The Holly Spirit Is…Encourager

The Holy Spirit Is Encourager    Attending a wedding for the first time, a little girl looked at the bride and groom and then whispered to her mother, “Why is the girl dressed all in white?” The mother replied, ‘Because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life.’ The child thought about this for a moment then said, “So why is the boy dressed all in black?” 

     The Trinity- Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a tough topic. First off, the word “Trinity” doesn’t even appear in the Bible. You have to dig for the overall concept. We are told that God the Father sent Jesus the Son. We are told that Jesus is not only the Son but He IS God in human form. And then, there is the Holy Spirit.  

     After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving behind His Holy Spirit as God’s agent on Earth. Let me repeat that- the Holy Spirit is God’s agent on Earth. Over the next few weeks, we’ll dig deeper into exactly Who the Holy Spirit is. Each week, we’ll focus on one word- a name that describes the Holy Spirit. Last week, we talked about the fact that the Holy Spirit is the Author. Today, we consider the next word that describes the Holy Spirit– Encourager.  

    John 15:26-27 I will send a Helper to you from the Father. He is the Spirit of truth, who comes out from the Father. When the Friend comes to help you, he will give witness about me. You also must give witness. This is because you have been with me from the beginning. 

    Encouragement can have a profound effect. Jesus said, “I will send a Helper…” That word…”helper”…comes from the Greek word “parakletos”, which literally translates to “one called to the side of another”. Perhaps the English word that best captures it is “encourager”…The Paraclete. 

The Paraclete…The Encourager… is another name for the Holy Spirit. When Jesus rose up to Heaven after the Resurrection, the disciples were stressed out because they were losing His steady, comforting presence. But He promised to leave One behind…The Spirit…to comfort, console, guide and encourage those who belong to Jesus. The Holy Spirit was sent to comfort us, to bear witness to the fact that we belong to Him. 

     Do you ever feel, instead than ENcouragedDIScouraged? Of course you do…you’re human. We ALL feel discouraged at times. But Jesus said that the One He sent, the Holy Spirit…The Paraclete…is the Spirit of truth. He doesn’t discourage God’s people. Never. He is the ENcourager, not the DIScourager. So if there’s a strong sense of discouragement in your life right now, it doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit. Then where does it come from? Well, if the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, then the devil is the father of lies. Satan is a liar and intentionally TRIES to discourage us by filling our heads…our lives…with lies. “You’re not good enough.” “Nobody loves you.” “You’re a failure.” And the worst, “God doesn’t love you.”  

     And when that happens, we tend to find ourselves in a state of spiritual confusion- “Is it the Holy Spirit talking to me…or is it the devil?” We get confused, lost, and we start listening to the enemy, who is busy slinging his daily serving of lies and discouragement. When we find ourselves there, we need to be intentional about renewing our relationship with the Holy Spirit. We need to make sure that we are open and receptive to the Encourager. 

     Being open to the encouragement of the Holy Spirit requires balance in our spiritual lives. Some Christians see their faith as predominately an intellectual exercise. They study, they read, they ponder, they soul-search- all in an effort to find the greatest heights of intellectual enlightenment possible. BUT…(you KNEW that was coming!)…if you never take your faith out of the purely intellectual, then you will NEVER make the journey from the head to the heart. And without that journey, all the “head knowledge” in the world isn’t enough. 

     Meanwhile, some Christians focus squarely on the experiential. They base their entire faith on experience. “I don’t really read the Bible. I don’t need to. I just pray to God and experience Him in nature. He’ll give me all I need.” And that’s true- God WILL give you everything you need. But part of the “resource packet” He’s made available to us is…His Word. And if you never take your faith out of the purely experiential, then you will NEVER make the journey from the heart to the head. And without that journey, all the “heart knowledge” in the world isn’t enough. 

    The Holy Spirit is the ultimate Encourager. The question is: are YOU and encourager…or a discourager? In the Old Testament, the discouragers said, “We can’t” and the entire Hebrew people wept all night…and then spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness. So MANY people stopped…simply because a FEW said, “We can’t!” Discouragers say, “We just can’t do it. It’ll never happen. I’m not going to have anything to do with it. We tried that…ONCE…47 years ago and it didn’t work! I tried that same approach and it didn’t work for me, so why is it working for THEM? It can’t be done, because that would bring about change and we ALL know…change is bad!” Discouragers sit on the sidelines, unwilling to get involved. Discouragers use their words to criticize and tear down.  

