A GOOD…Meeting?!

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Meetings can be the bane of existence for a pastor. (Frankly…for anybody!) In a church, most folks would MUCH rather actually DO ministry than have a meeting ABOUT ministry. And I get that. In a macro sense, I would, too. But church meetings are important. Planning, evaluating, dreaming, discussing- they all have their important place in the flow of day-to-day life in a church. So, while I don’t giggle like a schoolgirl and look excitedly forward to meetings, I don’t dread them, either.  

But that’s not always been the case. And last night was a good example of that. We normally have most of our monthly meetings in one night. It makes for a LONG evening (And since it’s a Sunday, a long DAY!), but they are done for the month. Sweet! But May was CRAZY! We ended up changing the entire structure of “meetings” for the month. That resulted in our Finance Team meeting last night- NOT the typical day or time! 

We had a perfectly good meeting. In fact, we had a GREAT meeting. After a rough January and February- financially speaking- we had a great March, April and May. (January and February were rough because the weather was TERRIBLE! Bad winter weather negatively impacts worship attendance. Which negatively impacts giving, which negatively impacts the ability to pay your bills!) But the “bounce back” since has been great! 

On top of good “regular, budget giving” finances the past three months, we have continued to have great financial support for our current Capital Campaign. The Campaign, as I have said before, has 4 construction phases. We all agreed that we would NOT start a phase without having the cash necessary IN HAND. We started having donations come in early in October. And here we are, 8 short months later, having already paid for and completed Phase 1, having the cash in hand to start Phase 2, which will be done this summer and starting to collect the cash necessary to begin Phase 3! Good stuff! 

The Finance Team meeting was very upbeat, positive and forward thinking. We talked about our current finances. We talked about the Capital Campaign. We talked about some new approaches we are implementing to keep the congregation better informed of our ongoing financial status. And we did some visioning and dreaming about the future. 

When the meeting was over, I thanked the team. I told them that there have been times in my career as a pastor that Finance Meetings were gut-wrenching nightmares. But meetings with these folks are positive, upbeat and hopeful. And for MY money, if you have to go to a meeting- THAT is exactly the kind of meeting you would want to go to! Find your joy where you can- bloom where you are planted! 

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! 

Grief is a Complex Thing

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A gentleman who has been both a member of the church we currently serve and a fixture in the community for MANY decades passed away last night. Yesterday would have been my father-in-law’s 88th birthday- he died in December- and so we took my mother-in-law out for dinner. (She lives in a nearby assisted living facility.) After dinner, we drove her back to where she lives and went in to visit with her for while. Then we drove home.  

Soon after we got home, our home phone rang. (It almost never rings!) It was the local hospital, telling me that this gentleman had passed and asking me if I could come and say a prayer with the family. We live 3 minutes from the hospital, so I was in the parking lot almost before I hung the phone up! 

Part of the family was already gathered around in his hospital room when I arrived. They were waiting for the Funeral Director to come and take him to the Funeral Home. I greeted them, we talked for a bit and then we gathered in a circle around his bed. Clasping hands, I offered a prayer up for his life and his family.  

And then, we spent the next little while just swapping stories. And THAT’S where I see the power of a family bond at a time like this. Think that scenario through for a moment- we are standing in a hospital room. At the center of that room is a hospital bed. In that bed is the body of the patriarch of this family. It is a SOLEMN occasion, at best. And yet, this family is telling stories about Dad/Grandpa…and they’re laughing. And, for my money, that is SUCH a good thing! 

Grieving is, of course, a natural part of the process, as it should be. But remembrance is also a natural AND healthy part of the process. And the funny stories that cause everybody to laugh are NOT a bad thing. That behavior can be very therapeutic. It not only serves to momentarily break the tension of the situation but it also allows the family to remember many of the good times they have had together. 

As a pastor, I cherish being a part of those moments. It not only does my heart good to see them lovingly share these fun remembrances but it also gives me even more insight into both the family and the individual- insight that is helpful as I sit down to write the funeral.  

