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!

Uphill BOTH Ways!

uphill both waysI was talking to our younger son once- I believe he was about 13 years old at the time. Along the way, the conversation came around to the fact that, when I was a kid, we got suckers from the teller at the drive-through when my mom would go to the bank. We didn’t have a ton of candy around the house when I was a kid- my mom was morally opposed to anything that even remotely resembled junk food!
We would hear “the bank”, and we would suddenly look like those prairie dogs you see on the National Geographic channel. You know the ones- they’re all just milling about when suddenly they hear something. Then, like lightning, their heads all pop up and look in the same direction at the same moment. Well, that’s what we (my siblings and I) would do. “We want to be with YOU, Mom! We want to go to the bank!!” Well, my grandma didn’t raise no fools- my mom knew exactly why we wanted to go!
When we got to the drive-through, we would press our noses to the windows of the car, fogging up the glass as we looked pleadingly at the girl manning her post. “Please, please, PLEASE give us suckers!” Then, when the little vacuum tube would come popping up, we were all, “Well? Did we get suckers?” If the answer was “no”, a pall settled over the car, as if a death had occurred in the family. But if the magical tube contained suckers, well…there was GREAT joy in Mudsville!
As I finished telling him the story, I reiterated that, back in the day, WE never had candy or chips or Twinkies or such around the house. A. We weren’t rolling in discretionary income and B. my mom thought those foods were the work of the devil! I then rolled into more “back in my day” stories that this one had reminded me of. My son listened patiently, but suddenly it was the look on his face that told me what had happened. I. HAD. BECOME. MY. FATHER! And I’ll be honest- there was a time in my life when I would rather have my left hand chopped off at the wrist than be like my dad. But over the years, I have come to appreciate my dad’s wisdom.
Have you become your parents? It IS a natural transition, you know! If you have experienced that, here’s my advice- go with it. Now, DON’T become them in the sense of becoming the Dana Carvey character The Grumpy Old Man. BUT- embrace the wisdom your parents have/had, appreciate what they taught you, learn from their mistakes and then apply all of that to your daily life! Thanks Mom and Dad- I appreciate the person you helped me become! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drive through the bank- I need a sucker!
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!

Sparrow…or Eagle?

Sparrow Eagle

There is an expression that I LOVE to use. I use it somewhat often. I TRY to A. only use it when it’s appropriate and B. not overuse it to the point that it loses its “umph”! (If you wondered what that last word was…say it out loud!) The expression is, “Even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds!” Frankly, it’s a GREAT expression. I tend to use it in reference to myself more than toward anybody else. As an example, someone will say to me, “Boy, you’re really good at that!” And I will respond, “Even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds!” It’s intended to be funny, humbling and self-effacing.  

I thought of that expression last night- again, toward myself. Our younger son is a trumpet player. (Actually, BOTH our sons are trumpet players. Our older son just hasn’t played one in…a FEW years!) He is in marching band, concert band, pep band and jazz band. And periodically, he has music that is especially challenging that he brings home to work on. And he often asks me to help him work on it.  

Now, you have to remember that YES- I AM a musician. I have been a musician for 46 years. That’s a LONG time! And I have certainly learned a LOT over those 46 years. But I am a drummer. Not a trumpet player. Not a guitar player. A drummer. And drummers operate in a relatively different realm than…well…pretty much the rest of the world! Certainly, than trumpet players! Abd to top it off, the piece that our younger son brought home to work on for jazz band isn’t for the trumpet- it’s for the flugelhorn. (Think Chuck Mangione!)  

So what business does a drummer have trying to “counsel” a flugelhorn player on their music? I can’t play a flugelhorn. I’ve NEVER played any instrument other than a percussion instrument. What help could I POSSIBLY be? Well, a decent amount, as it all turns out! 

The job of the drummer is to be the metronome for the group- keeping the tempo. The drummer also helps keep the rhythms of the song going consistently. And along with intonation- hitting the notes properly and with well-supported breathing- what many brass and wind musicians struggle with fall into two slots- maintaining tempo and interpreting rhythm! Hmmm! 

