Quarantined!

hazmat

Quarantined. I use that word to describe what I am right now. It is, of course, not an accurate word to use. Quarantined means “impose isolation on a person”. Okay, maybe it IS the right word! 

When I think of the word, I think of someone who is in some kind of isolation in a hospital ward somewhere. The few people who come in have to wear full hazmat suits and masks, like that. And if THAT’S what “quarantined” is, then no- I am not. BUT- if it means “impose isolation on a person”, then that EXACTLY what I am!  

With my immune system so shot and my blood count number low, I simply can’t afford to get sick. If I get a bug that someone else has- we pass them around like they were candy- my body will be unable to adequately fight it off. That could be a bad thing! A “common” cold could be catastrophic in MY body. And so- quarantined! 

Let me explain further. My oncologist said it would be best for me to limit contact, limit exposure to large groups, as much as possible. I chuckled. I mean, I’m a pastor. Large group are my specialty. So, I have learned to compromise. I still lead 3 worship services every Sunday. But I have had to adapt how I do that.  

My usual M.O. is that I try to shake EVERY hand that comes in the building on Sunday morning. And since we are averaging about 280/week in worship- that’s a LOT of hands! Well, NO handshaking. No hugging. I’ve even eliminating fist-bumping. NO contact. Couple that with, at least for now I simply can’t walk as far as I used to be able to, and it means that I stand (or sit) in the back of the sanctuary and wave “hi” at as many people as I can. 

I also don’t attend our Wednesday night meals and ministry nights. Too close contact with too many people. I skip our United Methodist Men’s monthly dinner meetings for the same reason. Next month, we will have 700+ people visit us for our annual Trunk or Treat event. I will need to somehow amend how I am involved in that.  In November, we’ll have our annual Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar. I probably won’t attend that, either.  

The truth is- I understand it. It all makes perfect sense. Do the BEST you can to set yourself up for success. BUT…I DON’T have to like it! I am an odd duck- fiercely private but extremely social when it comes to church. I love being at church worship and social events. I love going around and checking in with everybody- seeing how they are doing and letting them know I’m glad they are there. But now, I am relegated to standing in the back of the sanctuary, arms folded, smiling, welcoming and reminding people, “No contact!” Yet another “day in the life” of a cancer patient! 

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!

Are You Leading or Taking a Walk?: Vision

Are You Leading Vision

The first time I got glasses, we were at the first church we served. A woman in the congregation was a tech who actually MADE the glasses at one of those “glasses in about an hour” places. She said, “Come in, get an eye exam. We’ll fix you up.” OK. So, I went in, had an eye exam. (They photographed my retina- the ONLY time I’ve EVER had that done. Imagine allowing 4 million suns to explode IN your eye, waiting until you could see again…and THEN letting them do it to the other eye!) When the exam was over, they sent me to the waiting room. A few minutes later, my parishioner came out from her “lab”- prescription in hand. She looked it over, looked at me and said, “I just have ONE question before I start.” “OK.” “How do you even see to drive here?!” Vision is an interesting thing!

What IS leadership? And perhaps more importantly, who does it apply to? Today, we continue our current sermon series- Are You Leading or Taking a Walk? It’s based on the concept that, if you think you’re leading but look behind you to find that no one is following- you’re just out taking a walk! This series is NOT simply for “church leaders” but for…everyone. We are ALL called to be leaders- in our homes, our church, our community and the world. We are called to help lead by connecting people to Jesus Christ. This series will focus on the qualities of a good leader as seen through the lens of some of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  Today, we look at John, one of the “Big Three” along with Peter and James, and we consider another important aspect of good leadership- vision.

     Luke 5:9-11 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him.

