What Scares You?

fear-278x225What are you afraid of? Oh- I apologize to all my English teacher friends out there. What I MEANT to ask was, “Of what are you afraid?!” (Although I have an English teacher friend who turns that whole “not ending a sentence with a preposition” thing on its head when she…intentionally…asks, “What’s that about?!” I LOVE it!)

So…what scares you? (See what I did there?!) There are all sorts of fears out there. In fact, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 572 known phobias or fears. There are relatively common ones like:

Acrophobia – fear of heights.

Arithmophobia- Fear of numbers

There are more unusual ones like:

Arachi-butyro-phobia- Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth

Barophobia- Fear of gravity

Genuphobia- Fear of knees

Geniophobia- Fear of chins

No-ver-ca-phobia – fear of mother in laws (which I DON’T have!)

Hippopoto-monstros-equipped-alio-phobia- Fear of long words

And there are two I hope you don’t have:

Homilphobia – fear of sermons

Peladophobia – fear of bald people

There’s a common phobia that I think we all have in some area of our lives:

Tropophobia – the fear of making changes

A study I read in the New York Times said that the biggest fear of all, even above death, is:

Glossophobia- the fear of public speaking (I would be in SO much trouble if I had that!)

So, again- what scares you? I can honestly say that I’m not afraid of much. But I have an unnatural fear of…snakes. I was on a mission trip to the mountains of North Carolina once. We worked during the day and stayed at a very rustic camp at night. Early one evening, I was sitting in a picnic area, writing. The women’s cabin was just a few hundred feet from where I sat. All of a sudden, I heard a scream. I looked up to see one of the women who was a part of the mission trip dancing around and pointing. She saw me sitting nearby and yelled, “Mark!” I sat stock-still and relied, “Yes?” She yelled, “Snake!” I again sat stock-still and said, “Yes…it is.” She yelled, “Come and kill it!” As I went back to writing, I said, “No…I’m fine right here!”

Fear is inconvenient at best and paralytic at worst. It can absolutely cripple you- keep you from being able to live life fully…maybe at all. But God did NOT make us to be fearful.

2Timothy 1:7 says, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” And 1John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” When we surrender ourselves to God’s power and love, we can be released from the hold that fear has on us.

So…one last time- what scares you? Whatever it is- give it to God. Let it go and be confident that He can, and will, replace that fear with peace- a peace that passes all understanding.
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!

Ministry Is Messy

mudI have shared several times before that I am an alphabet soup of “disorders”. I was clinically diagnosed with ADD- Attention-Deficit Disorder, when I was in my 20’s. Nobody knew what ADD was when I was growing up…or I would have been diagnosed earlier! But as I read about it, suddenly LARGE portions of my life and who I am made sense! Several years later, I was talking about ADD and I said to my wife, “Well, at least I don’t have the ‘H’!” (As in “Hyperactivity” sandwiched between “Deficit” and “Disorder”.) My wife looked at me and said, “Oh, Honey…you have the H!” And she is SO right!

So, there’s ADHD. And then, at about the age of 40, I began to read about OCD- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. (If you ever watched the TV show Monk…there you go!) As I read more about it, it became clear to me that I have THAT as well! Now, there are degrees of OCD. The character of Monk did things that I don’t do. BUT…I do a decent amount of the things he did…I have just learned how to either hide them or present them in more socially acceptable ways!

One of the many ways that my OCD manifests itself is in my hands. I am obsessive…compulsive about my hands. If I do basically ANYTHING outside, I wear gloves. I do not like to get my hand dirty! So in that respect, the word “messy” can be more than a little challenge for me.

When I was in seminary, I had a professor who often told us, “You will come back to visit and tell me ALL the things I didn’t teach you about the ministry.” She was so right. She also said, “Ministry is messy.” And boy was she right about that, too!

When you do math- at least the math that I have had some educational training in- there IS a right answer- a bottom line. When you get to the end of the problem, you can usually plug the answer back into the equation you started with and check to see if you’re right or not. 2 +2 = 4. Predictable. Clean. Logical.

But ministry isn’t like that. Ministry is a WHOLE lot less “science” and a WHOLE lot more “art”. Sure, there are principles, tenets, beliefs, foundations. But lying on top of those is a hodge-podge of…life. It’s NOT predictable. It’s NOT simple. And…often…it’s NOT easy.

