Hogma-WHAT?!

first-footer     My father-in-law (Who just passed away about 2 1/2 weeks ago) was 100% Scottish. That’s right- 100%. None of this one-half, one-quarter, one-eighth business for him! Both his mother and father were born in Scotland and immigrated to this country.
Because of that, I have learned a great deal about Scottish customs over the 40 years I’ve been around the family! One of the most interesting of those customs is Hogmanay- a Scottish word for the last day of the year. It’s synonymous with the celebration of the New Year and the start of a celebration that lasts through the night until New Year’s morning.
The singing of “Auld Lang Syne” began as a Hogmanay custom. “Auld Lang Syne” is actually a traditional poem reinterpreted by Scottish poet Robert “Bobby” Burns and later set to music. But the centerpiece of Hogmanay is first-footing- a tradition regarding the first person to cross the threshold of a home on New Year’s Day. The first-footer often brings gifts, including a coin, bread, salt, or coal, which respectively represent financial prosperity, food, flavor and warmth. To be the “first-footer”, one must not have been in the house at the stroke of midnight (going out of the house after midnight and then coming back in isn’t considered first-footing). Traditionally, the first-foot is done by a tall, dark-haired male. They are seen as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year.
We are always seeking good fortune in the coming year…aren’t we? We always want THIS year to be better than LAST year, no matter how good (or bad) last year was. So how do we do that? How do we bring good fortune into our homes in the New Year? By practicing first-footing, of course. HOWEVER, I would argue that we need to practice it in a very specific manner. We want to invite the tall, dark-haired male into our home on New Year’s Day, to be sure…but I think the tall, dark-haired male we want to invite in is…Jesus Christ! Think about it- start the year off right. Make a conscious effort to invite Jesus Christ into your home right off the bat…and make sure to continue to make Him feel welcome in your home all year long. And if you DO that, Jesus will become the Lord of your home, the Lord of your family, the Lord of your heart. And I can tell you, based on personal experience, that my life has NEVER been better since I did that!
This year, invite Jesus to first-foot…in your house…in your heart. Center your family, your life, around Him. And you will have a spirit-filled year of living for Him! Happy New Year!
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!

 

Sometimes, the Sleeping Dog Should Just Lie!

sleeping-dog

Remember Kenny Rogers? “Back in the day” he was a multi-platinum “sex symbol” recording artist. Now…he’s a cautionary tale on what happens when you have too much facial plastic surgery! One of his hits was The Gambler. It was such a big hit that it even spawned a movie or two. And as anybody who has actually lived in the good ‘ol U. S of A. in the last, say, 30 years knows, it includes the following lyrics, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking about that phrase lately. Let me explain.
When in the ministry, dealing with inter-personal relationships is just part of the gig. If you’re NOT at least being encouraged to help people “fix” relationships with others, you’re not trying very hard. And the fact is this- us ministers tend to want to strap the Superman cape on, fly to the rescue and fix everything. It goes with the territory. I would argue that most, if not all, pastors have at least struggled with that fact. Some have learned better than others how to handle it…but it is a simply a part of the job.
It seems to me that we DO need to “know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em”- we need to know when it is the right thing to step in an help people resolve their issues. But it is JUST as valuable, if not more so, for us to know when to NOT get in the middle of things. We simply cannot fix everybody’s problems- sometimes they simply have to work through them on their own.
I have had MANY examples of just such an event. A disagreement arise between people, and others suggest that I need to “strap on the cape”, step in and fix everything. But as I pray about it, God helps me see that there are times when I need to stay out of it and let things run their natural course. Sometimes you just have to take the cape off and let things work themselves out.
Do you have that gear that pushes you to try and fix everything for everybody? If you do…welcome to the club! But also…be mindful of what you do about that urge. If you step in at the right time, you can make a real difference in the lives of others. But if you step in at the WRONG time, you can make things worse for them AND damage your relationship with them. How so we know the difference, you ask? Did you notice the key word in the 3rd sentence of the last paragraph? “But as I pray…” Prayer is the key to the kind of discernment I’m talking about here. If you ask God for guidance, truly seek it, and WAIT for it, He WILL provide it. And once He provides it, the key is to actually abide by it. So many people SAY they pray about things, but they only actually respond positively to the answer they receive if it agrees with what they already think. If it doesn’t…”I don’t think it was God talking!” How convenient- God only talks when He agrees with us!!
Pray to God for discernment. Listen for His still, small voice. And then…respond to it. Even if He tells you to simply let sleeping dogs lie. Perhaps ESPECIALLY if He tells you that!

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! 

 

“Well, I’m Glad THAT’S Over!”

tired_cat-1 Well, the dust has settled. The area around the Christmas tree, recently SWAMPED with brightly-colored packages, is bare…expect for a few odds and ends the kids or grandkids didn’t put away. There are 2 large trash bags out back, brimming with crumpled wrapping paper that you paid GOOD money for a few days ago. The food has been eaten. People have gone back to their homes. And here you sit…exhausted. In the stillness, you wonder…was it all worth it? Was it worth the AMAZING stress of the season? The running around like a mad person trying to get all the gifts purchased. The exorbitant balances on the credit cards. Much like Thanksgiving dinner, we bust our TAILS to get READY for Christmas, and then, before you can blink and eye…it’s over. And we are left with that empty, unsatisfied feeling. “Mark another one off the list…we survived!”

Now, I pray that the cynical description you just read DOESN’T describe YOU…but, based on my experience as both a pastor and a human (I have been a human longer that I have been a pastor, for those of you keeping score at home!), there are MANY people who DO feel that way after Christmas. We set our expectations SO high, we couldn’t POSSIBLY meet them. “This has to be the BEST Christmas, with the MOST presents, and just the RIGHT food, and the RIGHT music, and the RIGHT attitude. It must be Norman Rockwell, Jimmy Stewart and Burl Ives, all rolled into one. Is it any wonder we find ourselves disappointed?

If you have these feeling as you read this, let me offer two thoughts:

1.I’m genuinely sorry you feel that way. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Please feel free to go to the Prayer Request page on the website and share your thoughts with me. I would be honored to pray for you.

2.Ask yourself what your expectations going into Christmas were. If they fall toward that whole Norman Rockwell/Jimmy Stewart/Burl Ives thing, that might be part of the culprit right there.

Society has taken us SO far down the path of commercializing and sentimentalizing (is that actually a word? Well, if not…it is NOW!) Christmas that it can’t POSSIBLY live up to the hype. But here’s the beauty part- Christmas isn’t really about those things anyway! It REALLY IS about the birth of a Savior, to a young, unwed Jewish girl, in a backwater town. It REALLY IS about the fact that God chose to transcend the laws of nature and physics and enter into time and space in a powerful and unexpected way. If you look at Christmas THAT way, then today ISN’T the day it’s all over- it’s the day it all BEGINS! The spiritual seeds that are planted at Christmas are cultivated throughout the year and harvested at Easter, when we celebrate an empty tomb and a risen Savior!

So don’t look at today as one of those “Phew! Glad THAT’S over!” days. Instead, look at it as a journey- one that began in a manger in Bethlehem and ends at the door of your heart. Jesus stands this day and knocks…will you let Him in?

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!

 

Possum in the Chicken House

possum

It was hot…it was SO hot! It was the middle of summer, and the air conditioner was on the fritz! (Ever thought about what that meant, by the way? “On the fritz”? Who is Fritz? And why is “it” on him? And why does THAT translate to “not working”? I’m guessing all the Fritzes out there don’t particularly appreciate that phrase! I wouldn’t be real happy if, every time the car broke down, someone said, “the stupid car is on the Mark again!” But that’s just me!) So, before I was so rudely interrupted (by myself!), I was explaining how it was so hot and no air conditioning. The bottom line is that I was sleeping with the window open, trying not to die from heat stroke! (I’m SO dramatic! Of course I DO have a degree in DRAMA, so it would seem appropriate!)

