Surprise Stealth Ninja Prayer Quilt

Cardinals

They “got” me! I will be honest- I don’t get “got” too often! But this time- they got me! Let me explain. A while back, the church we currently serve had t-shirts printed up in support of me and my family as we struggle with this cancer battle. Pretty cool stuff. And not a week, often a day, goes by that I don’t see someone wearing one of those shirts. Again, pretty cool stuff. 

But yesterday at church, an odd thing happened. As people started filtering in for the 8AM Worship Service, more and more of them had their Team Harris shirts on. First the Prause Band. Then, the Café workers. The greeters. The “early birds”. The regular folks. By the time that early service started, there were easily 40+ people in the building wearing their Team Harris shirts.  

Now, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I DID notice that. In fact, I even commented that “I apparently didn’t get the memo”! And, as it all turns out, no I did NOT get the memo- on purpose! As the Announcement Video ended and I started to get up to continue with the service, suddenly our Worship Director and the co-presidents of our United Methodist women swooped in, grabbed a microphone and started talking! (I still was confused and also found that odd because, if they have something they want to do/announce, they are very good about talking to me ahead of time!) 

As it all turns out, they had something up their collective sleeve! I will call it the Surprise Stealth Ninja Prayer Quilt! They had a Prayer Quilt the likes of which I have never seen! It was a series of St. Louis Cardinals baseball-themed squares that made up the quilt. And scattered over the face of this quilt, in a pre-designed pattern, were triangles sewn on to make pockets in the fronts of some of the squares. And in the pockets were hand-written prayers regarding me and my family! In all, over 100 of them. AND…the whole thing was a COMPLETE surprise to me and my wife!  

After presenting it to us and praying for it…and us…they put it up for display during the service. They also invited everyone to come up after the service and pray over the quilt. Many did. They re-did this same scenario at each the other two services. (Amazingly, they surprised me every time! Again, NOT the sharpest tool in the shed!! LOL!)  

I love serving with this group of people. They have been SO supportive throughout my health issues of the past 5 years. Many congregations would have said, at some point, “Look, we love him and all, but we need a HEALTHY pastor!” And it would be hard to argue with that mentality. But they have, instead, walked with us, supported us, encouraged us. This is just one more example of what it means to be a Christian! 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! 

Liar, Lunatic or Lord?: Lord

Liar Lunatic Lord Lord

I like to hear what kids say about God. Here are some actual prayers kids offered up to Him:

“Dear God, if you watch in Church on Sunday I will show you my new shoes.”

“Dear God, I didn’t think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday night. That was really cool.”

“Dear God, I don’t think anybody could be a better God. Well, I just want you to know that I am not just saying that because You are God already.”

“Dear God, please take care of my daddy, mommy, sister, brother, my doggy and me. Oh, and please take care of yourself, God. If anything happens to you, we’re gonna be in a big mess.”

“Dear God, if You can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am!”

For three weeks now, we’ve talked about author C.S. Lewis- prolific writer of 67 books and countless articles and other publications and how he often wrote about Christian themes. We talked about the piece he wrote about Jesus that basically laid out what we’ve called a trilemma- a choice among three options. Lewis’ three options were, in a nutshell, that Jesus was either A. a liar, B. a lunatic or C. The Lord. If He wasn’t divine, then the only other alternatives were that He was evil or deluded. Lewis said Jesus couldn’t be more than one of them. Therefore, we are left with a choice.

Today, we wrap up our current 4-week sermon series designed to delve into those three options, pick them apart and see where they lead us. Two weeks ago, we looked at “liar”. Last week, we looked at “lunatic”. Today, we consider the third option- “Lord”. We have tried to be as objective as possible- not simply dismissing the first two because we “know” the third choice is the “right” answer but instead weigh each one from its own merit. With all of that in mind, here is today’s Scripture-

     John 3:16-21 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

If the 23rd Psalm is arguably THE most recognizable and quotable passage in the Old Testament, then part of today’s Scripture is arguably THE most recognizable and quotable passage in the New Testament. People who know NOTHING about the Bible have heard of John 3:16. In fact, some theologians have said that, if you had to boil the entirety of the Bible down to one sentence…it would be John 3:16. “For God SO loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Good stuff, to be sure. But if you read on, it STAYS “good”. “For God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” And those two verses- John 3:16 and 17, are really the crux of the argument for today. Think that through- God loves us SO much that He sent His Son- His ONLY begotten Son- here to teach us, to guide us, to be an example for us. And when that task was complete, He sacrificed Himself as payment for our sins.

And that is key- He sacrificed HIMSELF. No one took His life from Him. He willingly laid it down, as part of the plan, for our sakes. He took the pain and punishment of the world on His shoulders and bore them all the way to the cross. And when that task was complete, and not a MOMENT sooner, He declared that “it was finished” and He laid down His life. His time on earth, roughly 33 years, came to an end and He took His rightful place in Heaven.

And how do I know that? Well, originally, I knew it because other people taught it to me. I learned it from sitting in church and listening to pastors preach about it. I learned it from sitting in Bible studies and being part of conversations about it. I learned it from watching other people live their lives in ways that told me they actually believed what they had learned about Jesus.

All through this series, I have stressed that I wanted you to get to the point that you could look into the tomb for yourself and decide what you believe. So, I am NOT going to tell you what to believe. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I believe. Do I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God in human form? Do I believe that He is Lord? As I have shared before, the simple answer to that question is, unexpectedly, no. I do NOT believe it.

If you have not heard me say that before, I’m going to guess you are more than a little surprised to hear it now. Here’s the deal. If I say I believe something, there is clearly room in the use of that word- believe- for it to NOT be true. Look at it this way- if I say I believe there is life elsewhere in the universe, I am also saying that I might be wrong. Why? Because I don’t KNOW there is life elsewhere in the universe- I haven’t experienced it. I simply believe it.

On quite the other hand, I KNOW Jesus Christ. I have had personal encounters with His grace, mercy and forgiveness. Can I prove it to YOU? No. I don’t have any kind of definitive proof at all. But I know it. He changed my life. I am not the person I once was. And the reason why is because God SO loved the world…

I can honestly say that I have been through all 3 choices in C.S. Lewis’ trilemma- liar, lunatic and Lord. And while it makes my heart hurt to know that I have thought those things, the fact THAT I’ve thought them is, in the end, a good thing. Because I have considered all the options. I have wrestled with them. I have fought them. And I have come out the other side with the seep, abiding conviction that Jesus isn’t just Lord- He is MY Lord.

I love my family. I love the church I serve. But I love Jesus more. I have people say, “How can I truly love Jesus if I don’t love my family first?” My response is, “How can I truly love my family if I don’t love Jesus first?” If I put something ahead of Him…anything…I can’t find any real balance in my life. But if I put Him above all else, then the other relationships tend to fall into place.

Can I tell you what to think? No. Can I make you believe something simply because I claim to know it? No. But what I CAN tell you is that getting to know Jesus Christ is the best thing that I ever did in my lifetime. And that’s a lifetime that includes marrying the beautiful creature who is celebrating her birthday today! The BEST thing I ever did is coming to the understanding that Jesus is my Lord. My advice to you is this- don’t miss the opportunity.