Why is that the case? Why is math predictable and clean while ministry is unpredictable and messy? It’s because math is built around numbers while ministry is built around…us humans. And if there is one thing that is predictable about humans is that we are unpredictable. Someone can do the SAME thing 50 times. And then, on the 51st time they will do something completely out of the blue. It may be that the first 50 times they did it “wrong” and the 51st time is suddenly…right. Then again, it may be that the first 50 were perfect and 51 makes you wonder if they have ever done it before!

Therefore, as a pastor, you have to hold fast to bedrock. And you better know WHAT bedrock IS for you. But you also have to be willing to sway in the wind sometimes, knowing that, although you may get buffeted around a bit, you still have a firm grasp to that foundation.

For me, “bedrock” can be summed up with the words of United Methodist founder John Wesley. He said 1. Do no harm, 2. Do good and 3. Love God. If you can’t do ANYTHING else- make sure you don’t put anybody in a position to be hurt. But don’t stop there. START there…but don’t stop there. Next, do good. It’s not enough to do no harm. Do all the good you can in all the places you can. Oh, and by the way…LOVE GOD! The more you do #3, the more #1 and #2 will fall into place. Now, if you’ll excuse me- I have to go wash my hands!
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!


changeThere are some interesting dynamics that accompany a growing church. One of those dynamics is how you address visitors. First- there is the ubiquitous “would anyone visiting today please stand”. When I was new to the whole church thing, I thought that was how it worked. Why? Because that’s the model I saw. Someone stood up front and asked visitors to stand and be recognized.

It wasn’t until some time had passed that I began to understand that might NOT be the best approach. I mean, put yourself in their shoes. You finally get up the courage to visit a church for the first time. (And if you haven’t been in that scenario, it can take a pretty decent amount of courage!) You come in the door. You don’t know what to do or where to go. And in many churches, there isn’t much that will help.

Churches tend to have this unintentional “everybody knows everything” mentality. You know- “I know where the bathrooms are and what time the service starts, so everybody must know. I know what words like Narthex, Benediction and Eucharist mean…so everybody must know. I know when to sit and when to stand…so everybody must know.” And as I said, I have no thought that churches do that on purpose. It’s just human nature.

So, back to those new people- they come in, wander around and manage to find the sanctuary. The next problem is, “Where do I sit?” If you’ve ever been in a church…EVER…you know that spots in the pew are sacred. You run the risk of sitting in someone’s spot. And if you do, they might be gracious and find somewhere else to sit. But they might explain to you that they have occupied that particular seat for 47 years and they are NOT about to move now! (Don’t laugh- I’ve actually heard that…more than once!)

So, they find a seat and the worship service begins. They muddle through the opening as best they can, trying to keep up and not stand out. Not. Stand. Out. And then, usually during Announcement Time, someone is apt to say, “Do we have any visitors with us today? If so, please stand.”

Now, again, that is truly the most well-intentioned thing in the world. The church DOESN’T have as their goal to embarrass the person. Instead, they are delighted to have a visitor and want to make special mention of it. That’s the GOAL. But the reality is that, more often than not, either the visitor doesn’t stand because they feel too uncomfortable OR they DO stand..and feel uncomfortable!

We have “Welcome Bags” for visitors. We labored over what it should look like and what it should include. I was against a coffee mug with the church logo on it- I have a BOX of coffee mugs that have been given to me…somewhere. We wanted something that folks would be apt to A. keep and B. use. So we went with one of those reusable shopping bags. It’s the full-sized model- black with red lettering that includes the name of the church, the phone number, the web address and our “slogan”. (We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ.)

Inside, there is a clear plastic sleeve with three brochures: one on Worship and Spiritual Growth Opportunities, one on Youth and Children’s Ministries and one on Mission and Outreach opportunities. There is also two Prayer Stones, along with a slip of paper that explains that ministry. There is my business card, with a Post-It note attached that simply says, “Welcome! Rev. Mark” There is a fresh loaf of bread from our Bakery Ministry and a plate of fresh-baked cookies from our Caring Hearts Ministry.

The Church needs to make sure that we are willing to adapt to the times. Our message should be rock-solid and unchanging. But the delivery method for that message should be as flexible as possible, so that it has the ability to reach as many people as possible. Have I mentioned? I LOVE what I do!
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!

