The Pastor Appreciation Gift That Keeps on Giving

autostart     October is Pastor Appreciation Month. (“Yeah- and this is February! What’s your point?!”) The church historically collects money as a gift to the pastor’s family in October. We A. are always grateful and B. try to use it for something that benefits the whole family. Well, this past October, my wife suggested an auto-start for the car. She, smart woman that she is, thought ahead to the winter, which has proven to be NASTY, thought about how cold the car is, even sitting in the garage, thought about How cold I get these days, and thought that would be a good idea.  

      She brought it up, we talked about, both agreed that was a great idea and planned accordingly. I checked around the Quad Cities, the closest place to where we live to get those kinds of things done, and found a place on the Iowa side of the river that came with a good reputation, good ratings and a relatively decent price.  

     I made an appointment for the day after Thanksgiving. It was, sadly, not a “take it and wait while they install it” kind of event, so our sons (who were both home that weekend) followed us so the place. We dropped the van off, headed back into Illinois, drove to a rather remote location where we picked out and cut down our Christmas tree (since both boys were home) and then went home. Later in the day, the place called and said it was done. We all drove back, picked up the van and went back home.  

     Man, has that auto-start proven to be a godsend. About 10-15 minutes before we are going to leave the house, we hit the remote we keep inside to open the garage. We then use the auto-start remote to start the car. Then, when we are ready to go, the car is nice and warm the second we get in. (The trick is this- you have to make sure you leave everything turned “up” before you shut the car off or it won’t warm up next time!) 

     Then, on the other side of the coin, when we are, say, getting ready to come home from chemo treatment, my wife will start the car from inside the building, a few minutes before we are going to leave. Here’s the beauty part- even though the car is running, it is fully locked. And even if you were to somehow get in the car anyway, you need the key. Without it, as soon as you try to put your foot on the brake and/or put the car in gear, it will automatically shut off. There are great fail-safes built in. 

     The other thing that is amazing about the system is that it can start the car from…ready?…more than ½ mile away! Through several walls of a building, I’m sure that distance drops. But you can be in a building, back in a part that is away from the exterior, and still start the car. It has an incredible range!  

     As I said, it has truly been a godsend for us this winter. When you are cold all the time and have basically no immune system left, walking 15 feet from the front door of the chemo center to the car (Thank you, handicapped parking permit and a wife who is sweet enough to go get the car and pull up by the entrance!) and getting into a nice, warm vehicle is SUCH a gift! And EVERY time we use it, we smile and say, “Thank you, church family!” It is truly a blessing to serve here! 

           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! 

Random Thoughts on the United Methodist General Conference Special Session

General+Conference+Special+Session+2019+GC19     The Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church is over. General Conference is a “once every 4 years” meeting of elected clergy and lay delegates representing (at some level) every United Methodist congregation on the planet. Yep- global. This was a special “mid-term” session, scheduled specifically to address issues of human sexuality. They met in St. Louis from Saturday through yesterday. (If you want more details, I would suggest you Google “United Methodist General Conference Special Session 2019- you’ll find more than you want to find.) 

     I have already had people contact me sharing that they are mad and sad- “heartbroken” has been a commonly-used word. I get that. I’m heartbroken, too. But I have BEEN heartbroken over this topic in general and this then-pending Conference for quite some time. And here’s why. 

     Basically, the SECOND that it was announced that there would be this Special Session, my heart was broken. Why? Because I was deeply saddened by how quickly United Methodists- clergy and laity alike- were quick to “choose sides” and draw a line in the sand. Factions formed on either side of that line- each “picking a side” to support. Informational meetings, rallies and luncheons were held, each giving one side or the other a chance to try and curry support and further their collective cause. People from both sides tried to recruit others to join them. (At one point, I felt like I was once again a college freshman, experiencing Fraternity Rush all over again.) All along the way, I politely declined to attend ANY of it, instead keeping one foot on either side of that hard line and trying to stay “Switzerland”.  

      And all along the way, everybody opined the nearly inevitable split that would happen as a result of this Conference. Well, when the leaders of the church draw hard lines and form groups- take sides- what is the average Joe Methodist in the pew left to understand and believe?  

     My heart breaks for a denomination (that I love) and as society who create an environment where this is the inevitable outcome of disagreement and rational, prayerful discourse. My heart breaks over the fact that we struggle so mightily to live under our self-proclaimed banner of “Open hearts, open minds, open doors”. My. Heart. Breaks. 

     Here’s what I know- yesterday, BEFORE the final vote, I got up, went to work and tried my best to lead the congregation to which we have been appointed with a mantra of “love God, love neighbor, all are welcome”. Today, AFTER the final vote, I got up, went to work…with the VERY same agenda. I am called to uphold the Book of Discipline. I am called to PREACH the Gospel. And both say, “love God, love neighbor, all are welcome.”  