About midnight that night, I was awakened by what can only be described as a “ruckus”. Now, said “ruckus”, as I slowly gathered my wits about me, was clearly coming from without, as opposed to within, the house. That’s good! As I listened more closely, it became apparent that the sounds were coming from the chicken house. And BOY were those chickens upset about something. We had been having problems with…SOMETHING…killing chickens, and I was determined to put a stop to it. I got dressed and ran down to the barn. Meanwhile, the chickens are in full uproar mode. I get there, run into the chicken house, and come face to face with a big, fat, MAD possum. (For those of you who WEREN’T born and raised as southern Illinois hillbillies like me, that would be the “opposum”, thank you very much!)

The chicken house was inside the barn- it was about 6 feet deep and 15 feet long, with a little hole cut in the wall for the chickens to get out to their “yard”. The door into the chicken house was toward the left end, and the roost (a series of staggered “rungs” that the chickens rested/slept on) was at the right end. The possum had gotten into the chicken house and climbed the roost. He was on the next to top rung (with what intention I am STILL not sure!), the chickens were carrying on to beat the band, and I was standing a mere few feet from him! Now, if you see a possum waddling down the side of the road, they look pretty doggone harmless. But look at the teeth on the one in the picture- if they get cornered…they are NASTY! He was hissing and snarling at me. I needed to get him out of there, but did NOT want to advance on him any further. I stood there for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. Then…I “thunk a thought”! I grabbed a shovel that was nearby, went OUTSIDE the barn to the spot were the possum was on the INSIDE, and “whacked” the daylights out of the side of our sheet metal-skinned pole barn with the head of the shovel! I have NEVER seen a possum move so fast! He was out that little hole in the side of the barn and GONE in the blink of an eye! Job well done AND I didn’t have to get my hands dirty- an OCD person’s dream come true!

What possums do YOU need to get out of the chicken house? What are the things which don’t belong in your life that are messing everything up? Let’s be honest- we KNOW what they are for each of us, it’s just that naming them…and claiming them, is the tough part. But if you CAN name them and claim them, you can flush them out and send them running. When you do that, things tend to settle back down- the chickens can go back to roosting comfortably and quitely, if you will. Don’t let those things just sit and fester, threatening to ruin your life. Turn to God, pray for strength, and then do the spiritual version of the shovel to the side of the barn. Willfully push those dark places out of the corners of your soul- let the Light in- the Light of God! You will be happy with what you see!

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 Grandma Couldn’t Cook!

Grandma

My grandma was a sweet woman! (This is my paternal grandma, by the way. I never met my maternal grandmother, she died LONG before I came around. And NO- that is NOT a picture of her! I simply chose that picture get your attention!) Now, grandmas of that era (early to mid-1960’s) had their own stereotype- stay-at-home moms, great cooks, cleaning machines- all in all, VERY domestic! Notice- I described my grandmother as “sweet”… NOT “domestic”!

My grandma did NOT fit the traditional “grandma” mold. To begin with, she was a professional woman. She was teacher and, later, a school principal. In fact, she was MY DAD’S principal! (He said THAT was NOT a pretty sight- he would GET IT and school…and then come home and GET IT again!) The other thing that made my grandma a “mold breaker” was that she was…we’ll just say…not the best cook in the world! She once made a “box cake” mix, and decided that if ONE box was good, then TWO boxes would be even better! She dumped both cake mixes into the bowl…but only added the extra ingredients for ONE cake! She got a hot, chocolately BRICK when all was said and done! She really couldn’t, or perhaps didn’t is a better word, clean- her house looked…lived in! She was NOT the prototypical 60’s grandma!
But you know what? She was a great lady! I was only 4 years old when she died, so I don’t remember her as well as my siblings do- but I DO remember her! She was sweet, kind, gentle, loving, caring, nurturing, generous…I could go on and on! I remember that all her grandkids would gather in her living room at Christmas. In the middle of the room was a BIG box, full of wrapped presents. The oldest grandkid would play Santa and deliver the gifts to everyone to be opened. It is a Christmas memory I cherish to this day!
My grandma did NOT fit the mold. She couldn’t cook. She didn’t clean. She wasn’t domestic at all. But, at least for me and my siblings, it didn’t matter- we loved her despite those things…perhaps BECAUSE of those things! Who do YOU know who doesn’t “fit the mold”? Who in your life goes against the grain, and sometimes pays the price for being “different”? (Some who read this blog have to contend with a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming pastor in their church!) If you read the Bible, it’s full of folks who didn’t fit in “normal society”- whatever THAT is! The list of Jesus’ disciples reads like a list of the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But Jesus CALLED them, TRAINED them, ministered THROUGH them…and LOVED them, perhaps BECAUSE they were different. Next time you see someone who isn’t what you would expect them to be, stop and try looking at them through Jesus’ eyes. You will see them in a totally different light. Once you see past color, race, age, gender…once you see past “different”…your world will begin to expand exponentially. And how cool is that?!

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! 

 

Look! It’s a Lego…ME!

Rev Mark Lego My wife and I are not extravagant people- not by a long shot. And one of the many ways that fact manifests itself is at Christmas. We don’t spend a lot of money on each other for gifts- there really aren’t a lot of things we want. We are pretty content with what we have. So, we look for fun, unusual, creative gifts that don’t cost tons of money but mean something. And one of the things she got me falls RIGHT into that category!
The picture that accompanies today’s blog tips my hand right up front. Yep- that was a Christmas gift from my wife! A little Lego guy! (It’s NOT actually Lego but some other company…but any way you slice it, it’s a little Lego guy!) And it you didn’t notice or can’t tell from the size of the picture- it’s ME!
If you know me at all, you know that I am a HUGE baseball fan and an even bigger St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan. One of my all-time favorite Cardinals is Ozzie Smith and the position I always wanted to play was Third Base. (Yes- I KNOW Ozzie was a shortstop!)
So, my wife found a website where you could design a little Lego-like guy pretty much any way you want. So, she gave him pasty skin (If you look up “pasty” in the dictionary, you will find a picture of my legs!), a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, the number “1” on the uniform (Ozzie Smith’s number), a goatee/beard (which I had, pre-chemo treatments!) and glasses. And the box it came in has a picture of this particular Lego-like guy in action, along with the name of the player- my name- and the position he plays- yep…Third Base! He has a bat in one hand and glove and ball on the other. The name on the back of the jersey IS…you guessed it, my last name! He even came with a pair of headphones to wear, which I do when I am working on something! Some assembly was required!
Did this gift cost a lot of money? I don’t think so. Yet, it is one of the coolest Christmas gifts I have ever received. It is SO well thought out and so creative. Last year, I opened a gift from my wife to find two little plastic Playskool giraffes- a mother and baby- along with a note saying that a donation in my name was made to help “adopt” a giraffe in the fight to save them from becoming endangered. We had talked about an article that said they were in danger and I had lamented that fact. My wife remembered that, did some research and voila- plastic giraffes!
These are just a couple of examples of why I feel so blessed that this awesome woman foolishly agreed to marry me “low those many years ago”. We have fun together. We laugh together. We work hard to respect each other and care for each other. We don’t need a ton of “stuff” to be happy- just each other, our boys and our God. And it is that approach to life that has helped sustain us over the past few months. It’s been less than 7 months since my diagnosis. It’s been about 3 months since we lost one of our dogs and about 2 months since we lost the other dog. And it’s been about 2 weeks since we lost her dad. It’s been a tough second half of the year. But our love for each other and our family, coupled with our faith in God, has been the foundation that has allowed us to continue to function in the midst of such negative news. This little Lego-like guy is just another reminder of that fact!
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Scandalous: The Incarnation

