Capt. Fantastic and The Voice

captain fantastic and the voice     I write about music a lot. I get that. It’s no surprise. Music is not just something I like- it’s an integral part of who I AM! As I write this, I just finished watching an episode of “The Voice”. I grew up as a self-professed “child of television”. I have watched a LOT of TV in my lifetime. But the older I have gotten, the less I care about TV. I like reruns of Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory. I have pretty quickly become a fan of “This is Us”- the quality of the cast and the writing as well as the unique approach to the way the story is told are really good. I enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of “Shark Tank”. Other than that, I can take or leave most TV programming.  

But I DO like “The Voice”. I like the “blind audition” concept. I like to hear the creative “covers” of well-known songs that the contestants offer week to week. And I greatly appreciate the quality of the House Band. They crank out a ridiculous amount of music across a myriad of genres every week. And as I watch that show, my family probably gets absolutely SICK of hearing me say, “It would be SO cool to be in the house band on this show!”  

As I watched that show last night, I was taken back in time to May of 1975. An album came out that month that helped change me. That album came from, of all people, Elton John and was called Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The cover, as you see in the picture, had a very “cartoony” drawing of Elton as Captain Fantastic. The Brown Dirt Cowboy was Elton’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.  

Why, you ask, did THAT album jump out? Because, if I remember correctly, it was the FIRST album I ever bought for myself with my own money. I was 14 years old and, up to that point, I listened to whatever the other people in my house were listening to or whatever the local “pop” radio station was playing.  

By the time Captain Fantastic was released, Elton John had been around long enough to have issued a Greatest Hits album- the year before. (This was back when you needed more than ONE hit to put out a Greatest Hits Album!) I had heard a decent amount of his music on the radio and liked what I heard. And then, I saw Captain Fantastic (in 8-Track format!) at a local store and took the plunge! I pretty well wore that 8-Track OUT! (I bet I could still name every song on that album just by hearing the first two measures!) Since then, I shudder to think how much money I have spent on 8-Tracks, albums, cassettes, Record Clubs “deals”, (Remember them?!) CD’s and digital downloads. (I can honestly say that I own digital copies of NEARLY every Elton John album ever produced- I am still a fan!)  

What was the FIRST album YOU bought? What’s your favorite genre? If you play an instrument- which one? Whether you play one or not, which instrument do you WISH you could play? If you could pick ONE artist (living or dead) to see perform live, who would it be?  

What’s a song that, when you hear it, no matter what mood you’re in, you smile and start singing along? Music is truly the soundtrack of life! 

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 Smirk

smirk

Last week, I wrote about the Announcement videos I produce each week for our worship services. A quick reminder- they are designed to A. streamline the announcement process in worship, B. thereby save some time and C. Be mildly entertaining so that, perhaps, people will pay more attention to them. 

I have a set of recurring characters who come and go to deliver the announcements, so that I don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel every week. That approach seems to be working out well. Last week, I wrote about the fact that, during the Easter season, I am “doing” Peter Cottontail, whom I debuted last year. That would mean that this past Sunday was Week 2 of this year’s iteration of the character.  

To create him, I simply don bunny ears. I then slow down both my delivery and my movements. Then, in post-production, I speed up the film playback by 30%. The end result is that my slowed-down speech and movement seem normal while the pitch of my voice is elevated substantially. So, you get a 56-year old guy with a somewhat grizzled beard, glasses and bunny ears who sounds like an elf! It is quite effective and more than a little bit unsettling! Here’s what it looks like.  

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYFdihv9Dac 

 

If you watched that video, you heard the quote from the movie Independence Day early on. My goal is “entertaining while still squarely focusing on SHORT and INFORMATIVE”. So, I look for short, almost “throw-away” lines that will elicit a laugh but not take long to set up. After that line appeared (and the laugh died down!), I leaned to my wife, who had just heard it for the first time, and whispered, “I was especially proud of that line!” She turned her head to me, smirked (a LOT like her dad used to!) and whispered back, “You really shouldn’t be!” We both laughed hard enough to embarrass ourselves in church! 

I love the relationship my immediate family has with each other. Last week, it was my younger son watching Peter Cottontail and saying to me, “I don’t know you!” This week, it was that retort from my wife. The bottom line is that we laugh a lot. We have fun with each other. We joke with, and about, each other all the time. It makes life SO much more enjoyable! If you don’t laugh enough in a day, if life is just one serious moment to the next, I encourage you to loosen up. Live life. Have fun. Be willing to laugh at yourself. In fact, try to laugh at yourself. It helps you to NOT take things so seriously! 

