Oh, the Place You’ll Go!: Cana

The Places You'll Cana

     We were at a wedding reception once. Someone was going around, table to table, with a video camera, asking everybody to offer “words of wisdom” to the happy couple. When the camera got to me, I said to the groom, “I have TWO words form you. And if you can learn these two words, yo0u will have a happy marriage. And those two words are, “Yes…DEAR!” My wife elbowed me and said, “Why can’t YOU learn those two words?!” Ouch! The truth, as it all turns out, DOES hurt!

On Ash Wednesday, we began a true journey- traveling from one geographic location to another- as we walk through the story leading up to Easter. This series, called Oh, the Places You’ll Go and based on…the Dr. Suess book of the same name!…is looking at the geography of the Easter narrative and how it impacts the overall story. On Ash Wednesday, we started in the wilderness as Jesus faced temptation. Today, we’ve traveled about 100 miles north to the city of Cana. The average distance you might cover in a day on foot is about 30 miles. So, Cana was a good 3+ days of walking from the wilderness of the temptation. And along the way there, Jesus calls His disciples.

Cana is almost midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. The topography in that area is hills and valleys as you rise from the Sea of Galilee and then start to drop off toward the vastness of the Mediterranean. The going between the wilderness and Cana would have had Jesus and His growing cadre of disciples following known roads. Getting too far off the beaten path would be really hard, especially over a 3+ day walk. But once they get there-

John 2:1-11 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Ancient Near Eastern weddings centered on the groom as much as modern Western weddings center on the bride. And these weddings went on for days and days. At this particular wedding, they eventually run out of wine. Mary seizes the occasion, turns to Jesus and says, “They have no wine.” Notice, she doesn’t actually ask Him to do anything about it; she just tells him about it.She remembers the promises made when He was born. She expects Him to act. Now that Jesus has called His disciples, Mary sees that He’s ready to fulfill His destiny.

When he says, “Woman, why do you involve Me?”, we think He’s being rude to His mom. But calling her “woman” is a sign of respect and asking, “why do you involve Me?” is simply a Hebrew way of saying, “You don’t understand.” So, what He’s saying is NOT that He isn’t going to do anything. Instead, He means, “What I do won’t accomplish what you’re hoping- it won’t persuade the people that I’m the Messiah.” She seems satisfied with His response, because she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” Good advice!

As always, Jesus works with whatever’s at hand. “Fill the jars with water.” And they do- filling them to the brim with about 150 gallons of pure water. Then Jesus says, “Draw some out, and take it to the master.” There’s no prayer, no command, no hysterical shouting, no laying on of hands, no hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo or abracadabra- nothing. He doesn’t even touch the water beforehand or taste it afterward. The water simply becomes wine. Jesus leapfrogs over basic things like time, growth, gathering, crushing and fermenting. He takes water- a common substance- and, without a word or a gesture, changes it into wine. Why did Jesus perform this miracle? It seems, on the surface, irrelevant and insignificant. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Compassion- on its most basic level, this miracle shows us that Jesus is compassionate. He got the couple out of a social disaster. In the Ancient Near Eastern world, running out of wine at a wedding wasn’t just a minor social inconvenience- it was a social disgrace, a major breach of hospitality and it would be devastating for the couple. But Jesus helped them out. And when Jesus does something- He does it well. If you’re going to have a wedding…make sure you invite Jesus!

2. Promise- on a deeper level, this story is about a promise- a covenant. Those at the wedding feast would know their Old Testament scriptures well. And they would know that an abundance of wine symbolized the arrival of God’s new age. By providing an abundance of wine, Jesus is announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

3. Confidence- Jesus wanted to build confidence among His disciples. Why? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is trying to develop the faith of those around Him. The disciples had heard John the Baptist identifying Jesus as the Messiah. And yet they had seen “messiahs” come and go. But this miracle clinched it for them.

Here are 2 truths about this story:

1. This 1st miracle was a sign. Signs aren’t just miracles; they’re miracles that have a meaning, conveying a truth that wouldn’t be known otherwise. Men can fill water jars, but only God can turn water into wine! Men do the ordinary, but when God touches it, He brings it to life and gives it flavor and fragrance. Bring God into your life and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

2. His disciples believed in Him. When they saw this, they believed more deeply than before. The significance of this sign is that God can take the ordinary, normal events of life and, with just a touch, make them full of flavor, fragrance, strength and beauty. And He can, and will, do this for anybody who is willing to faithfully walk with Him.

We tend to not turn to God until all other possibilities are exhausted- until the wine runs out. But we should turn to God BEFORE the wine runs out, before we have no other options. Jesus shouldn’t be out LAST hope…but our FIRST!