This gentleman lived a long and full life. He lived the way he wanted to live. He loved his family. He loved his community. And he loved “stirring the pot” every now and then! He leaves behind a legacy of a family who loved him and loves each other. For my money, you can’t ask for a whole lot more than that in this world! 

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 Thank You Note

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As it was for many (but not all) of you, yesterday was a “holiday” for me. My standing gig, ever since I was put into the position of being the one at church who was “in charge” (and I DO use that term loosely!) has been that if the Post Office is closed…the church office is closed! (We take a couple of other liberties, as well, such as the day after Thanksgiving!) As an employer, frankly, the church can’t offer a ton in the way of “perks” to their employees. We are, after all, poor church mice! So, I offer things where I can. And one such place are Federal holidays! 

It is NICE to have Monday off. After the “busy-ness” of Sunday, Monday can be a challenge. But I REALLY like having Friday and Saturday off, so I work on Monday. But when these holidays come up and we close the office…it’s pretty sweet! The challenge is, as I like to say, “No one comes in and makes the Monday French fries while you’re off!” Which, of course, means that when you come in on Tuesday, you are already a day behind! So, the Monday off, while awesome, means you have to work even harder the REST of the week! My Office Administrator and I commiserate on that quite often! 

But all of that notwithstanding, it was great to have yesterday off. And here’s what I did yesterday- NOTHING! Squat. And when I say, “Squat”, I mean JACK Squat. Diddly-squat. Zip. Zero. Nada. The most productive thing I did yesterday, other than write this, was…take a nap! I hung out with my wife, younger son and his girlfriend. We called our older son- yesterday was his 30th birthday! (I can’t BELIEVE we have a kid who is 30! I mean, we’re only 35…right?!) But all in all, it was a day spent doing nothing. And it was great! 

I DID, however, spend some time in thought and prayer about the significance of the day. Memorial Day. The day we remember those who served our country who have died. And when you think that through, it is a powerful thing. Countless men and women, throughout the history of this great nation, have served in the military. I have to look no further than my own family to see it. My grandpa was in the Army. My dad was in the Navy, serving on the USS Kula Gulf starting near the end of WW2. My nephew (my brother’s son) served in the Marines. I could go on from there.  

It is overwhelming when you stand in a place like Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC and look out across the sea of grave markers. To imagine all of those lives, and all of the others not buried there, who served their country. And they didn’t just serve. They helped provide the very freedom we enjoy daily. I point out at church on Sunday that we wouldn’t be able to do what we were doing, worshiping openly, if it weren’t for those folks. We’d be hiding in basements and back rooms, terrified of being caught. But instead, we get to gather in plain sight, in broad daylight to worship freely. It is a freedom we take for granted- one that many across the globe don’t have. 

So, in the midst of “doing nothing”, I want to say “thank you” to the service men and women who helped provide that freedom. Thank you, sincerely, for your service. May God richly bless you and your families for the sacrifices you made. God is good, all the 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! 

A Special Memorial Day Sunday

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Yesterday was an important and powerful day in the life of the church we currently serve. Let me “back up” as I explain why. At both of the first two churches we have served, the congregations honored those who had died in the past year on All Saints Day. Technically, that is November 1- the day after Halloween. But the observance would be on the Sunday closest. When we arrived at this church, we found that they did it instead on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.  

At first, I wanted to change that because, for me, Memorial Day is “reserved” for honoring those military men and women who had died. But the more I thought it through, I decided that WHEN they did it was much less important than THAT they did it. So, rather than rock the boat, I decided to embrace the tradition. 

They way that we honor the day is two-fold. Early, in the service, we focus on those who have died since last Memorial Day. On the altar, candles are placed- one for each name on the list. A name card is created, marking each candle as being for a specific person. In alphabetic order, each name is read aloud as it appears on the screen. Their candle is lit and a bell is tolled for them.  