Who Is Welcome?

welcome matSo, what is the role of the church? What IS it that churches are supposed to be doing? I mean, there are some obvious (I hope!) answers to that question. Worship. Sunday School. Bible studies. Youth groups. Food. Those would (I assume) be at or near the top of list for most people when asked that question.

But what else? What SHOULD churches be doing in and with the community? And what SHOULDN’T they be doing? To quote Willy Shakespeare…THAT is the question!

The reason I ask is that the church I currently serve tends to do a lot of things that are not necessarily things that many churches are doing on a regular basis. And that fact, all by itself, makes me ask, “What is the role of the church?”

Let me give you some examples. We host, every year, the preschool screening event that the school district sponsors. For a two-day period, a part of our building…a pretty decent part of our building…is filled with people, coming and going, as kids are tested and screened in anticipation of preschool.

Every year, we host an event that is a wellness check for the employees of the county. It lasts all day and dozens of county employees are in and out of the building, having a variety of screening tests.

Our United Methodist Men have hosted free PSA screenings. Any and all men, 40 and over, were welcome to come and have a free, simple blood test that is a screening for potential PSA-related issues.

The Girl Scouts are in the building every week. The local Relay For Life team regularly meets in the building. Other groups in the community periodically use our space for meetings, events and dinners. There is almost never a week when some group not directly associated with the church uses the building for their gathering or event.

I have known churches that frown on that approach. “They’ll mess things up. They’ll break things. We have to pay to heat/cool the building for THEM?” The list goes on. An in the end, every church has to decide what works for them. But I am personally delighted to serve a church that sees outreach to the community as an important part of who we are.

My thought is this- how can I, in one breath, tell a group they aren’t welcome and then, in the next breath, invite individual members of that very same group to come to worship? That is an incredibly mixed message. Do I ask groups to clean up after themselves? Yep. Do I give them the option of paying for our custodian to clean up after them if they choose not to clean? Uh huh. Do I give them some helpful input on building usage? Sure. But do I see inviting the community into our building…God’s building…as an income center? Nope!
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!

The Quarter Ministry

quarter-300x295A quarter. 25 cents. 2 bits. Call it what you want- it doesn’t have the buying power it once had. When I was a kid, penny candy was..well…a penny! So, tax included, I could get somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 pieces of candy for a quarter. 23 pieces! If you’re a kid, especially one who grew up when I did- walking uphill both ways to school, 4 miles one way, in the snow…year-round…with cardboard for shoes (Although, as I got older, we moved up in the world- I got to ride my dinosaur to school!) 23 pieces of candy is pretty sweet! In fact, the only thing better than 23 pieces of candy would be…24 pieces!

But these days, a quarter just doesn’t have the same UMPH it used to. You can’t buy much for a quarter. Candy bars are over a buck. A pack of gum is not much UNDER a buck…or more. Even the machines that sit at the entrance to the local grocery store, more and more, want not one but two quarters in order to get…whatever “treasure” is inside. It takes several of them…SEVERAL…to wash your car at the self-wash and several more to vacuum it out afterwards. Back in the day, many people wouldn’t stop to pick up a penny on the sidewalk. Now, fewer and fewer people would stop to get a quarter. So what good are quarters these days?

My wife and I have figured out that a quarter can fund a ministry that can be like the Jelly of the Month Club from the movie Christmas Vacation- the gift that keeps on giving! We frequent the discount grocery store Aldi. And if you’re not familiar with Aldi…you should be! But one of the ways they hold down costs is that they have a small labor force. They don’t have anybody who goes out into the parking lot, gathers carts and puts them back. Instead, they motivate their customers to do it!

When you get there, you need…a quarter. You stick the quarter in a slot on the cart. That releases a chain that locks your cart to the one behind it. Voila! You have a cart to use! When you’re done, you run the cart back and get your quarter back! (When our younger son was little, he LOVED putting the cart back because he got to keep the quarter!)

But we don’t retrieve our quarter. Oh, we put one IN…usually. But we don’t get one back. Instead, we have joined a growing number of folks who have turned that whole venture into a “pay it forward” ministry.

Here’s a common scenario for us. We get to the store. We walk toward the cart rack and encounter someone taking their cart back. “Are you putting that back?” He smiles and says, “Here you go!” As we start to give him a quarter, he shakes his head and says, “No- just pass it on to the next person! That’s how I got it!”

