The Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar

scenic view of forest during night time

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Yesterday was Day 1 or our Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar. It runs this weekend every year. It features TONS of homemade crafts, decorations, pet treats, desserts, frown pizzas, fresh food and more for purchase in advance of the holiday season. It is a MAJOR undertaking- transforming the dining room into a winter wonderland full of great things to eat and purchase! 

It also features a display of Nativities. Dozens of Nativity scenes are on display to walk through and look at. There are is a HUGE variety with a lot of Nativities that are very unique. Every year, someone wants to but one or more of them. But they belong to members of the church and are just on loan for the weekend. (My wife and I brought FOUR of them in ourselves!) 

Dozens and dozens of people have come together to make this happen. From cooking crews to decorating crews to craft makers to…you name it, we have had lots of folks working very hard to make this event happen. 

Hundreds and hundreds of folks while come through the church between yesterday and today. And what a great outreach that is. We get to show hospitality and welcoming to all of those people. They see the welcoming love of Jesus Christ through the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of the workers. 

And it IS a fundraiser as well. But it is NOT to raise funds to pay light bills or meet payroll. Instead, once expenses are met and seed money is held in reserve, the rest of the proceeds, counting in thousands, will go toward local missions. Literally every penny beyond expenses and seed money goes toward enabling great ministries in the church and in the community to flourish.  

I love that fact. We give the profits away. Period. Joyfully. Intentionally. It doesn’t get much better than that! The women of the church actually enjoy meeting after the dust settles to divvy up the money. They only struggle they have is who to give it to! 

And in the windup, God blesses us for our faithfulness. You simply cannot outgive God. If you are faithful in what you give, and how you give it, God always seems to bless you more than you blessed others. I LOVE that! So, we continue to do these “big ticket” events, just to give the money away. It’s a joy to be a part of this congregation!! 

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!

Men at Church

men-of-God    Men are an interesting breed. And as a card-carrying member of the gender…I feel I can speak somewhat intelligently on the subject! We all know the stereotypical descriptors-

All men know how to fix cars, men are doctors, not nurses, men do “dirty jobs” (construction and mechanics) not “clean jobs” (secretaries and teachers), men don’t do housework or take care of kids, men love sports, men camp, fish and hunt, men are lazy and sloppy, men don’t cook. The list could go on and on.

And the truth is that NONE of those are true…and yet all of them are true. In other words, there ARE men who fit all of those descriptions. But not ALL men do.

Another common stereotype is that men don’t usually go to church. And if they do, they are nothing more than pew-sitters. It is the women who do ALL the work in a church. Again, those stereotypes are true AND false!

In a LOT of Christian churches across the country, you could almost count the number of men on one hand. In fact, one of the reasons that church choirs are on the decline nationally is that it’s tough to have a choir with few or no basses and tenors! So while the stereotype isn’t always true, there IS a generous supply of examples to support it.

Which is one of the many reasons I am so grateful for the church I currently serve. There is a rather large contingent of men in the church. And on any given week, you can found any number of them doing any number of projects around the building. Just within the past 2 weeks, the men of the church have put on two dinners, planned and hosted a Men’s Ministry night, worked all day on a Saturday (along with other times) to get a foundation dug and poured in preparation for our new sign, moved our Children’s Library, moved our Adult Library, fixed the furnace, set up the manger in the church yard in anticipation of the Nativity scene that will soon occupy it, oversaw the cleaning out of a rather large storage area, organizing the selling of dozens of old folding chairs…and I’m SURE I’m leaving some things out!

Read that list again. Then consider…two weeks! TWO weeks! That’s more work than the men of MANY churches get done in 2 years! The church I currently serve is growing. New people are showing up EVERY week. And the only way, the ONLY way a church can sustain healthy growth is if the people in the church get actively involved. If they are helping maintain and upgrade the facility while financially supporting the emerging ministries AND actively inviting and welcoming new people, then great things can continue to happen.

The next year or so will be “the tale of the tape” for this church- whether or not we can maintain this growth and continue to move closer to being the people God has called us to be. And I don’t know what God has in store for us. But what I DO know is that I am surrounded by men who are committed to being the best fathers, husbands and leaders they can be. And with that in place, alongside the AWESOME women of this church…oh my!

      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! 

Dinner to Go!