Ultimately, what John wants us to see has NOTHING to do with Jesus turning water into wine. John wants us to see that when Jesus comes into our lives, He brings a new quality. Without Jesus, life is dull, stale and flat. But when Jesus comes in, life becomes vivid and sparkling and exciting. Moses turned water into blood. Jesus turned water into wine. Later, Jesus would turn wine into blood…the blood of salvation.

The bride and groom were given another chance. And isn’t that what the Gospel is all about? Our God is a God of the second chances. He wants us to have faith in Him. But the choice is ours. The cost of the new wine Jesus offers is thirst. Are you thirsty? The cost of the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven instead of the white bread of the world. Is that what YOU want? Are you satisfied with yourself, your car, your TV, your computer and your job? Or are you hungry for more? Ultimately, we should follow Mary’s advice- do whatever He tells you! When we do that, life-changing things can happen in the most unlikely of places.

Be a Grizzly!

Grizzly 2     Today’s message is pretty simple, pretty basic- be a grizzly. Really. That’s it! Well, actually the phrase is- if you are going to be a bear…be a grizzly. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a phrase to build your life around.

Now don’t get me wrong- I don’t mean that you should just go wild and run roughshod over everything and everybody in your way. I don’t mean that you should bully your way into getting everything you want, regardless of anyone else. I don’t even mean that you should stand at the top of the waterfall and snag salmon as they swim upstream!

No, what I mean is that we should attack life. We should not simply sit back and let life happen to us. Instead, we should be strong and courageous, daring greatly to risk. If you never risk- you never lose. Awesome. But if you never risk…you never win, either.

We need to be willing to dare greatly in life. We should step out in faith and take the risks that God calls us to take. And those risks often center around being vulnerable. I know- grizzlies and vulnerability? Really, Pastor? Remember- it’s a metaphor!

So, are you willing to be a bear? If so, are you going to be a koala…or a grizzly? Dare greatly. Risk much. Dream big. And follow God on the wonderful adventure He has for you!

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!


Worn Out!

tired I have heard it said that, once you lose sleep, you will never simply “make it up”. If you don’t actually SLEEP those lost hours, you will end up with what “the experts” call a Sleep Deficit. Makes sense. I don’t know if I actually AGREE with it, but it DOES make sense.
From Fall of 1997 through Spring of 2000, I racked up a SERIOUS Sleep Deficit. I started serving my first church (half-time pay, 3/4 to full time work most weeks!) on the 15th of August in 1997. 2 weeks later, I started the 1st semester of my seminary career, taking a full load. I also had a wife and a son. Oh, and I also had a part-time job on the side! So…my life was BUSY!
Along with simply having that many irons in the fire, 1. I knew NOTHING about pastoring a church, 2. I knew NOTHING about the Bible and 3. I hadn’t been a student for…ready?…14 years! I really felt I was behind the proverbial 8-ball all the time!
By the time I graduated from seminary with a Master’s Degree in the Spring of 2000, I had a 2nd son AND I calculated that I had accrued a Sleep Deficit of 30 days. NOT hours…DAYS! I was the textbook definition of the word “weary”!
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Are you weary? Do feel like your yoke is heavy, cumbersome, overwhelming? Jesus has a solution for you- go to Him. That’s it. Go to Him. His yoke is easy, His burden is light AND He will give you rest. In a world that pulls us in SO many directions and then simply spits us out when we have been used up, it’s pretty refreshing to hear that Jesus has an answer! Come to Him!

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, What a Night!

O What a Night
To quote those great theologians The Four Seasons, “Oh What a Night!” As you know, yesterday was 1. Ash Wednesday and 2. Valentine’s Day. And we put those two facts together, along with the concept of “Fat Tuesday on Ash Wednesday” and had a GREAT night at church!
We regularly offer a Wednesday evening meal at the church we currently serve. And since we got here, we have offered a “Fat Tuesday on Ash Wednesday” dinner for the first Wednesday of the Lenten season. So, last night, we fed somewhere north of 100 people pancakes and sausage- the traditional “Fat Tuesday” dinner at churches around the country. Those two items were complimented with breakfast pastries, milk, OJ and water.
Over the past few years, the folks who have made up my “Pancake A-Team” have gotten the meal pretty much down to science. We do NOT run out of food. (Although, when the dust settled, we had PERHAPS 2 servings of syrup left!) We do NOT let the pancakes run out so that folks have to wait for more to get cooked. In fact, we are such a well-oiled machine that we got the bulk of the people who ate last might through the line in ABOUT 14 minutes- pretty good stuff in the eyes of a former restaurant guy!
Then, we gathered in the sanctuary for the Ash Wednesday Worship Service. Over the years, I have been accused of being “too Catholic” for my attention to special Easter- and Christmas-season worship services. Mostly. I don’t even know what that means! But beyond that, I LOVE those special services that come up throughout the year!
The service included music videos (One of which was to the song Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult! And NO- there were no extra cowbells playing!), classic hymns of the faith, Scripture reading, collective prayers, an exercise of writing notes to other people…and yourself, a sermon built around the temptation of Christ…as well as the administering of the ashes and the serving of Communion. It truly WAS a full-service…service!
I LOVE the fact that folks could be doing ANYTHING else but coming to church on a Wednesday night…and yet they come. They gathered together to break bread (pancakes!) and share in fellowship. They gathered together to be a part of each other’s lives. And they gathered together to worship God in spirit and in truth. Gotta love 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!