This year, I believe we had 17 names. The list always includes a. church members/folks who attended the church who died, b. folks connected to the church who dies and c. folks who had no connection to the church but I officiated at their funeral. (My thinking on “c.” is that those are people I didn’t know, who did not have a church home. And I feel that, since they don’t have a church family remembering them, it is our responsibility to take on that mantle.)  

Then, late in the service, we remember ALL the people we have lost in our lives. Everybody is invited to head to the back of the sanctuary. There, they get a small, lit votive candle in a glass holder. (1/person at the two earlier services, which have smaller attendance and 1/family at the last service, which has a bigger attendance. Logistics always have to be considered and well-thought through.) 

The lit candles are brought “down front” to the area near the Prayer Rail. There, a custom-made “stair step” display is placed, waiting for the candles. They are placed on the display in memory of the people we all have lost in our lives. Soft, pre-recorded music is played while this happens so that everyone- musicians and tech folks included- can participate. (At the middle service, where we take Communion weekly, placing your candle on the display was immediately followed by taking Communion. Again, logistics have to be considered.)  

By the time we are ready to close the service, a LOT of candles are lit up front. It is a beautiful, moving display. The services are both powerful and emotional. And, remembering how many times I used the word “logistics” and how important proper prior planning is to us, much thought went into how we ended the services. We could have ended them with the placing of the votive candle and it would have been a powerful but emotional way to end. But, after conversation, we decided that this is not only a remembrance and honoring but also a celebration of these lives. So, at each service, we intentionally ended them with a hopeful, upbeat song that left us with that feel.  

I LOVE the fact that we can gather together and share our lives with each other like this. I believe strongly that a church should truly be an extended family. We should be glad to see each other. We should be able to share our joys AND our concerns with each other. And we should be able to feel comfortable to share our deeper emotions with each other. I am honored to be a part of such a group of people and truly feel like they are “family”! 

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

The 7 Heavenly Virtues: Charity

7 Heavenly Virtues Charity     In 1987, a movie came out that changed the way America looked at big business. It even changed the way many business people dressed! The movie, starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, was called Wall Street. It captured, almost TOO well, the political and social climate of the mid-80’s. Today, I want to open with a short clip from the movie that directly addresses what we are talking about today.  

So, to recap the first few weeks of this series- in 590AD, Pope Gregory defined the 7 Deadly Sins as lust, wrath, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy and pride. He added a counter-balancing set of values that we should adopt- they’ve become known as the 7 Heavenly Virtues. We’re in the middle of 7 weeks of wading through these lists in an effort to identify and celebrate our own strengths as well as name areas of our lives that perhaps need more attention.  

Week 1, we started with a challenging virtue- Chastity, the counter-balance to the sin of lust. Week 2, we looked at another challenging virtue- patience- the counter-balance to wrath. Last week, we considered temperance, which is the counter-balance to gluttony. Today, we talk about Charity, the counter-balance to Greed. That all leads to today’s main Scripture: 

     Luke 12:32-34 Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

So, Jesus has been teaching and preaching. The Pharisees show up, still trying to catch Him at something. He has a discourse with them. Meanwhile thousands of people have gathered outside to hear Him. He goes out and talks to them. In the midst of that, He offers up this little “nugget” about greed and charity.  

Notice how He starts- “fear not”. That is EXACTLY how basically every angelic appearance in the entirety of the Bible Starts, with the angel saying to whoever they are addressing, “Fear not”. Jesus knows the people are worried…scared. And He wants to put them at ease. So, He offers up those words- fear not. But He doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t simply say, “Don’t be afraid”. The next word is “for”. You could just as easily substitute the word “because” there. So He is saying, “Don’t be afraid BECAUSE…”  

That word is very important. It’s one thing to tell someone to quit being afraid. It’s an entirely different thing to explain WHY they don’t need to be. And WHY should they not be afraid? Because God WANTS to give them “the kingdom”- everything they need. They…we…don’t need to worry so much about our needs. God WANTS to address them.  