The Spiritual Gift of Reading Bad Handwriting

bad-handwriting I have a rather unusual spirit gift! You can ask the people who have worked in the church office with me, and they will all tell you the same thing- I have the spiritual gift of reading bad handwriting! Seriously! Seldom does a week go by that my Office Administrator doesn’t come into my office with the weekly attendance info that the folks who sit in the pews fill out every Sunday. She is having trouble reading what someone has written, so she brings it to me.
Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I can USUALLY decipher it. I ALWAYS 1st announce that I have the spiritual gift of reading bad handwriting (and I’m quite positive that after the 100th time she’s heard that, she is only laughing because she’s a wonderful person!), then I check out the information in question, usually successfully decipher it, then go on my merry way!
I was thinking about that fact recently- probably because I had just deciphered some more bad handwriting! I was wondering why it is that I can read bad handwriting and I think I have hit upon something. 1st, it undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that I HAVE bad handwriting! I’m talking BAD! And I have ALWAYS had bad handwriting. I can remember in grade school getting constant comments sent home about my bad penmanship. I would get straight A’s…and a C in writing! Ouch! My wife says, based on my signature alone, that I should have been a doctor! (Oh, if it were THAT easy!) But that’s not the only reason.
I think that another reason I can decipher bad handwriting is that I tend to see words as pictures and not a group of letters. Think about that- when I read a sentence, I don’t see each word as a collection of letters to be “read”. Instead, I see each word as a picture- the word as a whole instead of the sum of its parts. Because of that fact, I sometimes glance at a paragraph and see a word that is not there, because my mind caught pictures of two different words and melded them together.
So, how do you see words? Do you look at a word as a series of letters to be sounded out as you read? OR, do you see words as pictures, seeing the word as a whole unit? I am convinced that one way is no better than the other. It matters not one whit how you do it, just THAT you do it!
Isn’t it amazing how God works? You and I are NOT alike! (Surprise, surprise, right?) Of course we’re not. But think about just how “not alike” we are. We think differently. We act differently. We look differently. We couldn’t be more different if we tried. And yet…and yet…we are the same! Huh? Yep! We are the same! Why? Because we are all made in the image of God. How can we be SO different…and yet be made in the image of God? Because the image of God isn’t about how we look, how we talk or how we see words for that matter. Being made in the image of God is about what’s on the inside- what we act like, what we do.
And since we are made in the image of God, we should reflect that in our everyday life. People should be able to look at us and see that we are Christians. NOT that we are perfect (because we’re not), but that we are His! So, it matters NOT what color you are, or what age you are, gender, size, whatever- you are made in the image of God!

    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! 

Would YOU Go Back?

geek    High School…fall of 1976 through spring of 1979…at least for me. (In case you did the math, 1. yes- my high school was only 3 years, and 2. yes- I’m 57 years old!) It was the period when I met the woman who was to become my wife, the mother of my kids and the love of my life, so High School wasn’t ALL bad!
Seriously, High School was a great time in my life. I was in every band there was to be in. I acted in ALMOST every play I could have. I had good friends. There were no car payments, mortgages, busy schedules…life was PRETTY much (but not quite all) fun and easy.
I have been thinking about my High School years a lot recently. A friend from High School posted her senior picture on Facebook, and the memories literally flooded back. (By the way, no- this is NOT my senior picture! In fact, I have no idea who this young man is. It just looked like a stereotypical senior picture from “back in the day”!)
I know people…we ALL know people…who seem to clearly wish they were back in high school. They talk about it all the time, and the tales grow taller on down the line! Now, in case my old classmate is reading this, I am NOT implying that posting your senior picture on your Facebook page constitutes being stuck in the past! That was fun! In fact, it IS fun to look at the old pictures or tell the old stories. That’s good. That’s healthy.
What I’m talking about are the folks who act as if their life stopped the moment they walked across that stage, “marbled” the principal (if you are a member of MY graduating class, that is!) and received their diploma. From that point on, they were determined to live in the past. Oh sure, they might go to college, get married, have kids…but everything hinges on those High School years.
Someone once asked me if I would like to go back to High School, knowing what I know now. My answer? Absolutely NOT! Loved High School. SOOOOOOO glad I met my wife there! (Thank you, hayride!) Glad I made so many friends, had so many fun times, created so many good memories. But would I want to go back? To quote that great MASH theologian Major Frank Burns, “Not on your Nellie!” I love my life. It’s not perfect, but then what is? I have an awesome wife, 2 awesome sons, a church I love and some fun hobbies! But most of all, best of all- I have Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, dwelling in new Holy of Holies- my heart. He came to me, worked on me, changed me. AND…He continues to change me, every day in every way. Why would I want to go BACK, when the “here and now” is so awesome?
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says we are to forget the past. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about what was, or that we should not remember it fondly and learn from it. Instead, it means that the past is just that- passed. We need to focus on where we are and where we are going. And with God in your life, that is pretty rosy!

    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 Blessing of a Death Sentence

Integrity-the-foundation-of-a-respectful-workplace-767x383@2x

There are many truths in life. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If you drop a piece of buttered toast, it WILL land butter-side down. It’s also true that people are born, people grow up and people die. It’s just how life works. And just like we take the sun rising and water freezing for granted, we tend to take life for granted as well. That is, until something intervenes that forces you to take a long, hard look at reality. 

As you know, in early June of last year, I received a death sentence. Now, that may sound overly dramatic and I don’t mean it to…but it IS true. My wife, younger son and I sat in a deserted waiting room. It was a little after 5PM. We were supposed to meet a doctor there after a day of needle biopsies in my neck. Just when we wondered if we had missed him- in he walked. We sat together as he delivered the news we did not want to hear. At that point, he couldn’t confirm the diagnosis because we had to wait for the results of all those biopsies. But based on what he DID know, he felt pretty comfortable to label what I had. He also felt compelled to say that, if the diagnosis was correct, I probably had 6-8 months to live. That was almost 11 months ago. 

No one is prepared for such news. And we continue to run the gamut of thoughts and emotions as this whole thing unfolds in time and space. But there is one thing that I have learned over these almost 11 months that I wish more people could learn WITHOUT the terminal diagnosis hanging over them. And that is a new perspective on life. Let me explain. 

I used to spend WAY too much time and energy on “the small stuff”. You know what I mean- we worry so much about things that really don’t matter. And that attitude causes us to lose one key element of an emotionally healthy human being- integrity. We need SO badly to be “right” that we will easily…almost gleefully ignore the truth. We want SO badly to be loved that we willingly surrender the best of who we are and instead focus solely ways to fuel that love, whether it’s healthy or not. We crave SO badly to have things our way that we behave in ways that would make us cringe with embarrassment if we could but step out of our own skin for a moment and watch what we are doing.  

When you think you have all the time in the world- which most of us think we do- you are willing to exist in such a state of “tunnel vision”. It’s not that you can’t see the “big picture”. It’s that you refuse to. “I’ll do that later. Tomorrow, after all, is another day.” (Fiddle-dee-dee, Miss Scarlett!) But that is the blessing of receiving a death sentence. And yes, I said blessing. Because, in the midst of the tragedy of dealing with your own mortality, there IS a blessing…if you’re willing to look for it. I have learned to not sweat the small stuff…and it’s almost ALL small stuff. I have learned that NONE of us is guaranteed tomorrow so make the most of today. And I have learned that if you don’t have integrity…not much else matters.  