Scandalous The Incarnation(This is last night’s Christmas Eve Sermon) It was somewhere around 1966. It was Christmas Eve and my dad asked us if we wanted to see the Christmas Star. Even though we weren’t church folks, we knew the whole “star in the east on Christmas morn” story, so we said, “Yes!”
He got us up sometime in the night. It seemed like 2AM, but I was pretty little and could be confused about that part. He brought us into the kitchen and pointed out the kitchen window. And there, in the EAST, was the brightest star I had ever seen. My dad said it was the Christmas Star. And I was amazed! I remember standing there, watching that star and realizing that this was a very singular event. I wasn’t sure what that even meant at the time, but I knew I was witnessing something significant.
Since then, I have tried, more than once, to Google the date and circumstances, to see if I could find out anything about this celestial event. Perhaps it was planets aligning. Perhaps it was a comet. Perhaps it was…whatever. But even though I have slid a few years each way from that center of 1966, I have never found ANY mention of any special event in the sky that night. I simply have NO idea what I saw. I just know…THAT I saw it. And it had a profound impact on me.
Of course, if that WAS 1966, I was 5 years old. And I was 36 years old when I entered the ministry. So, it’s NOT like this event had an immediate impact on my life. But I have found that God often works that way in my life. It’s not so much one event that stands out as a watershed event. Instead, it’s a series of often seemingly disconnected events that, when put altogether, make a larger whole that impacts me in a greater way. Either way, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t remember standing in our kitchen as a boy, in my pajamas, watching that star out the window and knowing…KNOWING…that something big was happening! And therefore, not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think of my dad getting us out of bed and wondering- did he remember that event, too? I will NEVER forget it!
The world seems FULL of shock and scandals. Every time you read a news item or turn on the TV, there seems to be yet another scandal unfolding somewhere. But have you ever thought about just how scandalous the birth of Jesus was? If you peel away the layers of the story, dig beneath the “comfortable poetry” that the Gospel accounts of His birth seem to be, the story reads like front-page news on the nearest “scandal sheet”. In our current sermon series- Scandalous- we are focusing squarely on that fact…meeting it head-on. Is this story REALLY scandalous? If so…why? Three weeks ago, we began with Joseph- a simple man of faith. He was just hanging out when news came that would rock his world. Two weeks ago, we actually “backed the truck up” slightly and peeked into Mary’s visit from the angel. Last week, we journeyed to Bethlehem to see the humble surroundings that signaled the birth of Jesus. This morning, we looked at who was the first to receive the news of a Baby in a manger and we found that the lowest class of people got the most exalted of messages. Tonight, we put “the bow on the package”, so to speak, as we wrap up this series with The Incarnation. First, let’s listen to Luke Gospel account of the first Christmas:
Luke 2:1-20 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a Child. 
While they were there, the time came for the Baby to be born, and she gave birth to her Firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, Who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
We all know the story. As I said last Sunday, whether you are Christian or not, an avid church-goer or not, if you have seen A Charlie Brown Christmas (And REALLY- who hasn’t?), you have heard Luke’s Gospel account. It is a VERY familiar story. And over this past month, we’ve established that several aspects of this story are scandalous. While the story, on the surface, feels all “warm and fuzzy”, if you peel the layers of that onion away, you will find that it really is shocking and messy.
And that brings us to tonight. There are TONS of what I call “$65 seminary” words- terms that us pastors learn in seminary that we just can’t WAIT to share with other people! Sometimes, it’s because we’re so excited about learning them and sometimes- to be honest- it’s because we want to show just how smart we are!
But I find that simply tossing around those big words isn’t always very helpful. Often, they are words that I need to understand but the average person who sits in the pew doesn’t really need…or care…to EVER know. So, I tend to not use very many of those $65 words. But if I DO, I try to take a moment and explain them. Tonight’s word is “incarnation”. The dictionary says that incarnation means, “a person who embodies in the flesh a deity, spirit, or abstract quality”. In Christian theology, incarnation means that Jesus is fully God AND fully Man. Simply put, He IS God in human form. He is Emmanuel- God with us. Incarnation means that God chose…CHOSE…to stoop down among us, wrap our injured flesh around Him, breathe our air and walk our sod.
And the fact that Jesus claimed to be the incarnation of God is scandalous. For Him to say, “If you have seen ME you have seen God” was His way of saying, “I AM God”. The incarnation. And that’s scandalous. So scandalous, in fact, it’s what ultimately got Him nailed to a cross.
Interesting, to be sure. But what significance does it have for us- here on Christmas Eve, 2,000 years later? It has HUGE significance. It means that God is not some cold, distant clock maker who made everything, wound it up to get it running only to wander off into eternity, never to be seen or heard from again. It means that God is not a tyrant- sitting on a throne, simply demanding allegiance or death from His subjects. It means that God is not simply some intellectual construct to be considered solely in our heads.
It means that God is our Father. Regardless of what kind of father YOU had, God is the BEST kind of father. He loves us. He wants what’s best for us. We are the apple of His eye. If He has a refrigerator, our picture is on the front in one of those magnetic frames. We are the pinnacle of His creation- the best saved for last. We may not always FEEL that way…but He does!
In the end, the story of Jesus is scandalous because it goes against the norm. It is not predictable. It’s not clean, warm and fuzzy. The story of Jesus is messy, often uncomfortable, scandalous because He came to change the status quo. He came to toss “we’ve always done it that way” out the window and imagine a new way of thinking, a new way of being.
On this Christmas Eve, don’t take my word for it. Go to the stable and look into the manger for yourself. See a tiny little Baby Who literally split time in half just by His very presence. His mom named Him Jesus. Tonight, we call Him Emmanuel- God with us.

Scandalous: The Shepherds

Scandalous The Shepherds

I KNOW this will be hard to believe, but when I was a kid…I was a bit of a geek! (You don’t have to laugh QUITE so hard- it’s not THAT funny!) When I was in 6th Grade, our school had a field hockey tournament. The PE teacher picked 6 kids to be team captains, and much to my (and everyone else’s for that matter!) surprise, I was picked as one of them. It was both a great honor AND an awesome responsibility- I had to now uphold the honor of all the geeks in the school. Well, all the kids lined up and the captains began picking.  I stood at a crossroads at that moment- do I pick my friends, geeks one and all, or do I pick kids who can actually help me win? The decision seemed simple- I went with friendship over victory! I loaded my team with every geeky kid there was (and if you are reading this and were ON that team, sorry…but we ALL know it’s true)! The other captains just laughed as my geek quotient got higher and higher. BUT…the last kid picked WASN’T the geekiest as usual- a moral victory at least! All the Vegas pundits picked us to fall really early and really hard- some didn’t even think we would actually make to the START of the 1st game. Kids were betting hard-earned lunch money against us. Things looked gloomy for the All-Stars (yes, that WAS our name. Got a problem with that?!) Then, the tournament started. We played round-robin, double-elimination as I recall, and I took the whole thing so seriously that my mom was the only parent in attendance!  (I insisted she come!) And throughout the tournament, a remarkable thing happened! We kept winning! As more teams dropped out, the geek-laden All-Stars, corrective shoes flying and inhalers working overtime, hung in there. Finally, it came down to us and one other team- the championship game! The World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup rolled into one (perhaps I exaggerate JUST a bit)!  Even now, the dramatic memory is so intense it makes the hair on my head stand up (metaphorically speaking, of course)! The puck was dropped, one of my geek teammates the puck OUT OF MIDAIR (Wayne Gretzky, eat your heart out)- the puck flew, straight and true, into the genu-whine plastic goal, and the first point was scored! That goal so demoralized the other team (either that or they simply had better things to care about, unlike us All-Stars) that the game was quickly out of reach. When the final buzzer sounded (OK, it was the PE teacher’s whistle), the All-Stars, after marching undefeated through the prelims, walked away with our taped glasses and pocket protectors held high, victorious to the end! And there was GREAT rejoicing among all the geeks down in Geeksville…and for one brief, shining moment…I was hailed as their king! I get misty just thinking about it! 