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 Conversation on an Airplane

church growthI had a really cool conversation yesterday- standing in the sanctuary. It was JUST after our Rock & Worship Service and our lead guitarist/lead vocalist was clearly waiting to talk to me. He had packed up his rig, which was in his hands, and was standing at the head of an aisle.  I headed toward him.

Before I share our conversation, you need to know- this guy is REALLY talented musician/singer and travels a decent amount for his job. And he JUST got back from a trip. OK- back to yesterday. He asked me, “When some subscribes to your blog, do you get some information that they did and who they are/where they are? I assured him that I DO get notified when someone new subscribes (Which YOU could do if you haven’t! Just go to the top right corner and sign up! You will receive an email every day when the new blog posts!) but what I KNOW about new subscribers is dependent upon what information they submit.

He shared that he ended up on an airplane during this last trip next to someone from Texas. He said that they had a long conversation…during which he told them about this blog, even bringing it up in a phone and showing it to them. In the end, he said to me that they would probably be showing up as a subscriber soon.

So, why is that cool? Well, I don’t monetize this blog- I literally make not one red cent off of it AND it costs money to produce. So, it’s clearly not THAT. Then what? It’s a marvelous example of sharing your faith with someone “out in the world”. He could have just as easily kept his head buried in a book, magazine or iPad, ignoring the person next to him. But instead, he shared his faith with a total stranger.

How does a ministry grow? Whether it’s a blog, an outreach, a mission or a church, how does it grow? In the end, it’s NOT through snappy ads and catchy marketing. It’s not through billboards and TV ads. Ministries grow because one person is willing to talk to one person and share how that ministry has impacted them. And, at the end of the day, THAT’S what people want to know. They are interested, even impressed, by how much Scripture you can quote. They are touched by how committed you are to a certain ministry. But they are moved…impacted…changed by what difference it has made in YOUR life. THAT’S what people care about, at the end of the day.

So, what has Jesus done in YOUR life? How has He changed YOU? Take a leap of faith and tell people about it. Finds times, places and ways to share with others the difference Christ has made in your life. And then…invite them to be a part of it. If it’s a blog or website, show it to them and invite them to subscribe. If it’s a church, tell them about it, show them the church’s website and then…pick an event to invite them to. Offer to pick them up, bring them and sit with them.

Imagine- we had 280 people in worship yesterday morning at the church we currently serve. If every one of those folks brought one person to church in the next 12 months- just ONE- then we would have 560 people/week in worship one year from now. If everybody brought ONE person “into the fold”, we would double in one year. And WHO wouldn’t be excited about that? Is that possible? Absolutely. How? One person inviting one person!