John- a son of Zebedee and Salome, the brother of James. He is often referred to as the Beloved Disciple. He was a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem. He was a member of Jesus’ Inner Circle- as I said earlier, The Big Three. He wrote the New Testament Gospel of John, I, II and III John which we will be looking at in the NEXT sermon series, and the Book of Revelation. He preached among the churches of Asia Minor. Later in life, he was banished to the isle of Patmos where he received the visions that would become that Book of Revelation. He was later freed from Patmos and died and died of natural causes- one of the few disciples to do so. John is mentioned many times in the New Testament. He was a man of action- very ambitious, with a potentially explosive temper and a sometimes-intolerant heart. His second name, his last name if you will, was Bo-a-ner’-ges, which means son of Thunder. Notice- John and the boys made an astonishing haul of fish; so astonishing that they became believers, right there on the spot. How do I know? They dropped everything, walked away and followed Jesus. You don’t do that unless you’re pretty doggone sure.

Throughout his ministry, throughout the whole of the New Testament, John showed vision. When others couldn’t see what was what about you know what, John Could. He was the disciple Jesus entrusted His mother Mary to at the cross. He was the disciple who was there when they took the body down. He was the disciple who outraced Peter to the tomb that first Easter morning. Not mention he was the disciple who wrote 5 books of the New Testament- 2nd only to Paul. John had…and received…GREAT vision.

Outstanding leaders see the whole picture and don’t get too focused on specific tasks. They have deep knowledge of related organizations and ministries and are seen as strategic thinkers. They often have strong networks and consistently identify important trends early in the life cycle of that trend. They are very good at communicating a vision of the future and getting buy-in from those around them. They are excellent at establishing clear goals and objectives for the organization. They are also able to provide clear and convincing rationale that supports their vision of the future.

So, what is my vision for the future of this church? Well, first off, let’s be honest- I can’t promise you how long I’LL be a part of the long-term vision of this church. But honestly, none of us can. So, I proceed as if I’ll be here for a long time! My vision, which I feel strongly is God’s vision, is that we continue to push forward. We continue to seek to connect people to Jesus Christ. There IS no “stop and rest”. There IS no “we’re going to coast for a year”. There is only “keep the pedal to the floor and make sure we are staying on the course God calls us to be on”.

I see us becoming more and more of a regional church. I used to think our future was in developing “satellite churches” in other communities. Given our reality as a geographical oddity- 45 minutes from everywhere- that is not a logical approach. But we DO continue to draw from a broader and broader base. And there are 8,000 folks in Mercer County who don’t claim a church home. We could bring in 100 new members/year and not make a dent in that number for a while!

My vision includes that miracles continue to happen and that we use the amazing gift of the money for the property next door as a springboard for others to step forward and bridge the gap between what’s we’ve raised and what we need to demo the house on that property. To bridge the gap between where we are and where we need to be to finish the last two construction phases of the capital Campaign. To bridge the gap between our current budget and what we actually receive in giving, week to week.

God is doing miraculous things here. I’m talking burning bushes and parted seas miraculous. I’ve seen it before and I’m beside myself to be a part of it again. If you don’t believe me, look at where we were attendance-wise 6 years ago. Look at how many new ministries have been added to what we are accomplishing. Look at what God continues to do here. And look at the Spirit, moving so powerfully on Sundays as we gather in worship. People who visit us can’t stop talking about it.

What’s YOUR vision? For yourself? Your family? Your church? Your community? The world? What is the “big picture” that God has placed before you? Strong leaders see the big picture. They don’t get too focused on specific tasks. And they continue to push ahead, helping guide others along the way.

An Insight Into Cancer

cancer

Cancer is an interesting thing. It permeates your life. Period. When you are in the midst of it, when you are battling with it, when you are being treated for it- it seeps into everything. Period. And it is insidious because it does it in a way that you can’t really see coming and you can’t really combat. One day- blissful ignorance. The next day- cancer. One day- not a care in the world. The next day- discussions about tracheotomies, feeding tubes, chemo, radiation…life expectancy. There is no time to process, no time to “let it soak in”, no time to brace for impact. You just try not to let it knock you all the way to the floor. And if it does, you try to pick yourself up and assess the damage. 