 

The world seems FULL of shock and scandals. Every time you read a news item or turn on the TV, there seems to be yet another scandal unfolding somewhere. But have you ever thought about just how scandalous the birth of Jesus was? If you peel away the layers of the story, dig beneath the “comfortable poetry” that the Gospel accounts of His birth seem to be, the story reads like front-page news on the nearest “scandal sheet”. In our current sermon series- Scandalous– we are focusing squarely on that fact…meeting it head-on. Is this story REALLY scandalous? If so…why? Three weeks ago, we began with Joseph- a simple man of faith. He was just hanging out when news came that would rock his world. Two weeks ago, we actually “backed the truck up” slightly and peeked into Mary’s visit from the angel. Last week, we journeyed to Bethlehem to see the humble surroundings that signaled the birth of Jesus. Today, we look at who was the first to receive the news of a Baby in a manger and we find that the lowest class of people got the most exalted of messages. 

 

     Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

 

So, you’ve got these shepherds. They’re out in the field, watching over their flock. Often, they would either construct a makeshift pen or find a natural “enclosure” in which to bed down for the night. And the shepherds themselves would sleep at the “mouth” of the enclosure, serving as the last/best line of defense between their helpless flock and the predators who would love to get to them.  

It’s late at night. The fire has burned down. Since this is 1st Century Palestine, there isn’t a lot of what is called ambient light- light “spilling out from a town or city. In other words, it’s dark. Suddenly, unexpectedly, an angel appears to them, shining resplendent like the noonday sun. They are, understandably, terrified. And the angel replies like angels in the Bible seem to ALWAYS reply- “Don’t be afraid”.  

The angel then goes on to tell them that he brings, “Good News of great joy”. And did you notice to whom he brings those things? ALL the people. Everybody. It’s NOT just for United Methodists or active church-goers or…whoever. It’s for everybody! And when does it happen? Not next day or next year, but today. And where does this happen? Right where they are- Bethlehem. And what is this Good News? The coming of the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. And how will they know when they find Him? He’ll be wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger. Who. What. When. Where. Why. And how. All covered in 2 sentences! 

OK- so the angel appears to the shepherds. They are the FIRST to hear the news. Not the rich. Not the titled. Not the powerful. The shepherds. It’s scandalous. Out of ALL of the people who could have been the first to hear, it’s more than a little shocking that it would be THESE guys! The guys at the bottom of the food chain. The plankton of the Ancient Near Eastern world. That part is indisputable. The question, then, is why? If you had news that you wanted to “get out there”, who would you tell first?  

We all have that “reliable source”- someone who always seems to know what’s going on. If you have a question about someone or you want to know more about something that happened, you go to them. You also know that, if you have info that you DON’T want to get out- you DON’T tell them! On the other hand, if you have news that you WANT to spread, you go STRAIGHT to them! 

Am I saying that the shepherds were gossips? No. I AM saying- they were ready. They were awake. They were up. They were active. They were the ones- really, the ONLY ones- who were receptive at that particular time and place. Their response confirms that fact. They drop everything they’re doing and head over to see what’s what about you know what. What seems like, on the surface, a terrible group of people to be the first tell this Good News of great joy which is to all people turns out to be the only logical choice! 

 

So, the question is this- are you ready? Have you made yourself fully available to God’s Good News of great joy? God tends to not call the equipped so much as He equips the called. In other words, He looks for those who have made themselves available, calls them…THEN equips them for every good work. If you’re waiting until you “have everything together” to step out in faith and fully commit to following and serving God…it might be a long wait (It’s akin to waiting until you can actually afford kids before you have any! If that’s your approach to parenting…hope you like rescue cats!) This Christmas, refuse to simply sit on the sideline, watching others actively engage. Step up in faith. Get out of the boat. Jump into the deep end. Whatever metaphor resonates with you- be like Nike and just do it. The One born in Bethlehem isn’t looking for the richest, the strongest, the most powerful. He’s looking for those who are available. Who are at the ready, willing to get in over their head and help make a difference. This Christmas, join the ranks of the lowly, scandalous shepherds- receive the angel’s pronouncement, go and see the Baby and then…tell others about what’s you’ve seen, what you’ve heard and how it’s changed your life! 

ANOTHER Day in the Life- Special Christmas Eve Edition

day in the life christmas

You may have noticed- from its inception, this blog has been described as “a DAILY look at life…”. I have shared before that, when I started it, I made the conscious decision to write daily. NOT writing daily created two problems in my mind- 1. people won’t know when to expect the next entry and therefore it seemed it would be tough to build an audience and 2. if I didn’t write daily, I was fairly certain I wouldn’t write much at all! So, a “daily” look! 

In that vein, I periodically offer some variety of “a day in the life”. Usually, it’s a day that was A. really busy, B. unusual or C. BOTH! I don’t usually offer them very often. But today, I offer the 2nd one in 2 days. This MAY be a first! But very intentional. Yesterday’s blog was about Thursday- an busy and odd yet somewhat typical day of ministry.  Today, I write proactively about tomorrow- Christmas Eve…a busy day! Here is what tomorrow’s schedule will look like: 

5AM- the alarm goes off 

5:01AM-5:35AM- get ready, make coffee, eat breakfast 

5:36AM- leave for church 

5:37AM- ARRIVE at church! (Remember- I live RIGHT next door!) 

5:38AM-6:20AM- get lights on, doors unlocked, a couple of last-minute things printed, etc. 

6:21AM-6:59AM- finish packing new Visitor’s Bags, load things into the sanctuary computer, “test drive” a couple of worship-related videos and set up Communion 

7AM-7:35AM- warm up with the 8AM Praise Band 

7:36-7:59AM- “Meet and Greet” folks coming in for the Contemporary Worship Service 

8AM-9AM- lead that service, play drums for 5 songs and preach for the first time of the day 

9:01AM-9:14AM- help make the transition from Contemporary Worship to Rock and Worship 

9:15AM-10:05AM- lead that service, play drums on 4 songs, serve Communion and preach the same sermon for a second time of the day 

10:06AM-10:29AM- help make the transition from Rock and Worship to Blended/Traditional Worship 

10:30AM-11:30AM- lead that service, play drums on 2 songs and preach the same sermon for a third time of the day 

11:31AM-11:50AM- talk to people as they prepare to leave 

11:51AM- go home 

Noon- Eat lunch 

1PM- take a nap 

3PM-6PM get up, spend the next few hours with my family, eat dinner, get dressed 

6:01PM- head to church 

6:02PM-6:59PM- get lights on, doors unlocked, a couple of last-minute things printed, etc. And “Meet and Greet” folks coming in for the 7PM Christmas Eve Worship Service 

7PM-8PM- lead that service, serve Communion and preach the new sermon for the first time of the day (4th time to preach) 

8:01PM-8:30PM- talk to people as they are leaving 

8:31PM-8:45PM- prepare a few things for the next service, shut off lights, lock up, go home 

8:46PM-10PM- spend time with my family 

10:01PM- head to church 

10:02PM-10:59PM- get lights on, doors unlocked and “Meet and Greet” folks coming in for the 11PM Christmas Eve Worship Service 

11PM-Midnight- lead that service, serve Communion and preach the new sermon for the second time of the day (5th time to preach) 

12:01AM-12:30AM- talk to people as they are leaving 

12:31AM-12:45AM- put away a few things, shut off lights, lock up, go home 

12:46AM- change clothes 

1AM- go to bed! 