So, as it all turns out, I can stand with him as he works on a piece and say, “You lost the tempo in measure 42 and would have been off from then on had the rest of the band been playing with you.” I can say, “The rhythm you played in measure 31 was not quite right- you need to make sure you play that as a triplet.” But I can also say, “That wasn’t the right note there.” And I can also say, “You need to attack that first note- make sure you give it enough breath support.” I LOVE helping him when he needs it and he is always very appreciative when we work together. 

When you are faced with a situation that stretches your abilities, that challenges you to do more than you are used to doing or trained to do, don’t automatically say, “I can’t do that!” Figure out a way. Imagine the possibilities. Create a “workaround”. God doesn’t call the equipped- He equips the called! Just remind yourself, “Even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds!” 

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

What a GREAT Sunday!

breakfast

What a Sunday! The church we currently serve hosts an annual “Lenten Breakfast”. The tradition began in 1965! (My wife leaned over to me when that was announced yesterday morning and said, “We were 4 years old!” I responded, “Which means, depending how old the person hearing that is, we’re are either REALLY young…or REALLY old!) It started as an event for The United Methodist Women and morphed into the all-church event over time.  

It is traditionally held on the 1st Sunday of Lent- the “season” leading up to Easter. It takes DOZENS of people to make it happen- planning, purchasing, cooking, decorating, serving and clean-up. And yesterday was, as is always the case, spectacular! 

Once the dust settled, 180+ people attended the event. Frankly, our dining room facilities are maxed out at about 150-ish. Many of the “staff” who made the event happen had to eat standing in the kitchen, holding their plate in their hands! But it was a rousing success. 

This event ends up being one of the main opportunities of the year for the entire church to come together at one event. We have three morning worship opportunities and so these fellowship events are crucial to keeping the church connected and unified. And frankly, there was a time in my ministry when I would have balked at an event that causes us to cancel BOTH a weekly worship service AND Sunday School. But you know what? When it’s the exception and not the rule and when the event includes a BRIEF word from the Pastor and Communion shared among all in attendance, coupled with a powerful time of fellowship- it’s worth it!  

And then, at our 10:30AM Blended/Traditional worship service, we broke the 200-mark in worship attendance AND had a special time of honoring our newest 100-year old to the congregation! A woman who has been a pillar of both the church and community for a LONG time is celebrating her 100th birthday and our United Methodist Women, who also host the annual breakfast, honored her at the beginning of the worship service.  

If you couple all of that with the fact that we were just shy of 100 people at our Ash Wednesday service this week (with OVER 100 at the “Fat Tuesday on Ash Wednesday Pancake and Sausage Dinner that immediately preceded that service), it has been a phenomenal week of worship and fellowship!  

Numbers do NOT tell the WHOLE story of a church and what they doing to connect people to Jesus Christ. BUT…they tell a LOT of the story! I am a firm believer that, if 200 people/week in worship is a good thing, then 300 people/week must be 50% better! And so, I am grateful to serve a church that continues to strive, stretch and re-imagine in an effort to connect more and more people to Jesus Christ!  

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 Place You’ll Go!: Cana

The Places You'll Cana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 2 truths about this story:

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Grizzly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Worn Out!

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

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

 

Oh, What a Night!

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

What IS Ash Wednesday?

AshWednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I LOVE Music!

I Love Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reverse Advent Calendar Results Are In!

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

Three Trees

Three Trees

     Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.  

     The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”  

     The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!  

     The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.” 

     Years passed. The rain came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain.  

     The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell. “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest. I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said. 

     The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”  

     The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me,” he muttered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.  

     The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feedbox for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. 

     The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail on an ocean, or even a river; instead, she was taken to a little lake. 

     The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” the once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God…” 

     Many, many days and night passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. 

But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feedbox. “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and the sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. 

And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world. 

     One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. 

Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through with the wind and the rain. The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth. 

     One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. 

She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth tremble with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world. 

     The next time you feel down because you didn’t get what you want, sit tight and be happy because God is thinking of something better to give you. 

A beautiful story, right? I could probably just stop right here, pray and then move on to the next thing in the bulletin. The story sort of speaks for itself. But A. you know me- I can’t just stop there! And B. Does it completely speak for itself? What’s the point of the Story of the Three Trees- the “moral”, if you will accept the nod to Aesop of fable fame? 