     Encouragers, on quite the other hand, see the possibilities. They see what God can do through other people. Encouragers have great vision. They have the ability to see what COULD be and not be limited by simply what IS. Encouragers support others by getting involved. Encouragers pray for others- building them up by lifting them up, helping them grow in their faith.  

    The Holy Spirit encourages us to represent Jesus…be His hands and feet, eyes and ears…to the world. He encourages us to continue the ministry He started 2,000 years ago.  Why? Because the Holy Spirit is The Paraclete…The Encourager. He was sent to give us hope…and set an example. We are to be examples of the Holy Spirit’s encouragement, passing it on to others. And being an encourager can have a permanent impact on someone. Flatter me and I may or may not believe you. Criticize me and I may or may not like you. Ignore me and I may or may not forgive you. But encourage me…and I will absolutely never forget you. 

Exploding Transformers and Lab Work

Image result for transformer     Yesterday was an interesting day! Fridays are a day off. Therefore, they are often spent just hanging out with my wife, enjoying each other’s company. They often include a quick trip to the local hospital to have my lab work done for the next week’s chemo treatment. The lab work is at no set time- it’s a walk-in kind of thing. So there we are, in the living room, talking, reading, TV is on. I’m in my usual spot in my chair with a blanket.  

     On a “normal” chemo week, the lab work work consists of a simple blood draw and one test. But before the first chemo treatment of each new round of 4 weeks, the lab request is TWO different blood tests and a urinalysis. This coming week IS that week, so I knew, before heading to the local hospital, that a bit more blood and a urine sample would be needed. 

     There I am, sitting in my chair, getting mentally and physically prepared to leave the house for the lab work and a trip to the pharmacy to pick up a scrip. I’m drinking coffee, partially because I like coffee and partially to make sure I could supply the urine sample once I got there! (One time, I walked into a lab, NOT this one, and said, “I have an appointment but first, could you tell me where the restroom is?” They told me. I went. I came back. And the FIRST thing they said to me? “We need to get a urine sample!” I said, “It’s a little late now!”  

     Back to yesterday. So, I get psyched up. I’m ready. I CAN supply that urine sample! And it was at that moment that something…blew up! I kid you not. It was SO loud and SO sudden that is startled me, my wife AND the dog. And the power went off. Not good. I called my Office Administrator, who was working at the church next door. They had power…but had CLEARLY heard the “explosion”. I called the power company and it was SO recent that they knew nothing about it. They assured me they would look into it and that I would get a text message when they found out something. I got on Facebook and found that parishioners who live RIGHT across the street also lost power. It appeared to be local- I assumed it stemmed from the transformer that is on the edge of our property. 

      Not wanting to leave until I knew more about the situation (plus the van was in the garage with the door shut), I decided to wait. But my bladder said it COULDN’T wait! So, I took care of that and then waited for a text message. A truck pulled up next to that transformer soon after. Then, I got a text that said it would be about 1:10PM- about an hour, and they should have it fixed. But they told our neighbors it would be 2:50. So, we wait.   

      All of a sudden, about 1PM- the power came back on! Huzzah! The power company came through like gangbusters. So, I get ready to get out of my chair and go to the lab. BUT- now I can’t supply the urine sample!! I spent the next 20 minutes or so working that coffee! Then, I went and did my lab work! Power- ON. Lab work- DONE. It was time to go home and take a nap! 

     We will find out the results of those lab work on Monday. And then, either have chemo (probable) or NOT have chemo (NOT very probable), depending on what the lab results and the physical exam reveal. I can honestly say that, after all the chemo I’ve had, we’ve only gone ONT time and NOT taken it because the labs didn’t look good. That alone is a testament to how well I’ve been able to tolerate the chemo. We know people who would be postponed every other week or so.  

     All in all, yesterday was just another odd, quirky, “new normal’” on the cancer journey! Not a BAD day particularly- just “odd” and “quirky”! 

     #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! 

When Is “Normal” Not “Normal”?

Normal     I had to chuckle last night. Our younger son has been in our Community Band for years now. They have about 3 concerts a summer and we always attend. (We are after all, both band parents and band geeks!) Unless something major and unexpected comes up, we’re going to these kinds of events. So, the concert started at 7PM at the Community Park in the center of town.  

     My wife had a Bible Study that ended at 6:30PM. So, we had made all the necessary plans to be ready to go as soon as she got home. Before our son had to leave to go get ready for the concert, he was kind enough to take our van out and fill it with gas. Meanwhile, I took the dog out and got a thermos of water ready to take. When my wife walked in the door, our son was gone to the park and we were ready to go! 