That’s very much the way we experienced it and, I think, very much the way MOST people experience it. And when it happens to you, there is this period where you are kind of “outside yourself” looking in. “This only happens to OTHER people…not to me.” But then, you quickly come to terms with the notion that this DOES happen to you…because it DID. And you are left with having to make some pretty quick decisions while also having to “regain your sea legs”.  

The next period is a whirlwind. Biopsies. CT scans. MRI’s. PET scans. Treatment options. Plans. The doctors say, “Go here, go there, do this, do that.” And you say, “Thank you, Sir…may I have another?!” And then, through the bombardment of “medical stuff”, a new norm begins to emerge. That is a key transition in the whole process. If you can adapt to the new norm without simply giving in and giving up, you have a chance. If you can’t…my gut tells me your chances diminish. And you have to be willing to adapt that new norm every week, every day, sometimes hour by hour as things change.  

When this all started, our biggest concern was the future. I didn’t feel bad. After the initial symptoms were dealt with (back then with something as simple as steroids), people marveled at how good I looked and felt. Me too! Now, we are waiting for a handicapper parking pass to come and talking about whether or not we take a wheelchair to Parents Weekend at our younger son’s university because I simply can’t depend on being able to walk that much these days.  

Keep all of this in mind when you interact with a cancer patient. Whether they are dealing with a level of cancer that ends up being treatable or not, my gut tells me that they all go through this at some level. And having others understand it is pretty important.  

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!

Tape Measure Outreach

tape measure

The community we live in LOVES a good parade. And there are two, specifically, each year that the church we currently serve participate in. One is in VERY early December- I believe the community calls it The Parade of Lights. (And if they don’t, well…they SHOULD!) We decorate the church bus and it drives in the parade. God “advertising” for the church. (We also do an outdoor live Nativity that same night.) 

The other parade is the Homecoming Parade. And it was yesterday. Our church, again, drives in the parade while people walk alongside, giving out the “handout” for the year. I’ve seen churches do bottles of water or candy bars with a label attached promoting the church. And I “get” that approach. But the problem with that approach is that, five minutes after you give it to them…it’s gone. The advertising “uummpphh” of the handout is in a trash can. 

I want something they will keep, use and- more importantly- see over and over. One year, we did a simple fridge magnet. One year, we did a “chip clip” fridge magnet. This year, we went a different direction! I got a REALLY good deal on keychain tape measures. They include a small level, snap onto your keychain and include the church name, phone number and web address. Simple, straightforward and useful! We bought 750 of them, intending to give out as many as possible.  

Those who were going to either ride or walk the route gathered at 5:15PM last night. I used to walk the route every year, but cancer has changed that. I can’t walk nearly that fsr. Some a bus load showed up. We divided up the tape measures. Folks loaded up. And then, I gave my “pep talk’’ before going home and sending them off to do outreach ministry!  

The biggest advice I gave them was “work the crowd”. People tend to only hit the folks who are right in the front of the “audience”. That means two things: 1. you miss the people who “in the back” and 2. you don’t give out nearly as many giveaways. Well, it turns out that they took me seriously!! 

When the event was over, one of the walkers texted me to say that they ran out of tape measures ¾ of the way through the parade! AWESOME! I mean, I wish I had provided more tape measures to finish the parade with, but we spent what we had to spend and used EVERY one of them to do what we set out to do!  

So now, 750 people in the community ostensibly have our tape measure attached to their keychain. Every time they get their keys out, they will see that tape measure and…think of us! THAT is good stuff!  

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 Commitment?

commitment

What does the word “commitment” mean to you? According to the “smart lookup” that Microsoft Word offers, it means, “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” Synonyms include dedication, devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, bond. Dedicated to a cause. Devotion. Allegiance. Loyalty. Bond. Those are all such good words. And sadly, they are words that, to some, don’t seem to mean much.  