When I finally succumb to this nasty cancer (And that will NOT be without more fight than we have put forth thus far!), I pray, more than anything, that people who know me can…and will…say that I had integrity. I grew up wanting fame, fortune and attention. I was willing to do pretty much whatever it took to get it. It never crossed my mind that sacrificing your integrity to get those things cheapens them to the point of worthlessness. Now, I could care less about those things. I want my wife, my kids, my family, my friends, my church family and, most of all, my God, to be able to say, “He was a man of integrity”.  

Am I perfect? FAR from it. Am I always the best example of what it means to be a Christian? Nope. But the key is this- I want to be, as United Methodist founder John Wesley liked to say, “moving toward perfection”. I want to be a little closer today than yesterday, but not quite as close as tomorrow. And I want people to be able to say, with some assuredness, “He had integrity.” THAT is the blessing of a death sentence! 

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! 

Thank You, Carol Merrill!

Lets_Make_A_Homebuilding_Deal

I have written about this before, but it since it happens less frequently these days and stands out SO much when it DOES happen…I am writing about it again! I can always tell when I am having a good day/stretch of time- when I am feeling better. And it’s beyond the obvious, “Hey, I feel pretty good today!” The big, key indicator is how much I talk! And yesterday…I basically didn’t shut up all day!  

The truth is- I am a very verbal person by nature. I talk for a living! I love words. Now, I can also be VERY private and require my “down time”, to be sure. But I tend to be pretty verbal. But then, this nasty cancer stuff reared its ugly head. And as the effects of the disease…and the treatment…take their toll, it is manifested in different ways. I lose energy. I move slower. I have lost the sense of taste. The neuropathy in my hands and feet continue to be a daily struggle. Etc. Etc. Etc. But I also just get quieter. Between the loss of energy and the feeling like crud on a cracker, that “gift of gab” just doesn’t come nearly as naturally as it used to. There are days when I don’t talk much at. 

And then there are days like yesterday. Later in the day, I commented to my wife that I hadn’t really shut up all day long! She turned, looked at me, smiled and said, “I know…and I love it!” Even if nobody else really notices, SHE notices everything. She knows when I am quiet and when I’m not. I mean, my goodness- we’ve known each other since we were 15 years old! There are few people on the planet who have known me that long and NO ONE who knows me as well as she does. She’s very sweet and doesn’t take it personally when I am quiet. But she notices when I can’t stop talking, as well. And THAT’S when she knows I am having a better day!  

So, why am I feeling that much better at the moment? Well, I continue to get farther and farther away from the radiation treatments. The worst of the side effects of that radiation seem to be fading. (I pray!) I continue to not have chemo. The “flushing” that the prep for the colonoscopy (As well as, oddly, the “flushing” that recent bout with the stomach flu did) seem to have had a positive effect on LOTS of things. And, I’m sure, the fact that the colonoscopy is over AND revealed some good news for a change hasn’t hurt any! You combine all of that and the result is- someone stuck a quarter in my, pulled the string on my back and started me talking!  

Two of the many things I have learned on this journey are that 1. I have NO idea how long “feel good” moments” like these will last and 2. I therefore enjoy them while they last! I have no REAL control over #1- they last as long as they last and I can do little to nothing to change that. But I have LOTS of control over #2. I can either be pessimistic when I feel better and say, “Well, that won’t last!” Or, I can embrace the good days and just enjoy them for the gifts they! I choose what’s behind Door #2 that Carol Merrill is now showing us! (Google 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 Colonoscopy is in the Books

colonoscopy     Yesterday was my colonoscopy. Now, let me say right up front, this is not a “woe is me, I had a colonoscopy” post. I fully understand that people have them every day and they are, in the grand scheme of things, no big deal. My intent is twofold: 1. give you an update on what they found and B. hopefully make anyone reading this who HASN’T had one but will feel better about it ahead of time.  

First, the results. The reason for this colonoscopy was that the last CT scan showed a “thickening” in that area that they were a bit concerned about, given the other inputs. Therefore, they wanted to go in and see what’s what about you know what. The colonoscopy showed that there is no tumor. Good stuff. My body hasn’t been getting rid of the “bad stuff” like it should because of the chemo and radiation. So, the colonoscopy didn’t/couldn’t really see if there are polyps or not. But revealing that there is NO tumor is a good thing! 

My gastroenterologist said that, basically, he wants me therefore to have diarrhea, so that everything can get cleaned out. So Miralax and I, already on a first-name basis, have just started “going steady”. (Don’t tell my wife!!) It’s not what I would want to do but, given the things we have been through since the original diagnosis, this is simply no big deal! 

Now, to the procedure itself. If you’ve never had one and your doctor says, “It’s time for a colonoscopy”, your first response is prone to be anything BUT, “Hooray! I was HOPING you would say that!” The truth is that just the thought of it is rather distasteful and somewhat humiliating. But let me assure you, publicly, that the actual event is really pretty easy. It’s the prep that is a challenge! 

My wife and I have learned that each doctor has a slightly different prep regime. But here is the one my doctor has. A week prior, you have to stop eating any kind of seeds or nuts. You also can’t eat the skins of any fruit- i.e. apple peels. Then, starting 24 hours before the procedure, you have to switch to an all-clear liquid diet. No food. No dairy. Nothing with red or purple coloring. It all has to be liquid that you can see through. Then, 21 hours before the procedure, I had to start with the laxatives. From noon Sunday through 6AM Tuesday, I consumed a dozen capfuls of Miralax powder in a total of 48 ounces of water. In addition, I took 6 Dulcolax pills. I also drank a stupid amount of white grape juice and chicken bouillon. And, of course, the bathroom and I were close friends during that timeframe. (I had to miss the 90-minute round-trip to the train station to get our older son to his train back to Chicago because I knew there would be NO way I could be THAT far away from a bathroom!) The final doses of Miralax, included in the above total, happen early the morning of the test. 

Once you arrive at the place where the procedure will be done, they take your vitals and have you get undressed and into one of those lovely hospital gowns. You get on the rolling bed that will be your “home” for the next few hours and wait. Then, the IV is put in. (I usually get mine in the area of the bend in the elbow. This one went in the back of my hand.) Once they are ready, they wheel you to the room where the procedure will actually happen. They have you roll on your side and drawn your knees up- like in a sitting position only laying on your side. They then start injecting “stuff” into the IV line. At first, you fell nothing different. And then, suddenly, the eyelids get VERY heavy! And that, my friend, is the LAST thing I remember before seeing my wife standing there saying, “It’s all done!” You are NOT awake for anything that you would dread or be humiliated by. Nothing. Turn on your side. Wake up when it’s done. There you have it and there you are. 

It IS imperative that you have someone with you. Obviously, you have to have someone drive you home- you can’t drive for several hours afterward. But you also need someone to hear what the doctor says. He came in and gave us a report afterwards. I don’t even remember SEEING him! So, I was VERY grateful my wife was there to listen and ask questions. She could then tell ME what happened when I was awake enough to actually hear it and remember it.  

