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!

Molly

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! 

I’m in the LADIES Room!

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I went to a store once in a nearby town who shall remain nameless but whose initials are Dollar Tree. While I was there, I needed to use the restroom. (And really, WHY is it called a restroom? It would be the LAST place I would go to rest!) I went to the back of the store and found the restrooms. But when I tried the handle…locked! Then I saw the sign- “Get key from cash register”. Great- now I have to up front and announce to the world that I have to go to the bathroom! “Attention, K-Mart shoppers- the bald guy with the earring has to go!”
So I went up, found a young woman whom I have shoes older than and asked for the key. She handed we what you see in the picture. I apologize for the blurriness of the photo- I was only in the photography business for 8 years! But it is a broken, red plastic spatula. On the end of the handle is attached a key and on the broken blade is written, “Bathroom key”. Nice. It reminds me of a high school teacher I had who decided he wanted to make SURE you really had to go when you went. Therefore, he made a “hall pass” out of a toilet seat, and if you wanted to get out of his class to go to the bathroom, you had to carry it!
So here I am, walking through the store, carrying my toilet seat…er…broken red spatula, and I head to the restroom. As I get there, I am reminded that she said, “First door”. But the first door says “Ladies” on it…and I ain’t no lady! So I went to the 2nd door- “Men”, there we go! BUT…the key doesn’t work! Aaaawwww SNAP, son!
So I look, with great trepidation, at the Ladies Room door. Surely I don’t have to go in…there?! I creep over to the door, gingerly put the key in, turn…and it opens. I ducked back as if it were rigged to detonate a bomb blast, but nothing happened. I then looked around to make sure no one was looking. And then I went in.
I probably broke the land speed record getting done and getting out! And as I opened the door, triumphant that I had successfully navigated my 7th trial of Hercules…there stood a woman, waiting to get in! Aaaaawww, SNAP, son! I mumbled something about the fact that I was TOLD to go in there, handed her the key, found my wife and said, “We ready? Let’s get out of here!”
The moral of the story? Sometimes, you just gotta do what you gotta do!
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!

 

Aliens!

aliensAre you familiar with the guy in the picture on the left? No? What if I said his name was Giorgio A. Tsoukalos…does THAT help? My guess is this- you either recognize his rather…unusual…hairdo…or you don’t!
Tsoukalos is a regular on the History Channel. More specifically, he is a regular on anything the History Channel does about aliens. If there is a show about aliens on TV, it’s NOT a legit show about aliens unless Giorgio and his odd hair are a part of it.
His basic theory is this- ANYTHING…did I mention ANYTHING?…can be explained by aliens. “Stonehenge? Aliens. Pyramids? Aliens. Crystal skulls? Aliens. Dead patch of grass? Aliens. Excessive dandruff? Aliens. Unsightly dog hair under the couch? Aliens. In fact, if you Google his name and then choose “images”, you will find a lot of memes (Google THAT, too!) of him saying, “I’m not saying it’s aliens…but it’s aliens!” I have heard his hair describes as evidence that he is being beamed up to an alien space ship…VERY slowly!
All kidding aside, however, Mr. Tsoukalos and his passion leads me directly into today’s topic. 1Peter 2:11says, “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and exiles to keep on abstaining from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” Other versions use words like “sojourner”, “stranger” and “foreigner” in place of alien. But the point is the same. When you become a Christian, you stop being a “local” and start being an “alien”. Sounds good…but what does it mean?
When you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, it should change your life. It doesn’t make you better…just “other”. We are called to live fully IN this world, but not be OF this world. We are called trying to live out each day loving God AND loving neighbor. And quite frankly, you can make a MUCH greater impact by how you live and how you treat people than by what you say and how many verses of Scripture you can quote. The reality is that, no matter how much of the Bible you have memorized, no matter how good of an argument you can lay out for someone else, there is ALWAYS going to be someone who has memorized MORE Scripture or who can argue a BIT better than you. And I seriously doubt that, when I stand before God on Judgment Day, He is going to lead with, “What’s Proverbs 4:3? Zechariah 5:1? Philippians 1:12?” I see Him MUCH more as the Creator of the universe and much less a quiz show host!
My recent health struggles have reminded me that this world is not my home. And while I am NOT in any big hurry to move on from here, I am confident in the knowledge that when I DO, I will go to a place that God has prepared for me…my home. And I, for one, take great comfort in that! What about you- are you “of this world”…or are you an…alien?!
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!

 

Spell-Check Won’t Catch THAT!

spell-check-finish

One of the main symptoms I exhibit these days from the cancer and related treatments is fatigue. I have always been the Energizer Bunny (Or as I like to refer to myself- Tigger!), able to just keep on going and going and going…! But these days, I simply don’t have the energy I once did. And so, naps and resting having become a part of the “new norm”.  

As an offshoot of that, I have come to understand that, when something out of the ordinary and more physically taxing comes up, it takes me longer to recover from it. Ironically, I learned that when we went on vacation. The trip TO Florida in January took me a good day and a half to recover from once we got there. And the trip home FROM Florida took that same amount of time. So, two days of traveling took 3 days to recover from. 

Well, as I said in yesterday’s blog, this past weekend was quite a busy one. It was an AWESOME weekend, but much more “packed” than usual. And so, once Sunday evening came, I was pretty whipped. That means, when I sat down to write yesterday’s blog, I was not, shall we say, “at my best”. And that’s where today’s story picks up! 