     One final random thought- if the vote ended up not being what you hoped for…I am so sorry. I know you are mad, sad, heartbroken. I WON’T say, “I know how you feel”, because I couldn’t possibly know that. But I can empathize. On the other hand, if the vote was EXACTLY what you hoped for- don’t gloat. Gloating is both ugly and decidedly un-Christian. Gloating denotes winning. And frankly, nobody won anything yesterday. And that would have been true regardless of how the vote turned out. This was never destined to be a “win-lose” proposition, but a “lose-lose”. Everybody was destined to lose on this outcome, regardless. Some would just lose more than 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! 

People in Our Path

Sad-older-manI was at a hospital one day, visiting a parishioner. I parked across the street and walked over to the building. As I got near, I noticed a guy sitting on the curb outside the hospital. He seems to be messing with a brace he had on his leg. As I watched, a person walked by him and he held his hand out to them. They barely glanced his way and kept right on walking. I kept watching him as I got closer- he was definitely adjusting the leg brace. When I was almost right on him, he held out his hand to me. I looked at him and said, ”Do you need a hand getting up?” “Yep”, came the reply. So I stopped, grabbed his hand and helped him up. “I had to adjust my brace, and once I’m down, it’s hard to get back up!” I asked him if he needed any help getting in the hospital. He assured me he didn’t, so I went on in and headed to the information desk.
I had to wait there a few minutes until the person ahead of me was done. Then I asked for, and got, the room number I needed and headed for the elevator. I was standing in the elevator, waiting for the door to close, when a hospital employee pushed a wheelchair on. Sitting in the wheelchair was…the guy from outside the hospital. I said to him, “I know you!” He sort of grunted. (I get that a lot!) I got off at a different floor, wishing him a good day, and went to visit my parishioner.
When I was done visiting, I headed back to the elevator. As I waited for the door to shut, a different hospital employee pushed a wheelchair on. In it? The SAME guy! I said, “We have to stop meeting like this!” He again grunted! We both got off at the 1st floor, and I headed to the restroom. After I…finished…I left the hospital and walked back across the street to my car. I got in and drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, which was right down the street, for a cup of coffee. (It’s my favorite coffee in the world!) After getting my cup o’ joe, I pulled back out onto the main road and headed for home. I only drove a block or 2 before I was stopped by a red light. I came to a complete stop and looked over at the car that pulled up next to me. In the driver’s seat? The SAME guy!! It was getting creepy- everywhere I turned, I ran into ‘that guy”. I was almost a bit relieved when I finally stopped seeing him.
I think God puts people in our paths for a reason. Sometimes He puts them there because they are someone we have unfinished business with or someone we don’t like. (He seems to do that to me ALL the time! I seem to often find people in my path that I don’t enjoy being around. He is definitely trying to teach me something!) Sometimes He puts folks in our path because they have something to teach us. Sometimes it’s because we have something to teach them. It can be any number of reasons, but it happens all the time.
Who are you supposed to impact today? Who will you see today that is supposed to impact you? watch for it. Don’t miss it. Embrace it. You will walk away from it with an insight you didn’t have coming in!
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!

Sunday Miracles

Miracles       One of the most.interesting…days of the week these days is Sunday. Let me start of by saying this- I LOVE worship. I love planning it. I love leading it, I love participating in it. We do 3 Sunday morning worship services every week. (We have now served 3 churches and, by the time we left them, each of those three churches had/has 3 morning services. I see a pattern!) And I often say, “The only thing better than doing 3 services would if we did 4!” I just don’t have a gear for the church not to grow, spiritually AND numerically. And one way to enable the church to grow numerically is to add worship services. So, we do 3- 8AM, 9:15AM and 10:30AM! 

Since my cancer diagnosis and the start of chemo and radiation, an interesting dynamic has started and continued on Sundays. For years, I have gotten up at 5AM on Sundays. But pre-cancer, I could just get up and go, like the Energizer Bunny. Since the diagnosis, that Bunny has had what we might refer to as an energy zap!  

Now, my alarm goes off at 5AM. I turn it off and, before my feet even hit the floor…BEFORE…I find myself already thinking, “I can hardly WAIT for lunch, because as soon as lunch is over…I can take a nap!” Again, BEFORE my feet hit the floor! 

This does NOT mean that I enjoy worship any less or don’t want to be at church. It simply speaks to the nearly overwhelming fatigue that accompanies cancer and chemo treatments. And so, I pray. I pray EVERY Sunday, again, before my feet even hit the floor, that God would give the strength to get through the morning. Some Sundays, I don’t feel too bad and some…crud on a cracker! But either way, I get up, get ready and head next door. And this unusual thing happens. As I get ready, God helps me “pump up the volume”. Don’t misunderstand- I still sit a LOT more than I ever have in worship, just to conserve energy. But I can FEEL the extra boost coming and staying.  