It’s the next part that often causes problems for people. “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” That’s troublesome to a lot of people. Believers say, “I have to sell…EVERYTHING and give to the poor?” Non- believers say, “Why HAVEN’T you sold everything and given to the poor if you are such a devout Christian?”  

I think both sides miss the point here. I genuinely don’t think Jesus means that we have to literally SELL EVERYTHING and give it away. I think He is speaking metaphorically here- don’t make your focus be your “stuff” but instead help those in need, knowing that (back to the previous sentence) God wants to- and will- provide for us.  

Jesus then goes on to say that we should instead invest our time, energy and focus on the “treasures” that WON’T grow old, that WON’T fail, that CAN’T be taken from us or destroyed. And then, He finishes with that powerful statement- where your treasure is- THAT’S where your heart is.  

This passage is brief but powerful. The gist is about what’s important to you. What IS your treasure? And what SHOULD BE your treasure? We all KNOW what our treasures SHOULD be. But that doesn’t matter nearly as much as what they actually ARE. I’ll be blunt- if you find yourself thinking things like, “I don’t have enough “extra” money to support God’s ministries. BUT- I have enough to add another line to my cell phone plan, upgrade my Netflix account and go out to dinner 4 times a week…”, then I would invite you to reconsider where your treasures are. Don’t get me wrong- cell phones are great- basically a necessity today. And Netflix DOES offer a lot of great binge-watching. And going out to dinner is easy and convenient.  

But the reality of those things, the reality of ALL “earthly” things, is that they are temporary, fleeting. You spend $40 on dinner out…and in 5-6 hours, you’re hungry again. That’s the basic nature of how us humans function. However, you invest $40 in your church, or a food pantry, or a homeless shelter or…whatever…you are investing in God’s work. You are storing your treasures in Heaven, where no thief can steal and no moth can destroy.  

It’s NOT about selling everything you have. It’s NOT about giving up the things you enjoy. Instead, it’s about priority. It’s about understanding the difference between the temporary and the eternal. It’s about the difference between greed and charity. It’s about the fact that where your treasure, that’s where your heart is. Where’s your heart today? 

Her Name is Molly!

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If you read this blog, you know that back in the Fall, within about 30 days of each other, we lost both of our dogs. The little one was 18 years old and the big one was 13 years old- both considered “old age” for their size. The little one went first, after developing some health issues and then, apparently, having some kind of stroke. So, we had to have her put down. Then, about a month later, the big dog, who had a LARGE fatty tumor on her side that was A. benign and B. inoperable simply couldn’t go on, so we had to have her put down as well. It was a sad month in our household. And the house seemed just a little…empty…without them.     

But we decided, as we have when we’ve lost other dogs, that we didn’t want to jump right into a new dog, especially as we were going into winter. But more and more, we wanted a dog in the house. Finally, recently, we decided it was time. But we all agreed that we wanted to get through High School graduation first. Well, that was last Sunday, so…!  

Yesterday, we all had the day off. So, my wife and I, along with our younger son and his girlfriend, went out “dog shopping”! The two dogs we lost in the Fall were both rescue dogs. In fact, so was the dog before them. We like rescue dogs! We started with two shelters in a neighboring town (about 45 minutes away) that are actually only about 2 blocks apart. (They both opened at 10AM, so we started with them.) One had more dogs than the other. They both had some “nice” dogs. But none of them seemed like the right one. (I had already said that, since my wife would end up spending more time with a new dog than either of the other of us would, she should pick the dog.) 

The third shelter we were planning on visiting yesterday, if necessary, was in a different neighboring town, about 20 minutes from where we were, and didn’t open until noon. So, we drove to the town it was in, found a restaurant and had some lunch while we waited for the place to open. (The food, by the way, was great! They poached eggs for me, complete with shredded cheddar. JUST the way I wanted them! I could eat them! AND- I ate about 4 bites of a pancake for the first time in quite a while. I soaked it in syrup and mashed the CRUD out of it!)  