I use my cell phone as my alarm clock. There is an app I use that, when the phone is turned on its side, makes it a great digital alarm clock. I have a charging stand that the phone sits in (along with my iPad and iPod). Through that same alarm clock app, I set a 45-minute timer for soft music to play when I go to bed. It then shuts off by itself. You can adjust the brightness of the clock display, so I turn it down some when I am ready to settle in. The dimmed clock face is then on all night.  

Yesterday morning (I took a vacation day and so I slept in), I woke up right at 7AM. I turned to look at the clock to see what time it was and saw that there was some kind of message waiting to be read the phone. I almost went back to sleep but decided to put my glasses on and read it. It was a message from a reader of the blog, pointing out a typo they thought I might want to know about! The sentence in question was SUPPOSED to read, “Then, the shift to graduation happened.” The problem was, in my fatigue I ALMOST wrote that. However, I left the letter “f” out of the word “shift”! Yep. THAT’S what it said, right there on the blog, for God and everybody to read!! I laid there another minute, trying to decide if I wanted to actually change it right then or get more sleep. I opted to make the correction immediately!  

Now, it was easy to correct. I could have easily pretending it didn’t happen- many of you haven’t read the blog by 7AM and would have never known. But you know what? It was FUNNY! It was WAY too funny to NOT share. And since my standard yardstick for writing is that, if anybody is going to be made look bad, it will be me. I won’t share a story that throws someone ELSE under the bus, but I’ll tell stories all day long that throw ME under the bus!  

The takeaway from this is- be willing to laugh at yourself. In fact, be quick to do it. Life’s too short to be so serious. If you take yourself too seriously, you are missing opportunities- to grow and to show others than you are…you know…human! That’s not only good for your own soul- it’s helps others loosen up and be more human, as well! 

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

What a Weekend!

ED000027     If you read this blog with any regularity, there’s NO way you didn’t know that our younger son graduated from High School yesterday. Let me tell you a bit about the weekend. (IT was GREAT, by the way!) 

We had family come in over the last few days. That meant that, on Friday evening, my wife’s sister and her husband, along with my brother and his wife, were all with my wife and me at the church on Friday evening, “prepping” for the Saturday morning graduation party brunch. (It was held in the dining room of the church we currently serve.) We decorated the room for the brunch, then it was into the kitchen for food prep. 

The menu for the brunch was ham, egg and cheese casserole, bagels (with either regular cream cheese or brown sugar cream cheese), mini-muffins (banana or chocolate chip), donuts and fruit salad. We made 10 9X13 pans of the casserole. (We had NO idea how many people would show up- the whole thing was a WILD stab in the dark!) Those got prepped right up to the point of baking and then popped in the fridge. Fruit salad got partially prepped. Bagels and muffins got “plated” and covered in saran wrap. Orange juice was made.  

In the midst, pizza was picked up for dinner and my brother, brother-in-law and I drove to a neighboring town (about 45 minutes away) to pick our older son up at the train station. Once everybody was back together, we visited for a bit and then everybody went to b/headed to the motel.  

Saturday, we were at the church bright and early to finish the prep (cut the strawberries and kiwi for the fruit salad and bake the casseroles) before the brunch started. And then…10AM came! People started showing up right at 10. And over the next 2 hours, about 140 people came and went, visiting, bringing Graduation cards and having a nice brunch! It was awesome! We wondered if we had enough food, but once the dust settled, everybody had been fed and we had plenty of leftovers to offer in the church Café yesterday morning!  

We had more extended family come toward the end of the brunch and then ALL of the family who had come in stayed for the afternoon, hanging out in the church dining room and visiting. About 3:30PM, fried chicken, cole slaw, potato salad and lots of other goodies came out for another meal! By about 6:30PM, we were saying our goodbyes and heading out. A GREAT day! 

Then came yesterday. The morning was great. 3 worship services. (Like always.) Great music. A baptism. Communion. Week 3 of our current sermon series. Visiting family at two of the three services. Great attendance. Awesome morning! 

Then, the second church was over, it was “shift into graduation” mode. Our older son had gone to the High School early to save seats. We had called ahead and reserved a handicapped spot for my wife’s mom who came in a wheelchair. Our son was able to get seats for ALL of us (10 in total) to sit together with her…in the FRONT row! So, my brother-in-law, my brother and I hustled over to the High School to help our older son HOLD those seats. Then, about 20 minutes before the ceremony started, my wife and her sister brought them mom and we got them settled.  

The ceremony started promptly at 1PM. The gym wasn’t too hot at all, thanks to the rather temperate weather. The band played. The principal said a few words. The Salutatorian and Valedictorian shared their thoughts, as did the Class President. The chorus sang. And then, the Guest Speaker came up- the last of the speakers for the day. And the Guest Speaker was…our younger son! He had been asked to fill that role and agreed.  

I can’t tell you how cool it was to see him up there and to hear what he had to say. He shared what an honor it was to be the Guest Speaker. He shared that is was especially poignant to him because of my diagnosis and the fact that, just a few months ago, we didn’t think I would be here to attend. He thanks us as his parents. He thanks his teachers- a couple especially- for all they have done for him. 

He interacted with the audience. He was poignant. He was serious. He made us all laugh. He engaged us in a powerful way. Now, I will be the first to admit that I am partial but the kid…young man…did a great job. He seems a natural at it, even though he’s always been the one who said he didn’t like being in front of people. We were very proud! 

