Elton John Was Right…Sort Of!

elton-johnElton John is one of my all-time favorite artists. Don’t mistake him for his music- I don’t always appreciate what he does as a person (just like I’m QUITE sure, if he knew me, he would not always appreciate what I do!), but I LOVE most of his music. In fact, the FIRST 8-track tape I owned was his Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album…good stuff!
On October 5, 1973, he released the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The opening track of that album is called Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. Funeral For a Friend is an instrumental he wrote while thinking about what he would want played at his own funeral. He said that the 2 songs weren’t originally intended to fit together, but Funeral For A Friend ends in the key of A, the same key Love Lies Bleeding opens in, so the two were played as one long piece when recorded. The whole piece, at just over 11 minutes long, was too long to be released as a single, but did get some airplay on FM stations. Where it has REALLY found its niche is on tour.

The song is sad and mournful, beautiful and haunting. AND…a rather substantial departure from much of what he was doing at the time. But as I listen to it, I am reminded of one of the harder tasks a minister has…doing a funeral for (to paraphrase Mr. John) a NON-friend. In other words, officiating at the burial of someone you never met. Let me say right up front that it offends me big time to attend a funeral, when I KNOW the preacher never met the deceased, and hear them talk as if they were best buddies! (Blood pressure rising, anger building…!) It’s offensive. So when I do a funeral like that (and quite frankly…I do a LOT of funerals like that! I seem to have earned the reputation as “the funeral guy”…don’t know if that’s good or bad!), I say right up front that I didn’t know them. And then I work really hard to paint a picture of them, based on what I have uncovered.
While I am honored to officiate at someone’s funeral (I truly believe that we ALL deserve the dignity of being remembered when we die), I always am left wishing they would have had a relationship with a pastor so that they could be eulogized by someone who actually knew them. (I officiated at BOTH of my parents’ funerals, in large part because neither of them had a relationship with a pastor…well…that is, except me!)
Do you have a relationship with a pastor? (Don’t be funny…you KNOW what I mean!!) Is there someone who will be able to stand at your funeral and say, “I knew this person well and can tell you about their life”? I hope so…you deserve it. If you DON’T have that…yet another reason to get involved in a church. Try one- if you don’t like it, you can always try another! Keep church-shopping until you find the one that is right for you- it IS out there somewhere! And once you find it, dive in head first. Get involved. Become a part of the church family. It will be one of the best decisions you ever made!!

     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!

Jack of All Trades

jacktrades1What did you want to be when you grew up? From the time I was old enough to know better, I wanted to be an actor. That’s A. how I ended up with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting and B. found it SO hard to give up on that dream.

I am thinking about this because, during a hospital call once, the person I was visiting said, “You could do ANYTHING you wanted! You could be a doctor!” I thanked them for their faith in me! And someone else in the room laughed and said,”Maybe he could make that a 4th or 5th career!” Well said!

What DO you want to do with your life? And a better question is this- are you DOING it? IF not…WHY not? What is it that’s holding you back? Maybe you simply haven’t been able to do whatever it is to the extent that it puts food on the table and pays the electric bill. Maybe life took you in a different direction. Maybe…maybe…maybe.

I am the poster child for NOT living out your dream. BUT…I am ALSO the poster child for something else. I have learned over the years, in fits and starts, while ramming my head against the wall…over and over and over…that God will help you find a way! Let me explain.

I literally fought against giving up on my dream of being an actor for years. And it had a rather profound negative effect on my life and the lives of those closest to me. But once I finally…did I mention FINALLY?…stopped fighting it and gave in to what God was trying to do in my life, He worked miracles to enable me to do some of the things I always wanted to do.

Since I entered the ministry, I have…to quote those great theologians Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes…had the time of my life! I get to be with families and individuals for the major events of their lives- marriages, births, baptisms..and deaths. I get to help people grow in their faith. (There is an episode of MASH where Father Mulcahy is talking to Hawkeye after he lost a patient. In an effort to put things in perspective, Father Mulcahy says, “When you lose one, you lose a life. When I lose one…I lose a soul.”) Being a pastor is an awesome thing!

But because I gave in to what God was calling me to, He also worked it out that I get to play the drums, write, sing, act, stage plays, perform magic, juggling and stand-up comedy and any number of other things. How cool is THAT! I’m doing what I always wanted to do…because I gave up on pursuing what I always wanted to do! God truly works in strange and mysterious ways!

What do YOU want to do? What does God want you to do? How can both of those things happen? Trust me…it’s possible! Pray about it. Talk to God about it. Then…trust Him. Don’t try to force your desires onto the situation. Instead, have faith that He has your best interest at heart.
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!