What IS Ash Wednesday?


Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. “Season”? “Lent”? Huh? Let me explain. Lent is the 40-day span from now until Easter (not including Sundays, as they are seen as “mini-Easters”). Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of that time. What is Ash Wednesday? It is derived from the Old Testament practice of putting
ashes (associated with humility and mortality, fasting and remorse) on your head as a sign of repentance. The ashes are intended to remind us of our own mortality, our sin. If you’ve sinned (and we all have- Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God”), if you want to repent of your sin, then you receive the ashes as a sign of your sorrow and repentance.
Around 230AD, a group of Christians began fasting (as a way to prepare their hearts) for the 40 hours leading up to Easter. The idea caught on. Later, it was changed to 7 days of fasting, bringing about the understanding of Holy Week. And in 325AD, the church officially made it 40 days. Some questions that come up:
A. From where do the ashes come? Traditionally, the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from last year’s Palm Sunday palm branches.

B. Why 40 days? Right after Jesus was baptized, He went out into the desert to fast and was tempted by the devil for 40 days. Those 40 days were a time of introspection and preparation. During Lent, we are invited to make that journey with Jesus.

C. What is repentance? There are 2 Greek words for repentance. The 1st one is “metanoia”, which means “to change your mind”. When you repent, you change your mind about your actions. If you want to be right with God, you have to change your mind about the way you’ve been living. The 2nd Greek word is “anastrepho”, which means “to turn around”. Changing your mind about your sin isn’t enough. You have to change your direction- turn around. True repentance isn’t feeling sorry for yourself because you did something wrong. It’s feeling sorry enough about your actions to change your habits, your life. Repentance is realizing that your life is going in the wrong direction and turning around.

D. Why should I sacrifice something for Lent? We don’t sacrifice during Lent to get God’s attention. We do it so God can better get OUR attention.

E. What is MY role in Lent? Lent is a time to evaluate yourself in light of God’s Word. It’s a time to receive God’s forgiveness and strength, to renew your desire to serve God. It’s a time of self-examination, acknowledging that we are not perfect, that there are things that need to be changed, adjusted. Ash Wednesday is about getting rid of our sin and
admitting to God that we are nothing but dust and ashes without Him in our lives. It’s a chance for us to come clean, to clear the air between us and God.

Lent is a time of spiritual “spring cleaning”. Take a close look at yourself, and ask, “What kind of person am I? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What are my sins? In which areas do I need to improve my life? Do I show God’s love through my words and actions? Do I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Do I
make sacrifices for Him? What kind of person am I?” Look deep within yourself, then look to Jesus, who won the battle for you, and receive His forgiveness. Let your appreciation for Him grow during Lent. Become more aware of just how much He loves you.
Read Psalm 51- “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that
you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.”
These next 40 days, I invite you to think of your sins, and then rejoice in Jesus’ forgiveness. Let God strengthen you through his Word this Lenten season. Let God help you overcome the sin in your life. And once these 40 days before Easter are over, continue living for Jesus. Remember that God loves you! No matter who you are or what
you’ve done, you can always come back to God. He’s right here, arms open, just waiting for you to repent and come home!
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!


I LOVE Music!

I Love Music

I love music! Even if you don’t know me, all you have to do is read my self-description- “a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, ROCK–DRUMMING…” to figure that out! I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. I was heavily influenced by the “Classic Rock” of the 70’s. But having a brother 4 years older and a sister 6 years older meant that the music of the 60’s had a strong impact on me as well. And then, having parents who listened to Nat King Cole, Jim Nabors, Andy Williams and Lawrence Welk, just to name a few introduced me to music of the 40’s and 50’s. By the time I reached High School graduation, I had (and continue to have) a very eclectic taste in music! 