The weekend simply could NOT have gone better! It was such a joy to see all the family members we saw, to have everything go SO well and to see our younger son finish such a major milestone in his life.  

Our goal was that I was still around to attend his graduation. Done! And what a blessing. As the weekend wound down, my wife said. “OK, we made THAT goal. We need another one!” I assured her that I already had one! The next goal is Move-In Day for college- somewhere in mid-August. That not only gets us to another major milestone, but it “covers” our wedding anniversary in July!   

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: Temperance

7 Heavenly Virtues Temperance

When our older son was a kid, before we visited a church of a different denomination. The service included Communion. That tradition had us come and kneel at the Prayer Rail while the Officiant came by, laid the Host (the bread) on your tongue and then held the cup to your lips so that you could take a sip. Our son ended up between us, with my wife first and me last. Just when the Officiant was about to put the cup to our son’s lips, it dawned on me that the cup probably contained wine instead of the good ‘ol fashioned Welches of our home church! But it was too late to warn him…so I just watched. The cup touched his lips. A little wine went into his mouth. And then…his eyes bugged out! He looked at me with an expression that said, “What the heck was THAT?!” I just nodded, smiled and told him it would be fine!

So, I’ve been sharing that, 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 spending a total of 7 weeks immersing ourselves in 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. Last week, we looked at another challenging virtue- patience- the counter-balance to wrath. Today, we consider temperance, which is the counter-balance to gluttony. With all of that as a backdrop, here is today’s main Scripture:

Luke 10:25-28 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

     Contextually, this is what I would call a “standalone” story. A different translation of the Bible starts this story with, “On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” It’s not in the middle of something else. Instead, it’s a story that Luke wanted to tell and therefore sandwiched it right here. So, you’ve got “an expert in the law”- our version simplifies that to “lawyer”. He speaks up to challenge Jesus. (Remember, the Pharisees and other religious leaders are still trying to trap Jesus in His own words.)

Notice how the lawyer addresses Jesus, “Teacher”. On the surface, that would be perceived as a title of great significance. If you were called “Teacher”, the person calling you that was showing great respect. However, when you couple that with the fact that Luke tells us he was trying to put Jesus to the test, the use of “Teacher” was calculating. He was trying butter Jesus up…and set Him up. And then he hits Jesus with the question, “What do I have to DO to get eternal life?”

Phrasing here is essential. He doesn’t ask, “How do I GET it?” but, “What do I DO to get it?” There is a subtle but important difference there. “How do I get it?” asks “how does it happen?” But “What do I have to DO to get it?” implies I can somehow EARN it. The words are VERY carefully chosen.

And Jesus does what He almost always does in these scenarios- He answers a question with a question. “Well, what does the law say, Mr. Lawyer? How do YOU read it?” So, the lawyer says, “Well, we’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus smiles and says, “Bingo! Now, go do it!” If you read on, the lawyer, frustrated with the fact that his carefully chosen words failed to trap Jesus says, “Yeah…but who’s my neighbor?” Again, Jesus doesn’t directly answer but instead offers the parable of the Good Samaritan- a guy needs help and the people most likely to help him…don’t. Instead, the person LEAST likely to help is the one who does. Jesus then asks, “Which one was the neighbor?” The lawyer says, “the one who showed mercy”. Jesus says, “Then quit asking and start DOING!”

So, temperance. What does that word mean…and what does it have to with how we get to Heaven? Well, first things first. Temperance is predominantly defined as abstinence from alcoholic beverages. Think “the temperance movement” and “suffragettes”. Prohibition was a temperance movement. A decidedly unsuccessful one, but one nonetheless!

But temperance is more than simply not drinking alcohol. It also speaks to moderation or voluntary self-restraint. It’s typically described in terms of what an individual voluntarily refrains from doing. It would include, but not be limited to, restraint from retaliation in the form of non-violence and forgiveness, restraint from arrogance in the form of humility and modesty, restraint from excesses such as splurging in the form of carefulness and restraint from excessive anger or craving for something in the form of calmness and self-control.

The key word in that list is “restraint”. And restraint looks different for every person. For example, there’s a history of addictive behavior in my family. In addition, I have a high tolerance to things- pain, medication, caffeine…alcohol. Well, you couple a family history of addictive behavior with a high tolerance to alcohol and you have a potentially volatile scenario. So, I was always cautious about how much I drank. Then, when we decided to enter the ministry, I also decided to give up alcohol altogether. It wasn’t that great of a sacrifice, to be honest. Our older son asked one day, “What’s wrong with drinking alcohol?” I quickly replied there was NOTHING inherently wrong with it. The key was…is…restraint. Moderation. I don’t begrudge ANYBODY drinking alcohol. But for me, the best choice was simply to NOT do it. Restraint.

It was that great theologian George Carlin who once said that saliva has been found to be harmful in humans…but only if swallowed in small doses over a long period of time! (Think about it!)

The underlying theme of that joke, of today’s message, is that there is a moderation in all things. There is nothing wrong with having a beer after work. Having 27 beers after work is a different story. Playing “penny-ante” poker with your friends is a lot of fun. Losing lots of money gambling is a problem. It’s about restraint. Moderation. Temperance.