I had 2 goals coming into this blog- 1. update and 2. information. So, let’s summarize- all in all, good news from the scope. And I pray that the “blow by blow” (if you will) gives you a bit more peace and confidence when you have to have this done for the first time! 

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! 

Exegete a Gumball Machine

gumball machine

Are you familiar with the word “exegesis (ex-ah-gee-sis)”? It is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily in regard to the Bible. But in more contemporary usage, it’s been broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text. The goal of Biblical exegesis is to explore the meaning of the text with the goal that it will lead to discovering its significance or relevance. When I first entered seminary, I had never heard the word before. But I decided to say nothing and look it up. Someone in my class was less hung up on what they didn’t know and asked the professor, “Why do you keep talking about ‘exit Jesus’? Where is He exiting from?”
I used to have a gumball machine in my office. (How’s THAT for a smooth transition?!) Let’s take a few minutes to…ready?…exegete that gumball machine, shall we?
It was shiny and red- very colorful and inviting. It had LOTS of gum in it. The gum was in a wide variety of colors. Now, we could stop there and say, “That’s a GREAT analogy for the Church!” Think about it- shiny, colorful, inviting. People of all types, races and colors are welcome. Man, you could take this gumball machine analogy and just run all day with it! Paint a great picture of the church as inviting and color-blind.
But before we get too self-congratulatory about our churches…and our gumball machines…let’s exegete a bit deeper. The gum in the machine was colorful, inviting, and more than a little stale! I bought a lot of gum- it didn’t look very good only 1/4 full! But because there was so much gum, it had been in the machine for some time. And because of that, it got stale. Also, nobody had to make any commitment in order to get any of the gum. I kept a stack of pennies on the nearby windowsill- all you had to do was pick up as many pennies as you wanted gumballs and you were set. Easy, peasy, one, two, threesy!
And perhaps THAT part of the exegesis is also a bit too much like the Church! We have this wonderful product to offer- in fact, the greatest product that ever was. We offer a relationship with jesus Christ! But instead of getting out there and making that offer, we tend to stay in the gumball machine – in the church – and get stale. And to make matters worse, we make it SO easy for someone to be a part of the church with really being a part of it that they don’t have to make any real commitment. Come when you want, don’t come when you don’t feel like, don’t get really involved…whatever- it’s OK.
So maybe the Church being like the gumball machine isn’t such a great analogy after all. Maybe what we are REALLY called to do is commit. That’s it- commit. Decide that this whole “Jesus” thing is, in fact, the greatest thing ever…and commit to it. Figure out what areas of ministry are where you are being called, and…commit. Get involved. Don’t sit and get stale. Be fresh, sweet, refreshing, inviting. Serve God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
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!

 

Liar, Lunatic or Lord?: Lunatic

Liar Lunatic Lord Lunatic

Most people who know me NOW find it hard to believe, but I have struggled with anger issues my whole life. Now, let me qualify that. What I DON’T mean is that, for instance, my wife or kids have ever felt threatened or anything. In fact, when it comes to them, it is quite the opposite. I have always said that, although I’m a “forgivin’ and forgettin’ Christian”, if someone hurts my family, they’d better hope the police find them first. It would NOT be pretty! 

But all of that aside, anger has been a challenge for me my whole life. I’m the type that is highly unlikely to start something…but more than willing to end something. I have a history of sticking my jaw out and daring someone to back their words up, warning them that they’d better make the first one REALLY good because they won’t get a second chance! From refusing to back down to a school bully through punching another bully who wouldn’t leave a friend of mine alone to driving through a city park, at let’s just say a high rate of speed, chasing an unknown car with an unknown number of people in it who nearly (and intentionally) ran my then girlfriend and me over and having NO idea what I was going to do if I actually caught them, I have been known to quote that great theologian Billy Joel, “You may be right. I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for!” 

For two weeks, we’ve talked about author C.S. Lewis- prolific writer of 67 books and countless articles and other publications and how he often wrote about Christian themes. We talked about the piece he wrote about Jesus that basically laid out what we’ve called a trilemma- a choice among three options. Lewis’ three options were, in a nutshell, that Jesus was either A. a liar, B. a lunatic or C. The Lord. If He wasn’t divine, then the only other alternatives were that He was evil or deluded. Lewis said Jesus couldn’t be more than one of them. Therefore, we are left with a choice. 

Today, we continue our current 4-week sermon series designed to delve into those three options, pick them apart and see where they lead us. Last week, we looked at “liar”. Today, we run “lunatic” up the flagpole to see who might salute it. We are trying to be as objective as possible- not simply dismissing the first two because we “know” the third choice is the “right” answer but instead weigh each one from its own merit. With all of that in mind, here is today’s Scripture- 

John 10:27-30 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” 

     So, the Pharisees have come to further investigate the claims being made about Jesus. He is talking to them in this passage. Remember, they are looking for a way to discredit Him, to prove Him to be something other than Who He claims to be, other than Whom others think Him to be. And in the middle of this discourse, Jesus offers up this odd and rather cryptic passage. It’s very short but packed with material.  

     As we unpack this, I want you to imagine that you are hearing these words from the lips of someone you just met. You don’t know them. You’re trying to get a handle on who they are. And they are making some bold and odd claims.  

He starts with a reference to sheep- they listen to his voice. (An aside- He first brings up the sheep analogy right before this passage, but it DOES come out of the blue.) OK, so this guy, whom you don’t know, suddenly starts talking about his sheep and how they listen to him. A bit…odd…to be sure. But…OK. From there, he says that he knows them and they follow him. OK- but what does this have to do with…oh, say…anything?! What are we even talking about? How did we get to sheep? And why is he bragging about how they listen to him?  

From there, the whole discourse takes a hard left turn into even more odd imagery. “I will give them…wait for it…eternal life. They shall never…perish? And no one will snatch them from his hand?” Huh? This has quickly gone from “Why are we talking about sheep?” to “What in the WORLD are you talking about?” I mean, I’m just starting to accept the whole “sheep” analogy and now you’re suddenly talking about how you’re going to make them live forever and how no one can take them away from you. I mean, this is pretty much the same rhetoric that Marshall Applewhite used for his doomsday cult that was going to be teleported to a UFO that was hiding in the tail of a comet. And that was right before they all drank the Kool-Aid, put on their Nikes and climbed into those bunkbeds. And the result of that, besides the tragic death of every one of those people, was a secure spot on a Saturday Night Live spoof.  

     And if that wasn’t enough, he THEN says that his dad, who gave the sheep to him, is greater than anybody and how nobody can snatch these sheep from Dad’s hand. OK- this gets odder by the minute. And then- the “piece de resistance”- he claims that he and his dad are the same person. WOW! I’m dizzy just trying to sort all of that out! They’re your sheep. No one can take them from you. You can make them live forever. Your dad gave them to you and no one can take them from him, either. Oh yeah, and by the way- you ARE him! Let’s be honest- if you heard that from, let’s say ANYBODY outside the context of the Bible- “lunatic” would NOT be a quantum leap to make. This would NOT be “liar”- he believes it. This would be full-blown “lunatic”. We would not be hard-pressed to claim that this man does NOT have both oars in the water! But What can you do against the lunatic who gives your arguments a fair hearing…and then simply persists in his lunacy? 