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

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!: The Temple

The Places You'll Go Temple

My mom taught us how to cook, clean and do laundry. She was adamant that you needed to know those three skills before you left the house. A huge piece of SPRING CLEANING every year centered on the windows. For my mom, the ONLY way to clean a window was with vinegar and newspapers. I always got the OUTSIDE while Mom got the inside. She stood in the relative comfort of the house while I fought the bushes and shrubs, armed only with a step ladder! And she would NOT move on until both sides were done.
So, she would complete her side in nothing flat, giving her more time to criticize my side until it was perfect! And she paid great attention to newspaper usage. If she thought you were throwing newspaper away too soon, she would call out, “you’re wasting it! That paper’s still good!” On the other hand, if she thought you weren’t getting new paper often enough, she would call out, “You’re spinning your wheels! You’re spinning your wheels!” Once I went away to college, I tried to time my visits home so that I could conveniently…and “accidentally”…miss Spring Window Cleaning!
On Ash Wednesday, we began a true journey- traveling from one geographic location to another- as we walk through the story leading up to Easter. This series, called Oh, the Places You’ll Go and based on…the Dr. Suess book of the same name!…is looking at the geography of the Easter narrative and how it impacts the overall story. We started in the wilderness as Jesus faced temptation. Last Sunday, we’ve traveled about 100 miles north to the city of Cana to attend a wedding. Today, we travel about 70 miles back south to go to the hub of the Ancient Near eastern world- Jerusalem. The terrain would have been the same as last week’s journey, so again- Jesus and the disciples would have predominantly stuck to known roads and trade routes to avoid some of the more difficult countryside.
Even though this trip would only take about 2½ days of steady walking, more time passed than that. After the wedding, they went to Capernaum and stayed there a few days and then, when the time of Passover came, they went to Jerusalem to carry out their religious responsibility as Hebrews. That leads to today’s story.
  John 2:13-17 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Let’s get a quick lesson on the history of The Temple. The First Temple- Solomon’s Temple- was built in 957 BC. But it was sacked by the Egyptians just a few decades later. Restoration was completed in 835 BC. But 135 years later, in 700BC, the Assyrians stripped much of The First Temple. It was then totally destroyed by the Babylonians 114 year later- in 586BC.
Construction on the Second Temple began 48 years later- in 538BC. It was completed 23 years later- 515BC. The structure remained much the same for almost 500 years until it was renovated and expanded by Herod the Great in 20BC. That was the version of The Temple Jesus would have entered in this story. The Second Temple was later destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.
So, Jesus goes into the temple, sees what’s going on…and pretty much loses it. He MAKES A WHIP and starts driving everybody and everything out of the temple. Cattle, sheep, doves, money changers- they are all scattering for their safety. He’s flipping tables over. He’s throwing things. This is NOT the passive, quiet, peaceful Jesus we see in other parts of the Gospels. This is the “I’m mad as heck and I’m NOT going to take it anymore” Jesus Who is committed to righting the wrongs He sees before Him.
You may have noticed, right at the end of the passage, that it mentions the disciples remembering a quote, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” They knew their Old Testament- Psalm 69:9 says, “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” What the disciples understood Jesus’ actions to mean was that He would protect the integrity of His Father’s House, and that of His Father, with great passion and devotion- exactly what He demonstrates here.
I have had people use this story to complain about the church “selling” anything in or even near the sanctuary. “We’re just changing money in the temple” I have heard folks say about bake sales, bracelets being made available for donation or anything else that involves offering a “product” in exchange for money. And I get that. But a closer reading of this story casts the whole thing in a different light.
Notice what exactly is happening- 2 primary things are mentioned: 1. People are selling cattle, sheep and doves and 2. People are “changing” money. Let’s unpack that.
Why would people be selling livestock in the temple? The bottom line is that sacrifices needed to be made- if you were entering The Temple, you would be expected to make a sacrifice to God, as a gesture of your respect. But there was a problem. You know how, when you go to the airport, you can’t even take a bottle of water through the TSA check-in? But you BUY a bottle of water once you’re THROUGH TSA…for a higher price. So, airport vendors take advantage of the fact that, for safety reasons, I can’t carry a drink through TSA but will still want one on the other side.
It was much the same at The Temple. You were expected to bring a sacrifice to God, but you couldn’t bring one from home and carry it through the Ancient Near Eastern version of airport TSA. So, you had to buy what was offered and sanctioned by The Temple leaders. And while a larger animal- cattle or sheep- would be a “better sacrifice”, you COULD settle for doves if you couldn’t afford anything else. So, The Temple leaders especially jacked up the prices of the doves because they knew they would be the most-purchased items. They were not only totally disregarding the understanding that the sacrifices were to show respect to God and thereby desecrating The Temple- they were gouging the poor at the same time. It’s no WONDER Jesus was mad!
“Spring cleaning” is essential. It is just one of those things that we all need from time to time. What are things in your life that could benefit from a good spring cleaning? What are the areas of your life, your actions, your soul, that need to have some tables overturned and some light swept in the dark corners of? Maybe you harbor some grudges that you KNOW aren’t healthy- you just can’t seem to get past them. Maybe you have some habits or vices that are not conducive to the lifestyle Jesus is calling you to. Maybe you come here on Sundays as a strong Christian…but don’t really live the rest of the week that same way.
Remember, this story takes place in “the temple”. And in the Old Testament, the Temple is the dwelling place of God. But in the New Testament, WE are the dwelling place of God. WE are the Temple. If Jesus walked into your Temple right now, what tables would He overturn? What would He have to run out to make the Temple clean again? What would anger Him to find? What would please Him?
Do I want to please my family? Every day and twice on Sunday. Do I want to be the best pastor to this church that I can be? Absolutely. Do I want this cancer to miraculously go away? You bet. But more than anything, I want Jesus to be happy with what He finds when He walks in the Temple. More than anything, I want to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The truth is, a little “Spring Cleaning” is always in order.