Our first instinct is to say, “Hey! That’s OUR line!” But instead, we smile and say, “Thanks! We will pass it on! Have a great day!” We talk about him off and on as we traverse the store. And then, when we’re done, we take our cart to the car to unload it. Once all the groceries are in the car, my wife goes to put the cart away. (And before you give me grief about not doing it FOR her, A. I offer…EVERY time and B. she wants the extra steps!) She doesn’t get 10 steps away from the car before someone comes up. My wife hands the cart over to her, refuses her quarter and encourages her to pass it on. And…we leave!

In the end, do we change any lives at the Aldi? Nope! But we do participate, in a TINY way, in showing the love of Christ to people. Someone showed it to us. Someone showed it to them. We showed it to someone else. Hopefully they pay it forward, too. Find ways, every day, to share the love of Jesus Christ with those you come in contact with.
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!

Holy Spirit- “Talk LESS!”

Holy Spirit 2There is a certain breed of preacher who is famous for NOT writing a sermon, “winging” it on Sunday and chalking it up to “I just let the Holy Spirit lead me”! Now, don’t misunderstand- there is a HUGE need for preachers…and everybody else…to let the Holy Spirit lead them. But as an old friend of mine says, the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t to excuse you from doing your part!

The other thing I notice about the work of the Holy Spirit is that, apparently, He NEVER tells people to talk LESS! Do you know what I mean? I had a “guest preacher” come in once. I told her that we had 3 morning services. I told her how each service would go. I ASKED her in advance how much time she wanted to preach. Her response was, “Just tell me how long I have and that’s what I’ll do”. I told her that she had about 18 minutes. I also impressed upon her the need for the services to get done close to “on time”- with three different services shoehorned into a 3½ hour window, timing was somewhat important.

The first service that day…she preached for 41 minutes. I had to cut everything that was left in the service except the offering (You CAN’T cut the offering- we have bills to pay!) I talked to her about it between the first and second services. She apologized and said she would change her time. She did. The second service sermon was…43 minutes! In the end, I cut MUCH of all three services AND we were a full hour behind by the end of the morning!

Like I said- I have NEVER heard a preacher say, “The Holy Spirit told me to be brief!” Nope. The Holy Spirit, if experience is any indication, is solely in the business of telling folks to talk and talk and talk…and talk!

Why do I say all of this? My experience is that if I make NO plans at all and simply rely on the work of the Holy Spirit, things will probably not go very well. Is that because the Holy Spirit is unreliable? NO! It’s because we are painfully human! And so, the staff spends time EVERY week talking and walking through the nuts and bolts of what’s going to happen on Sunday.

I have had people tell me in the past, “That makes things too rehearsed- like doing a play.” And while I appreciate that sentiment- I don’t agree. Having a Master’s Degree in Theology and a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater, I have some unusual insight into the point at which they intersect.

When you rehearse a play, the goal is to learn the material and the setting so well that it becomes second nature. Then, when it’s time to present, two things are true: 1. you approach each performance as if it were your first- that’s what makes it “fresh” for the audience and 2. the reason you want it to be second nature is that, when the unexpected happens…and it will…you’re not shaken by it because you know what you’re doing.

My approach is to work HARD ahead of time so that worship feels natural and spontaneous. And when that unexpected thing happens, you’re ready for it because you have done your homework ahead of time. Have we worked out all the “kinks” for that service? Oh…probably not! But will we be MUCH more prepared to handle what comes up in the midst of a WIDE variety of intangibles because A. we have done our work ahead of time and B. we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit? You betcha!
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!

The Nails: The Invitation

The Nails Week 3     I have shared before that my mom was what I might call a Master Gardener. She was rarely happier than when she was working in the dirt, tending the garden and cultivating food for the family. She LOVED it. And her goal seemed to be to try and raise basically every vegetable and fruit you could raise. Short of the tropical fruits you simply can’t grown in the Midwest, we raised it ALL!

And she didn’t just have a huge garden and orchard. She also paid attention to the aesthetic as well. That led, among other things, to having a hedge of lilac bushes that bordered the front of the garden, forming a beautiful barrier at the right time of year. She loved that lilac hedge. And every year she would trim it back in anticipation of the next growing season.

