- there wouldn’t be NEAR enough time in a 3-year course of study! To be a pastor, you need to know how to write and read a budget. You need to know about HVAC maintenance contracts. You need to know about employment law and how to manage a staff. You must have some ability to sufficiently motivate and empower a volunteer “work force”. You have to figure out how to balance work and home lives. You have to be willing to make the hard decisions AND take the trash out.  

As I looked at the picture of the graduating class of this year’s License to Preach School on Facebook, all of that came flooding back. I could see, in those faces, the amazing potential, as well as the enthusiasm they all have for the challenge that is ahead of them. And it makes me excited for this next “wave” of new pastors. My prayer for them- my prayer for ALL of my clergy brothers and sisters- is that we are all able to maintain that enthusiasm. Ministry has a unique way of beating you down- not gonna lie. Burnout rate is rather high among clergy. Honestly, the suicide rate is also rather high. I pray that God would continue to empower the clergy of our conference, of our world, to fight the good fight, run the race that is before them and keep their eye on the prize, which is an eternity with Jesus! God is good! 

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! 

My Dance Card is Now Filled!

dance-card-25085560

We have been waiting for the ducks to line up so that we had a schedule for the next round of chemo. Well, those ducks got in line yesterday! First, the oral chemo meds showed up at our front door mid-morning yesterday, via Fed Ex. Then, nearly immediately (I swear, wondered if the oncologist’s office was watching our house!), they called to set up next week. 

We will go to the oncologist’s office on Tuesday for a “chemo training” session. I guess, since this one is A. different and B. more intense than what I have had thus far, there is a need for greater preparation. And then, on Wednesday, we go BACK to the oncologist’s office for the first infusion of this round. The upside, if there is one, is that this particular type of infusion doesn’t take as long as the type I had last time. Then, it was a 5-5½ hour deal. This time, they anticipate 2-2½ hours.  

After the Wednesday infusion, I will start 2 weeks of the oral chemo med. (Not sure yet if I start that immediately after the infusion or if there is a delay between.) Then, when the 2 weeks of oral med are over, there will be some type of evaluative process, to see how I’m doing and where we are at. Then, ostensibly, Round 2 would start.  

As I have said before, the oral med seems to be extremely controlled. Therefore, I don’t anticipate getting that round of oral med until right before I am to start. Even though it is a pill, it came in a larger box which had, inside of it, a smaller “picnic cooler” kind of box that had ice packs and the drug. It has to be refrigerated until it is consumed. That led to a text from my wife to me that you wouldn’t probably see under and other circumstance- “I put your chemo drugs in the outside fridge….in the butter keeper!” Doesn’t EVERYBODY keep their chemo drugs in the butter keeper?! 

We still have questions about the actual timing of things over the next few weeks, but they will all be answered next Tuesday. We also, to be honest, have some trepidation about the treatments for the next few weeks. How invasive will they prove to be? How debilitating? How effective? But the truth is- all of THOSE questions will also be answered relatively soon. In the meantime, we live in the tension that is Stage 4 cancer- a condition we have lived in for over 13 months now. We realize, we admit that we have basically NO control over this whole scenario. We can’t control what the cancer does. We can’t control what treatments are or aren’t available to us. We can’t control what it’s all doing to my body. What we CAN control, however, is our attitude- our response. And we continue to be steadfast in the fact that our attitude, our response will not waver. We live each day to the fullest. We refuse to wallow too deeply in the reality of the situation. We are determined to focus on the joy of every day- period. And we are grateful that you continue to walk the 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! 

Closing Night

rolling river rampage    Last night was THE last night of Vacation Bible School. And BOY did it go well! I mentioned a couple of days ago that we “do” four nights. Each night includes dinner for anybody who wants to come, as well as the “regular” VBS fare AND a class for adults. This year, the meals were 1. taco haystacks, 2. baked ham and mac and cheese, 3. dogs in a blanket and 4. pasta bake. Over the course of 4 nights, we fed almost 400 people- a great total. We do that without asking for a penny from those who attend. We simply…feed them! We had dozens and dozens of kids, dozens of adult and youth volunteers- it was a GREAT 4 days! 

The whole event had a strong sense of order, peace and planning about it. And yet, in the midst of all of that order, peace and planning…the kids had an awesome time and learned SO much! The crafts, the story time, the activities and the music- they all came together to make for a great four days. 

And last night, the whole shebang ended with the kids presenting 4 songs for their parents, grandparents and siblings, along with the other folks who came to the closing. As an added bonus, the adult class ALSO presented a song for those gathered! That was a first after 22 years in the ministry! 