To sum up: work roughly 12 “billable hours”, preach 2 separate sermons a total of 5 times, serve Communion 3 times, play drums on 11 songs and lead 5 worship services- all in a roughly 20-hour period. Busy? You bet! Tiring? Uh huh. Worn out when my head hits the pillow? Yep. BUT- it’s one of the things that, as a pastor, I live for. The only thing better than leading five worship services tomorrow…would be leading SIX! Christmas Eve, like Easter, is the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the World Series all rolled into one. I would argue that if pastors aren’t totally jazzed about Christmas Eve and Easter and DON”T work as hard as they can to make them special and memorable- they’re missing something. So I say, “Bring it ON!” 

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 (Christmas) Day in the Life

day in the life sheet music

Yesterday was an interesting day. The first thing in the morning, I went to the local radio station. The pastors in the area record “Thought For the Day” on a rotating basis. That means that, roughly once each quarter, I go to the radio station, ready with five 1-minute pieces that I have written. (I figured out that, for me, 190 written words translate to about one minute of talking!) I record them. (My goal is to be what I call “One-Take Charlie”- that means recording each one with no mistakes or re-takes! Nailed it!) 

Since my week (next week) included Christmas Day, I decided to take advantage of that fact. So, the “Thought For the Day” on Monday will be a shortened version (190 words!) of Luke’s Christmas Gospel. How cool is that? A chance to get the Gospel message on commercial radio. I love it! 

Then it was back to the church to try and get about 15 hours of work done in about 3 hours. (Didn’t quite make that one!) After lunch, my wife and I jumped in the car and headed “into town” for a follow-up visit with my radiology oncologist. It’s been months since I had radiation treatments, but he wanted me to check in- to see how I was doing.  

We got there. They took my vitals. Asked me about 2.9 million questions. (I MIGHT be exaggerating just a BIT!) Then the doctor came in. (We love him and have GREAT trust in him. But I believe I have shoes older than him!!) He was very happy with how I was doing and agreed that, unless/until something changes that warrants thinking differently, no radiation. We had been thinking that, but it was great to hear it! So, we continue to be on “a break”- until early February, when another round of CT Scan/Blood Draw will precede a return visit with the oncologist (NOT the one I visited yesterday but the one who oversees my chemo treatments!) to see if we start them back up or not.  

The workday ended with 90 minutes of Praise Band practice- always a highlight of the week! We ran through the music for Sunday and worked on a new song we roll out in January-
I Want to Break Free” by Queen. (Yes- THAT Queen!) Before we started working on it, we listened to it. When it was done, I said, “OK, show of hands- who can sing like Freddie Mercury?” I stood for a moment and then added, “It’s a trick question…because the answer is, Nobody! NOBODY sings like Freddie Mercury!”    

One of the band members shared that the work day had been very stressful and that coming to band practice was a great stress reliever. They shared that they loved practicing with the rest of us and how much fun it was. I couldn’t agree more. To gather and play great music for 90 minutes is just a good time! 

To recap- a very diverse day. A very good day. A somewhat typical “ministry” day! One of the many reasons I love my job! 

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 Waiting is ALMOST Over!

waiting     I hate waiting! I have said it before and I’m painfully positive that I will say it again (and again…and again…and…well…you get the picture!)- I hate waiting. If they ever give an award for “Poor Waiting”, y’all might as well pack it in- I’ve got that one locked up! It goes against every fiber of my being to wait. And if I have to wait because of someone else…I’m even LESS patient…if that’s possible!
But Advent, the 4 weeks on the Church calendar that lead up to Christmas, is all about waiting. Advent means “coming”, and if something’s coming, then someone’s waiting for it! And so, at Christmas time, we wait. Some wait for it to all be over because it’s such a big stinkin’ hassle. Some wait for the inevitable and ubiquitous presents. Some wait for the opportunity to get together with family and friends. But whatever it is that you are waiting for at Christmas, “waiting” seems to be the key theme of the season. And I hate it! (Did I mention that? I’m a bit unclear!)
So…in this busy, fast-paced, hustle and bustle kind of thing we call Christmas, what have YOU been waiting for? I’ll be all too transparent and admit that, at times, I have been waiting for ALL of the things I mentioned already! (Ouch, pastor!) But underneath it all, the thing I wait MOST for is a baby in a manger. Now, I KNOW that sounds cornball and all “Pollyanna-ish”, but so be it! It’s true. I have learned over the years that the BEST thing to wait for this time of year is the miracle in the manger that not only split time itself in half but also changed who we are. So…I have been waiting. Dutifully. Slowly. Painstakingly. Waiting.
And now…guess what? The waiting is over! Well, OK…it’s not ACTUALLY over yet…but it’s DARN close! In just a few short days Christmas will be here and we will all finally come to the thing for which we have been waiting. If you’ve been waiting for most everything on the list above…you stand to be relatively disappointed. Even the GOOD things on that part of the list are fleeting, transitory. You will enjoy them for a day or two…and then it will be “business as usual”. Ho hum!
But if you are waiting for that manger thing…man are you in for a treat! Because that is truly the gift that keeps on giving (unlike the “Jelly of the Month” from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!) all year long! This Christmas, do me a favor- DON’T take my word for it. Instead, look in the manger for yourself, see the baby, and experience the wonder and the magic that is Christmas!

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 Find Tinsel Distracting!”

festivus

Do you know about Festivus? Have you missed this important holiday? If so, don’t fret! It’s actually “made-up”- celebrated on December 23. It was created by writer Dan O’Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for the TV show Seinfeld. In the show, the holiday is introduced by Frank Costanza to Cosmo Cramer.
Frank: “Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.”
Kramer: “What happened to the doll?”
Frank: “It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!”
Kramer: “That must have been some kind of doll.”
Frank: “She was.
Festivus features an unadorned aluminum “Festivus pole”. The basics of the Festivus pole are explained by Frank:
Kramer: “And is there a tree?”
Frank: “No, instead, there’s a pole. It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting. It’s made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio.”
When not being used, the pole is stored in the Costanzas’ crawl space. The “Airing of Grievances” happens during the traditional Festivus meal. Everybody tells everybody else all the ways they have disappointed them over the past year. Then, after the meal, the “Feats of Strength” are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, with the holiday ending only if the head of the household is actually pinned. Anything that happens around Festivus, no matter how mundane or easily explainable, is seen as a “Festivus miracle”! The rallying cry for those who celebrate it is “a Festivus for the rest of us”! It began as a way to celebrate the holiday season without having to
participate in all the rampant pressure and commercialism. Some people actually
celebrate the holiday in varying degrees of seriousness.
I really enjoy Seinfeld…and the Festivus episode is one of my favorites. It’s HYSTERICAL! But….it DOES raise an interesting question- have we ruined (or at least tainted) the sacred celebration of Christmas by the rampant secular holiday many Americans focus on? Have we turned enough people off to the true meaning of Christmas that’s it’s completely lost in the shuffle? I once read that while 74% of Americans describe Christmas as “primarily religious”, only 58% encourage belief in Jesus Christ as Savior, only 47% will attend church on Christmas Eve/Day, only 34% will watch Biblically-themed Christmas movies, and only 28% will read or tell the Christmas story from the Bible. It’s amazing that, although 3/4 of Americans call Christmas a religious holiday, only 1/4 will actually read the Bible story about it.
My challenge to you is this- even though Friday is a “Festivus for the rest of us”…focus on the REAL reason for the season! Encourage belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. Attend a church service on Christmas Eve. Watch a Biblically-based Christmas movie. (The Nativity is a pretty decent one.) Read the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke…to yourself AND your family. Celebrate a baby in a manger who split time in half…changed the world…saved 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!