 

The Class of 2022

Class-2022-chalkboard696

Parenting is an interesting gig, isn’t it? There are SO many firsts…and SO many lasts! You always know when a first happens. (You don’t always get to experience it- sometimes the firsts happen when you aren’t in the room/vicinity/house!) But you don’t always know when a last happens. Sometimes, you don’t know something is the last time until you have some distance from it and then look back. 

But our family recently had a last that we KNOW is a last. In 2005, 13 years ago now, we began the process of “college shopping” with our older son. None of the three of us REALLY knew what we were doing. So, we did the best we could- visiting colleges, talking to counselors, filling out forms, etc. By spring of 2006, a decision was made and the next four years of our lives…and our finances…were mapped out! He graduated from college in the spring of 2010 and has done QUITE well for himself since- working hard, climbing the ladder, earning his way every step. 

Now, here we are, 8 years later…doing it all over again with our younger son. And this will be one of those lasts. We recognize right up front it’s a last. We are NOT having any more kids. So. this is the last time we will experience this college-choosing experience. And now…it is done! After looking at several universities, weighing options and praying about it, our younger son recently made THE choice! 

There was one step that was still undone- talking in greater detail about finances. So, we recently made an appointment with the Admission Counselor we have been dealing with and we all sat down together to talk about money. And after lots of questions and lots of discussion, we were satisfied that it was “do-able”. That doesn’t mean that all of the nitty-gritty details are yet ironed out- that will still take some time, more discussion and several more scholarship applications. But we were satisfied that it was possible.  

So right there in the office, we turned to our younger son and said, “It’s PERECTLY OK to say ‘No’. It’s perfectly OK to say ‘I want to think more about it’. It’s perfectly OK to say, ‘I’m still not sure’. BUT- are you ready to make a decision and take the next step?” He grinned and said, simply, “Yes!” So, we put the Housing Deposit down and he is officially part of the incoming Class of 2022 of his university of choice!  

It has been a pretty cool experience both times we helped one of our kids make this monumental decision. The first time we did it was very emotional because- you know- it was the first time. This time has also been very emotional because it’s the LAST time! But what a MAJOR decision to make. Small school? Huge school? Medium-sized school? Closer to home? Farther away? Cost? Good fit? Feels right? Like the community? All of those factors, and several more, enter into the decision. But our experience has been that, when “all the planets align” on a college choice, the kid just knows. Our older son said it when he was college shopping- “this one just feels right”- and our younger son said the same thing. 

Now, we enjoy the rest of Senior Year of High School. We support him finishing. We look ahead to the summer of transition. And then…a brand-new adventure begins in the fall! Gotta love how life works! 

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! 