How many people do you know who can’t seem to show commitment to…really…anything? They bounce from one thing to the next, never actually lasting on any one thing for any real length of time- certainly not enough time to make a difference, find your way or make a true impact.  

I had a musician once show up at a church I served. One of the most talented musicians I have ever worked with. I was nearly beside myself with joy over our great fortune of finding such a musician. I immediately began to plan on how we could build around this person. Fortunately, some of my colleagues from the area heard about it and counselled me, “Use this person all you can and all they want, but DON’T build around them. Their spouse will get mad about something sooner or later and you WILL lose them.” I followed that lead and, sure enough, 6 months later, the spouse got mad about an issue in the nursery and POOF- they vanished, showing up at another church a few weeks later.  

I marvel at people who refuse to/can’t/won’t commit to…anything. They are gung-ho about a project or possibility, making plans, building programs. And then, all of a sudden, they are done and moving on to the next thing to NOT commit to. I DON’T think that’s what the expression “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” actually means!  

Look at your life. Is there anything, ANYTHING you were “passionate” about a year ago that you are still doing? Anything? If the sincere, honest answer to that question is “no”, you have HUGE issues with commitment. One of the most obvious symptoms of this “disease” is what I call the “burned out” quotient. You know- “I’m just SO “burned out”. I have to pull back and regroup.” Here’s the bottom line- “burned out” is a euphemism for “I quit”. That may seem harsh, but it’s true.  

Have you spent your life NOT committing to anything for any real length of time? If so, now is the time to stop. Now is the time to make a change. Now is the time to A. decide what you’re actually passionate about and B. decide that, come heck or high water, you are NOT going to quit but instead ride that bull to the end of the run, period, regardless. Otherwise, the pattern you have established will simply continue and you will NEVER find the satisfaction and happiness you seek because it’s NOT found in quitting everything. It’s found in completing something. 

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!

Add Meatloaf to the List

meat loaf

Yesterday, we talked about cheeseburgers. (As a dear clergy friend of mine said, channeling his best Jimmy Buffett- “a cheeseburger in paradise”!) Today, we expand our menu AND our conversation. Monday evening, our United Methodist Women did something very special for our United Methodist Men.  

We have VERY “healthy” versions of BOTH of those groups in this church. The United Methodist Women do a TON of really good ministry here- taking on HUGE projects every year that bring in tons of people and raise lots of money that is then given away to a wide variety of local and regional ministries. Likewise, our United Methodist Men are VERY involved in the ministries of this church and this community- regularly doing things, OFTEN behind the scenes, that help connect people to Jesus Christ. 

Our UM Men meet once a month- the 3rd Monday of the month- for a dinner/meeting. And let me assure you- these guys can cook. And usually, they DO. Sometimes, it’s a “Buy some pizzas” night. But usually, a real, hot meal with “home-cooked” food is the order of the day. Well, as a way of saying “thank you” for all they do, the UM Women cooked the UM Men dinner Monday night! They made meatloaf (imagine baseball-sized meat loaves baked and served that way), mashed potatoes with gravy and maple-glazed carrots.  

I didn’t go because, ironically, I am supposed to avoid crowds when possible (it makes Sunday mornings interesting!) because my immune system is hot and my white count is way down. But I heard the meal was a BIG hit! And why WOULDN’T it be?! They served all of the men and portioned the leftovers into containers to be frozen as individual meals and added to our ongoing Caring Hearts ministry. (We do a LOT of food here and not one scrap of it goes to waste!)   

Fast-Forward to our weekly staff meeting- yesterday at 10:30AM. 6 of us meet for about an hour ever Tuesday morning for that event, which is followed by 4 of us staying for a Worship Planning meeting. At Staff Meeting, our Director of Volunteer Ministries, who also oversees our Caring Hearts ministries, said, “I see, according to your blog, that you ate a cheeseburger! Do you think you could eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes?” I honestly didn’t think that it would be such a leap of faith to go from a cheeseburger to meatloaf, so I said, “Probably?” She offered to get me a couple of the now-frozen individual meat loaf/mashed potatoes/carrots meals after Staff Meeting. Sure enough, as we carried out our worship planning time, she showed back up with two of those now pre-packaged meals, ready to be microwaved and eaten. I serve with awesome folks! 