But there was ONE year that stands out. We were doing the “Fall prep” in the garden area- getting everything ready for the cold, snowy winter ahead. She had me start pruning that lilac hedge. Well, I had seen her prune it before so I thought I knew what to do. But that year, she just kept having me prune it back more and more. I DID- because if Mom said so, you did it! But by the time it was done to her satisfaction, it had been, by my estimation, butchered! I suggested that, just perhaps, we had gone too far and killed it! She assured me that, while it needed pruning every year, occasionally you had to prune it WAY back, to get the deadwood out. I was more than a little skeptical.

But, when Spring came, that lilac hedge took off like a rocket. And before you knew it, the hedge was 6’ tall! It was full, healthy and produced tons of beautiful blooms that year! I was amazed!

Lent is the season of the church calendar leading up to Easter. It begins the Sunday AFTER Ash Wednesday and it is a 7-week period of preparation. Today, we continue our current sermon series that leads us to Easter morning. We started in a rather unorthodox place…Christmas. And from the full manger of the first Christmas morning, we said we would walk all the way to the empty tomb of the first Easter. And along the way, we would always keep the image of “the nails” in front of us- reminding us that it was never the nails that held Jesus to the cross- it was His love for us all along.

John 15:1-4 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

     So, let’s look at this passage. Along with those lilacs, we raised just about every conceivable vegetable and fruit, including grapes. And it you’ve ever raised grapes, you know how important it is to to keep the true vine intact. But you also know how important it is to prune the vines. If you DON’T prune them, they spend all their energy trying to leaf out vine that is NOT going to produce grapes. So, at the right time of the year, you cut the grape vines back so they will be healthy and productive during the next growing season.

Here, Jesus continues to use what are called agrarian images- farming illustrations. Why? Because they made sense to His listeners. And to many of us, growing up in the heartland of America, they resonate as well. So, He talks about the branches that DON’T bear are cut away so that the branches that DO bear will have a better shot at doing just that- bearing more fruit.

And then He says something very interesting- we are clean because of the word that He has spoken to us. Two things are implied here: 1. He has spoken directly to each of us, telling us who we are, Whose we are and what He is calling us to do in His name and 2. We are clean because of that interaction. He speaks to us and we are made clean and given a purpose.

And then comes the invitation pointed to in the title of today’s message. Abide in Me and I will abide in you. I fully believe that Jesus abides…lives…within each of us. We chosen to either acknowledge that fact and reciprocate or not. But I think His spark is inside each of us, even if we don’t realize it or don’t want to acknowledge it.

To drive His point home, He goes back to His farming image. Just like a branch can’t produce fruit unless it is connected to the vine, we can’t bear fruit unless we are connected to Him. And as I intimated earlier, I believe that He dwells within each of us, whether we realize or acknowledge it. We have someone close to us who is Jewish by birth and heritage and yet is NOT, by their own admission, a “religious person”. But I would argue that this person is one of THE most “Christian” people I have ever met. Kind, gentle, loving, would do anything for anyone- all traits that reflect Jesus abiding within you!

Do you realize, recognize and acknowledge that Jesus lives within in you and you in Him? What fruit are you producing? Are you producing the fruit that He wants you to produce? Or, are you instead stubbornly clinging to some sense that you know what’s best- insistent on trying to produce YOUR fruit instead of His? Because, in the end, I firmly believe that we are all trying to produce fruit. The question is simple- WHOSE?

Ultimately, God is not calling you to focus on the fruit of the world. Climbing the ladder, getting ahead in the corporate world, making more money, earning more titles- this is not the “kingdom fruit” He ultimately calls us to. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with getting a promotion or a raise. It’s what your motivation was in seeking it and what you do WITH it that matters. Again, what fruit- “kingdom fruit”- are you bearing for Jesus? Look around. This church is bearing MUCH fruit. People outside the church- shoot, those of us INSIDE the church, for that matter- look at what has been accomplished over the past, let’s say 1½ years, and marvel at how it’s even been possible. People out in the community and beyond say things like, “How are you DOING that?!” or “We could NEVER do that!” I don’t know about YOU, but my response is consistent- “we” AREN’T doing it- God is. We are simply fortunate to be along for the ride. We have the extreme joy of being His hands and feet, His eyes and ears in this time and place. We are playing a small part in producing powerful “kingdom fruit” and I, for one, am jazzed just to be “on the show”!