Quite the Outpouring

Image result for jesus hand on your shoulder     I have been somewhat amazed by the outpouring from yesterday’s blog about seeing Heaven. I realize that the naysayers are more prone to simply stay out of it. So, I have no illusion that everyone who read the blog agreed with my assessment that it was a real, tangible event and not just a dream. And I’m OK with that. Everybody has to figure out for themselves what they believe and what they don’t. And I don’t begrudge anybody that freedom. BUT- I DO know what I experienced! 

All of you who contacted me were very supportive. But more than that, many of you have had your own experience, or someone you know/love/trust has, of Heaven. And the stories were fascinating to read. The blog obviously touched a nerve.  

One of the best “Heaven” stories I have ever been a part of happened about 12 years ago or so. A parishioner was in the “active stage” of dying. He was under hospice care at home. It was about 4:30AM. I had been called out by the family. He was in a hospital bed, laboring HARD with every breath he tried to take. I was seated by his right side. His wife was standing by his left side. Other family members were gathered at the foot of his bed. It had been quiet for some time when, seemingly out the blue, the wife started talking. She was telling him it was OK to let go. She would be fine. He could let go and “go home”. Then, silence fell back over the room.  

Then, it happened. Not 4 minutes after she said that, after HOURS of this horribly labored breathing, he simply…stopped. He stopped. He died. She said she’d be OK. She gave him “permission” to let go. And…he did. The hospice nurse stepped up, checked vitals and confirmed that he was dead.  

Then, his wife said something I will never forget. She said, “You all saw that, didn’t you?” I replies, “I didn’t SEE anything…but I sure felt it.” Everyone else in the room immediately agreed after I “broke the ice”. I asked he what she saw. She said, as she stood there, a hand was suddenly on her shoulder. No one was close enough to her to do that. She turned, and she said Jesus was standing there next to her, encouraging her to let him go. That’s when we turned and told him it was OK. 

We all assured her that, although we didn’t see or hear anything, we ALL felt it- the presence in the room. It was palpable. There was NO doubt in my mind one more person was in that room that, although we couldn’t see or hear Hi, was a real as any of us.  

I have seen it too many times to dismiss it. A person is actively dying. There is no earthly reason they are still alive. And yet, they keep on. And then, someone gives them permission to go, assuring their dying loved one that they will be OK. Or someone who has been coming in from out of town finally makes it and gets to see the patient. But regardless of what they are waiting for, once they are no longer waiting…they let go and die.  

The human spirit is strong, resilient. And the Holy Spirit is infinitely stronger and more resilient. When you combine the two, miracles happen. I have witnessed many. Thank you to those who shared having their own experiences of the miraculous. 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!

I Saw Heaven. NOT Kidding!

Heaven 9

Now it can be told. A week ago Sunday night/early Monday morning…I saw Heaven. Not kidding even a little bit. No metaphors or similes here. I. Saw. Heaven. Let me explain. OK- TRY to explain. I will fail! 

The cancer (I would presume) and the impact it has on my subconscious causes me to have very frenetic dreams. (If you are not familiar with the word “frenetic”…it means exactly what it sounds like it means!) They aren’t always “bad” dreams per se. But they often negatively impact my sleep and occasionally cause me to wake up in a full-blown panic attack. I do NOT want to take medicine for it. But I have prayed every night that they would go away.  

Then came early Monday morning a week+ ago. I woke up. Had to go to the bathroom. (Darn 57-year old bladder!) I got up, went, came back to bed. I fell back to sleep quickly. And then, everything changed. I was suddenly…in Heaven. And the weird thing about it was that I saw…nothing. No buildings. No giant gates made of giant pearls. No choirs of angels. No loved ones beckoning me home. And no God, Jesus or St. Peter meeting me at the entrance. Instead, everything was just…white. A soft, but rather bright, white light. Not from ONE source (“I saw the light and went toward it”) but just from everywhere. That was all I saw. Although I was walking, there seemed to be no discernible floor or “ground”. Imagine walking through the middle of a pure white cloud with no discernible detail- all smooth and even. That’s what I saw. 

What did I hear? Nothing as well. No choir singing. No harps. No soft voices beckoning me forward or encouraging me to go back. Everything was stone silent, featureless, people-less…and the most peaceful thing I have ever experienced. It was rather brief…I think.  

You may be asking, “How do you know it just wasn’t another dream?” I can’t answer that question because I don’t HAVE any answers. But I CAN tell you that…I just know. I have NO doubt about it. I. Saw. Heaven.  