As I have said in this space before, I have been, out of necessity, trying to “quarantine” myself s bit from the general public. It is at the behest of my oncologist, and it is for good reason. My immune system is just, frankly, shot right now. And the last thing I need, if I can avoid it, is to get sick. And so, on Sunday mornings, I greet people but I don’t make physical contact with th1em.

It also means not attending Wednesday evening programming. We have dinner every week, with a variety of offering after dinner for all ages. I simply don’t go. I would be surrounded by people and that is hard to “quarantine” from! And so, I don’t go.

I have shared how hard that is for me, as I tend to want to be very social in those settings. My nature is to “work the room”, greeting people and literally TRYING to shake every hand in the room. Instead, I either stay away or stay in our place and wave at people as they go by. It’s tough- but necessary.

But the church we currently serve is so understanding of that fact. They “get” that it is a necessary evil, and they are will to go along with it. In fact, they go as far as to making sure we get dinner on Wednesday nights! Dinner is served at 5:15PM. About 5PM, my wife or I come over and they have us make “to go” boxes of dinner. It’s pretty awesome.

To be honest, I don’t think there are a lot of churches that would be willing to make the concessions this church makes to ensure that I stay in the pulpit on Sundays. Now, don’t get me wrong- I’m still working. I’m in the office basically every day. I’m still the pastor of the church. But concessions HAVE been made. And if there has been ANY grumbling from the congregation…I haven’t heard it! They just continue to be highly supportive. AND, the church continues to grow. We keep bringing in new members and we keep baptizing folks. Good stuff!

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!

It Don’t Matter if You’re Black or White

Black_or_WhiteFirst off, let me say this- I ALMOST didn’t write this blog. I had some concern that it would appear racist or not politically correct. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that was a ridiculous reason to NOT write it. So…here goes!

For my money, Michael Jackson was a great artist. I’ll be honest- I didn’t think a lot of him as a human being, but he was a talented singer/performer. I have much of his body of of work in my iTunes library. I like it.

One of my favorite Michael Jackson songs is Black or White. The gist of the song is found in these lyrics, “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”. The video for the song is equally powerful. And I couldn’t help but think about that song one Saturday night a few years ago.

The church I currently serve hosted an annual event we call Men in Ministry. We invited men from around the area to attend. The music was provided by an AWESOME group from a city not terribly far from us. And the message was delivered by one of the finest preachers I have ever known.

Right now, you are probably saying, “Did you switch to a different blog in the middle? What do the first three paragraphs have to do with the 4th paragraph?” Here you go! Every member of the band AND the preacher were African American. Those in the pews, on quite the other hand, were…not!

The church I currently serve is in a community that is predominantly Caucasian- white. That is not intended to be a judgement, and indictment or a source of pride. It is simply a fact. Therefore, the church I currently serve is also predominantly white.

Another fact is that, in large part, predominantly white, midwestern United Methodist churches tend to have a different approach to worship than predominantly African American churches do. Again, not an indictment or a source of pride…simply a fact.

And yet…and yet…I saw an amazing thing happened that Saturday night. A very spirited, spirit-filled group of African American musicians and singers, together with a very spirited, spirit-filled African American preacher, led worship in a rather…laid back white church. And you know what? It don’t matter if you’re black or white!

There wasn’t a huge divide between races and cultures. Instead, it was simply a group of Christian men worshiping together. And I, for one, LOVED that! I love the fact that faith can bring people together in sincere, joyous worship that society says have NO business being together! Out there, on the street, we are simply NOT equal. Don’t believe me? Just ask someone. BUT…inside the walls of the church…inside a faith connection…we are radically equal.

God doesn’t see color, or gender, or race, or age, or educational level, or economic status or any of the others things that society uses to separate us. Instead, He simply sees His children. So you see- it DON’T matter if you’re black or white!
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!