Last week, I reminded you that we are intentionally being “the devil’s advocate” here. We are intentionally looking at each option on its own merit and just as intentionally ignoring what we KNOW will be the obvious conclusion next week. We need to hang on firmly to that notion- all WILL be revealed in the last act!  

So, one last time- my goal for this series is that you are challenged to take what you know in your head and filter it through your heart and come to some real conclusions about what you believe. Learning from others is essential- you have to start somewhere. But you also have to get to the point where you stop simply taking someone else’s word for it. That will only take you so far. Eventually, you need to get to the point where you are willing and able to look into the tomb for yourself and decide…for yourself…if Jesus is a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. I pray that the “payoff” makes the journey worth the effort! 

What’s It REALLY All About?

alfie1

There’s a movie called Alfie. The original 1966 version starred the extremely recognizable, often used Michael Caine as the title character, while the 2004 remake starred Jude Law. The movie tells the story of a young man who is extremely self-centered. His main goal in life is to feed his own enjoyment. Throughout the movie, however, a series of events forces him to question his uncaring behavior and to lament the fact that, underneath it all, he is alone.

The theme song from the movie is aptly titled (wait for it!) Alfie! (Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?!) The song, written by Burt Bacharach, was a hit for both Cher and Dionne Warwick. The lyrics include:

What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give or are we meant to be kind?…As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie, I know there’s something much more, something even non-believers can believe in. I believe in love, Alfie. Without true love we just exist, Alfie. Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie. When you walk let your heart lead the way…”

I have been reflecting on Easter a great deal this month. Easter is arguably THE greatest day of the church year (Christmas being the only other day in serious contention)! It is the Super Bowl, the World Series and the US Open…all rolled into one. Everybody gets all dressed up and comes to church. Flowers adorn nearly every visible square inch of the sanctuary. The great songs of the faith are sung. Prayers are lifted up. And when it’s all said and done, everybody goes home happy- a spiral-cut ham and some scalloped potatoes waiting in the oven!

But then what? Well, if we’re honest…we’ve pretty quickly gone right back to normal. The excitement of Easter is gone, often within the week, and things just…settle down. By the next Sunday, it’s as if Easter didn’t happen at all. Life. As. Usual.

So, what’s it all about, Alfie? I KNOW there’s something much more. Easter is about a guy…DYING…and RISING AGAIN…for you and me! It’s about Jesus, coming to walk among us, giving His life as a ransom for our sins and picking that life back up as an offer of eternity. And yet, for many, it becomes nothing more than the answer to the question, “What did YOU do last Sunday?”

Easter isn’t a “one night only” performance that we attend once a year. It should be as fresh and exciting on May 1st, or July 1st, or December 1st as it was on April 1st. Easter is LIFE CHANGING…if you LET it be! Come to church EVERY Sunday, boldly proclaiming that you are an Easter 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!

 

What’s in a Name?

hello-my-name-is-tag-3I absolutely love the…frivolity of the calendar! Every month in my church’s newsletter, I write a column about the “weird” days that appear in that particular month- one for each day. With that in mind, here’s a REALLY strange one- Name Yourself Day! That’s right- Name Yourself Day! It’s the one day of the year when you can…well…name yourself! (Although it seems that people can, in all actuality, name themselves anything they darn well please any day they want! Don’t believe me? See NFL player Chad…Ochocinco. It was supposed to represent his uniform number- 85. But it actually means “eight five”, so…!)
So back to Name Yourself Day- it conjures up all sorts of thoughts. How did you get YOUR name? Does it have some special significance in your family history? Maybe your grandmother or grandfather’s name? Or maybe, like my older son, your name is the same as some other ancestors? Or maybe, like my younger son, your name was actually the LAST name of an ancestor? Or maybe, like ME, your mom just liked the name and gave it to you!!
Something else it conjured up (it is, after all, Name YOURSELF Day) is this- what WOULD you name yourself, if you could? Now, I KNOW you COULD if you really wanted to, but the reality is that the VAST majority of people will NOT change their name but instead keep the one they have. But if you COULD, what would you change your name to? When I was younger, I imagined names based on people I thought were cool- Harrison (Ford), Sean (Connery), Steve (McQueen)…like that. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought about folks from the Bible that inspire me- David, Paul, Luke, Matthew, Silas, Nathaniel, Mark…wait…oh! But you get the idea!
But in the end, even thought I CAN change my name if I want to, the one I have is the one I was given at birth. It’s the one my parents thought was special enough to give to me and only me. (Yes, I KNOW there are about 47 billion “Marks” in the world, but MY parents didn’t name THEM!) I’m happy with my name. I like my name. And, if I believe the Bible…and I DO…my name is written in “the book”. Philippians 4 talks about our names being written on the scroll of life. Think about that- our names – yours and mine – are written, in God’s own handwriting, on the scroll of life! How awesome is THAT?! And it seems to me that, if my name is good enough for my parents AND good enough for God…then by gosh, by golly…it’s good enough for me! So…I’m sticking with “Mark”- what about 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!

 

The First Grilling

Burgersonthegrill_400

Last night was Wednesday night. (“Well, duh!”) At the church we currently serve, we have an all-church dinner every Wednesday evening. The menu varies from week to week. But it is always good AND, unless your group is “doing the dinner”, you don’t have to cook it, serve it or clean it up. I have learned over the years how much the menu impacts the attendance. There are some things that I KNOW will bring out a larger crowd. Whether it SHOULD be that way or not is a different story! But it is absolutely the truth! 

Last night’s menu was one that I knew would draw a bigger crowd. It was…drum roll, please…the first grilling of the season! (“Ta-da!”) People like grilled meat- let’s be honest. And so, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, while pretty simple on the “grilled meat” scale, are well-received- Especially the first one of the season! 

The problem yesterday, here in northwestern Illinois, was the weather. Grilling usually denotes sunshine, warm temperatures and cold beverages. There was NONE of that yesterday! The temperature hovered around 34-35 degrees. The wind was blowing. It was drizzling. And, at a few points during the grilling process, the drizzling turned (once VERY quickly!) into rather heavy snowfall! It was CRAZY for the 18th of April! 

But our grillers are of hardy, pioneer stock and were not to be deterred by a little foul weather! They brought a tent-like awning to cover the grill area. They brought a second, tabletop grill to supplement the large grill. They wore coats, gloves and stocking caps. And they, by golly, grilled! They braved that nasty weather and they grilled. And they did a great job! 

We had a great turnout. The meat turned out great. (At least I was TOLD it did! Since I am not eating sold food right now, I had to watch others eat!) And the chatter in the dining room was almost deafening- always a sign that lots of folks showed up and they enjoyed themselves while they were here! 