And how we define and quantify temperance is going to be different for each person. If you have NO reaction to poison ivy, then your “temperance” level is nil. You can wade through the stuff in a Speedo and not be bothered. (Others mighty be bothered by the Speedo part, but that’s a different sermon for a different day!) If, on the other hand, you’re highly allergic to poison ivy, your temperance level BETTER be high, or you’ll pay the price.

And that’s true of nearly anything. The Christian life is NOT about giving up everything that’s fun and enjoyable and living what is known as an ascetic life- one in which you don’t enjoy anything and you give up everything. I think that’s the overarching image that non-Christians and seekers have about becoming a Christian- it means giving up FUN! And frankly, I get that. We all know Christians who seem to find ZERO joy in life. They walk around with a scowl on their face all the time. They sneer at and reject anything that could be construed as sheer fun. They have no sense of humor. They are quick to judge…and condemn…others. They give off a “high and mighty”, “I know better than you” attitude. Frankly, why would you want to hang around someone like that? Why would you be inclined to be drawn to that way of life? If THAT’S Christianity, count me out!

But it’s NOT. That’s “religion”. That’s rules and regulations. That’s an old-school “if it’s fun, it must be wrong” mentality. I am NOT a “religious” person- I am a faithful person. Am I perfect? Oh no, far from it! But I don’t want a foundation of rigid guidelines, rules and regulations. I want relationship. And that’s the foundation of faith. And the temperance, the self-restraint, doesn’t lead TO the faith…it grows OUT of it. I don’t give up everything I once was to become a child of God. I find the life-changing love of Christ in my heart and then I WANT to refrain from those things that keep me from a deeper relationship with Him. I WANT to give up the behaviors that are destructive. I WANT a sense of temperance in my life that will help find the balance of “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind” FIRST, followed by “loving my neighbor as myself”!

It’s NOT a Job!

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One day, a guy from my congregation was installing a new air conditioner in the church parsonage- the house in which the pastor and their family  lives. (And to that I say, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”) I came home for something (the house is RIGHT next door to the church) while he was working, so I went outside to see how he was doing.
I talked to him for a few minutes, then said, “Well, I’m going back to work, but if you need anything from me, just holler!” He stopped what he was doing, looked at me, got a devilish glint in his eye and said, “You’ve got a LOT of nerve calling what you do ‘work’!” (You’d have to understand his sense of humor!) We both laughed and then went back to what we were doing.
It WAS very funny (seriously!), but I was thinking about it later and you know what? He’s right! The truth is that I LOVE what I do. I’m not terribly fond of the 2 rounds of annual paperwork I have to fill out for the denomination each year. And there are days when it is simply not the best job in the world. BUT…99% of the time, it IS hard to call what I do work!
I get to work with music, drama, writing and worship preparation- things that put my Bachelor’s Degree in Theater to good use. I get to dream, vision and plan for the staffing and ministries of the church- things that put my undergrad minor in Theater Management and my years of experience IN management to good use. I get to read the Bible, study it, think theologically and help teach and guide people in their faith development- things that put my Master’s Degree in Divinity to good use. I get to be a part of peoples’ lives- at their highest points, lowest points and everywhere in between. How cool is that?!
What I do is not a job. It’s not even a vocation. It’s my life. Unlike most professions, there is really NO way to separate my personal life from my professional life. I don’t have a job and a life…I just have…life. Everything that I have and everything that I am is a part of my ministry. And…and…and…I wouldn’t want it any other way! Thank you, God, for being so persistent and insistent with me!
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

 

Sing It, Elton!

lion-iphone-mac

I feel like Elton John should be belting out Circle of Life while Rafiki holds Simba the lion cub high for all of the animals to see. With our younger son graduating, it has been a time of remembrance and reflection. Having a kid graduate is a big deal. If you have been through that, you know that. Having your YOUNGEST kid graduate is also a big deal. Having a graduation 12 YEARS since the last one is a big deal. And having one that you didn’t think you would still be around to see is a big deal. Having ALL of that rolled into one brief, shining moment (OK- weekend!) is an even bigger deal! 

To recap. Here’s the deal. Almost 30 years ago, we had our first kid. (30 YEARS ago! Wow!) For 12 years, he was an only child. Then, years AFTER we thought we were done having kids, along comes our younger son. For 6 years, we had two kids living in the house- a teenager and an infant/toddler/pre-schooler/kindergartener. Then, our older son went away to college. And even though he came home for breaks and such, as well as during the summer, if you have had a kid go away to college, you know that, once they start college, they are never fully “living at home” again.  

So then, we pretty much had another “only child”- this time from 6 years old until…NOW. Two days ago was his last day of school. Today, he has graduation practice. Tomorrow, we have a Graduation Brunch Party for him. And then Sunday is graduation. Isn’t it amazing to consider where that time goes?! 

While I am NOT going to dwell on it today, this is special because, as I’ve already shared in this space, it’s a milestone we didn’t think I would be around to see. The first thought I had when the doctors told us how long I might have, based in my diagnosis, was, “I might not even see Christmas 2017.” My second thought was, “I’m not going to get to see our younger son graduate.” So, to be here is extra special. 

But the truth is, for ANY parent in ANY circumstance, graduation is extra special. Or, at least, it should be. This is a HUGE crossroad for a young person and I hope every parent appreciates that milestone and celebrates it. This is the culmination of 12+ years (Kindergarten and pre-school) of hard work. Yes, school is fun. (Or it should be.) Yes, school is informative. (Or it should be.) Yes, school is formative. (Or it should be.) But graduation is also a testament to grinding it out day after day, month after month, year after year. It’s a big deal! 