I know that there are those who think that having the kids sing at the end of VBS is simply exploiting them. And, I guess I get that…depending on the circumstance. But the kids are SO anxious to show what they’ve learned and their parents are SO anxious to see their kids actively engaged- for me, it is a “win, win” sort of proposition. In fact, for the first time in years, we have invited the kids to present two songs at our 10:30AM worship service on Sunday! 

Vacation Bible School is one of those “church programming” things that you LOVE to see come around…and you LOVE to see end! It is time-consuming. It requires a TON of man-hours. It is, plain and simple, a LOT of work. And yet…it is SO worth it! To see those kids so excited to come to church is just a good thing! (And, just in case you’re clergy and you are reading this and thinking to yourself, “Yes, but does it further your mission?” Well, since our stated mission is “we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ”, I’m going to go with a resounding, “yes”!)  

In closing, I want to offer up a special “thank you” in this space. Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to have a staff person “pick up a fumble” late in the fourth quarter a run with it. In other words, she had to take over the program very late in the planning stage. And she not only fielded that fumble cleanly…she ran it ALL the way back for a touchdown! If she is NOT spiking the ball in the end zone and doing the “Icky Shuffle” (Google it!) right about now…I don’t know why!! “Thank you” seems inadequate but…thank you!!  

So now, we put VBS to bed for another year. I have especially savored every “yearly” ministry event we have offered over the past year. Without trying to be terribly morbid or “Debbie Downer”, I never know if this will be the last time I get to participate in whatever that yearly ministry is. So, even though I was intentionally NOT as actively involved in VBS this year as I normally am, I had a special fondness for this year! Thank you to all who came together to make it happen! 

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! 

One Step Closer

Capecitabine-Xeloda

We are drawing closer and closer to starting this next round of chemo treatment. We still don’t have start date but will probably get that today sometime. We are guessing either yet this week or early next week, I will get the initial IV infusion for this round. Then, if we understand the process correctly (and we may or may not FULLY understand yet, but all will be revealed in the last act!), there will be a down period for the rest of a week followed by two weeks of th4e oral medication. Then, again if we understand, there will be a re-evaluation and a decision about Round 2. 

I also now have a name for the oral med. It is a highly controlled substance that had to A. receive special approval through our insurance company and B. come from a specialized pharmacy- shipped directly to our house. It’s called capecitabine, in case you want to Google it. (You KNOW I did!) The side effects, NOT a bundle of pure joy, are pretty much exactly as we were led to believe from our discussions with both the oncologist and the social worker at the cancer center. So, there was no real surprise there. I did comment to my wife that the term “toxicity level” is pretty prevalent in the articles I read. As she pointed out- it IS a cancer treatment drug. Therefore, it IS a poison.  

So, sometime tomorrow, a discreet package will show up at our house. It will contain 2 weeks of this new oral medication. And sometime in the next few days, we will head to the cancer center for my first infusion of this round. The upside to this particular type of infusion is that, instead of 5-6 hours like the last round, this will only take about 2 hours to complete. So, to quote that great theologian Bill Murray from the movie Caddyshack, “I’ve got THAT going for me!” 

We covet your continued prayers as this next phase unfolds in time and space. It sounds like it will be noticeably harder than the other 2 rounds of chemo I’ve done so far. But, just to note, the side effects are list as “potential”, so we are praying that we “dodge the proverbial bullet” on some of them! 

I suspect that, for much of the next few weeks, this space will be used to keep you up-to-date on how this is going. But here is both a promise and a reminder. First, the reminder: my goal throughout this journey is to use this space to keep you posted. My intent is so that you might have some idea of what the process is like. That way, if you are also going through something similar, you are reminded that you are not the only one going through it. If you are helping someone else through a similar process, you might gain some insight into what they are dealing with. If you find yourself in one of those scenarios at a later date, you will have some existing context from which to draw.  

And now, the promise: I will continue to be as honest and transparent as I can. I will continue to try and not simply “whine” or “editorialize” but instead just report things as they happen. I will continue to focus on staying positive in the midst of adversity. And we will continue to cling steadfastly to our war cry- “God is good, all the time”! 

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! 

“Oh, We’re Halfway There!”

rolling river rampage

Vacation Bible School is halfway done! At the church we currently serve, our Vacation Bible School (VBS) is 4 nights long. We have done five, but four “feels” better! (And it seems that, by Night 4 comes, everybody is pretty ready to wrap things up!) I’m always amazed at how much work…and how many people…it takes to make VBS happen.  