 

 

The Third Candle of Advent

Advent 3

Each week during December, I am taking a day to look at the season of Advent- the time leading up to Christmas. As I have mentioned already, Advent is a season of waiting…waiting for Emmanuel…God with us…Jesus Christ. (I have also shared that I, impatient person that I am, don’t wait very well!)
This week we look at the 3rd candle of Advent…the Candle of Joy. We light this candle to remind us that Christ is the bringer of true and everlasting joy. It is also called the Shepherd’s Candle because it was they who first experienced the joy of a coming Messiah. Its pink color represents the joy of a baby in a manger.
Another common symbol of Advent is the Advent calendar. Each compartment can either show a part of the Nativity/birth of Jesus, or can simply display a piece of paraphernalia to do with Christmas. Some Advent calendars even include daily chocolate or Lego pieces! A compartment is opened each day during the month of December leading up to Christmas Day.
Waiting is such a HARD thing…but it is an important element of Advent. This period of waiting offers us the opportunity to prepare our hearts and minds for the miracle of God with us.
Here is a prayer for the 3rd week of Advent- Loving God, we thank You for the joy You bring us. Through Your Son we have found joy in living as Your children. Help us to prepare our hearts for this gift. We ask in the name of the One born in Bethlehem. Amen

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

 

Here We Come A-Caroling!

caroling

I don’t really remember when it started for me. But I DO know that I don’t remember NOT doing it. I’m talking about Christmas caroling. I am sure, however, that I have been Christmas caroling as long as I have been in the ministry. I very clearly remember helping coordinate it early in our stay at the first church we served. It has looked a little different from church to church, circumstance to circumstance. But it has been a staple of our ministry for the past 21 years. 

Picking the right day is important. Sunday afternoon seems to be a no-brainer- I usually default to a 2PM start time. Too early in the month and people aren’t really in the spirit yet. Too late in the month and it’s too close to Christmas- people are either already over-booked or they are a tad “burned out”. So, we lean toward the Sunday afternoon that is closest to the middle of December. If you are thinking that through, it means that we went caroling yesterday! 

I have learned over the years that the best approach seems to be to focus on senior citizens-related facilities. For the community we live in, that means three stops. I have also learned that to simply waltz into one of those facilities, unexpected and unannounced, and proclaim, “We’re here to carol!” isn’t the most helpful approach to them. They often have other events going at this time of year. 

So, at the church we currently serve, there is a woman who graciously started being the “booker” for the event! She contacts the 3 facilities about a week ahead of us coming, lets them know our intention to come and our general timeframe, and then works out a schedule that accommodates A. our timeframe and B. anything else each facility may have scheduled.  

I have tried, over the years, to offer cookies and hot chocolate back at the church after the event. But I have found that folks don’t really need/want one more event during the Christmas season that involves sitting around eating treats. They want to sing…and go home. So, I abandoned the “cookies and hot chocolate” portion several years ago! 

So, we went caroling yesterday. People were asked to gather at the church at 2PM. We would then carpool to the 3 venues, carol and end back at the church. I went over to the church about 1:40PM so that I could get the building open and get the song sheets out. At 1:55PM, I looked at my watch and thought, “Wow! We are apparently going to have a rather…sparse…showing for caroling this year!” There wasn’t hardly anybody there. But then, by about 2:04PM…40 people had gather to go caroling! 40 people! That MAY be the biggest group I’ve had…ever.  

I assessed how many people could drive. (I have learned that to try and line up all the drive ahead of time is A. unnecessary and B. a LOT of time-consuming work! So- I don’t!) Turns out, I had more potential drivers than I needed. (That seems to always be the case!) I coordinated who would ride with whom. And then, we headed out! 

The first stop was to a senior living facility that can be described as “assisted living”. We have several church members who live there, including my mother-in-law. (Not. By any means, a requirement for us to go there- just an added bonus!) We sing in their lobby, which is big, open and has a balcony that overlooks it. The residents gather on both floors to listen and join in. When we are done singing, we go around to everyone there- greeting them and wishing them “Merry Christmas”. That greeting is a feature we have been doing for years. The folks who live in these facilities seem to appreciate the music. But they also appreciate the human contact of a handshake or a pat on the back and a seasonal greeting.  

Then, it was on to the second stop- one of two nursing homes in town. It is a facility that also has some church members in it…and the facility where my father-in-law died last Thursday. So it was a bittersweet stop for me and my wife. Then, on to the last stop- the other nursing home in town. There is also a church member there.  

The residents of these facilities are always so appreciative of our coming. They always sing along and always seem to enjoy that we all mingle among them and greet them. But I also notice every year that the people who GO caroling get a lot out of it, too! They sing with smiles on their faces. They greet with smiles on their faces. And, as we drive from one venue to another, they talk about how much they enjoy the event.  

The power of ministry is often found in the fact that you set out to help someone else and, in the process, you benefit from the ministry as much or more than they do. Whether it’s been a mission trip, helping out at a Habitat For Humanity house build or caroling at nursing homes, I am consistently blessed when I step out in faith and try to be a blessing to someone else. If you have been hesitant to step out in faith and serve others, hesitate no longer! You will be blessed in ways you even anticipate!  

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

Scandalous: The Lowly Birth

Scandalous The Lowly Birth

     As you probably remember, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater. When we got married, I was the Business Manager of a professional theater in St. Louis, MO. And while we book what, in the business is known as “legitimate shows”- actual stage musicals and plays, we also booked other entertainment in on weekends when we didn’t have shows going on. It was a way to bring in extra income on weekends when the theater was “dark”.

     Usually, the “other entertainment” consisted of comedians or singers. We brought in folks like comedians Jay Leno, Martin Mull, Steven Wright, Kevin Nealon, Yakov Smirnoff, David Brenner and Steve Landesburg, ventriloquist Waylon Flowers and Madame, singer Pearl Bailey, groups like Charlie Brown and the Coasters and entertainers like the Flying Acrobats of China.

     And the way it often worked was that these folks would come in for a weekend, do 2-4 shows over a Friday and a Saturday and then…gone. And one of the important things for them, when they came into town, was…who was paying them! (You have to remember- this was in the early 1980’s- when computers had green screens and less memory than my watch now has! There wasn’t “internet banking and automatic money transfer to be had back then!)

     Well, as the Business Manager, the answer to the question, “Who is going to pay the entertainer” was…ME! And when you have a check for $40,000 for someone, they have a vested interest in seeing YOU! So, when these people would come into town ahead of the show, they would come and find me. And, having seen all of them on TV before, it was always very interesting to have them walk into my office to pick up their check. While each of them (of course) had their own personality and their own level of comfort/willingness to engage me in actual, human conversation, they all had a much different “vibe” on a Friday afternoon, standing in a non-descript office behind the scenes of some theater than they did when on stage. Casual clothes were usually the order of the day, as was no make-up, no “over the top” personality and- often- fatigue. I would engage them in conversation as best I could and hand them their check. Sometimes that would involve a decent conversation with another human being and sometimes it was obvious they were simply “stooping down” to interact with some “peon” at some regional theater who had THEIR money in HIS hand!