Legendary Cold Weather

jack nicholson     A few days ago, I wrote about how cold it was. That day pales by comparison to tomorrow’s forecast. They are currently predicting that tomorrow’s actual temperature- ACTUAL temperature- will bottom out at minus 25 degrees. Yes, you read that correctly: -25 degrees. The wind chill during that time is projected to be –50 degrees. That’s ridiculous. That is SO far past cold that it takes light 1 year to get from cold to tomorrow. (Think about it for a second!)  

Our local school district cancelled yesterday. Last night, they announced that they were preemptively cancelling today, tomorrow AND Thursday…already. With the holiday (Martin Luther King’s birthday), snow days and one “early out”, they went ½ of one day LAST week and the BEST they can hope for this week is ONE day of classes. At this rate, the last day of THIS school year will be the FIRST day of NEXT year! 

The fallout for me is that we were scheduled to drive the 1½ hour round-trip to get a chemo treatment tomorrow. My wife started lobbying early to NOT go but instead reschedule for next week. (It will be the first week of a new round.) We talked about it and I agreed that she was right. So, NO chemo this week. Instead, we have another “off” week before we start back up.  

This kind of weather reminds me- we are NOT in control. “Of WHAT?” Of ANYTHING, basically. The weather is going to do what it’s going to do. Any amount of worrying or complaining on my part is NOT going to change that. My health is going to do what it’s going to do. Worrying? Complaining? Not going to help. Then what CAN we do? We can choose how we respond. We can hold fast to hope. We can pray. We can rely on our faith in Jesus Christ to carry us through. We can hang our hats on the promises of God, knowing that He will not leave us or forsake us.  

So, we have already gone to Wal-Mart and purchased our “French toast survival pack”. You know- bread, milk eggs and toilet paper! And now, we hunker down for the next few days and try to stay warm! In the midst, we pray for those who don’t have a warm, dry place to sleep and for those who HAVE to work out in this weather. We pray that people who have to travel are safe. And we pray that this extreme weather doesn’t last TOO long! 

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 Good Sunday

happy sunday     Everyone always wants to know how I’m feeling. It’s a constant question on Sunday mornings. Everyone who says, “How are you feeling today?” And the really sweet part is that they genuinely want to know. And I try to give them an honest answer while not sound like I’m just complaining- I tend not to be a very good or motivated whiner! Some take what I say at face value. Others have figured me out a little more! I get such a kick out of one woman in the congregation. She will say, “How are you?” And I’ll say, “Not too bad!” And she’ll give me a wry smile and say, “you’re not a very good liar!” I LOVE sarcastic humor! 

As I have shared before, Sundays can be tough days. They are the most demanding day of the week, to be sure. And depending on where we are in the chemo cycle, they can be even more challenging. But as I say, on those days, it’s just a “suck it up, Buttercup” sort of day. You get up, pray for an extra dose of strength, put on 

your big boy pants and go do it. On those days, to be blunt without trying to be overly dramatic, I don’t look forward to the SHORT walk home. And I want to eat lunch as soon as possible…so that I can take a nap. (I’m like the toddlers on America’s Funniest Videos, trying not to fall asleep IN my lunch! 

Yesterday was better than that. If you remember, I had this past week off from treatment. That means that yesterday, instead of being 4 days past an infusion, I was 11 days past. That helped immensely! I had more energy for the three services, and simply felt better, that I have in a few weeks. Given my love for leading worship, it’s a gift to feel well enough to truly enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired by the time I got home. But not “head in my plate of food” tired. Just “normal tired”! 

As you know, those days don’t come all the time. In fact, during a “season of chemo”, they don’t come very often. And that means that they come on Sundays even less. So, when the DO happen, and when they DO happen on a Sunday, I just enjoy them!! Tomorrow’s another day! 

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 Didn’t Know That: The Disciples Didn’t Know About the Virgin Birth!

i didnt know that the disciples didnt know about the virgin birth     Today, we wrap up our current sermon series- I Didn’t Know That! This is our 4th weeks looking at things we may not have even known were IN the Bible! Today, we look at a topic that has some pretty long-reaching implications- the disciples didn’t even KNOW about the virgin birth! 

I could read you passage after passage from the Gospels that talk about what the disciples know about Jesus- Who they think He is. And any passage I picked would be just ONE spot- out of countless spots, spread across four Gospels, that talks about what the disciples know in relation to Who Jesus is. But I could read EVERY one of those spots…I could read the totality of all four Gospels for that matter…and we wouldn’t find one reference- not ONE reference- to Jesus’ birth by the disciplines. The disciples- the people closest to Jesus- didn’t mention it…once. We think it’s perhaps THE most important fact in the Gospels- that and the resurrection. Without Easter there is no Christ, but without Christmas there is no Jesus. And yet, as important as WE think the birth narrative is…there is absolutely no mention of it from the disciples. None. 