Well, the common thread in the story is that all 3 trees have dreams about what they will become- a treasure chest, a mighty sailing ship and the tallest tree in the world. And what do those 3 dreams have in common? They are all the biggest and the best and they each point back to the one with the dream. Which is exactly why they are each disappointed when they DON’T become those things. The first tree, who wanted to be a rich treasure chest, ends up a lowly feed box. The second tree, who wanted to be a mighty sailing ship, ends up a simply fishing boat. And the third tree, who wanted to be the tallest tree in the world and point to God, ends up a pile of lumber. Their dreams are not only NOT met- they are pretty much trampled on.  

And then, this remarkable thing happens. The first tree, the lowly feed box, ends up in a stable in Bethlehem- a cradle for the King of kings. The second tree, the simple fishing boat, ends up carrying the Son of God as He teaches the disciples…and us…to overcome our fear and trust Him. And the third tree, the pile of lumber, ends up being the cross that points to God…and saves us from our sins.  

So- dreams not met. Disappointment. Frustration. Reimagining. Following God’s plan. Being used in powerful ways. Changing the world. I would argue that is NOT an overstatement of the message of The Three Trees. They each had a dream. But in the end, the dreams that God had FOR them were even better- it just took time and perspective to see it. 

I have shared, many times, my story. I was going to be a famous actor- a star. And it was a BITTER pill to swallow when that clearly was not going to happen. In fact, that pill was SO bitter that it messed up my life, and the life of my family, for a long time. But all the time, God was preparing me for something else. All of the weird jobs I have had each taught me something specific that I now use regularly in the ministry. The…unusual…skill set I have is solely because God had other plans, other dreams for me. Even the serious health issues I’ve had since we moved here are being used by God for His “bigger dreams”.  

I’m reminded of the passage from the New Testament Gospel of John when John the Baptist says, “I am NOT Jesus. I just point to Him. I must decrease so that He can increase.” That’s the story of the Three Trees. They each had to let go of their dream- decrease- so that God could use them in more powerful, impactful ways- increase.  

The question is- are you willing? Are you willing to trust God SO much that you can let go of what you doggedly hang on to that is designed to make YOU look the best and instead…embrace a new reality that is designed to make you a more powerful witness for Him? Whatever He has in store for you is better than what you have in mind for yourself. And trust me when I say that- I am the Poster Child for being SURE I knew what was best for me and having my eyes FINALLY opened to what HE has in store for me.  

Matthew 6 says don’t worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink, what you’ll wear. Life is SO much more than food and clothing. Consider the lilies of the field. They don’t labor or spin and yet even King Solomon, in all his splendor, wasn’t dressed like one of them. And if God will take such good care of that which is here today and thrown in the fire tomorrow, how much better will He take care of you? 

     The next time you feel down because you didn’t get what you want, sit tight and be happy because God is thinking of something better to give you. 

An Amazing Night of Ministry!

gold bow tieWe had a major event at the church last night! It was the perfect melding of 2 ministries. We have done, for the past few years, what we have called the Late Valentine’s Dinner. It was designed as an event for the young adults and young couples of the church. It started fairly strong but, in each successive year, saw a decline in participation. We all decided, after last year’s effort, that it was time to retool.
Then, in October of last year, we launched a Capital Campaign designed to raise roughly a half a million dollars to carry out some much-needed renovations to the church…to help us better accommodate the growth we have experienced. So, it was decided to take this dinner that needed to be retooled and pair it with the fact that we are fundraising for this Capital Campaign. And the results were SPECTACULAR!
Reservations were necessary. Childcare was available by reservation and a donation. You could by buy a rose for your date. Homemade chocolates (Which were professional-quality, I might add!) were available. A professional photo booth was set up so that you could be photographed with your date. A “social hour” (30 minutes and with punch but NOT booze!) was held before each of the 2 dinner seatings.
When you went to the dining room, the décor was beautiful. You could either choose a table for 2 or a table for 4. The lighting was low. Candles on the tables. Live dinner music (piano and HARP!) was the order of the day. The waiters wore white shirts with black pants and gold bow ties. They started with drink orders. (Again, no booze!)
The meal started with appetizers, which consisted of tastefully prepared crudité’ (raw veggies) and cheese. Then came the salad, which was huge. Then came the main course, which was ordered when you made your reservation. You either got a grilled pork medallion or chicken cordon bleu, a baked potato, green beans almandine and a roll. It was amazing. And then, the cheesecake tray came around!
I didn’t hear the finally attendance number but having seen both groups (the 5:30PM seating and the 7PM seating), it was WELL attended. It was also a BEAUTIFULLY produced event that provided a GREAT evening of fellowship AND a marvelous opportunity to raise funds for the Capital Campaign.
I once again marvel at what the folks of this church are willing to do as they step out in faith to connect more and more people to Jesus Christ. Their creativity, dedication and willingness to serve amaze me- they are a GREAT example of being the hands and feet of God. It is an honor to serve with them and I can’t wait to see what the next thing is that God has in store for us and through 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 End of the World as We Know It”?