The opening video (8AM and 9:15AM) or the piano/organ prelude (10:30AM) starts and suddenly, my body is saying, “Bring it on!” And for the next 3½ hours, I play somewhere in the neighborhood of 11-12 songs on the drums. I serve Communion at least once every Sunday. I baptize. I bring in new members. I preach 3 times. I help lead prayer time. And then, 11;30AM comes. Sunday worship is done. And as quickly as that energy was “zapped” into me…it’s gone. I struggle to get to the back of the sanctuary to pick up my iPod used for background Communion music at our Rock and Worship service) from the sound booth and look at the attendance card for the morning. Then it’s back to the front pew to IMMEDIATELY sit down, greet people who come by and wait for my wife as she chats with folks. We “sneak” out a side door of the sanctuary, I navigate the steps that are right there like I am 90 years old, slip on my “winter gear” and slowly dodder home, up the handicapped accessible ramp because the stairs are just…hard…and into the house. We eat lunch and I go to bed! (Except right now, I am co-teaching Confirmation right after lunch, so the nap has to wait until about 2:30PM.)  

There are weeks that, as I prepare for worship Sunday morning, I have serious doubts I am going to make it. But God always give me what I need to get through and then my body says, “Thanks God! I’m out of gas now but I greatly appreciate the extra, high-octane boost!” And I truly believe that it is because of that I have only missed one…count them, ONE…Sunday in the 21 months since the diagnosis BECAUSE of the cancer. And that one was the week we GOT the diagnosis and I didn’t miss Sunday because I couldn’t make it physically. I missed it because we were so overwhelmed by the diagnosis! 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! 

5 Di.N.T.S.: DON’T Pray in Public!

5 Dints Logo Week 4     The substitute Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination but couldn’t quite remember it. Finally, she went to the pastor’s study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers, he paused and looked serenely heavenward. His lips moved silently. Then, he looked back at the lock, quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed. “I’m in awe at your faith in prayer, pastor,” she said. “It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The lock combination is written on a piece of paper that is taped to the ceiling.” 

Today, we continue our Sunday service- 5 Difficult New Testament Stories. We are looking at 5 stories from the New Testament that are hard to wrap your head around. The first week, we started with a doozy- God condemns angels to eternity…in Hades! Week 2, Jesus died and went to Hades to preach to those in bondage. Last week, we stayed right here on Earth as we watched Jesus throw a temper tantrum…at a fig tree! And today, Week 4, we are a fly on the wall as we listen to Jesus tell the people to NOT pray out loud. 

To give you some background to this passage, it falls in the middle of a rather long discourse from Jesus. From the beginning of Chapter 5 all the way to the end of Chapter 7, Jesus teaches the people who have gathered. The beginning of that discourse is arguably the most famous sermon ever preached- The Beatitudes. After that section, He went through a variety of topics- salt and light, murder, adultery, divorce, swearing oaths, being kind to others, loving your enemies and giving to those in need. Then He gets to the topic of prayer. And that’s where we pick up today’s Scripture. 

Matthew 6:5-8- And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  

The first thing to notice about this passage is the assumption Jesus makes right up front. He doesn’t say, “IF you pray…” He says, “WHEN you pray…” So there is no effort spent on trying to explain to them the importance of prayer- they already know that. So, “WHEN you pray…don’t do it like the hypocrites.” You know how much I love words. Well, the Greek word for hypocrite is hupokrites, which literally translates to…actor! The stage is set, if you will pardon the pun. Jesus is making a distinction between actually praying…and only acting like you are! 

Question #1- “What’s the difference between praying and acting like you are?” 

Prayer had an extremely prominent place in Jewish life and was the impetus for countless rabbinic decisions. In Jewish synagogue worship, someone from the congregation would be asked to pray publicly, standing in front of the Ark of the Covenant. At other times, prayers would be offered while standing in the streets. But in the end, the location wasn’t the critical factor. The standing posture also wasn’t terribly significant. In the Old Testament, people pray prostrate, kneeling and sitting, along with standing. In the end, it was the motive that was crucial. And their motive, often, was to be seen. 

So what is Jesus saying here? It seems, at least on the surface, that He is clearly offering up a Nancy Reagan-esque “just say no” to public prayer. Right? Not so fast, there, Skippy. If Jesus was actually forbidding all public prayer, then clearly the early church didn’t get that. They prayed in public all the time. So did they simply miss the boat, or is Jesus saying something else here? 

As I said a minute ago, motive was crucial. And public prayer versus private prayer is a good test of our motives. The person who prays more in public than in private lets slip that perhaps they’re more interested in human praise than in God’s approval. It’s not holiness per se that motivates them…but a REPUTATION for holiness that’s their concern.  