     I suggested we take the dog with us. Given the circumstances, she could go. And she would MUCH rather go with us than be closed up in the bathroom while we were gone. We got her in the van and off we went! The park is literally just a very few blocks away, so we got there quickly. And that’s when events like this get interesting for us.  

     Walking out into the grass in front of the band shell is a challenge for me. I am NOT very steady in that kind of environment, as I have shared before. Therefore, in an attempt to keep me from being set up to potentially fall, we have learned to try and find a parking space that is close enough to the stage that we can sit in the car and still hear the concert. But, because of my rather severe hearing impairment, that can be a challenge. Gee- can’t go sit in the grass AND need to be close enough to sit in the car and still hear! Could I BE more of a pain?! 

     We ended up having things work out pretty well. The parking lot that sits right next to the park/band shell was still somewhat empty. We parked right along the side of the parking lot that sits closest to the band shell. We had 25 minutes left before the concert started so we left the car running and talked until concert time.  

     When it started, we opened the car windows and shut the car off so I could hear better. Meanwhile, the dog switched back and forth between the two middle seats, watching people go by and wanting to get out and see EVERY dog that she saw! The concert was great, lasting about 45 minutes. (Our son had a trumpet solo on, of all things, a medley of Meatloaf’s greatest hits! NOT a song you’re going to hear at most Community Band concerts!) Once the last note was played, we rolled windows back up, started to car to cool it back off and drove home. The dog was JUST as happy to get home as she was to go in the first place! 

     Back to my opening sentence- WHY did I have to chuckle? There is “normal” and then there is “normal”. The OLD normal would have been A. leave the dog home, B. take our lawn chairs and set up in the grass. Listen to the concert. Go home. But, given BOTH the effects of the 2014 brain tumor (hearing) and the cancer, our NEW normal was MUCH different than that. And yet, it was one of the most “normal” things we’ve done in the past few weeks. 

     The truth is this- life changes. And those changes impact each of us. And the key to the whole thing is- how do you react to the changes? Do you embrace the new normal because you simply don’t have any other REAL choices or do you stay behind closed doors, refuse to change and therefore miss out on life? Do I wish we could have the “old normal” back? Every day and twice on Sunday. But we can’t get that back, so we embrace the new one so that we can continue to live life. Therefore, I say, “Great concert!” 

     #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! 

More Perspective on Cancer Treatment

cancer     I have been noticing yet another dynamic of the cancer/chemo experience. I bruise and bleed MUCH more easily. My skin, especially my arms and hands it seems, are pretty much paper thin these days. In the two years of treatment, the skin in those areas has become more and more that way. I look at them- arms and hands- these days and they look 20 years older than they did then. 

     If I scratch my hand or arm the least little bit because of itching, what looks like a cross between a blood spot and a bruise crops up within a few hours. It then takes perhaps twice as long or longer to heal than it once did. And if, as it heals and starts to flake off, if I’m not careful and peal of the pieces of flaking skin too soon, it bleeds and then takes even longer to heal. 

     Now, just a quick aside. Before you start wanting to give me home remedies for counteracting that, thank you for your concern but I have tried them! In the end, it simply goes with the territory. My wife’s sister and her husband were here recently and she was sitting next to me holding my hand. I chuckled and said, “I have ‘old man’ hands’!”  

     As you know, I have tried to be transparent in this process- something that is hard for a private person like me. But I decided early on that “brutally honest” was simply necessary if this blog was going to have the impact it seems to be having. And with that in mind, perhaps the ONE thing I would want you to best understand about chemo is that it is NOT for sissies. When we first started it, we did so in tandem with radiation treatments. And for a while, I remember thinking, “Gosh- this simply isn’t that bad.”  

     But over time, those treatments, and their impact on your body, start to accumulate. If you could just get the chemo, have it take a few days to move through your body and then put you back to “normal”, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it doesn’t work that way. It builds up…or at least the effects of it build up. And the longer you are on it, the greater toll it takes on your body.  

      I know people who have simply refused to have any chemo treatments. They’ve seen the impact it has on others and they decide it’s not worth it. I get that. Everybody has to make that decision for themselves because, in the end, it’s about A. can it cure me? and B. quality of life. For me personally, the doctors have no illusion that these treatments are going to cure me. They only continue them because they have run out of other options and I haven’t said, “I’m done.”  

     But when it comes that “I’m done” declaration, everyone has been clear- it’s my decision. The doctors AND my wife have said all along that I get to make that call and they will respect whatever that call is. And I have also been clear that I greatly appreciate that support. But I have also been clear with my wife that, as far as I am concerned, if there comes a time when I am ready to say, “I’m done”, that is a decision she and I will share. It’s OUR decision. Why? A. she deserves that inclusion and B. it greatly impacts her as well. 

