A.L.I.C.E. Training

ALICE     A group gathered at the church last night for A.L.I.C.E. training. In this setting, ALICE stands for “alert, lock down, inform, counter and evacuate.” It is designed to deal with active shooter situations in places like schools and churches. It was put on by our local sheriff’s department.  

To show you how much the landscape has changed, about 7 years ago we hosted a similar training at the church we were serving at the time. Then, the training consisted of using “fake” handguns and training with how to disarm a shooter. Now, that training is somewhat obsolete. The “average” shooter is A. armed with more than a handgun and B. is more of the “shoot first, ask questions later” variety. Just in 7 years.  

So. This training was less about “hands-on” and more about awareness. When I got home, my wife said, “How’d it go?” My first response was, “It was interesting.” That would be the wrong choice of words. It was NOT interesting- it was informative.      

What we learned, predominantly, is that there are 3 types of responses to an active shooter- evacuate, active response and passive response. We also learned that those are the order, best to worst, that the response should come. In other words, if you can get out- get out. Evacuation is THE best way to save lives. The sooner the better. Next level, if evacuation is simply not an option, is active response. Try to distract the shooter so that someone else can attempt to disarm and/or subdue them. And if neither of those is a viable choice, passive response is the next level of defense.  

And “passive response” is more than just locking the door. Barricading the door with whatever is available is the best approach- anything to slow the shooter down. Move shelving in front of the door. Stack desks up. Whatever you have to use at your disposal. 

The next step is communication. Call authorities as soon as possible to alert them. Give them any detains you have- hand gun, long gun, coat, jacket, knife, hat, whatever. Is the shooter still in the building? Where are they? If possible, alert the rest of the building. Don’t use colors or codes- use simple, direct language.    

Ultimately, it’s a shame that we even need to do this. I wish we lived in a world where this was NOT necessary. But we don’t. And it is. So, we would be remiss to not avail ourselves of any training we can get. I pray I wasted my time last night and I NEVER have to use this training. But if I DO, I will be grateful for the time spent on the training. 

So, thank you to the officer who gave of his time to teach us. Thank you for the people who came out on a chilly Tuesday evening to learn more. And thank you God for making us wise as serpents yet innocent as doves.  

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!

Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-22My older son is home…for a week! My younger son is out of school…for a week! My wife is here. It simply doesn’t get much better than that!  

Thursday, we will have a quiet Thanksgiving. The turkey will cook in one of the ovens over at the church- one of the perks of living next door! (There IS a down-side as well, but there are CERTAINLY some perks!) The dressing will be in our oven. The sweet potatoes and regular potatoes (Hey! We like potatoes…OK?!) will be in separate pots on the stove, waiting to be mashed. The fresh green beans will be in yet another pot on the stove. The asparagus will be roasting in the oven. The Jello-pretzel salad will be in the fridge. The sweet Hawaiian rolls will be waiting to be heated up. Dinner will be awesome. 

My immediate family- which consists of my wife, her mom, our two sons, the dog and me- will spend the day…hanging out. We have no big plans, other than some cooking and some eating. And frankly, I am more than OK with that! 

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? I’m thankful that I get to spend time with my family. I’m thankful to serve such an awesome church. I’m thankful for a God Who loves me…regardless. And this year especially, I’m thankful for another day to be upright, breathing and about His business. This has been a whirlwind few years since I found out about the tumor in my head and now the cancer. I’m not going to lie- I wish I never had of it. BUT the health isssues have made me SO much more appreciative of…life. 

This holiday season, don’t waste a moment. Don’t take your days for granted. Don’t leave things undone. Don’t leave relationships unmended. Why? Because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. So, make the most of today. As that great theologian from Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway, says; “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” Happy Thanksgiving! 

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! 

Unity Vs. Uniformity

unity-is-not-uniformityRemember Junior High? Everybody wanted to be like “the cool kids”…and I was NOT one of the cool kids! We all wanted to wear the right clothes, have the right hair style, say the right things. We wanted to be…alike! The funny thing about that it that even people who want to be different than the mainstream folk end up looking JUST LIKE the people they run with. I once heard someone ask a guy who was wearing all black with eye liner and spikes and chains everywhere, “Why do you dress like that?” The response? “I want to be different.” The irony? They were surrounded by about a dozen people who all looked JUST like them!

I have twice  taught a Bible Study on the New Testament book of Romans. (An aside- that is one TOUGH book to get through! Some of the folks in the class said, “We enjoyed that…but could we pick an easier book for the next study?!”) Late in the book, the Apostle Paul talks about unity. I challenged the class to consider what exactly “unity” means. We kicked around several possible definitions, and the ensuing discussion led to exactly the point I was hoping to get to- the difference between unity and uniformity.
Uniformity is being just like everybody else. Uniformity is wearing the same things, doing the same things, saying the same things, thinking the same things, believing the same things! Uniformity is one small goose step away from the kind of mentality that got Nazi German in so much trouble. Uniformity takes away individuality and replaces it with mindless adherence to rules and norms. Whether we are talking about faith or just…life…uniformity is something that I just can’t stomach.
Unity, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame. Unity has NOTHING to do with lock-step adherence to a convoluted group of rules. Instead, it has everything to do with being an individual AND a part of something larger than yourself. It means having a kinship and a symbiosis with a group of people while still being able to hang on to who you are as an individual. Unity is a body of unique individuals united in a common cause.
Unity over and against uniformity is one thing I appreciate about the United Methodist Church. I have to look no further than myself to see it at work. When I go to Annual Conference, where all the clergy and representatives of the laity gather together once a year to both worship together and have the Church’s “business meeting”, there will be young clergy and old clergy, male clergy and female clergy, clergy of all colors, races and nationalities, urban clergy, suburban clergy and rural clergy. And in the midst of them will be…ME…a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister…and I am accepted and welcomed into that gathering. We are NOT uniform, in an way, shape or form…but we have great unity in our goal to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to always seek unity with the people around you…while holding tightly to your uniqueness. Reject uniformity…but covet unity!