Question #1- Why do we hear nothing of Jesus’ miraculous birth from the disciples? 

I have shared before that, even though Matthew’s Gospel is the first one listed, most scholars hold to the idea that Mark’s Gospel was the first one written- around 70AD. Luke and Matthew came along next, both around 85AD. And John bring up the rear, around 95AD. It is thought that Peter was the primary source of Mark’s Gospel- Mark wrote down what Peter told him. Then, 15 years or so later, Luke and Matthew both used Mark as a source. They also both seemed to use the same, yet unknown secondary source, often referred to as the Gospel of Q. (It’s called Q because of the German word “quelle”, which means “source”. The Q Gospel was first imagined by German theologians.) The Gospel of John is thought to have drawn from a source commonly referred to as the Signs Gospel- an unknown work that would have focused on the miracles and signs that point directly to Jesus as the Son of God. 

So why is Matthew’s Gospel first? I mean, at least some of Paul’s letters, along with Mark’s Gospel, were written before it. It’s the first one listed because it’s seen as the best bridge between the Old and New Testaments. The main point of Matthew’s Gospel is to convince the Jewish readers that Jesus is their Messiah, their King, the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of God and founder of the kingdom of God.  In fact, Matthew’s account uses the word “kingdom” 50 times, and the expression “kingdom of heaven” 32 times. 

So, four Gospels, four authors, different sources, one subject. And yet, even with all the differences between them, there is more to distinguish them from each other- they each have a distinctly different starting point. 

The first Gospel written, the Gospel of Mark, starts at the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry, heralded by the coming of John the Baptist. Then we get the Gospel of Luke, which starts with the birth of Jesus, heralded by the birth of John the Baptist. Then along comes Matthew, which starts with the genealogy of Jesus, tracing Him back to Abraham. And lastly, we get the Gospel of John, which begins…in the beginning, before there was anything. 

So, Mark starts with the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. Luke backs up to Jesus’ birth. Matthew backs up a bit further- to the genealogy that LEADS to Jesus’ birth. And then John backs up as far as you can back up- the beginning! So the farther away from the actual events we get, the further back the author starts their narrative- the more “back story” we get. 

I have heard people say my whole life, “If it’s not expressly addressed in the Bible, then it must be OK to do.” Making folks who want to join the church shave their heads and wear clown suits while standing in front of the congregation singing Muskrat Love must be OK- “Bible doesn’t say I can’t!” That mentality concerns me more than a little bit. (Especially because I absolutely HATE Muskrat Love! Worst song ever! How could the same group who recorded classics like Horse With No Name and Daisy Jane have also recorded…Muskrat Love?! Of course, The Steve Miller Band recorded both Fly Like an Eagle and Jungle Love, so there you have it and there you are!) 

Automatically claiming that something not directly mentioned in the Bible doesn’t exist or is OK is a dangerous and slippery slope. Once we start down that path, we are no longer searching for what the Bible tells us. Instead, we are searching for what it DOESN’T tell us. And the only logical reason to do that is because you want to justify some belief, action or behavior by showing that “the Bible doesn’t say so”.  

Question #2- What do you do, then, with something that is NOT expressly mentioned in the Bible? 

It seems to me that seeking the discernment of the Holy Spirit is where we should land on this issue. Why didn’t the disciples mention the Virgin Birth? Honestly- I haven’t the foggiest. But two things come to mind: 1. I don’t know that they didn’t- I only know that the Gospel writers didn’t record it and 2. I have to assume that those same Gospel writers felt the narrative about His adult ministry was THE most important story to tell. I mean, we get a good birth narrative in Luke, an abbreviated version in Matthew and NOTHING in Mark and John. We get one story- ONE story- from His childhood (getting left at the Temple when He was 12) and NOTHING else. Clearly, the Gospel writers wanted to focus on the roughly three years of Jesus’ adult ministry. 

So in the end, again, I don’t know why the disciples aren’t recorded as mentioning anything about Jesus’ birth…and I don’t have to know. I can read the birth narrative- two versions, to be exact- and I can seek the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit as to what’s important. United Methodist founder John Wesley said, “If your heart is right, take my hand.” In other words, if you accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then join me and don’t sweat the small stuff, because we want to keep the main thing the main thing. And the fact that Jesus is the One and only begotten Son of God is the main thing. And pretty much everything else is the small stuff!