In Prison

abandoned ancient antique architecture

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Have you ever been in jail? I have. Fortunately, it’s always been on the OTHER side of the bars, visiting others as “the pastor”. But it is a daunting place to be, regardless.
The first time I ever set foot in a jail was in the city of St. Louis. I was going to seminary in St. Louis while also serving a church on the Illinois side of the river. As a part of my educational requirements, I was a part of group that visited several ministry settings.
One of the places we visited was the St. Louis City Jail. You need to understand that this was NOT the new (current) St. Louis City Jail. While I’m sure it is STILL no picnic to be incarcerated there, it IS new…and shiny…and clean. No, this was the OLD St. Louis City Jail. It was NOT new…or shiny…or clean! It was dark and cramped, dirty and crumbling. And the one thing that sticks out most in my mind was the hallway we had to walk down that had holding cells with bars for front walls on one side and a wall on the other side. You could NOT walk close enough to the wall to avoid the reach of anyone in the holding cells. It was VERY intimidating!
The next jail I visited was the St. Clair County Jail. I went to visit prisoners there, including one visit where I was locked IN a room with a female inmate. I couldn’t get OUT, but there were a few moments when other inmates could get IN. Again, very intimidating.
The next one I visited was the Champaign County Jail. Again, visiting inmates. Again, very intimidating. Although I never made it farther than the other side of a wall with wire glass, a stool bolted to the floor and a telephone bolted to the wall.
Most recently, I have visited the County Jail in the county in which I now live and serve. Along with visiting folks there, this time through a closed-circuit video system, I have also become the chaplain for the staff. Because of that, I have received the “behind the scenes” tour of the facility. As I walked down halls and looked into cells, I was struck by how cramped and lightless they are. Oh sure- they have LIGHTS…but there is NO sunlight.
Now, don’t misunderstand- this is NOT a piece on the poor conditions in American jails. I am NOT suggesting that we are mistreating our prisoners. I am, instead, commenting on the way I FEEL when I enter a place like that. I…feel…trapped. It’s as if the walls are closing in, and I almost feel as if I can’t breathe. You know…trapped.
It dawns on me that, if feeling trapped is the definition of being in prison, then a LOT of people are in prison. Oh, they may not be literally incarcerated behind bars, but they are no less in prison. Do YOU ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like the walls are closing in, that you can’t breathe, that you are trapped? My guess is that we have all felt like that at times in our lives. Frankly, it’s not so much THAT you feel that way, but what you do about it WHEN you feel that way? So…what DO you do about it? My prayer is that you turn to God at times like that. I pray that you seek His will, His presence, His face when times are hard, when you feel trapped. Why? Because if you do…He will answer. He will provide you with the peace that you need to get beyond the hard times. Seek God today and ask Him to free you from your “trapped” situation.
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!

Veteran’s Day

Yesterday, at all 3 worship services, we honored veterans. We did so in 2 ways. First, we ran a video I produced that featured all the veterans people had submitted pictures of. We started that feature last year, so this year’s video featured the pictures submitted last year PLUS all of the new ones submitted this year. That brings the total to dozens on pictures submitted. They were laid out in my video editing software, with names accompanying them, and then set to music. I used “Hero” by Mariah Carey. We had some many more pictures submitted that I had to start “doubling up”- 2/slide- just to get them to all fit in the length of the song! The video was very well-received. 

Then, we invited anybody who IS serving or HAS served in the Armed Forces to come to the Prayer Rail. They all came down and lined up. Some had been in the video. Some had not. But all have served their country with distinction. How cool to see them all lined up there and think about what they have done and what they represent. So, we prayed for them and gave them what turned out to be the big “Standing O”- a standing ovation, for their service. It was a proud day to be a part of this congregation! 

I think of my dad often. But I especially remembered him today, as his picture came up in the slide. He was just “a pup” when he entered the Navy, right toward the tail end of WW2. He was 17 years old- his mother had to agree to let him go. But he didn’t LOOK 17 in the picture I posted- he looked like he was about 14! He also looked JUST like our younger son, who I never thought especially resembled my dad until we dug out that particular picture. It looks like our son hopped into the DeLorean, went back in time, dressed in my dad’s Navy uniform and took the picture! 

On this Veteran’s Day observance (the actual day was yesterday), I want to sincerely thank them countless men and women who served their country- many giving some and some giving ALL- so that we could have the freedoms that we enjoy. Let us not lose sight of that gift or take lightly those freedoms. They were, and continue to be, hard-fought. Again, thank you! 

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

John’s 3 Letters: Don’t Lose What You’ve Worked For

Johns 3 Letters Dont Lose What Youve Worked For     When we got married, we both brought Cr into the mix. I brought a Ford Fairmont that had a lot of miles on it. My wife brought a Ford Pinto that had…a lot of miles! The Pinto was bright yellow and, although we traded the Fairmont in somewhat quickly when we bought a new car (and BOY is THAT car worthy of a sermon series…based on regret, woe and great pain!), we kept the Pinto for a while.

Our habit has been “drive the wheels off of a car before we get rid of it” and the Pinto was no exception. We literally drove it until it had a catastrophic failure and would have taken more money to fix that it was worth. It would not only NOT drive- it wouldn’t even start. It was in the driveway, dead in the water.