So, I want to congratulate everyone who is graduating this season. High School, college, trade school, whatever- congrats to you! You have worked hard. You have accomplished something special. Appreciate the moment. (Parents- you, too!) And then, look ahead with great anticipation for the next step in your life. College. Trade School. New job. Marriage. Whatever the immediate future holds for you, look at it with great anticipation. Don’t dread it. Don’t tell yourself that you are merely “settling”. Don’t feel like there is no real future for you if the next step isn’t the exact one you hoped for. God has a plan. Be confident. Be patient. And bloom where you are planted. THAT is the true “circle of life”! 

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

Another Reprieve From the Governor!

governor called

Back on October 17, I had what has been, thus far, my most recent chemo treatment. At that time, the oncologist told us to come back in a month for follow-up. So, on November 7, CT scans and blood work in hand, we went back. After reviewing everything, it was decided that we would wait until February and see how things were going. That visit still showed good things, so we decided to wait 3 more months- May.  

But pretty quickly, I started showing symptoms. So, we pushed “May” up to March 15. A CT scan showed thickening of the esophagus and some issues in the colon area. That lead to “firing up” a round of radiation treatments that began almost immediately- March 20. I had 15 “full” radiation treatments that ended on April 9th. After some recovery time, I had a colonoscopy on April 23rd, to see if the cancer had spread further. The answer was, “No”.  

ALL of that led to…yesterday. We went back to the oncologist for follow-up- what do we do next. The blood work looked good. The physical exam went well. My vitals were good. The oncologist was pleased with everything she saw and heard. Sure, my stamina kind of stinks. I still can’t eat completely solid food. I still get some occasionally nausea and abdominal pain. Miralax and I have become the BEST of friends. But compared the March, I am WAY better! 

So, it was decided that the best course of action right now was…nothing. I have the next roughly two months “off”- I am scheduled to have blood work and CT scans in July, with a return to the oncologist scheduled for July 11. At that time, we will review the data at hand, see how I’m doing and decide what’s next. More chemo is still a very real possibility….but NOT today! 

So, instead of having to worry about chemo and its charming side effects right now, we get to focus on our younger son’s High School graduation. Then we immediately shift into “getting ready for college move-in day” mode, which will be mid-August-ish. Making it to Graduation Day was a huge milestone for us…and here we are. Now we re-set goals and look forward. We continue, however, to live each day as it comes, appreciating the time that we have! 

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! 

Capital Campaign Update

Capital-Campaign-signage

I have shared MANY times in this space that I am more than a bit of a geek. And I’m OK with that! In fact, I have learned to embrace my “geekdom”! Geek and proud of it. And the most recent things I am geeking out about are bathrooms, air conditioners and stained glass windows! 

I shared recently about the progress being made in Phase 1 of the Capital Campaign the church we currently serve is in the middle of. The Campaign is a 4-step construction process- 1. 2 fully-remodeled bathrooms, making them both fully ADA-compliant, 2. new air conditioner units, 3. new stained glass windows and 4. fully renovated choir loft in the sanctuary.  

Step 1- the bathrooms, is getting closer to completion every day. 2 old, unappealing, non-ADA bathrooms are being turned into 2 brand new, clean, shiny fully-ADA bathrooms, one complete with an ADA shower, washer and dryer hook-ups and a janitor’s room, complete with a “floor sink”. And it is SO cool to see how much closer they get every day! 

The reality of these projects is that we agreed, as a committee and a congregation, that we wouldn’t start the next step of the campaign until we had actual “cash money” in hand. Not PLEDGED money, but ACTUAL money. So, when we crossed that threshold for Step 1, we started work on it. And now they are nearing completion.  

And that leads us to Step 2- air conditioners. There are 3 AC units on the roof of our Educational Wing. If memory serves, 2 of them are 41 years old and the 3rd is 26 years old. We are holding those units together with chewed gum, baling wire and shoe polish at this point! And now- we have the “cash money” in hand to begin Step 2!  

That doesn’t mean that the new AC units will be dropped on the roof by a crane this Friday! It takes time to get the proper materials, do the site prep and get all the other “ducks” in order. BUT- that process is officially underway! Huzzah! 

Step 3 is the most ambitious of all 4 Steps- new stained glass windows in the sanctuary. The building is VERY old and the windows are original. They are brittle and fragile- the wrong type of summer storm could EASILY take one or more of them out. Easily. And that would be bad at best and catastrophic at worst. Repairing the existing windows would mean easily 6 months to a year of plywood over holes in the wall, drop clothes, etc. In o0ther words, the sanctuary would be a “construction site” for a LONG time! And when the dust clearly- literally- we would have fortified brittle 100+ year old stained glass.  

So, the plan is to replace them. In a nutshell, that will entail a computer-designed window for each opening, complete with brand-new frames. They will be designed and built at the factory. When a window (or a few windows, depending on the openings bei9ng focused on at the time) are ready, they will send a crew out who will remove the old window(s) and install the new ones. It will take days each time instead of months. And the “cash money” that is actually coming in weekly right now, from the generous pledges folks made, is now earmarked for THAT Step.  

In October, when we asked people to pledge, we knew this would be a long process. But I am HIGHLY encouraged that here we are in May, only 8 months into the actual Campaign, and we are A. nearly done with Step 1 and B. already starting to earmark REAL money toward Step 3!  