In the end, Jesus isn’t condemning prayer here anymore than He’s condemning giving or fasting. He’s also not saying no to all long prayers and all repetition. Jesus Himself was known to pray at length. He also occasionally repeated Himself in prayer. Jesus’ point here is that we should avoid meaningless, repetitive prayers offered solely under the misconception that mere length makes prayers effective. Jesus was telling His followers that they were not to make a show of their praying, in contrast to “the hypocrites”. 

Question #2- “How do we pray genuine, heartfelt prayers?” 

Simply by keeping ourselves firmly in the love of God. If the love of God is in you, you won’t pray hypocritical or selfish prayers. Just talk to God candidly and intimately, as if you were a kid sitting on Dad’s lap. How would you feel if, every day, your kid or grandkid pulled out a pre-written statement and began to read- dryly reciting things to you instead of just pouring out, from the heart, the events and emotions of that day? God wants to hear from your heart. When your prayer-life is pleasing to God, He will reward you openly. 

My Internal Thermostat

thermostat-heat-no-aux      I have shared before in this space that my “internal thermostat” just isn’t what it used to be! For my whole life, I have been a warm-blooded creature. I would sweat at the drop of a hat. I would walk around the house in the dead winter in shorts and a t-shirt. I had NO problem staying warm. Instead, I struggled to be cool enough most days.  

But as this whole “cancer/chemo/radiation” thing has unfolded over the past 21 months, that has ALL changed! I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the house in shorts and a t-shirt this winter. Instead, I am ALWAYS either fully dressed, including shoes, or dressed like I am as I write this- sweat pants, t-shirt, long-sleeved t-shirt, zip-up hoodie, slippers and a stocking cap! I am barely recognizable as the same person! 

I am currently sleeping in a reclining electric lift chair. I switch back and forth between that chair and the bed, depending on how I feel and how I am sleeping. Right now, I am sleeping better in the chair than the bed, so…! (Can’t really explain WHY- just know it when I feel it!) The night before last, I was absolutely exhausted by 9AM, so I went to bed…er…chair! I got into my sweats and such, turned on the stand heater I have near the chair, got under the covers and went to sleep almost immediately.  

I was SO tired that I barely moved a muscle all night. At 5:20AM, I woke up…freezing! I had managed to get my arms, shoulders and chest out from under the covers sometime in the night. But, because I was so tired, I didn’t wake up! I immediately got covered back up completely. But because that much of my body had been “exposed” for…however long it had been exposed, it took a bit to get comfortable again!  

I had no idea, coming in, A. how hard this particular winter was going to be and B. how hard on me particularly the consistently low temperatures and high snowfall would be on me. I don’t think I have EVER had a winter I was more ready to be over than the winter of 2018/2019! Amazingly, we are now only 2 weeks away from the start of Daylight Savings Time. Now, while that doesn’t guarantee warmer weather by any means, it IS another step toward Spring. So, while I tend to MUCH prefer the extra hour of “fall back”, THIS year I say, “Bring ‘spring forward’ on! I’m ready!” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to wrap today’s blog up so I can get my hands back under my blanket!! 

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! 

Steve From Wichita

tech-support-planI have a new name. It is NOT a name that was given to me. It is, instead, a name I have given myself. And that name is- Steve from Wichita! I am considering getting business cards printed up, put out a shingle (as they say), start a cottage industry!

Let me say up front- I am an amateur when it comes to tech. I have ABSOLUTELY no training or education in the subject. So take that into consideration here! But there is an old saying- “even a sparrow appears as an eagle when there are no other birds”! So…Steve from Wichita!

The truth is that I have a great interest in “tech”. It intrigues me. It fascinates me. I want to know more about it. And so- I read. “Back in the day”, the Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Publisher, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) was made available to me. BUT- I didn’t know how to use it. So I read. And I experimented. And I fumbled. And…I figured it out.

I wanted to start a blog and had no idea how. So…I read about it. I then began to muddle through how to make it happen. And I got it off the ground. Then, somewhere along the way, I had the idea of turning it into a full website. Again, no idea how. Again, read, muddle, fumble, trial and error.

And somewhere along the way- it started to sink in. There is still a TON I don’t know. But it amazed me on a daily basis how far I have come in my understanding of technology. Computers, cell phones, tablets, wifi, Bluetooth, websites, blogs, green screen technology, video production- not that many years ago I knew nothing about them and now, they are a part of my everyday existence.

So what’s the moral of this story? It’s this- don’t let anything stand in the way of what you want, of what God is calling you to do. If He has a plan for you, He WILL give you what you need to make it happen. The saying is this- “God doesn’t call the equipped- He equips the called”. You and I- we ARE the called. And since we ARE called, He WILL equip us with whatever we need to carry out that to which He calls us. Don’t look at what’s ahead and say, “Why?” Instead, look ahead and say, “Why NOT?”
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!