I found a guy who would come and pick it up to part it out. But I had to get it out to the street before he could pick it up. So, my plan was to simply push it out of the driveway and onto the side of the street. It was, after all, a Pinto- a small car. I should be able to do that by myself. So, the morning he was to come and get it, I went out to move it. I opened the passenger door, braced my shoulder against the frame of the car and took the car out of gear. (It was a manual transmission with a stick shift.) There were two problems that A. I did NOT take into account and B. became immediately apparent. 1. The car, although small, was older and had an older, steel frame. It was fairly heavy for its size and 2. The driveway loped DOWN from the street…immediately.

Those two things combined meant that, not only could I NOT push the backward- it was too heavy to fight the downward slope, but I could BARELY keep it from moving farther forward. And that was a BAD thing! Forward led to a deeper slope, down alongside the house and into the backyard. Who knows what that would done and where the car would have stopped. So, I had to get it back in gear…but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move enough without letting the car roll on down the driveway. Stuck between a Pinto and a hard place!

I tried again to push. Nope! It just made the car dig deeper into my shoulder. I was literally suspended in midair- my shoulder against the frame and my feet two feet off the ground, braced against a retaining wall between the driveway and the yard. There was no one at home and no one out of their house- there was NO one to help me.

I finally did the only the only thing I could think of- I used my hands to turn the steering wheel hard to the right. I then eased up my hold on the car and let it GENTLY come to rest against the aforementioned retaining wall! I then went across the street and got my neighbor, who helped me push it out! (It was STILL hard!) That day, I learned a valuable lesson about giving up the ground you already had!

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. Week 1, we started by talking about Love and Hatred. Week 2, we moved to Water and Blood. Last week, we considered the Lady and Her Children. Today, we move to Don’t Lose What You’ve Worked For. Here is today’s Scripture:

2John 1:7-12 I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

In this passage, John shares with “the lady and her children” from last week some pastoral advice concerning false teachers who are traveling among the churches. His advice gives us some insight into a special problem early Christians were faced. Christians traveled pretty extensively throughout the 1st Century Mediterranean world. Christian hospitality was therefore a important ministry in the 1st Century church community. But because of that fact, John has to warn that hospitality being exploited by people masquerading as Christians who were, in reality, taking advantage of the generosity of Christian hospitality. These false prophets would try and use the hospitality to spread chaotic and false teaching.

There’s a delicate question of balance between openness and hospitality on the one hand and the wisdom to protect yourself, your family and your church on the other hand. True need is often counterbalanced with sophisticated cunning intending to exploit the kindness that grows inherently out of the Gospel. Exploitation happens, and false seeds have been planted.

So, what do you do about all of this? Well, here’s a Biblical 3-step test to see if what you’re hearing is what you SHOULD be hearing:

  1. Does this supposed prophet actually teach the truth?
  2. Does he try to overstay his welcome?
  3. Does he ask for money?

In his letters, John promotes balance. He promotes truth, love AND a wise and discerning approach to people and situations. He advocates a healthy mixture of law and gospel, truth and grace, wisdom and tough love. That’s what we are called to do. In fact, in Matthew 10:16, Jesus says, “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Think that through- “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” You read that and think, “How can I do BOTH?” Use the threefold-test- do they speak the truth? Are they saying things that are supported by the Bible, that are the kinds of things Jesus would say? Are they trying to overstay their welcome? Do thy continue to find reasons to linger when there is no reason to do so? And Number 3, are they asking for money? I realize I get paid for what I do. But if someone is offering you “free” advice but then tries to solicit money from you or sell you something you don’t want- be wary.

Whether you are trying to push a Ford Pinto out of your driveway or trying to carve out a better existence for yourself and your family, refuse to move backward. And on that note, I hear people say, “I’m just taking a break from my faith for now.” There is no “taking a break”. There is no standing still. There is no treading water. I am absolutely convinced that we are ALWAYS doing one of two things- we are either moving forward, getting the Pinto UP the slope, or we are moving backwards, watching the Pinto slide farther and farther down the slope. Don’t convince yourself that you are standing still- resting. Work from that premise- you’re either moving forward or sliding backward. And once you start that backward slide, it’s a very slippery slope. It leads to places you don’t want to go, places you don’t want your family, your church to go. Be careful what you bring into your home or your church. They are sacred places that need to be protected yet welcoming. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.