“Thoughts and Prayers” and Other Troublesome Phrases

thoughts-and-prayers-clipart-1 I have read so much recently about the school shooting in Florida. (I’m sure you have, too.) I think we can all agree that, regardless of ANYTHING else, kids shouldn’t be scared to go to school. In a perfect world, things like this shooting simply don’t happen. THAT it’s horrible is irrefutable. What implications grow out of it, apparently, are a bit more…up for discussion.
Of course, there is the dividing line between those who would want to have greater gun control and those who do not. Not going there here. Then there is the dividing line between whether there is a great, partisan conspiracy behind this event or not. Also, not going there. And there is the dividing line between believers and non-believers. GOING to go there!
Events like this seem to cause people to automatically draw a HARD line in the sand and make the assumption that anybody who doesn’t completely agree with them is fully on the OTHER side of the line. My experience is that the world simply doesn’t work like that. Don’t get me wrong- there ARE people who stand firmly on one side of the line while others stand firmly on the other side. But what gets missed is that a LOT of people straddle the line. Blur the line. Or completely trample the line, erasing it.
I have seen folks post a meme that talks about “God, why did you let this happen in school?” And God’s response is, “I’m not allowed in school.” The implication is twofold: 1. if we “allowed God in school”, none of this would happen and 2. God can only “come in” and intervene if we “allow” it. Otherwise, He is powerless to act. The truth is…neither is true.
We “allow” God in church and church shootings happen. We “allow” God in lots of places where “bad stuff” happens. In fact. There is really NOWHERE that “bad stuff” doesn’t happen. So, I find that half of the equation to be flawed. And I find the other half of the equation to be incredibly egotistical. What would make me think that God needs my permission to go…anywhere?
This sort of thing happens for all sorts of reasons- ALL of which point at human intervention- poor choices by one or more people. The REAL question is, “Why does God allow some tragedies to happen and intervene in others?” While I DON’T believe He CAUSES these things, I cannot argue the reality that He allows them. If I truly believe that He can do anything (and I do), then I have to accept the reality that He could stop whatever He wants from happening, regardless of anything we do or don’t do. So- back to that REAL question. The REAL answer, at least MY real answer is…I don’t know. I have to trust. I have to remind myself that this life, regardless of how short or long…or tragic…it is, is but the blink of an eye in comparison an eternity with Him. Hard to embrace, comforting when you can.
The other thing I’ve noticed is the visceral response “thoughts and prayers” seems to elicit in some. I have read MANY bitter, antagonistic responses to the notion that offering “thoughts and prayers” in a case like this is anything but whistling in the graveyard. In other words, it is a worthless sentiment that means nothing.
I have to assume the phrase is either being offered or received incorrectly- possibly both. When I tell someone, “My thoughts and prayers are with you”, I have no illusion that A. it will somehow turn back time and change what happened or B. would have changed anything had I offered it preemptively. Instead, when I offer my thoughts and prayers, I am acknowledging your loss, your grief, your pain. I’m NOT saying, “I understand”. I’m NOT saying, “If only you believed more…!” I’m NOT saying, “God is like the Easter Bunny- bringing all the girls and boys baskets full of Easter joy”.
I’m saying that my heart is broken for the families who lost children. For the school that may never fully recover. For the community that is shattered. For the nation that struggles to figure out how we got where we are. I’m saying that my prayers are with all those people. I’m saying that I have NO earthly idea why God allows such things to happen. I’m saying God did NOT cause this tragedy- people did. I’m saying I have to trust in the God Who has brought me through more fires than I deserve to survive. I’m saying that, regardless of anything else, I will praise Him in the storm because He was proven, time and time again, that He walks the journey with me.
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

“I Don’t Know You!”

Peter Cottontail

My family is funny. And not (except me!) in the “peculiar” sort of way but in the “ha ha” sort of way! We laugh a LOT at my house- our constant goal is to see if we can get each other to laugh! And, while I am reminded of that fact on a regular basis, our younger son made me laugh out loud in church last Sunday!

I have shared before in this space about our weekly Sunday morning Announcement Videos. They are designed to A. disseminate information, B. control the amount of time announcements take and C. be just entertaining enough to keep people’s attention! I have a green screen set up in my office and every week I/we film some recurring character or scenario and the announcements are delivered that way on Sunday.

LAST Easter season, I introduced Peter Cottontail. A t-shirt and “headband bunny ears” are the sum total of the costume. The intro is a REALLY cheesy, “old-school” animation of a bunny with “elf” voices singing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail”. The background, once the green screen technology is enabled, is a cartoon bunny village. Really, pretty basic stuff.

The humor comes in because I intentionally slow down both my speech and my movement when I film it. I don’t talk any “deeper”- just slower. And then, in “post-production”- I speed up the playback of the video…by about 30%. The end result of filming it slower and playing it back faster is that, while both my speed of talking AND movement seem very normal, the pitch of my voice is raised somewhat significantly. I sound like a stereotypical elf. (It IS the same approach I use to film Buddy the Elf during the Christmas season!) Throw in a little humor here and there. Ad a bad “bunny pun” joke at the end and VOILA! – you have a weekly video!

Last Sunday was the first Sunday in Lent- the season leading up to Easter. So, it was the first time this season Peter Cottontail has made an appearance.

Halfway through the video. Our younger son, who happened to be sitting RIGHT in front of me, leaned back, turned his head toward me and said, totally deadpan, “I don’t know you!” I was still laughing when the video ended and I got up to pray!

Life’s simply too short to NOT laugh as much as you can. And church is PLENTY serious on its own. You don’t have to make every moment solemn and…well…painful. Be willing to be serious and introspective when the situation warrants it. But be willing to have fun and loosen up what that is warranted as well! In other words, live life to the fullest as much as you can!

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!