This type of response to this type of project from this size of church in this size of community simply doesn’t happen very often. Most churches in our type of setting struggle to approve and accomplish a few thousand dollars for tuckpointing, roofing or waterproofing, let along this type of financial commitment to a Campaign of this magnitude. It is an honor, a pleasure and a joy to serve with this congregation. They are fully grounded in their faith, their commitment to the church and their Midwestern roots. But they are also firmly committed to thinking outside the box and trusting that God will provide what we need to continue to support God’s ministries in this context. 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! 

Major Milestones

milestones

In the talk/speech/sermon/homily/call it what you will I gave at our younger son’s Baccalaureate on Sunday night, I used the term “major crossroads” a couple of times. And I think that is an appropriate term for a high school graduation. I remember mine well. My wife and I graduated from high school together- a special moment for us! And I remember being excited about FINALLY being done with public school…and being TERRIFIED to be done with public school!  

That summer was a great one- I worked a lot, trying to save up some money for college. But I also got to spend a lot of time with my then girlfriend. Then it was time to “pack it up” and head to college. I was pretty much nothing but excited about that one! My then girlfriend was going to be only 10 blocks away at her college and I was going to get out of the house and into the wider world. It was great! 

The next major crossroad was college graduation. Again- excited and terrified! I had the added issue of a second major back surgery looming pretty much the second I walked across the stage to get my Bachelor’s Degree. 

It wasn’t TOO long after that the next major crossroad came up- our wedding. THAT, my friend, was the BEST decision I EVER made! It was a great day- the best- even though it was hotter than 3 ways of smoke. The ceremony went well and we had fun at the reception. I couldn’t believe that amazing woman would actually marry ME! 

Two awesome sons being born, interspersed with going into the ministry and earning my Master’s Degree, were the next of the major milestones. Going into the ministry and earning a Master’s Degree were both pretty big deals. But there is NOTHING like having kids! It’s truly life-changing! 

The two most recent major milestones are less exciting than the rest of them, but no less life-changing. Those would be the brain tumor in 2013 and the cancer diagnosis last June. They both changed my life…OUR lives…in profound and permanent ways. Not a day…a few moments, to be honest…go by where I am not still impacted by the after-effects of the brain tumor. And the cancer diagnosis is big enough to have its own gravitational pull. It doesn’t just IMPACT- it forever changes whatever it touches.  

What are the major milestones in YOUR life? Think that one through a bit. They are the things that have, perhaps, had the biggest impact on your life. Look back over them- both the good and the not so good. Celebrate the ones that are worth celebrating. And for those that are NOT so celebration-worthy, see if you can identify any positives that came out of them. When you find them, hang on to them. Appreciate them. They help put those events in some perspective. And perspective is a powerful thing to have! 

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! 

Baptism to Baccalaureate

Baccalaureate Mass Pic

(This is the transcript of the Baccalaureate Address I gave at our younger son’s High School yesterday.) Back when I was a graduating Senior- 1979: when we rode dinosaurs to school…uphill BOTH ways, in 4 feet of snow, with cardboard for shoes- I couldn’t tell the different between a Baccalaureate and a hole in the ground! And yet- here I am! I still can’t SPELL it- thank you, auto-correct!- but at least I know what it means! It is, in part, a farewell sermon to a graduating class. The word comes from the Latin baccalaureātus, which means “advanced student”. It’s an alteration of the Latin phrase “bacca laureus”, which means “laurel berry”. In ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to winners in both athletic and academic competitions.

OK- now that’s out of the way! Let me say how honored and excited I am to be able to be here today! 17 years ago, I had the extreme pleasure of baptizing our son, Hunter. Today, I get the gift of speaking at his Baccalaureate! How cool is that?!

You’ll notice how I’m dressed. If you know me at all, you might be surprised at the formality. In fact, many people are surprised that I even OWN a clergy robe! I get that. But when I started in the ministry, this is what we wore EVERY Sunday…with a coat and tie the rest of the week. Along the way, that slowly changed. First, the robe went away, except for special events like weddings and funerals. Then, over time, I “lost” the jacket and preached in a shirt and tie. And then, over time, that morphed into open-collared, button down shirt, NO tie, jeans (they ARE, however, BLACK!) and…GASP!…tennis shoes! (Also black.) THIS is how I show up for church every Sunday morning. Literally.

So, the question begs itself, “Why?” Why the change? Well, first off, when I started in the ministry I wasn’t the one “in charge” so I dressed according to the directions of my boss, the Senior Pastor. (A good life lesson- when the one in charge tells you how you should dress…pay attention!) As I moved through what is now 21 years in the ministry, I became “the one in charge” so I got to decide such things. And when you play the drums every Sunday at 3 worship services, there is some practicality in comfortable clothing that you can actually move around in!

But there’s more to it than that. One of the best “adult” lessons I’ve learned is that, in the end, you have to be yourself. Yes, there are guidelines and employment-related expectations that dictate things, to be sure. And if you want to be a contributing member of society, you HAVE to learn to follow those guidelines and expectations, whether they come from your principal or your boss. But within those confines, you also need to find ways to be yourself- to be authentic. And the truth, for me, is that I was born and raised a farm boy. Fancy robes and suits are nice. But at the end of the day, they aren’t me. And as a pastor, if I am not truly being ME, I can’t fully be the person God made me to be.