So, what does it mean? I don’t know, which is why we are more than a week past it and I am just now writing about it. I talked to my wife about it the next day (I am not ashamed to confess that I cried as I shared this vision with her), but have been processing it ever since. It’s hard to wrap the scientific, analytical side of my brain around what I experienced and why I am so sure of what I saw. But I would stake my reputation against the fact that it was real. It was NOT a dream, it was a vision. From God. A gift. An effort to tell me something. I have my own theories as to what that “something” is, but I would be curious to hear what YOU think God’s purpose was. Feel free to message me or respond here with any thoughts you might have.  

(On a side not- perhaps totally related, perhaps not related at all- but my dreams have been MUCH better since then. NOT always perfect. Still sometimes frenetic. But 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!

God Called Me

Baptism_Plain

What a day in church yesterday! Saturday, evening, about 8:30PM, God spoke. He said, “Hey! You know that ‘close’ you wrote for tomorrow morning’s service? Yeah…about that…it kinda’ stinks! How about THIS instead.” And He dropped an idea in my head. I then re-wrote probably the last 1/3 of my sermon! And here’s what happened.

The “new and revised” version built toward an altar call. I encouraged 3 things: 1. if you have NEVER been baptized, but would like to be, come, 2. If you HAVE been baptized, but you feel like you have strayed, come and 3. if you would like to join the church but haven’t, come.

I shared that I didn’t want ANYBODY coming because they felt bad for me that no one came forward. It is a somewhat risky move, but I assured them that A. I’m a big boy and B. I can stand up front and act the fool as well as anybody! I do it every week! I also shared that I didn’t want them NOT coming because they felt self-conscious about what people would think or because, to quote that great theologian Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow’s another day.” If there is one thing 18 months into a 4-6 month terminal cancer diagnosis has taught me, it’s that there may not a tomorrow. Today IS the day. I had the sound tech start sound background music on the iPod and off we went.

At ALL 3 SERVICES, people immediately started to come. As they reach me, I asked if they had been baptized. (Although, for MANY of them, I knew in advance!) If they had been baptized but wanted to renew it, I did that. That amount to literally several dozen people throughout the morning. If they had never been baptized but wanted to, I baptized them, individually, on the spot. We ended up baptizing 5 people. And if they had already been baptized but wanted to join the church, I had them stand off to the side for a moment. Once all of the “baptism-related” folks made it through, I then turned to the membership folks. In the end, we brought 4 new members in. So, if you were keeping score at home, that’s 4 new members, 5 baptisms and dozens and dozens of “remember your baptisms”!

Again, it was an awesome morning, totally unexpected by everyone in the building until they heard the sermon and totally unexpected by even me until 8:30 Saturday evening. I love it when I get a nudge from God that changes everything! The spontaneity and the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the sanctuary and throughout the morning was palpable. Tears were flowing. People were deeply moved. It was GREAT- a true gift from God!

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

John’s 3 Letters: Water and Blood

Johns 3 Letters Water and Blood

When my wife and I were kids, the in which we grew up, Alton, IL, had MANY neighborhood parks. One of them was, as I recall, just past the “split between State Street and 9th Street. If you bore to the left, you were on 9th Street and if you bore right, you were on State Street and headed right past a little park called Olin Park that, according to Google Maps still sits there.

At least back then, the park featured a small playground and a baseball diamond. The playground was right by the street, separated from the public sidewalk by a low stone wall. Next to the playground was the baseball diamond, set down into a “natural amphitheater”. As with most kids, I loved ANY playground I could find. (We had no playground equipment out “on the farm” and therefore I didn’t get a ton of opportunity to avail myself.)

My dad was out of town for work- very “normal”. My mom was trying to do EVERYTHING by herself, also very normal. And my brother had a baseball game at that park. So she dropped us kids off- my sister was 12, my brother was 10 and I was 6- and headed off to do errands. Now, I would NEVER do that in this day and ages. But 1967 WASN’T “this day and age” and she did it. I was playing on the playground- a PAVED, flat area with equipment mounted in it- with my sister as I recall. I feel off of…something…and skinned my knee pretty badly. It was bleeding and I was crying. There wasn’t much at that park in the way of a First Aid station. Besides, I refused to let my sister help me. I wanted Mom. So, against my sister’s insistence and wishes, I sat on that low stone wall and waited.

As I sat there, blood oozing and gnats gathering, trying not to keep crying, ALL I think about was how everything would be better once Mom got back. People who came by offered to help BUT…they weren’t Mom so I assured them I was OK and “dismissed” them. Eventually, Mom got back, felt horrible, chastised my sister…even though it was NOT her fault…and took me to get cleaned up. AS we washed the blood away with some cool, clear water, I thought about the fact that NOW- everything was going to be alright. Water and Blood.

