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.