So, what does all of this mean for YOU? It means that, regardless of who you are, regardless of what you’re “good” at…or NOT good at…you are made in the image of God. You are a valuable human being. Just because you don’t look like the person sitting next to you, just because you can’t do something that they can do, doesn’t mean you don’t matter. The New Testament Book of Colossians 3:10 says, “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator”. We have a NEW self that is made in the image of God. YOU are made in His image. Stop trying to be someone else. Let THEM be that. Instead, you be YOU. Focus on who YOU are and on the unique gifts and graces you have. And if you’re sitting there thinking you don’t HAVE any unique gifts and grace, to quote that great theologian from the old TV show MASH Col. Sherman T. Potter, “Horse hockey!”

I promise you…PROMISE you…that there are things you can do, things you can contribute to society, that most people in this room wouldn’t have a clue how to do. I promise you that you are made in the imagine of God. He made you just the way you are. So- be you. But don’t settle for JUST being you, because that implies that you’ve “made it” and you’re perfect. Not true…for any of us. Keep being you. But strive, every day, to be the BEST “you” you can be. Try to get a little closer, every day, to being more fully the person God made you to be. Will you reach perfection? Not this side of Heaven! But how much forward progress you make every day matters much less than THAT you make progress- that you’re headed in the right direction.

Today- right here, right now, you sit at a major crossroads in your life. Regardless of where you’re planning on heading next, this is a one of THE major watershed moments in your life. And if you’re like I was as a Senior, you can’t WAIT to be done with public school…and yet you’re terrified of being done with public school- all at the same time. But be assured of this- as you find yourself at this crossroad, God meets you here. And the beauty part is that He loves you too much to leave you where He finds you.

Many of you know that I am battling Stage-4 cancer. 3 different kinds, to be exact. And if there’s one thing this cancer journey has taught me, it’s this- Don’t waste a moment. Don’t live your life saying, “Well, I’ll get to that tomorrow.” DO live each day intentionally. DO surround yourself with people who will support you, affirm you AND help hold you accountable. Find the silver lining. See the glass as half-full. Heck, see it as OVERFLOWING! I KNOW God has great things in store for you- I can’t WAIT to see what those things are!

7 Heavenly Virtues

How To Know Whether Or Not You Are Ready To Be A Mother:

The Mess Test: Smear peanut butter on the couch. Put a fish stick BEHIND the couch…and leave it there all summer.

The Toy Test: Buy a 55-gallon drum of LEGOs (if LEGOs aren’t available, substitute roofing tacks). Spread them all over the house. Then, put on a blindfold and walk from the bedroom to the bathroom without screaming.

The Grocery Store Test: Get two goats and take them with you to the grocery store. Always keep them in sight and pay for anything they eat or damage.

The Feeding Test: Get an empty gallon milk jug. Fill it halfway with water. Hang it from the ceiling with a rope. Start the jug swinging. Try to insert spoonfuls of soggy Fruit Loops into the mouth of the jug, while pretending to be an airplane. Then…pour the contents of the jug on the floor.

The Overnight Test: Get a 12-pound bag of sand. Soak it thoroughly in water. At 8PM, hold the bag in your arms for an hour while you waltz and hum. Lay the bag down and set your alarm for 10PM. Get up, pick up the bag, and sing every song you’ve ever heard. Then, begin making up songs. Keep this up until 4AM. Then, set your alarm for 5AM. Get up, make breakfast…and keep this up for five years while looking cheerful.

Last week, I shared that, in 590AD, Pope Gregory defined the 7 Deadly Sins as lust, wrath, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy and pride. At the time, he also included a counter-balancing set of values that he said we should adopt. That set of “counter-balances” has become known as the 7 Heavenly Virtues. We are spending a total of 7 weeks immersing ourselves in 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.

Last week, we also established that “sin”- in the Greek “hamartia”- means “to miss the mark”. We also established that “virtue”- in the Greek “arete'”- means “uprightness, goodness, moral excellence”.

We started this series last week with a challenging virtue- Chastity, the counter-balance to the sin of lust. Today, we look at another challenging virtue- patience- which is the counter-balance to wrath. With all of that as a backdrop, here is today’s main Scripture:

Luke 8:9-15 And when His disciples asked Him what this parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Jesus has been traveling and teaching at this point. He has a substantial crowd following Him and He offers up what we have come to know as The Parable of the Sower. You know the one- “a sower went to sow some seed…” As the parable unfolds, the seed lands in a variety of places and where it lands impacts how it grows. The people listen but seem to not understand the meaning- they miss the symbolism. So, the disciples start questioning Jesus about what the parable meant.

He explains to them that the seed is the Word of God and the different environments where the seed falls are the different people who hear the Word. Where they are in their lives impacts how they hear and receive the Word.

Forgiveness and mercy that serve as a counterbalance to wrath.

You could preach for several Sundays on this passage. Each group who receives the Word has a different response to it and each response is worth digging into. But we only have SO much time, so we will focus on the LAST group of people- the GOOD soil, those who not only hear the Word but take it to heart…a good and honest heart. What is the outcome for them? The outcome is simple- they will bear fruit with patience.