I joke often that, as United Methodists, we DO know how to eat! But there is great fellowship in breaking bread together. In addition, there are folks who come on Wednesday evening who need that free meal and for whom it is probably the best meal they’ll have all week. So while, for some churches, they find it hard to justify either the “ministry value” and/or the cost of such a program. We see it as a GREAT outreach and relation-building tool. And so we budget for it in a way that keeps it free to the people who attend. No strings attached. Just show up and eat.
Soon, this ministry will be done for the season. We will wrap it up by mid-May and then start it back up in the fall, when school starts. Frankly, I miss it when it is gone. But it’s nice to take a breather, retool, rejuvenate and then gear up for the new season. In the meantime, I will have visions of “the first grilling” dancing in MY head! 

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 Cell Phone Soup Pot

cell phones

I sat in on Junior High Youth last night- for the first time in a WHILE- and it was fun! (An aside- for the second night in a row, our United Methodist Men left me wishing I was able to eat solid foods! Monday evening, they had their monthly dinner/meeting. They served venison meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It looked GREAT!! Last night, they took their monthly turn cooking dinner for the Junior High Youth and made what they call Swamp Slop. It’s basically beef stew with hamburger. They serve it either over or next to tater tots or biscuits…or both. It was complimented by homemade bread pudding-made in large part with a variety of flavored donuts- complete with “secret sauce”. I cried a little on the inside and then went home to have my protein shake!!) 

Anywho- I digress! I sat in on Junior High Youth. Oh yeah…I remember! And I introduced…drum roll please…the cell phone soup pot! You see, “back in the day”, when I did Youth Ministry regularly, nobody HAD a cell phone! But at my last church, our Youth Minister was going to be gone for a month. So, I agreed to cover Youth for that time. The first thing I noticed was that A. nearly every kid had a cell phone and B. they all had them out the whole time. So, on Week 2 of that “run”, I instituted The Cell Phone Bucket. I brought a small bucket from home and, when youth started, I got it out and made a big production of putting my cell phone IN it. I then went kid by kid, collecting theirs in the bucket. At the end of the night, they got their phones back…of course. 

So, I decided, ahead of time, to resurrect The Cell Phone Bucket las night. But I didn’t have a small, decent-looking bucket. But I was NOT to be denied! So, I got a soup pot out of the church kitchen. (Youth meets in the dining room because we, as a growing church, are cramped for space!) The funny dynamic that happened was that I told the kids, as I put my phone in the soup pot, that they could either put theirs in the soup pot or in their pocket. But if it went in the pocket, it had to stay there or go into the soup pot. I immediately saw about half of them put them in their pockets. That is until the other half put theirs in the soup pot with mine! Then EVERY phone in the room came out and into the soup bucket! It was great! 

I shared with them that, at the end of the evening, they would of course get their phones back. But I also shared that, because so many phones look so much alike, we would get them out carefully, so that no one accidentally grabbed the wrong phone. They then ate and did their “lesson”. I had a nice chat with them after their lesson and before they prayed. Then, it was over. 

People who say things like, “These kids today!” or “This generation is going to be the end of civilization!” are not hanging out with the same kids I experience at our church and local schools. I see kids who are deep thinkers. I see kids who are fun-loving. I see kids who are fun to be around. I see kids who want to question and learn. For my money, if the kids I see regularly are any indication, we are in good hands! 

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! 

Finding God in the Ordinary

1ac03-eggcartonscriptureI am a big proponent of finding God in the everyday and seemingly ordinary. We are, in my mind, somewhat conditioned to think that God only shows up in major, miraculous, “burning bush and parted sea” kinds of ways. And yes, God DOES show up those ways. But my experience is that those are the exceptions and not the rules.
I find God MUCH more often in the ordinary and everyday. I see God in the sun’s rays peaking through the clouds. I see God in the flowers that are trying to bloom. I see God in the laughter of my sons. I see God in the amazing intelligence of animals! In other words, I see God’s presence and power…well…pretty much everywhere. But even I was surprised where I saw God recently!
Look at the picture that accompanies this post- can you tell what it is? If you said, “Egg carton”, you’re correct! That is the 24th verse of Psalm 118 printed on the inside of the lid of an egg carton. A few things caught my attention about the whole thing.
One- I eat a LOT of eggs these days! So I open a LOT of egg cartons each and every week. And I recently noticed Scripture passages printed on the inside of the lid!
Two- That particular passage is one I quote often in prayer. Every day that we are upright and breathing is a gift from God. Therefore, we NEED to rejoice and be glad, because this IS the day that God has made! Too many people squander their days, thinking that they have all the time in the world. But don’t you know that NOBODY, on their deathbed, says, “If ONLY I had spent more time at work!” No. They say, “If only I had spent more time doing what was REALLY important.”
Three- God really DOES show up in the most unlikely of places. We expect God to show up in church…and He DOES! But he also shows up at home, at school, at work, in the car, even in the egg aisle at your local supermarket!
Look for God today. Look in the obvious places, to be sure, but make sure you also look in the less that obvious places, because He is certainly to be found there, too!
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 Visit From the District Superintendent

District Superintendent

Yesterday, an interesting thing happened in worship. The United Methodist “system” includes District (sometimes called Conference) Superintendents. They are ordained clergy who are, among other things, intended to be “the pastor to the pastors”. It seems to me that it is a hard, often thankless job that I am grateful there are folks to serve in that capacity. They are asked to NOT be regularly serving a local church, to NOT be regularly preaching and TO be regularly be in meetings regarding the governing of the Conference as a whole.  

Yesterday, as we were in the transitional phase between our second and third morning worship services, I was greeting people. Suddenly, I looked up at the next face I was about to greet and saw…our current District Superintendent! It was his first opportunity to visit us on a Sunday morning! It was an unannounced visit (which is NOT unusual, unless they have been specifically invited for some event. Their schedule is such that they don’t always know where they will be on a Sunday morning until right before OR the day of!)  

I was pleasantly surprised to see him. We greeted each other warmly and he went to find a seat. My take is that District Superintendents often would prefer to be a “fly on the wall” during a visit like that. But I wanted people to know and to greet him…so I announced it! During the greeting time, I saw several people intentionally go and greet him. That did not surprise me- we have a very friendly congregation.  

We had a great worship service- well attended, Bell Choir, etc. And we had a great morning in general- nearly 300 people between the three worship services. After the service he attended, I made a point of finding him. (He was in the process of making a point of finding ME at the same time!) What I DIDN’T do was walk up and say, “Well? What did you think?” Not my style, not my goal. Instead, I simply offered how glad that we were that he could join us. 

I LOVED his response! He leaned in (because he knows I am hearing impaired!) and said, “I was SO blessed to be here!” He went on to comment on the energy, the upbeat quality of the worship and the welcoming nature of the congregation. While I didn’t seek out that information, I was delighted to hear it. Not because he is my District Superintendent but because our goal is to be a welcoming congregation who is committed to trying to help connect people to Jesus Christ! All in all, a great day of worship! Thanks to our District Superintendent for stopping in to worship with 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! 

Liar, Lunatic or Lord?: Liar

There is an author named Paul Maier. In 1994, he published a fiction book called A Skeleton in God’s Closet. The gist of the book is that a Christian archeologist discovers a tomb in Jerusalem that holds an ancient skeleton. And EVERY fact about the skeleton points to it being the remains of…Jesus of Nazareth. The book then focuses on two things- the archeologist trying to prove that the skeleton is a hoax while wrestling with his own faith as he continues to be unable to prove that fact. He has a crisis of faith. I WON’T spoil the ending, just in case you ever read it!