     So, what is the moral of today’s story? When you see an older adult, a middle-aged adult, a younger adult or- Heaven forbid- a child who is undergoing chemotherapy, you are seeing the tip of an iceberg. The average iceberg that is afloat has about 7/8th of its mass UNDER the water- “invisible”. Much the same could be said about chemo patients. You probably see them on their better or best days. Their families and their medical professionals see them on their worst days, too. They see them passed out in the chemo chair, not able to string together two coherent sentences because of the effects of the drugs. They see them staggering down the hall of the cancer center, pushing an IV “Christmas Tree” as they head to the bathroom- trying to hurry and make it back and get hooked back up to the blood pressure machine before the next timed check. They see them trying to psych themselves up simply to make up or down a flight of stairs. They see them struggling with what to eat and them impact it has on them. That “little old lady” who is undergoing chemo is WAY stronger that you might think she is. In fact, she might be strong than…you. Just another perspective! 

     #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! 

Leader, Communicator, Listener

listenI lead a staff meeting every Tuesday morning. Everybody “reports” on what’s going on in their area of ministry. Questions are asked. Plans are made. And then, at the end, I offer a devotional. It is usually from a Daily Devotional on Leadership. Yesterday’s was about listening and how important it is to leadership.  

     The gist of the devotional was that, to be a good leader you need to be a good communicator. And to be a good communicator, you have to also be a good listener. It stressed that, if people feel you aren’t/don’t listen to them, they lose faith in you as a leader. The devotional stressed that we should look at our life and evaluate how well we do and don’t listen. 

     I agreed completely with the devotional. But, I gave them more concrete ways to evaluate their listening skills. I said that, if you find yourself saying things like, “That was great, but do you know what would have made it better?” or “If only you would THIS (what I say), things would be better”, you really aren’t listening- you’re simply waiting to talk and tell them how smart YOU are. People are prone to stop telling you things if you always want to “fix” them and you ALWAYS know what they need. 

     Further, if someone is trying to say something and you find yourself, knowing what they are saying is wrong, interrupt them and say something like, “No wait. Stop. LISTEN.” and then, once you have stopped them, you proceed to correct them- tell why you are right and they are wrong, you are NOT listening. How ironic, in your frustration over THEM not listening (you even tell then to LISTEN), you are guilty of the EXACT same thing. 

     If you want to be a better leader, be a better communicator. And if you want to be a better communicator, be a better listener. It may take a little longer, but life with others is a collaborative effort, and they simply DO take longer. But in the end, they make the organization stronger. 

     #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 REALLY Long Sunday!

clock spinning     Us United Methodists never met a potluck or a meeting we didn’t like. There are 4 “required” committees in a local United Methodist Church- Finance, Trustees, Pastor-Parish Relations and Nominations. At the church we currently serve, Nominations only functions in the early- to mid-Fall, as we put together teams and committees for the next year. Likewise, our Pastor-Parish Relations Team only meets once/quarter, unless something comes up that requires meeting sooner. That leaves Finance and Trustees as the only required committees that meet monthly. (Why Administrative Council, the overall governing body of the church, isn’t automatically labelled as “required; is beyond me- it is absolutely necessary and required!) 

     That means that, once every month, those three committees meet. In a lot of UM churches, they meet at different times/days from each other each month. Add to that the NON-required committees, which for us mostly consist of Missions, Endowment/Memorial and Safety, and you have a LOT of meetings scattered around the calendar.  

     That leads to a LOT of evenings tied up every month. In an effort to have me NOT gone from home so many nights a month, I proposed a few years ago that the church we currently serve move all of those meetings to a carefully planned out schedule that would BASICALLY only going to meetings one night/month. The Administrative Council unanimously supported the proposal and we have been doing that ever since. It was helpful before the cancer diagnosis. It has been a Godsend since! 

     That night was two nights ago this month. And while it is great to knock them all out in one night, it makes for s VERY long Sunday! I get up at 5:30AM. (It used to be 5AM, but now that we have installed a younger drummer in one of the two Praise Bands, it allows me to sleep in an extra half-hour!) I am at the church by about 6:20AM. By 7:10AM or so, I have the bulk of my “Sunday morning stuff” done and am sitting in a pew, reviewing my sermon while that one Praise Band warms up. Then, three morning services, wrapping things up about 11:40AM. By noon, I am home and we are talking about lunch. By 1:15PM-ish, we are done with lunch and I am headed to my lift chair for a nap. 