     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: Gaius the Faithful

Johns 3 Letters Gaius the Faithful     About 14 years ago, I was sitting in my living one dark and stormy night when the local sheriff’s department called. There was a man who had pulled his motorcycle under the overhang of the church and could I come over? So, I got my shoes on, found a raincoat and headed out.  

When I got there, sure enough- there he was. And the Sheriff’s deputy was there. As I said, there was quite the storm going- rain, wind, lightning, thunder. I unlocked the building so the three of us could get in and talk. Turns out, this old gentleman was taking a long-planned trip across America on his motorcycle and got caught in this storm. The closest motel was Champaign and he wasn’t sure he could make that- the storm was that bad.  

We pulled his bike right up next to the building to get it more fully out of the elements. I got him a chair and I ran home. I came back with a cot, a sleeping bag, a pillow and some food. We set him up in the lobby and he slept there for the night. (turns out, two other sheriff’s deputies woke him up in the middle of the night, wanting to know what he was doing there!) In the morning, I came back and met him, to get the cot and other paraphernalia. He thanked me profusely, gave me $20 to put in the offering plate, got on his Harley and drove off into history. 

I shared the story that Sunday with the congregation as I put the $20 in the offering plate. Many praised me for what I did. Some chastised me for “putting the church at risk”. I took it in stride, not letting the praise get me too high or the criticism get me too low. In the end, I felt good about what I did for a stranger- “the least of these”. I felt I was doing what Jesus called me to do. 

It did NOT go unnoticed, however, that I DIDN’T do what I could have done. We had a perfectly good guest bedroom with a queen-sized bed in the house. He would have been a lot more comfortable there. But I would NOT have been. I had a wife and two kids in the house. I simply couldn’t bring a complete stranger into the house where my family was asleep for the night. It went against my priority of keeping my family safe. So- I compromised.  

To this day, I don’t feel bad about that compromise. But I DO continue tom wonder what Jesus thought? Was it. “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Or was it, “Ooohhh, sooooo close!”  

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. Week 3, we considered the Lady and Her Children. Last week, we moved to Don’t Lose What You’ve Worked For. Today, we come to Gaius the Faithful, where we meet a new character and consider what it means to be faithful to God. Here is today’s Scripture: 

     3John 1:1-8 The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. 

     In the last of John’s 3 letters, the elder writes to his pal Gaius to thank him for putting up some of the elder’s friends as houseguests. Apparently, they were missionaries traveling in the area, and Gaius took them in. In this third letter, the elder promises to visit soon so he and Gaius can catch up on their favorite subject: Jesus. 

     So, this letter is written “to Gaius.” Who is he? In Acts 19:23–41 we have the narrative of Paul’s very close call at Ephesus where he has a run-in with worshipers of Artemis. In that Scripture, we hear about a Macedonian named Gaius who is identified as a companion of Paul. There is also a Gaius mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and a Gaius of Derbe mentioned in Acts 20:4. In all actuality, the name Gaius was a very common first-century name. So, what that means in reality is that we don’t really know who THIS Gaius is!  

What we DO notice is that John uses a more formal letter-writing style than that he did in 1 and 2John. The words he chooses are still the familiar words of the first 2 letters. But the compositional style is more highly structured and precise. 

The issues concerning hospitality that were the concern of 2John are still of concern in 3John. If 2John looks at negative side, then 3John looks at the positive side. The two texts together create a very wise and encouraging counsel on the subject of hospitality to strangers. The gist of this letter is “let no one be a stranger”. 

Hospitality was the benchmark of the early Christian church- a holdover from the Old Testament and the Hebrew community. I mentioned last week that Christians were traveling all over the Mediterranean world and hospitality was an important part of that. As you traveled, you would go to fellow Christians asking for lodging foe the night. It was simply expected that it would be provided. It was understood by both host and guest.  

Now, I realize that was contextual and we live in a different day and time. Hospitality is a lot more difficult today. But beyond opening our home to strangers, how do…or can…we show hospitality in today’s world? 

We show hospitality when we mount an event like the Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar. We invite the public “into our home”, so to speak. Hundreds of folks traipse through our church home over two days. We greet them, welcome them, try to make them feel comfortable and “at home”.  

We show hospitality when we give out Visitor’s Bags in church. We tell visitors, through our actions, that we are glad they’re here. We show hospitality by offering the Fellowship Café. Folks can get a bit to eat- or breakfast- and have some fellowship with others. We show hospitality when we greet each other at the beginning of each worship service. We are saying to all, “I’m glad you’re here.” We show hospitality in SO many ways, to SO many people. 

In other words, I would argue that this congregation holds hospitality as a bedrock principle as to who we are and what we do. And when the body of Christ does that, they are being faithful. Gaius was labeled “Gaius the faithful”. We could be labeled “Aledo United Methodist Church the faithful”. I believe with all my heart when Jesus looks at what we are doing, He smiles and says, “Well done, good and faith servants.” 

The Follow the Star Holiday Bazaar

scenic view of forest during night time

Photo by Hristo Fidanov on Pexels.com

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!