Then, in 2003, Maier published a sequel- More Than a Skeleton. This fictional work focuses on a mysterious man who shows up in the Middle East, claiming to be the second coming of Jesus Christ. Our hero, the Christian archeologist, goes to try and prove or disprove the man’s claims. In the midst of that, he sees this man do things that seem to defy all odds. He seems to truly be Jesus Christ. But there is doubt. While thousands and thousands believe and follow this man, there are those who believe he is nothing more than a con man- a liar. Is he the “real deal” or is he merely a liar? Our hero has to try and figure that out.

Last week, we talked about author C.S. Lewis- prolific writer of 67 books and countless articles and other publications. He often wrote about, either overtly or covertly, Christian themes. We talked about the piece he wrote about Jesus that basically laid out what we called a trilemma- a choice among three options, each of which is, in some way, difficult to accept. Lewis’ three options were, in a nutshell, that Jesus was either A. a liar, B. a lunatic or C. The Lord. If He wasn’t divine, then the only other alternatives were that He was evil or deluded. Lewis said Jesus couldn’t be more than one of them. Therefore, we are left with a choice.

Today, we continue our current 4-week sermon series designed to delve into those three options, pick them apart and see where they lead us. We are trying to be as objective as possible- not simply dismissing the first two because we “know” the third choice is the “right” answer but instead weigh each one from its own merit. With all of that in mind, here is today’s Scripture-

     Mark 2:3-12 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

So, these four guys bring this paralytic on a stretcher to the house where Jesus is. Picture a small, one-room structure with a flat roof. They get there, see the size of the crowd and realize they are NOT getting in through the front door. So, they get creative! They carry him up to the roof and…dig a hole! You might imagine that to be a hard thing to do. That’s because you’re thinking “21st-Century roof”. But this was 1st Century roof! Picture a roof made of sod. So, they dug a hole in through the thatch and dirt. I imagine it meant a shower of dirt inside the house. They then lowered the man between the now-exposed structural beams and to the floor below. And Jesus is touched by the faith they exhibit, the lengths they are willing to go to in order to reach Him. He immediately tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven.

Meanwhile, some teachers of the law are there. They are appalled when they hear Jesus say that. They label Him a liar- “He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus responds with a question, “Is it easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up and walk’? But so that you’ll know I’m not a liar…” He then turns back to the paralytic and says, “Get up, take up your mat and walk!” The man, as we know, DOES and everybody is amazed.

In 1992, Steve Martin and Debra Winger made a movie called Leap of Faith. It’s about a faith healer who tours the country, seemingly performing great healing miracles. We learn early on that he and his assistant have a scam going. They have a rather elaborate system of gathering information, choosing just the right people and then setting them up in such a way that it seems they are being healed. He is NOT what he seems. He is…a liar.

The teachers of the law that were at that small, thatched-roof house in 1st Century Palestine that day thought the same thing of Jesus- He was a liar. They weren’t sure how He did it, but “only God can do what He claims to do!” They had no doubt that this man before them was running a scam. And the question arises- what if they were right?

For anybody but God to claim to forgive sin was blasphemy. And the teachers of the law KNEW Jesus wasn’t God…right? Their reasoning was actually pretty sound. According to Jewish teaching, even the Messiah couldn’t forgive sins. That was something ONLY God could do. So, as far as they were concerned, they were on really good footing here.

People claiming to be the Messiah has been an issue throughout history. From before Jesus showed up to now, people crop up who claim to be the One. They have all proved to be liars…save One. But what if that One…wasn’t that One? How do we know? What makes Jesus different from all of the other people claiming to be the One?

Now remember- we are intentionally weighing each of C.S. Lewis’ options on their own merits. We are intentionally NOT jumping ahead to what we KNOW will be my logical conclusion when we wrap this up in a couple of weeks. And why IS that, by the way? Why are we even bothering with this exercise? There are two primary reasons:

  1. Ralph, whom you have heard me reference MANY times and whom I had the extreme joy of serving with at the first church we served. He was one of the finest human beings I have had the honor of knowing and, as a “retired” United Methodist clergy, was an unlikely person to be very open-minded about theology. But he always encouraged me to read things I disagreed with. His rationale was that, if I only read those authors whom I agree with, I would never stretch and grow.
  2. I went to a VERY liberal seminary. They had lots of beliefs, theologically, that I didn’t…and don’t…agree with. And while that was hard, especially early on when I was not only a new pastor but a relatively new Christian, it forced me to consider what I truly believed. I had no choice but to set aside merely depending on what other people had taught me and truly consider what I believed about my faith. In the end, I came out the other side a much stronger Christian.

My goal for the remainder of this series- two more weeks- is just that. I pray you are challenged to take what you know in your head and filter it through your heart and come to some real conclusions about what you believe. Learning from others is essential- you have to start somewhere. But you also have to get to the point where you stop simply taking someone else’s word for it. That will only take you so far. Eventually, you want to get to the point where you are willing and able to look into the tomb for yourself and decide…for yourself…if Jesus is a liar, a lunatic or the Lord. Where you land, you find that you can run with a lie, but you can’t hide from the truth!

The Circle of Life

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There is a beautiful…rhythm in ministry. The last two days illustrate that fact. Thursday, I had a funeral to perform. A matriarch of the church passed away recently- a 66-year member of the congregation! I performed her funeral at one of the local funeral homes here in town. The funeral started at 11AM, preceded by a visitation from 10AM-11AM. Then, there was a nearly hour drive to the cemetery- in a town in Iowa. When you take in account the drive time there and back, along with the graveside service itself and the fact that people have to park, get out of their cars and get to the graveside, then spend some time at the grave afterward and then get back to cars and back home, about 2½ hours passed between leaving the funeral home and arriving at the church for the funeral luncheon. For a cancer patient, it made for a long day. 

Then came yesterday. I had the extreme honor and pleasure of performing a baptism at the church last night. You might be thinking, “A baptism? At the church? On a Friday evening? What kind of ship are you running there, Pastor?” Well, it’s TRUE that, in United Methodist parlance, a baptism is to be a “public declaration”. In addition, I have clergy colleagues who won’t perform one unless it’s Sunday morning during a worship service. And I get that. 

However, there needs to be some room for grace in what we do. And the truth is that, for this family, work schedules are such that Sunday mornings aren’t possible for everybody. And they brought SEVERAL folks with them- a public declaration! So, we did a Friday night baptism! (On a side note, my streak is still intact! 21 years in the ministry, 21 years of baptisms, and I have NEVER had a little one cry during a baptism. Never! And this beautiful little girl did NOT disappoint! My Lay Leader said he wished I hadn’t told him that- now he worries every time!)  

Now I know it sounds corny and all to reference Elton John and the Circle of Life here. I know it’s a bit trite and hackneyed, but it doesn’t make it any less true! In barely over 24 hours, I buried a 90-something year old pillar of the church and baptized a beautiful baby girl. Life truly is a circle. And my job allows me to not only see it on a regular basis but to be right in the middle of it. The family involved in the baptism is a great example. I have now 1. performed the wedding of “mom and dad” and 2. baptized both of their children. I am truly blessed to be able to be such a part of others’ lives! 