We MUST have upwards of 25+ people on staff this year. It’s awesome to see that many people willing to step up, when properly invited and motivated. In fact, the staff member who is running it this year has had the luxury of politely turning people away who volunteered right before the event started- she already had a full staff! Good stuff! 

We “do” dinner as a part of the event. In fact, if I remember correctly, dinner got added as an option at our home church and there has been one EVERY year since at the churches we have served! There is an intentionality about that. A. It gets more people involved, B. it brings more people into the building each night and C. it is a plus in getting volunteers- if they can come straight from work and be fed! Winner, winner, Ham and Mac and Cheese dinner!  

Dinner is 30 minutes long- 5PM-5:30PM. ANYONE is welcome. You don’t have to be attending VBS. You don’t have to be a member of the church or attend the church. If you are available from 5PM-5:30PM and want a hot meal…come on in! 

Then, at 5:30PM everything starts. The kids break up into age groups and start the rotation. Crafts, story time, music, activities…it all happens in that 2-hour period. There is also both an opening and closing exercise. The other piece that I added at our last church that has been carried over to this church. That is an adult class. It seems like a good thing to offer something for adults. That way, if parents want to stay in the building but not just sit around, they can. The adult class also draws other adults who DON’T have a child or grandchild in the VBS program. 

At 7:30PM, the closing is…well…closing, parents are picking up kids, the noise level is marvelously high. And then, by 7:45PM or 7:50PM, the building is empty, quiet. Doors are being locked. Lights are being shut off. And by 8PM, the building is dark and the parking lot is empty. And then, the next night, we start it all back up again! 

VBS is a lot of work. But it pays dividends in SO many ways! It is a great way to teach the Word to kids. It draws in kids from the area who don’t have a church home. It provides hospitality to a variety of folks. It gets people involved who don’t always volunteer for other ministries.  

And so, tonight marks Night 3 of Rolling River Rampage. And by tomorrow evening, the whole thing will be done. After months of planning, dozens of people involved, lots of decorating, cooking and preparation, it will be over. And we will all sit back, high five anyone (or anything) that is nearby, say, “Job well done!” and then rest up for NEXT summer’s VBS!! 

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! 

Everything “Old” Is New Again!

John Kraps 2

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that our house has been somewhat of a “revolving door” of people visiting- family and friends who have wanted to come and see us. Now, I’m no fool and neither are any of the folks who have come to visit. We all understand that the clock is ticking- we simply don’t know how long I have. We KNOW what the doctors said when I was first diagnosed. We also know that initial assessment has been blown out of the water. The 6-8 months they originally gave me is now sitting a tad OVER 13 months. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. 

We DID tell family right up front that we were going to try to maintain an “open door” policy. If we could manage the dates they picked, we would welcome visits. And that has worked well. They have all been very mindful of my…needs…and we have been flexible about what we are doing. And this weekend was another exmaple of that! 

A clergy couple that we have known for about 12 years came to visit us this weekend. They are both retired United Methodist ministers. The husband, we’ll call him John, served with me at our last church. He was a GREAT addition to our staff and we were blessed to have him. He joined us as a “retired” minister- the truth is…ministers seldom actually retire! And as his wife got closer to retirement, he left us to work more closely with her. Understandable! And although we have stayed in contact with them through the “magic” of Facebook, I THINK it had been 8 years since we had actually been in the same place at the same time! 

But this weekend, we got the remedy that! They came. We visited with them. Went out for a meal. Had a great time. And then, yesterday, they came and worshipped with us. I had said to my wife in advance that, although we would welcome they at whichever worship service they chose to attend yesterday, I kind of hoped they would choose our 9:15AM worship service. It is the one service we do on Sunday morning that features Communion EVERY week and I thought it would be cool to “take advantage” of the uniqueness of 3 United Methodist clergy in the same sanctuary at the same time and have them help serve Communion. That turned out to be the VERY service they chose and they then agreed to help serve! Awesome! 

So, when Communion time came, there we were- my wife and me at one station and John and his wife at the other. It was a VERY special moment for me- not only serving again with John but also having the four of us serving together. It made what is always a very powerful time in the service even more so. 

After that “middle” worship service, we took a moment to snap the picture you see- the four of us plus our younger son- say our goodbyes and then…quickly transition to the next service while they headed to their vehicle and started the journey home.  

Again, we are grateful for the ability and opportunity to see so many of our family members and old friends. We are thankful that so many people WANT to do that. And while it has been a bit of challenge at times….it has been totally worth it!  

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!