Another Look at “Bounce Back” Days

bounce-back     Cancer treatment is an interesting thing. As you may remember, this has been my “off” week. No chemo since a week ago Wednesday. None scheduled until NEXT Wednesday. So, there IS the benefit of feeling better as you get farther away from chemo. It stands to reason. The infusions are hard on your body. So, the longer you go without them, the more (theoretically) you get that crud out of your system. Understandable.  

And that is predominantly the case. You have your ups and downs, but you start to feel better, stronger, more like yourself. It’s a good feeling. You know it’s temporary- the chemo WILL start back up. But you appreciate it while you can. 

But the other truth- ONE of the other truths- is that A. you’ve had a LOT of chemo and B. you STILL have cancer. And those realities lead to their own conclusions. And one of those is that, pretty consistently, Friday is a “bounce back” day. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not it’s a chemo week. Friday is a “not so strong, tired, need to rest” kind of day. And as I’ve analyzed that reality, I’ve decided that it’s the same basic reason that Monday is ALSO a “bounce back” day. Monday is a “bounce back” day because of Sunday- a challenging day all by itself. And Friday is a “bounce back” day because I have worked all week. Chemo. No chemo. Doesn’t seem to matter. I work on Mondays, even though it’s a “bounce back” day. And therefore, Monday’s nap is usually pretty intense. I don’t always succeed, but I also try and not schedule anything on Monday evenings.  

I consider all this and two words come to mind- two words that I have brought up SEVERAL times in this space, and those two words are New norm. There is this odd combination of constantly fighting the cancer AND the treatments and recognizing when you have to give in and make some concessions- daily naps being a good example. You fight as hard as you can. But you (hopefully) also learn when to pull back and make some adjustments.  

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!

There’s Cold…and then There’s COLD!

cold chicken     There is cold…and then there’s COLD! Today is the 25th of January. That means we are still 54 days away from the 1st day of Spring. 54 DAYS! Oh, goodness…when will it end?! (“Can’t you read? 54 days! Are you paying ANY attention to what you are writing?!”) I we DO live in northwestern Illinois. So, to complain TOO much about how cold it is seems perhaps a bit ingenuous. But OH. MY> GOODNESS! It is COLD! 

Where we live, we have lots of snow on the ground right now. I mean- lots. And the recent snows we have had have been rather dry snows. (I remember both of our boys, when they were kids, being confused by the notion of “dry snow”. I mean, snow is just frozen water. How can there be a dry snow? But us “sophisticated” adults know the difference!)  

Add to that fact we’ve had lots of strong winds lately. And THAT, my friend, is a recipe for drifting snow and low visibility- especially as you get outside of town and out into the farmland. But on top of all that, did I mention that it is cold?! I believe the meteorologists call this an “arctic blast”. As I write this, about 8:30PM Thursday night, the temperature is already down to 3 degrees above zero. BUT…at least it FEELS like –15 degrees…so we’ve got that going for us. By 6AM this morning- Friday- it is projected to be –8 degrees with a windchill of 35 below. (Did I mention that it’s cold?!)  

We had some prescriptions that needed to be picked up and we were trying to decide whether yesterday afternoon, today or tomorrow would be the best day to actually go to Wal-Mart to do that. Really, there was not GOING to be a “good” day to do it, and so we decided that yesterday after lunch would be as good a time as any. So, we bundled up, hooked the dogs to the sled and headed out. When we got there, the “French toast and toilet paper” runs had clearly begun. The Wal-Mart in our town is rarely terribly busy unless it’s almost Christmas. But for a Thursday in the middle if the day, the parking lot had a lot of cars in it. Along with the prescriptions, we picked up some milk and a few other things. (But no bread, eggs or toilet paper. So, we aren’t REALLY doing it right!)   

Thursday evening events at church had been cancelled. So, once we got home, we were “in” for the night. Nice feeling. Friday and Saturday are my days off, so we don’t plan on getting out much, if at all, over the next two days. Of course, I can’t stay home on Sunday! But NEXT week…oh my! Colder. Snow. Freezing rain. And all of that leading up to next Wednesday being potentially the worst day in two weeks. And Wednesday happens to be the day I am schedule to go back to chemo treatments- a 45-minute drive and a state away. It could be interesting! 

So, with all of that as a backdrop, I ask myself the question I ask myself every winter- WHY do I live in Illinois? And the answer? Fall and Spring, my friend. Fall and Spring! And so, we count down the 54 days until Spring has sprung, looking forward to temperature weather and the change of seasons as we tolerate what has bee, lately, a particularly NASTY winter!! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pull my blanket up a little higher and turn the little heater next to my chair on! 

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!