encyclopedia-britannica-in-print-story-top

In 1987 (I almost wrote “just a few years ago”, then thought perhaps I should actually check- it’s been more than just a FEW!), rock group R.E.M. released a song whose chorus is- “It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.”
That song popped into my “dope cranium” awhile back when  I read the news (“oh, boy!”) that venerable Encyclopaedia Britannica was going to no longer actually print their product. From that point forward, it would only be available online.
I remember have a set of those when I was kid. Like the picture, ours were housed in a bookcase that MUST have been tailor-made for that particular set- they fit perfectly with no extra spaces. They were NOT the most recent version (too pricey), but they had TONS of info in them. (Not the least of which was a picture of the champion grandfather of the horse we had at the time! No foolin’! I showed it to basically everybody who entered the house!) I was such a geek (insert your joke here, but please make sure and include something about “WAS?”!) that I used to sit for hours, reading entries from a random volume. I really enjoyed that set of books! AND…they got used a lot over the years that my siblings and I were going through the public school system. Granted, they were a BIT outdates (they still had Harding as president! Maybe!), but information wasn’t increasing so rapidly in the 60’s, so they were certainly sufficient for the ubiquitous school report. I must confess, I have NO idea what ended up happening to that set. As I got older, their value diminished.
When the Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped offering its 32-volume set for sale, it ended a…ready?…244-year tradition! Now it only offers…you KNEW this was coming…all-digital products. More than 7 million sets have been printed over the year, but the last set printed (in 2010) weighed in at a whopping 129 pounds and sold for an even more whopping $1,395! Not surprisingly, only 12,000 sets of that final edition were printed AND a full 4,000 of those sat in a warehouse, unsold. But lest you think this is “the end of the world as we know it”, the online version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is MUCH larger than the printed version AND is updated every 20 minutes.
I heard someone on the radio talking about this, and they shared a story about a high school girl who told her teacher she couldn’t finish her homework because her parents grounded her from the internet. When her teacher asked her why she didn’t go to the library and use the Encyclopaedia Britannica, her response was, “What’s THAT?” The radio personality the proceeded to lament the fact that “these kids today” don’t know things like that, implying that it WAS, in fact, “the end of the world as we know it”. But I disagree.
In the end, so what if Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn’t print a hard copy any more? So what if more people now buy ebooks that “real” books? So what if the internet, and devices that directly interact with it, are now the driving force in our country? I hear people say, “Well, I don’t LIKE it and I refuse to use it!” Great attitude! What if people had said that to the Wright Brothers, or Thomas Edison, or Alexander Graham Bell, or Henry Ford? No airplanes, light bulbs, telephones or cars. Sound like a great thing to you?!
In the end, change is GOING to happen- healthy organisms, by definition, change. So trying to STOP change isn’t really a mature option. The only real choice we have in the matter is whether we will embrace change…or fight against it. I don’t know about you, but if change is going to happen regardless of what I do, then it seems to me that figuring out how to incorporate that change into your daily life is not only the BEST solution…it’s the ONLY one! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to look up interesting facts on the internet!
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!