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 Bad Day and a Half

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Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were…pretty interesting. About 12:45AM I was awakened by stomach cramps. Over the next 30 minutes, they turned into stomach pain like I have never had before. I got the sense that I might be headed toward hurling, so I went to the bathroom on the main floor- to not disturb anybody asleep on the second floor. 

I spent about an hour vacillating back and forth between what might come out the “southern hemisphere” and what might come out the “northern hemisphere”- if you know what I mean. One minute, I am seated on the “porcelain throne” and the next minute I’m kneeling at it. In the end, nothing came out the “northern hemisphere”. I can’t say the same for the other end! The cramps and pain continued, unabated, for over an hour.  

Finally, I got back to bed. I had missed a decent chunk of the night’s sleep. But I DID get back to sleep. I got up Wednesday morning in time to A. help our younger son get off to school and B. send an email to my Office Administrator saying I wasn’t coming in until later in the morning. I then went back to bed!! 

I had a 10:30AM meeting on Wednesday with a family who lost a loved one- we were going to talk about the funeral, which was to be yesterday. I got up in time to get cleaned up, dressed and over at the church. They came in. The meeting went well. I took good notes. I felt pretty decent, actually. We prayed. They left. And then, almost immediately, it hit me. I was running to the bathroom across the hall from my office because I was GOING to hurl! Before I knew it, I had the full-blown dry heaves. (I hadn’t eaten anything for a while and had nothing to “get up”!) I then went home and back to bed. I missed the afternoon. I missed our Wednesday evening dinner and programming. In fact, I slept most of the time…until it was time to go to bed. Then…I slept some more! 

So, what WAS all of that? I simply don’t know. Our younger son had what appeared to be the stomach flu on Monday night. So, might I have had the stomach flu, too? Yep! Might this have been a direct result of the radiology? Yep? Might this have been the cancer itself? Yep. The truth is, these days it’s hard to tell what’s causing what in my body. But…we just go with the flow, take things one day at a time and do what needs to be done. I am grateful for a family who is very supportive. I am grateful for a church family that is so understanding. And I am grateful for a God Who walks this journey with 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! 

Boxes…as currency?

Image result for empty boxesHave you ever seen a prison movie? In many of them (especially the older ones), they seem to always focus on the “currency” of prison. And, according to those movies, the reigning currency of choice in prison is…cigarettes! Yessiree Bob- having an extra pack of smokes is like having cold, hard cash; you can trade it for almost anything. (Again, if we are to believe what those old movies say!) Cigarettes are worth their weight in gold, apparently. (Who knew?!)
Every time my family has moved, it has dawned on me that, for movers (that is- people who are preparing to move), boxes are the new cigarettes! No, seriously! Think about it- what do you need more than anything (feel free to add your own joke here about a good stiff shot of bourbon or a Red Bull or whatever!) when you are preparing to move? BOXES!
In his stand-up act, Jerry Seinfeld used to talk about this very thing: “When you’re moving, your whole world becomes boxes. That’s all you think about is boxes. ‘Boxes, where are those boxes?’ You just wander down the street going in and out of stores….’Are there boxes here? Have you seen any boxes?’ You can’t even talk to people because you can’t concentrate…’Shut up, I’m looking for boxes!’ After a while you become really into it… you can smell them. You walk into a store…’There’s boxes here. Don’t tell me you don’t have boxes, I can SMELL them….!’” And to that I say, “Amen, Mr. Seinfeld. Amen!”
But the even funnier thing is this- sure, you NEED them, you WANT them, while you are preparing to move. But the SECOND you’ve moved…they become the bane of your existence! You needed them SO badly just a few short days ago, and now you have more than you could ever want and are trying to find any way you can to get rid of them! (Soon after we moved into our last house, while we still had a garage FULL of empty boxes, a parishioner moved from one part of town to another. You don’t think we jumped on them with BOTH feet? “Boxes? Oh, we’ve got BOXES! We’ve got a TON of them! In fact, if it will help you any, we’ll load them up and deliver them to your house…just because that’s the kind of caring, sensitive people we are!” (That and the fact that we HAVE to get these stinkin’ things out of our garage!)
Isn’t that how life is- a continuing series of “what’s important…at the moment”? We put so much emphasis on this or that, but then grow tired of it, moving on to find the NEXT “best thing”. Life is fleeting, transitory. But God, on the other hand, is eternal. Want to find something to “hang your hat on” that will not grow old and stale, wear out or simply wander off? Then focus on God in the person of Jesus Christ- the same yesterday, today, forever.
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!

 

You Look Familiar!

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I was at one of the area hospitals once, visiting a parishioner. I parked across the street and walked over to the building. As I got near, I noticed a guy sitting on the curb outside the hospital. He seems to be messing with a brace he had on his leg. As I watched, a person walked by him and he held his hand out to them. They barely glanced his way and kept right on walking. I kept watching him as I got closer- he was definitely adjusting the leg brace. When I was almost right on him, he held out his hand to me. I looked at him and said, ” Do you need a hand getting up?” “Yep”, came the reply. So I stopped, grabbed his hand and helped him up. “I had to adjust my brace, and once I’m down, it’s hard to get back up!” I asked him if he needed any help getting in the hospital. He assured me he didn’t, so I went on in and headed to the information desk.
I had to wait there a few minutes until the person ahead of me was done. Then I asked for, and got, the room number I needed and headed for the elevator. I was standing in the elevator, waiting for the door to close, when a hospital employee pushed a wheelchair on. Sitting in the wheelchair was…the guy from outside the hospital. I said to him, “I know you!” He sort of grunted. (I get that a lot!) I got off at a different floor, wishing him a good day, and went to visit my parishioner.
When I was done visiting, I headed back to the elevator. As I waited for the door to shut, a different hospital employee pushed a wheelchair on. In it? The SAME guy! I said, “We have to stop meeting like this!” He again grunted! We both got off at the 1st floor, and I headed to the restroom. After I…finished…I left the hospital and walked back across the street to my car. I got in and drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, which was right down the street, for a cup of coffee. (It’s my favorite coffee in the world!) After getting my cup o’ joe, I pulled back out onto the main road and headed for home. I only drove a block or 2 before I was stopped by a red light. I came to a complete stop and looked over at the car that pulled up next to me. In the driver’s seat? The SAME guy!! It was getting creepy- everywhere I turned, I ran into ‘that guy”. I was almost a bit relieved when I finally stopped seeing him.
I think God puts people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes He puts them there because they are someone we have unfinished business with or someone we don’t like. (He seems to that to me ALL he time! I constantly find people in my path that I don’t enjoy being around. He is definitely trying to teach me something.) Sometimes He puts folks in our path because they have something to teach us. Sometimes it’s because we have something to teach them. It can be any number of reasons, but it happens all the time.
Who are you supposed to impact today? Who will you see today that is supposed to impact you? watch for it. Don’t miss it. Embrace it. You will walk away from it with an insight you didn’t have coming in!
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!