Then, at about 12:05PM, we pulled up at the shelter in that town and went in. They had several more dogs than either of the other two and there was a much broader variety of breeds and sizes. We had decided we wanted a female and my wife was confident that, once we found the “right” dog, she would know. (She had not only prayed about it but asked others to as well.) We walked through, looking at the dogs. They had a Husky/Samoyan mix who was HUGE- he stood on his hind legs and was LITERALLY as tall as me! But he was A. a he, B. too big and C. according to the shelter needed a fenced in yard, which we don’t have. 

We saw others that were cute. They were just not “the right one”. And then, we saw her. Yes, that IS a picture of her, loving on me. She is a Border Collie mix (we have NO idea of a mix with what!) and she just seemed, immediately, to be a good fit. We talked both to her and about her through the pen she was in. Then we looked at the rest of the dogs. Then, at one point, I realized that my wife wasn’t nearby. So, I went looking for her and found her…talking to the Border Collie again! 

She looked up at me and said, “I would like to get her out and meet her.” So, we did that…and instantly fell in love! She was SO sweet and gentle- all she wanted to do was be petted and loved on. All four of us played with her for a few minutes and it was unanimous. We told them we would like to adopt her. They took about 30 minutes to get all the paperwork in order, we paid the adoption fee and then…we took her home! 

The interesting thing about Molly is that she had come from another shelter. She had LITERALLY been “on the floor” (out for the public to see her) for 5 minutes when we saw her. LITERALLY. It was her first day available and we were the FIRST people to see her. As my wife said when I marveled at that fact, it was “a God thing”! She has already integrated into the family, and our hearts, seamlessly. She is a GREAT addition. And THAT’S how Molly became the newest member of our family!  

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

The Next Big Thing!

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Well, the dust has settled on High School graduation. I have shared in this space how awesome last weekend was. Parties, family, church and, of course, graduation. The weekend simply could NOT have gone better. It was great. And now, it’s done. And while we still “bask in the glow”, it’s time to start looking toward the next step in the journey.  

And for my family, there are MANY things that are a part of “the next step”. But perhaps the biggest part is getting our recent High School graduate/Keynote Speaker ready to start college. He will be attending a University that is about 45 minutes away from home- a fact that does NOT break the hearts of his mother and me!  

We JUST ordered the “bedding, towels, storage units, etc.” package from a company that contracts with his university to offer those types of things. (If sending a kid to college is new to you, you need to know that dorm beds are longer than normal twin beds and therefore need custom sheets. (I’ve ALWAYS found that “convenient”!) He and his new roommate have begun the conversation of “I have this, you have that- lets’ pool our resources to outfit our room.” I sat down last night and started filling out the yearly cost breakdown for his college career. How much is tuition? How much is room and board? How much do we have in scholarships? How much do we have in grants, work study and loans? How much will we need to pay “out of pocket” for the first year? All of that is important stuff to have “in hand” before the year starts. 

We have begun a “pile” of “what to take to school”. We have been going through clothes, getting rid of ones he has outgrown. (When your kid is pushing 6’4″ and long and lean, there are a number of pieces of clothing that are simply too short!) Then it will be time to do “new clothes shopping” for the fall.  

We WERE proactive and bought him a new laptop and printer about 15 months ago so, while that one won’t carry him all the way through college, it WILL get him a good start! He’s working as many hours/week as he can find this summer to continue to add to his savings in anticipation of this next school year. 

His 2-day college orientation is coming up shortly. Then, in relatively short order, he will move into the dorm. And, for the first time in 30 YEARS, my wife and I will be “empty nesters”! 30 YEARS! We got married in July of 1985 and our older son was born in May of 1988. That means we had not quite 3 years of “just us”. And then, we have been parents for- did I mention?- 30 YEARS! And now, we are mere months away from empty nesters. Hard to believe! 

The truth is we wouldn’t trade our family for anything. My wife and I have always been SO proud and SO happy to not only have each other but to be the parents of what we think (and we are admittedly very partial!) are awesome kids! And now, as we stand on the threshold of th4 next big transition in our family, we can’t wait to see what God has in store! God is good! 

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!