     The world seems FULL of shock and scandals. Every time you read a news item or turn on the TV, there seems to be yet another scandal unfolding somewhere. But have you ever thought about just how scandalous the birth of Jesus was? If you peel away the layers of the story, dig beneath the “comfortable poetry” that the Gospel accounts of His birth seem to be, the story reads like front-page news on the nearest “scandal sheet”. In our current sermon series- Scandalous– we are focusing squarely on that fact…meeting it head-on. Is this story REALLY scandalous? If so…why? Two weeks ago, we began with Joseph- a simple man of faith. He was just hanging out when news came that would rock his world. Last week, we actually “backed the truck up” slightly and peeked into Mary’s visit from the angel. This week, we journey to Bethlehem to see the humble surroundings that signaled the birth of Jesus.

     Luke 2:1-7 In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a Child. While they were there, the time came for the Baby to be born, and she gave birth to her Firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

     So, the leader of the known world calls for a census. That means everybody has to go to the place of their family’s origin to be counted. Joseph’s family comes from Bethlehem, so he loads the little woman into the paneled station wagon and heads home. (OK- maybe it was a donkey!) And we all know the story. We all have heard Luke’s Christmas Gospel somewhere along the way. I mean, if you’ve seen A Charlie Brown Christmas, you’ve heard it.

     While they’re in Bethlehem, the Baby decides to make His appearance.  Notice how Luke presents that fact. He provides details that make it clear Who he’s talking about and Who Luke thinks the Baby is. First off, the Baby is her Firstborn. Just last week, we established the idea of the virgin birth. Luke subtly reminds us of that by called Jesu her Firstborn. And He’s not only her Firstborn- it’s a Boy! She has a SON…exactly what the angel said would happen. This IS the Baby that is expected.

      OK- so far, so good. Caesar Augustus. Census. Bethlehem. Mary. Joseph. Firstborn Son. Great story. But where’s the lowly birth part? Ah- we saved that for last! She wraps the Baby in cloth and places Him in a manger…a MANGER…because there’s no room in the inn. So, this couple is having their Baby in the Parking Garage because the Bethlehem Holiday Inn is booked solid. It doesn’t get much more “lowly” than that.

     Now, I’m a farm boy at heart. I KNOW my erudite, worldly, urban persona would have you think otherwise. (Can you HEAR the sarcasm dripping off that statement?!) But I was raised a farm kid. Hay fields. Corn. Soybeans. Chickens. Barns. And a stable for our horse. And that stable had a stall. And that stall had a manger. Not the kind of manger we always picture in Bethlehem. But a manger nonetheless. We’re talking a feedbox. The place where you put the food that the animals are going to EAT out of. A grimy, slobbery feedbox in the midst of a smelly, manure-y stable. THAT’S the setting into which Jesus enters the world. A lowly birth.

    That it WAS a lowly birth seems unarguable. The question is- why? Why in the name of everything that is holy would God CHOOSE to have the story take THIS kind of twist? Kings aren’t born in mangers. Just doesn’t happen. But THIS King- OUR King- WAS born that way. AND…it’s scandalous.

     But think through it- OUR King came…for us. He didn’t come simply to ascend the throne, grab all the power He can and rub everybody else’s nose in it. He doesn’t NEED to “grab all the power He can”- He already has it. He didn’t come in a manner designed to showcase His power. He came in a way that instead focuses on His love for us.

     God came as a lowly, helpless Child so that He could experience what we experience, do what we do and wrestle with earthly life just like we do. He wrapped our injured flesh around Him, breathed our air and walked our sod. Jesus is fully God…AND fully man. And His lowly birth ensured that fact. He came like no other king before or since…and that was EXACTLY as He planned it. He stooped down to live among us and, because of that, we are never the same. And so, we wait for the Coming One- scandalous.

That ONE Last Gift!

presents

Tossing. Turning. Looking at the clock. You’ve waited, and waited…and now you’re being asked to wait some more. Then, just when it seems time has simply come to a screeching halt, the sun peeks over the horizon; Christmas morning dawns- calm, cold, and clear. It’s time! You leap from your bed and run to Mom and Dad’s room, yelling, laughing, tumbling, begging.
“Please? Can we please open the presents now?!” And then, there it is- a seemingly endless array of presents meets your inquisitive gaze. It’s as if a toy store has exploded! Then…you get to tear into the wondrous collection! Decorative holiday wrap flies in a whirlwind of activity; there is a literal blizzard of shredded paper in the room. And then, as quickly as it began, it ends.
Remember Christmas when you were little? It was magical. But now, you’re “all growed up” and you’ve come to also appreciate the joy of GIVING gifts- something special for your spouse, your kids, your grandkids, that you just know they will cherish. Giving to others is one of the true joys of Christmas. It’s not about the amount of money spent or the prestige of the gift received. Instead, it’s about the love you have for that person. Seeing the joy on their face is perhaps the best gift they could give you.
In the spirit of the season, pray about adding one more name to your gift list this year. Choose an individual, a family or an organization that could benefit from something special this season. Then come forward with your gift, look into the manger, and see for yourself the true joy of Christmas. I pray a joyous and peace-filled holiday season to you and your family.

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 Life Well-Lived

Hank I witnessed a beautiful and brutal thing yesterday. (My wife would use the term “brutiful”.) My wife’s dad died yesterday morning. (I have shared in this space before that, when I did a three-month Hospital Chaplaincy internship, we were instructed to use the term “died” to describe patients who, you know, died. Her argument was that you didn’t “lose” them, they didn’t “pass”- they died.) He was 87 years old. He and my mother-in-law lived with us for about 5½ years before moving into assisted living about 1½ years ago. From there, we moved him to the nursing home in September.
But there is MUCH more to the story than that. I met the man on April 29 of 1976. How, you ask, do I remember so vividly the actual date I met him? It was A. my wife’s 16th birthday and B. our first date! So, I was 16 when I met him. I am 56 now. That means I have known him for 40 years- a HUGE portion of my life.
I have also shared that my “growing up” years weren’t always the easiest. We were a rather dysfunctional family. But I have also shared that I love my mom and dad very much and, looking back, know that they did the best they could. And we all turned out to be decent, contributing members of society. So, there you have it!
But when you put the last two paragraphs together, a reality emerges- my father-in-law had a HUGE impact on me. He taught me a LOT about how to be a dad, a husband and a better person. If there’s any male figure in my life who shaped me as much as my dad did…it’s my father-in-law.
And I thought about that reality at 3:30AM yesterday as we drove to the Nursing Home in response to their call that he was “actively dying”. I thought about it as we sat with him. I thought about it at about 5:30 yesterday morning as we drove back home to try and get a TINY bit of sleep before our younger son woke up to get ready for school. I thought about it as we drove BACK to the Nursing Home after our son went to school. I thought about it as we again sat with him. And I thought about it as I watched him take what proved to be his last breath, shuffle off this mortal coil and head off to join the “choir invisible”.
There is something heartbreaking, to be sure, about watching someone you love die. Been there, done that. It’s never fun. But I learned, a while back, that it is a gift at some level. As My wife and I sat there, we knew that he wasn’t along. We knew that he was at peace. And we knew that he was headed to a better place. As his son…in-law AND as his pastor, there is no better gift than knowing he is once again whole and dancing on streets of gold.
I used to be afraid of death. But years in the ministry, helping people die, including my mom, taught me that it is not something to fear. You don’t have to like it. It doesn’t mean you’re not broken-hearted over the loss of a loved one. But if you believe that there is something better than this life waiting beyond the pale, then you also have to realize that there ARE things worse than death. And those understandings can help you get to the placer where your prayers change from “Heal them PHYSICALLY” to “make them whole again”. We told this man that we loved so much that it was OK to let go, to give in, to know that we would all be OK. And we did that because we COULD. And we COULD because we have faith. I will miss him but I am grateful for the life well-lived that impacted so many…including 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!