And that same thing is true of my taste in “church music”. If I had to choose ONE style of music that is currently being played in church as being the one that I MOST connect with, it would have to be what is commonly labeled “Contemporary”. (The truth is that a pretty broad range of music is lumped into that category and some of it connects better with me than others!)      Right now, at the church we currently serve, three basic styles of music are being offered- Contemporary Christian, Christian Rock and Traditional. (Again, within those 3 BROAD ranges are a wide variety of sub-genres that flesh the whole thing out in many directions!) And what amazes me is that, while I DO have styles/songs that tend to reach me on a deeper human level than others, I am constantly reminded of the fact that I genuinely love “the music of the church”. 

We have four separate musical groups, along with an accompanist, that make up the music ministry of the church. Those 4 are the Chancel Choir (“Chancel” is one of those fancy church words. It simply means the area by the altar where you might likely find the pastor and the choir!), the Bell Choir, the Contemporary Worship Service Praise Band- Connection and the Rock & Worship Praise Band- Forgiven. Put all those groups together and add that aforementioned accompanist and you get 51 people. 51 people! Now, there IS some overlap- some folks are in more than one group. But that is 51 “musical slots” being filled regularly. And that’s in a church that finished the year with a weekly worship attendance average of 280. That’s a PRETTY darn good percentage! 

And what I love, as both the pastor and one of those musicians, is the dedication, commitment, passion and sheer talent those folks possess. I am reminded of that EVERY Sunday. And this past Sunday was no exception. The Connection Praise Band was at “full force” and knocked the lights out as they led worship. The Forgiven Praise Band was without our lead guitar/lead vocalist, keyboardist/vocalist and bass player…and yet they did a marvelous job of bringing their normal “rock & roll” sound to a more “unplugged” level. The accompanist was superb, as always. And the Bell Choir was off for the week…but are always spectacular when they present,  

This past Sunday, however, the “award” just might go to the Chancel Choir. They were down in numbers a bit AND did a challenging piece that included about the last 1/3 of the song being done entirely acapella (without and musical accompaniment). If you don’t sing or play an instrument, you may not realize how hard that is. But to go that long without ANY instruments to A. keep you on pitch, B. rhythm and C. tempo is REALLY challenging. And yet, they NAILED it! I mean, “Jose Batista bat flip” nailed it! (Google it!) It was truly a beautiful thing to experience. I celebrate the music of this church and am honored to be a part of 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! 

The Reverse Advent Calendar Results Are In!

Small-Galvanized-Pail Last year, the church we currently serve started what is, for us a brand-new ministry. Sponsored by the Missions Team (NOT a big fan of the word “committee”!), we labeled it the Reverse Advent Calendar. It is based on the concept of an Advent Calendar where you usually open something every day (a small door or window) on some kind of display and take something out (an ornament, a piece of chocolate, etc.) to count down the days until Christmas. Here’s how our “reverse calendar” works:
On the first Sunday in Advent (the season leading up to Christmas), every “family unit” got a small galvanized bucket. They were encouraged to take the bucket home, put it in some prominent place where they would see it daily, and dump their loose change for the day in it- every day. Then, on Christmas Eve, each “family unit” was encouraged to bring the bucket to church with them. During Christmas Eve Communion, as they come forward to take the elements, they bring their bucket up with them. Before they take Communion, they dump their SMALL galvanized bucket into a LARGE galvanized bucket. (Imagine the sound that makes- that is by design and on purpose!) The small buckets are then stacked- collected to by stored and brought out next year. The money is the then used to buy animals for folks in distant parts of the world through Heifer International.
As I said, this was the second year of this particular ministry. We had a VERY “successful” first year last year and were excited to see how Year Two went. Well, yesterday at all three worship services, we showed a video that announced the results of the 2017 Reverse Advent Calendar Project. We raised JUST under $2,000 dollars ($1,980.50- my Office Administrator told me that her husband jokingly asked her, “Why didn’t you or Rev. Mark just throw in a $20 and call it 2 Grand?!” A GOOD question that seems SO obvious…now that he points it out!!)
With that money, we bought a LOT of animals. I mean…a LOT! We basically bought at least one of every type of animal they offer in their program. In the case of schools of fish, flocks of ducks/chicks/geese and groups of rabbits, we were able to buy multiples of each. Once the dust settled, these gifts will directly- and relatively quickly- impact 19 families. But the program is designed so that, for instance, a family that receives a flock of chicks tends that flock, harvesting eggs to use and sell. But they also grow the flock and share part of that flock with other people in their town or village. So, the animals, in some ways, become self-sustaining. That means that a gift to one family, over time, impacts multiple families. So, 19 original families become dozens of families, hundreds of families, potentially thousands of families. Good stuff! And it is all possible because of shared…pocket change.
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!