Notice I said the outcome was “simple”- I did NOT say it was “easy”. There’s a HUGE difference. Now, at this point in the sermon, I need to pause and explain something. I had a “close” written for this sermon as of yesterday at 4PM. And then…my family came home from the movies! We went to see the Avengers: Infinity War movie yesterday. We like to see those kinds of movies as a family, so we waited until our older son was home so that the four of us could go together. We had errands in the morning sand plans in the later afternoon, so we went to the noon showing.

We drove “into town” (a 45-minute drive), leaving a little earlier than we might have to accommodate for any Saturday traffic- either on the roads or in the theater. We arrive there a good 25-30 minutes before the movie started. I had already bought the tickets online and downloaded them into my phone, so when we walked in, I went and stood in line at the ticket booth to get a hearing assist device (a MUST for me at a movie theater these days!) while the rest of them stood in the concessions line.

We rendezvoused, got straws and napkins and headed intro the theater. It was NEARLY empty and the seats we like, in the second row of the second section, behind the handicapped seating, so that we have the extra leg room the railing BEHIND the handicapped seating provides. We settled in. About 5 minutes after we sat down, a family, complete with a LITTLE kid, came in, looked around this nearly empty theater…and then slid in the row RIGHT behind us! (Why people do that I will NEVER know!) Their little kid ended up RIGHT behind me. (You can smell this one coming, can’t you?!) I made sure the hearing assist device worked (usually the first one they give me DOESN’T and I have to run and trade it out for another one before the movie starts!) It worked. We chatted for a few minutes and then the previews started. After exactly 427 previews, the movie (which we paid GOOD money to see) started. And soon after that…the inevitable “kicking the back of my seat” started! And there WAS licking. And nudging. And pushing. And did I mention kicking?

I tried to be patient. So, for a bit, I ignored it. And then, it started to grate on me. And as I’ve shared before, I struggle more than most people would realize with anger issues. So, as the movie went on, I got madder and madder. I tried turning around and shooting them “the stink eye”. I tried shoving BACK the second I felt those “dear little feet” against the back of my seat. I tried everything I could think of to be civil- all the while getting madder and madder.

BUT- I didn’t want to make a scene and ruin the experience for my family, so I bit my tongue. I decided that, when the movie was over, I would turn around and say something. Nothing mean. Nothing angry. Just…something. So, as I watched the movie, I “wrote” what I was going to say in my head. And here it is, “Just some friendly advice, but the next time you bring your child into a nearly EMPTY movie theater, perhaps you could choose to sit somewhere…ANYWHERE…other than in the ONE place in the ENTIRE theater where they could spend the movie kicking the occupied seat in front of them.”

I watched the movie waiting for my moment. And when the movie ended, I thought to myself, “Here’s your moment. Be kind but firm.” And…they hopped up out of their seats and took off like a bat out of H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS before I could even turn around! It was like making an awesome dish for dinner…and dropping it on the floor on the way to the table! They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. I never even got to get my revenge out of the fridge, let alone SERVE it!

And at that moment- it struck me! I was less than 24 hours away from preaching about patience…and God JUST gave me a powerful reminder on the subject! That kid obviously hadn’t been taught how to behave properly in that setting, so it was NOT his fault. And frankly, those parents were doing the best they could. I was the one who had to make the choice- be a jerk or show some grace…some patience. And God, Who knows me ALL too well, decided to give me a powerful lesson on grace…and patience!

It seems appropriate to consider patience on Mother’s Day. Mothers have their patience tested every day in nearly every way. We ALL have our patience tested regularly. The question ISN’T “will you need to HAVE patience today?” The question IS, “WILL you have patience today?” And I would argue that how you answer that question goes a LONG way to telling you how far you’ve come…and how far you still need to go…on your Christian walk. A heart that holds fast to the Word will bear fruit…with patience!

Taking Out the Trash (Can)!

trash cansHave you ever tried to throw away a trash can? It is NEARLY impossible! I once tried THREE times to throw a trash can away… without success! Think about it- you put the can out on the curb every week. The plan is that they dump the trash out of it and leave the can. That is the unwritten agreement we have with the waste management industry. You take my trash. You leave my can!
But then, one day, you actually WANT to throw the trash cans away! But…how to do it? One move we made found me in that predicament. I wanted to throw not one, not two but THREE trash cans away. (We were moving and they weren’t WORTH moving!) So I dragged them ALL around to the curb (because they were ALL full of trash!), but I put a HUGE note across each of the 3 that I didn’t want to still see in the yard at the end of the day that said, “PLEASE TAKE THE CAN, TOO! (IT’S TRASH!)” And guess what? They. Took. Them! It was awesome! (I am, CLEARLY, easily amused!)
I find that getting rid of our trash cans isn’t the only trash that’s hard to get rid of. It’s also REALLY hard to get rid of the spiritual trash in our lives. We have ALL that baggage that we carry around. We KNOW that we need to let go of it. We KNOW that God wants us to give it over to Him and be rid of it. But we still insist on hanging on to it. I wonder if it is the old “devil you know versus the devil you don’t know”? You understand what I mean? “I don’t like this baggage, but at least I know it. If I get rid of it, I DON’T know what will replace it.” And so we insist on hanging on to everything.
Here’s my suggestion for the day- identify your spiritual baggage, that internal garbage that you cling to, drag it out to the curb and put a BIG sign on it that says, PLEASE TAKE THE CAN, TOO! (IT’S TRASH!)” Get rid of it. Throw it out. Be done with it. Then see what God has in store to fill the newly created void. It will be SO much better!
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!