A NEW “To-Do” List

Christmas-Tree

It’s simply hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner. I say that every year, and sadly, I mean it every year, too! As I scroll through my Google Calendar (there’s an image that fills you with the true meaning of Christmas!), I am reminded of the myriad things that will happen between now and Christmas morning. Parties, shopping, cooking, entertaining, meetings, hustling, bustling and the like are just some of the things taking up the minutes, hours, days and weeks leading up to 12/25/17. The countdown is on! It’s so hard to hold fast to any kind of real focus during the holiday season. It’s supposed to be this wonderful, charming Rockwellian  fantasy of snow-covered houses, twinkling lights, roaring fires and carols at the spinet. (Where exactly IS my “spinet”?) The reality is much more like a runaway train, plummeting pell-mell down the side of a mountain, with you trying desperately just to hang on until it gets to the bottom. The focus of Christmas has switched from surreal to survival.
Now, give me a moment before you roll your eyes and say, “Here we go! He wants me to scrap all of my “busy-ness” and simply have a white Christmas. Get real, Pastor!” I’m not Pollyanna-ish enough to think that’s actually possible (I’m CLOSE, but not there yet!) Instead, what I propose is a compromise; a peace treaty between the commercial observance of Christmas and the religious celebration of a baby in a manger who changed the world. We can’t NOT go to our office parties (Yeah, yeah, yeah- I KNOW…double negative!), and our kid’s Christmas pageant, and our other kid’s band
concert, and our favorite mall and…and…and…! Those are not only unchanging parts of life; they are important in their own right. Instead, I encourage you to make sure you take time for the important amid the craziness of the urgent. Here are some random thoughts to not only maintain your sanity during the holidays, but the re-focus this season on Jesus.
· Load the family in the car and drive around town looking at the lights people have in
their yards.
· Buy an Advent Calendar and make it a priority to get the family together for 60
seconds to open the door for that day and see what’s inside.
· Make sure you all sit down to a meal together AT LEAST 4 times a week- SOME meal, SOME time.
· Trick your kids into spending time with you by asking them about their favorite Christmas memories.
· Don’t make the purchasing and decorating of the Christmas tree just one more chore- make it a priority.
· Invite someone over who doesn’t have family around to help you decorate that tree.
· Pick a family who is less fortunate than you and give one gift you would normally buy
for YOUR family to THEIR family- anonymously.
· Read the Christmas story as recorded in Luke 2:1-20.
· Bring your family to everything being offered at church this season- what better place to be at Christmas time?
· Keep the true focus of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, on the front burner, and
share that with people you meet.
We can’t avoid the rampant commercialism of the season, but we can contextualize it, re-interpret it. Don’t take my word for it- look in the manger and see for yourself the true miracle of Christmas. You’re life will never be the same. Peace and joy to you and your this Christmas!

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! 

 

“That’s a LOT of Funerals!”

Funeral-shutterstock_155067617

Today, I perform a funeral for a church member. I’ll be honest- the first few years of ministry, I didn’t keep very good records about things like funerals. But I know two things: 1. this will be the 147th funeral I performed since the start of 2005 and 2. given that I started in the ministry in 1997, that means I have performed, in total, roughly 232 funerals in my career. That’s a LOT of funerals. 

Funerals are an interesting and unique part of the ministry. They are simply a part of the gig- the only two things we can depend on are death and taxes! And because they carry with them a strong sense of grief, they can be REALLY hard on the pastor/officiant. 

Now, I do NOT mean to detract from how hard they are on the loved ones. They are, after all, the ones who have actually lost someone. But for the pastor, the impact of funerals- death in the congregation- can be both cumulative and extremely impactful. Depending on the church you serve and the number of funerals you are called upon to do, along with some other factors, it can easily be a contributing factor to pastors coming to the decision to “step out of the stream” and leave the ministry. You can somewhat easily get to the point where you feel like all you do is deal with death. (The year I did 25 funerals in ONE year was especially hard for me.)  

But I have learned over the years that funerals can also be a blessing. I have shared many times that being a minister is such a blessing because you get the honor of sharing the most intimate parts of a family’s life with them- births, baptisms, graduations, weddings…and deaths. As a pastor, I am called to help a grieving family deal with their loss and find some context for it. In talk a lot about honoring the life of the loved one who died. I stress that we should absolutely grieve their passing. But we would be remiss if we didn’t also celebrate their life and remember the legacy that they leave behind. 

Today, for roughly the 232nd time, I will stand in front of family and friends and try to find the balance between grief and celebration. As always, tears will be shed. But ALSO as always, laughter will happen as well. Music will be shared. Stories will be swapped. In this case, even a video from several years ago of the woman who died doing a baton twirling act in her last 60’s will be shared. And as we gather afterward, in the dining room of the church, for lunch, the REAL ministry will happen. And it won’t come from me. Those who gather for the meal will minister to each other. They will talk, share, laugh, cry some more- all while breaking bread together. Meanwhile, our United Methodist Women will also be offering ministry as they serve, literally and figuratively, those who are gathered. Ministry in the trenches- I 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! 

491

491

This past Sunday was what the church we currently serve calls Cantata Sunday. Now, I KNOW that LOTS of churches do cantatas. In fact, every church we’ve been connected with has done Christmas/Easter cantatas. I look forward to them every year. At this church, the choir does not one, not two but three presentations of the cantata each year. They present at 2 of the three morning worship services- 8AM and 10:30AM. That A. gives them the 9:15AM service slot to rest their voices before Round Two and B. gives us a service that is “normal”, for those who want to hear a sermon and take Communion. (Win, win!) And then they do an “encore” presentation at 6PM- predominantly for those in the community who have their own church home but want to hear/see our cantata.  

The choir, the narrators and the tech folks put in a TON of work every Christmas and Easter season to make the cantata happen. They are always spectacular and well-received. And the we have a good reputation in the community, so we usually get a good response to that evening presentation.  

This year, the choir director ramped things up a notch or three- choosing a cantata that had even more challenging music, more involved narration, a quartet AND a child’s trio. And they did an amazing job. I marvel at how a 20+ member choir can sound SO much better/fuller/richer than many 50+ member choirs I have heard. (I will admit- I’m partial…but it IS true!) 

And the cool thing is- they had a GREAT response from the church and the community. Over the four services we offered this past Sunday, nearly 500 people worshipped with us! 491 folks came through the doors over the course of last Sunday- a testament to the dedication and faithfulness of our choir. 

I’m a “numbers guy” when it comes to church. Oh sure, I am a “crazy, creative, seats-of-your-pants” guy in SOME ways, but I LOVE numbers and track every number there is to track in the church. And therefore, it’s pretty easy to look back and compare and contrast things from year to year. And so…I did that. And here’s what I found. In the roughly 5½ years that we have been at this church, this last Sunday was THE most-attended Sunday…period. Even taking Easter and Mother’s Day into account- traditionally the two most well-attended Sundays of every calendar year- this past Sunday had the highest attendance total of ANY Sunday since we walked in the door. Pretty cool! 

In a climate where mainline churches are struggling to even “tread water”- not growing, not bringing in new members, nor performing baptisms- it’s exciting to pastor a church that IS doing all of those things. And this past Sunday was just a glorious reminder of that fact. Do I know what tomorrow will bring, especially given my current health status? Nope. But I sure know what this past Sunday brought…and I’mm take that every day! 

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!