Our current sermon series- John’s 3 Letters- focuses on the 3 letters of John (Makes sense!) found near the tail end of the New Testament. They’re rarely read, rarely referenced, but have a lot packed into their short length. Three different letters, written at three different times, to three different people- yet they’re all tied together by the same ideas. Last week, we started by talking about Love and Hatred. Today, we move to Water and Blood. Here is today’s Scripture:

1John 5:1-8 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His Child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the One Who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

So, let’s take a minute and dismantle today’s Scripture and see what it is really saying. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well.” If you believe in Jesus and Who He was…IS…you are born of God. And therefore, if you love God, you love His Son as well. OK, makes sense.

To better prove his point, John goes on to that, in fact, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.” How we know that we adequately love one another? We love God AND carry out His commands. “Well gee, that’s SWELL because I can say that I love God!” Ah, but it’s not enough to just say, “I love God”. I have to also carry out His commands. Come ON- that’s hard!!

John goers on to say. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” In other words, keeping the commandments isn’t just showing love FOR God. It IS love for God. And he says that keeping the commandments isn’t a burden. If you are born of God, you have already overcome the world.

The next thing John says is, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” The only way- the ONLY way- to overcome the world is to believe in Jesus Christ. “I am THE Way, THE Truth and THE Light…”

He then closes today’s Scripture with, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the One Who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”

OK- sounds great. But what does “come by water…and blood” actually mean? I think it has two meanings…at least. We’ll close by focusing on those two. There is a literally meaning- biologically speaking. We are ALL born of water and blood in that sense. The blood that is passed down from parents to child and the blood that flows during childbirth is mingled with the water of the birth itself and we are born OF that- through it.

BUT- there is so much more there as well. To be born of water and blood is also a direct connect to baptism and Communion- the two…ONLY two…Sacraments of the United Methodist Church. To be born of water spiritually is represented by baptism. The Holy Spirit washes over us, cleansing us of our sin and bringing us into closer relationship with God. The blood that Jesus shed on the cross on our behalf is representatively found in the cup of Communion. The wine- or in our case, Welches- that we consume take the place of that blood, renews and refilling us. So, we, as flesh and blood humans, are born of the water and the blood. And we as believers are born of the Water and the Blood.

What about you? And you born of the lower-case water and blood only? Or are you also born of the capital Water and Blood as well? To be born of the capital Water and Blood is to be “born again”, as it were. We die to self and are re-born as children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made.

With all of that in mind, I am going to ask a couple of questions and then do something I NEVER do. First, the questions. What about YOU? Have YOU been baptized? Have you made that leap of faith, that “next-level” commitment to God? Have you been baptized but feel like you have fallen way? I am going to open up the altar. If you have NOT been baptized, or you feel you have strayed and need to renew your baptism, I want you to come forward. I WANT 6you to come forward. I will ask you if you have been baptized. If the answer is “no”, I will baptize you right then and there. If the answer is “yes”, I will instead renew your baptism.

The other question is, “have you joined the church? If not, is NOW the time?” If you feel led to join the church TODAY, and you came up to be baptized or renew your baptism, just step off to the side for a moment. When anyone who wants to be baptized or have their baptism renewed have come, I will open the altar to anyone who is still out in the congregation and wants to join the church. (Please keep in mind that you DO need to have been baptized to join the church.) I will then lead any and all who remain in the vows of membership.

Please DON’T come simply because nobody else comes and you feel bad for me. This is NOT about me. But please don’t avoid coming because you don’t like to draw attention to yourself or because you keep telling yourself, Tomorrow is another day.” One day, that won’t be true. TODAY is the day. Why? Because God wants to wipe the blood from our skinned lives. He wants to cleanse our playground wounds with His healing Living Water. Because He wants to make us whole. Because we are NOT physical beings on a spiritual journey, but we are spiritual beings on an earthly journey. Water and blood. If you feel led to come, for ANY of those reasons, don’t let ANYTHING hold you back today. If you feel led to come because you wish to be baptized or have your baptism renewed, please come, for all is ready.

A Recipe to Try- California Breakfast Casserole

california breakfast casserole

You know, if you read this blog very often, that I like to cook. So, how’s THIS for a recipe? It’s called California Breakfast Casserole. My sister forwarded it to us and I made a couple of alterations. (Gee- what a surprise!)  Here it is:

A pound of breakfast sausage (recipe called for pre-cooked sausage patties)

3-6 Roma tomatoes (depending on size), sliced into “coins”

2-3 ripe avocados (depending on size), peeled, cored and sliced

1 lb. (or so) Shredded hash browns (thawed but uncooked)

1 large sweet potato (uncooked and shredded, recipe did NOT call for this, but my sister uses them in place of the hash browns. I threw caution to the wind and used BOTH!)