So, about 45 minutes later, guess what my wife and I had for lunch? Ooohhh, GOOD guess! AND- I could eat the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes. I finished half the meatloaf and ALL of the potatoes. I even ate about half of the carrots! Bonus! The meatloaf was more of a challenge than the cheeseburger had been. It took a while to get down. And it was too much food for someone who has NO appetite and can’t taste the food, anyway. BUT- it was great to eat more “real” food. It’s funny how, even when you aren’t hungry and can’t taste anything to speak of, you can still get excited about eating something!  

So, am I where I want to be? No. And, to be honest, I probably never will be. BUT- does the chemo seem to be helping knock the cancer back yet again? Yep! As I keep stating- is chemo a horrible drug that is essentially nothing but poison going into your body that you have to fight to keep from killing you? Yes, it is. On the other hand, is the chemo the ONLY thing medically standing between me and wasting away to nothing? Yep! And so, we keep choosing the chemo every time it is placed on the table. I don’t want to. I hate it and what it does to me. But I am grateful…for what it does to me! 

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 Ate a Cheeseburger!

burger-3

I did something yesterday I haven’t done in…a long time! I ate…a cheeseburger! If you haven’t been following me or you haven’t been aware of my dietary issues, you might be saying to yourself, “Whoopedy-doo! A cheeseburger! I at three of them last week!” I get that. But I have been unable to eat anything even remotely like that for some time.  

For the past several months, my diet has been shakes, poached eggs, chicken bouillon- things like that. It’s all been based on my ability…or lack of ability…to swallow things. A few weeks ago, as a point of reference, I choked on a SMALL piece of bread dipped in grape juice during Communion.  

It has not been uncommon for me to have a bowl of mashed potatoes for a meal. I also got pretty adept and throwing a bunch of…crud…in the blender and making a meal out of it. But all along, even though A. I have no appetite and B. I can’t taste much of anything, I know I NEED to eat and I was growing tired of blended…everything.  

In more recent weeks, I have been able to “graduate” to things like rice. I even moved to ripe bananas with peanut butter, in an effort to get enough protein and raise my potassium level at the same time.  

Yesterday, I took a vacation day in an effort to bounce back from A. chemo week and B. a REALLY full, long Sunday. Mid-morning, I announced to my wife, “I have this crazy thought. I’d like to try a cheeseburger for lunch. I think I might be able to eat one!”  

So, about 12:30PM, I hopped into the van and drove to the local McD’s. There, I ordered what my wife wanted for lunch and I added a Quarter Pounder with JUST cheese and Big Mac sauce. (Not only is that what I would order if I could actually taste it, but I thought that things like raw onions and pickles would NOT be a good mix!)  

How did it go, you might ask? In the end, not too bad! I actually ate the whole sandwich, bread and all, which frankly kind of shocked me! It took a while. And I choked a little two or three times. But all in all, I made it through roughly unscathed and enjoyed actually eating relatively normal food.  

There are still a LOT of things I could NOT eat. Notice, for example- no French fries. Too hard and crispy, with sharp edges. I tried chicken-fried rice the other day. I could do the rice, but the rather large pieces of chicken were not “do-able”. Steak? Roast beef? Fried chicken? Nope. Hard, crusty bread? Nope. The “nope” list would be a lot longer than the “yep” list. But the fact that there are some things on the “yep” list now that would have been big “nays” a few weeks ago tells me this round of chemo treatments, while REALLY hard on my body, are actually knocking the cancer back.  

So, we take the victories where we can get them. And if they happen to come in the form of a slightly greasy McD’s cheeseburger…so be 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!