1 C. Shredded Cheddar

12 eggs

1¼  C. milk

Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9X13 casserole dish with Pam. Cook the sausage in a skillet and layer it in the bottom of the 9X13. Cover the sausage with a layer of Roma tomato slices. Cover the Romas with a layer of avocado. Next, a layer of hash browns followed by a layer of sweet potato. Cover that with the cheese.

Wisk eggs, milk salt and pepper together. Pour it evenly over the casserole. Put the casserole in the over, uncovered, and bake for 55-60 minutes- until a knife blade comes out relatively clean. (DON’T wait until the blade is dry- the casserole will be over-cooked. 60 minutes seemed to work out perfectly for me.)

Serve with diced tomatoes, diced onions and sour cream on the side. My “maiden voyage is done, cooling and “setting” on the stove, waiting for the boys to get home! (We “snuck” a piece and loVED it!) Try it and tell me what you think!

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!

Revelation

There have been times in my ministry when I was neck-deep in the New Testament Book of Revelation for…a WHOLE lot of weeks! I taught a study a few years back on it in a Tuesday morning Bible Study. WE decided right up front to spend 1 week/chapter. Now, that is NOT 1 week/chapter of a STUDY GUIDE, but 1 week/chapter of…the Book of Revelation! That means we spent 22 weeks studying that book. Right about the time we finished that Tuesday morning study, I started the SAME study for a Wednesday night group! By the time the dust settles, I spent basically 44 straight weeks on the Book of Revelation! That’s a lot!

But if you have read the Book of Revelation, you know that you could spend 144 weeks studying it and still not really have a great handle on it! It is a TOUGH nut to crack! I would argue that it is THE toughest book in the Bible to get your head around!

Why is that? Well, for one thing…it’s pretty doggone scary!There’s LOTS of mayhew and killing. Horrifying beasts. Locusts with human faces and women’s hair. Dragons. Pits of fire. I mean, this could be a Stephen King novel…right?

But I think there is more, underneath all the overt “scare-fest”, that makes us stop dead in our tracks. (EVERY pun intended!) If you are a believer, then the Book of Revelation is the Apostle John’s way of describing what he saw when God revealed what was to come. And while he may have struggled to fully understand, and therefore adequately describe, what he saw, if what comes to pass is ANYTHING like what he describes…it’s going to be nasty!

And because of that, there is a sense, when we read the Book of Revelation, of, “What if I’m not ready? What if I can’t make the cut?” You know what I mean? We go to church every week. We put our offering in the plate. We say our prayers. (And, if you are Hulk Hogan, you also take your vitamins!) We try to live decent lives. But are we THAT “good”? Are we “Christian” enough to be on the RIGHT side when all of this stuff goes down? Will we be able to handle it?

For me, the answer to all of that can be found in the Book of Revelation itself. The first 7 verses of the 21st chapter, to be exact. Those verse offer a hope that is amazing in its scope. They help put everything in some perspective. And here they are.

Revelation 21:1-7 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

It just doesn’t, for my money, get a whole lot better than THAT!
We continue to focus on the glass being half-full. We continue to embrace each day with grateful thanksgiving. #TheGlovedAvenger #TeamHarris #WarriorOn! #Huzzah! We greatly appreciate your prayers, love and support. Check back regularly or simply subscribe to receive an email every time there is a new post. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Whats-Love-Got-To-Do-With-It-Logo

Donna Summers loves to love you, baby. Peter Frampton loves your way. Bill Withers thinks it’s a lovely day. Tina Turner wants to know what love’s got to do with it. Paul McCartney thinks that his love does it good. John Paul Young thinks love is in the air. Dionne Warwick is never gonna fall in love again AND she’s never going to love this way again. Earth, Wind and Fire wants to know what’s going to happen after the love is gone. And the Captain and Tennille are sure love will keep them together. Apparently not!

Love is a fascinating thing. In English, there is one word for love: we love our pets, our chocolate, our family, Christmas and pizza…all with the same word. Anything that makes us feel good…we love. But in the Greek, there is a multitude of words for love, with 4 main types:

Eros- passionate, romantic love that centers around desire and longing
Philia- this is the “friendship” kind of love- a virtuous love focusing on loyalty to friends and community.
Storge (storgē)- this is a natural affection- think “family relationships”
Agapē- this is a more general, all-encompassing affection, when you hold others in high regard. It encourages us to be self-sacrificing and giving to all.
The 1st 3 types of love are based on what the OTHER person does for you and what you receive- the benefits of the relationship. But it is agape alone that exists for the sole benefit of the one receiving the love. And in today’s passage, that’s exactly the kind of love we are talking about- agape.

1John 3:16 This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave His life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Love- true agape love- expects nothing in return, demands nothing in return. Agape love is doing something for someone simply because it’s the right thing to do. Agape love is the love that Jesus shows us…and that we should mirror to others.
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!