   I am up by about 4:30PM. By 5PM or a couple of minutes after, we are eating dinner so that, by 5:40PM, I can head back to church for those evening meetings. Trustees is at 6PM, Finance is at 6:45PM and Administrative Council is at 7:30PM. Usually by 9PM I am home for the night. For those of you keeping score at home, that was up at 5:30AM and back home for the last time of the day at 9PM- as I said, a LONG day! 

     Three out of pretty much every 4 weeks, I have chemo on Monday mornings. But if “meeting Sunday” happens to fall on either 1. the “off week” of each 4-week cycle or 2. during a more extended break. I take that Monday off the recover.  

     That means that yesterday (a week OFF from chemo) was taken as a day off instead. It consisted of sleeping in a bit. lunch with extended family who were visiting, a 3-hour nap…and little else! There is a LOT of sitting in “my” chair in the living room under “my” blanket” and reading! Today, I am back at it, with a Staff Meeting and Worship Planning meeting on the agenda, among other things.  

     I am SO grateful for a schedule that allows that flexibility and a congregation that not only allows it but helps support it! I look forward to our new Associate Pastor starting soon and we wait to see what God has in store next! 

     #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! 

Behemoth From the Deep

GAR(This is a “greatest hits” from several years ago. Yesterday was a LONG day- up @ 5:50AM, done with meetings at 9PM!)

My dad traveled quite a bit with his job. And my mom LOVED to fish. So, us kids often found ourselves on the business end of a fishing pole! This particular story is a direct result of that fact! We were on the banks of the mighty, muddy Mississippi. Growing up so close to that river, it was simply a part of life for us. We were on the Missouri side, fishing from the bank. I never really liked fishing (too ADHD to stand still that long, I suppose!), so I was doing more “throwing things into the river” than I was fishing! But my sister was trying hard to catch something. Then…it happened. Wham! Something took her bait, and it put up a pretty good fight! She pulled and reeled, reeled and pulled, trying to get…WHATEVER it was…out of the water and onto the stringer. Meanwhile, my mom tried to call out helpful suggestions while my brother and I danced around, yelling and being completely unhelpful! She finally got the…thing…out of the water and flipped it back behind us, farther up the bank. We turned and started toward it, anxious to see what she caught. Suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, a man (who, it turns out, had been fishing near us) came running over, yelling and waving a rather good-sized piece of driftwood! He ran up to the…thing..on the bank…and proceeded to beat it to a pulp with his driftwood club! My mom and sister yelled, my brother stood in stunned silence…and I cried! (Hey…give me a break! I was a little kid!)
After the excitement died down a bit, we got the Paul Harvey moment- the rest of the story. It turns out that the…thing…my sister caught was a gar. (The thing in the picture IS a gar, just as a point of reference!) They are in the pike family, and are known as fierce predators that pursue their prey with their needle-like teeth! And these mild-mannered, middle-class, Southern Illinois farm children pulled one out of the Mississippi with some fishing line and a worm! The man had seen my sister pull this thing out, instantly knew what it was from years of experience, and ran over to keep us from trying to get the hook out and getting chewed up by this thing! Pretty amazing!
It strikes me that this nameless guy, who we never saw before or since, was our knight in shining armor that day. He didn’t save any lives, but he DID potentially save one or more of us from a nasty bite. He came out of nowhere, unexpected and unsolicited, “made the save”, and then faded into the background from which he came. In other words, this guy modeled God on a small scale. Think about it- with the gift of hindsight firmly in place, I can look back to many times in my life when God intervened and saved me from something. Sometimes it was the danger was physical, sometimes moral, sometimes spiritual. But there have been MANY of them! Now, you might be thinking, “I can think of lots of times when something bad DID happen…where was God then?” My response is this- God is ALWAYS present with us, rejoicing with us when we rejoice and crying with us when we cry. Sometimes He breaks into time and space, intervening to work a miracle on our behalf…and sometimes He does not. Can I explain WHY it is that way? Can I predict WHEN He will and when He won’t intervene? No…and no! ?Why not, Pastor? You’re supposed to have all the answers, what with that fancy Master’s Degree and all!” The bottom line is, we are finite, God is infinite- we can’t POSSIBLY fully understand His ways. But what I DO know (and it’s NOT much!) is that God IS always with us, and He WILL step in and intervene when the timing is right, saving us from something we are about to do that we shouldn’t. Trust that still small voice you hear when it is telling you to NOT do something that you shouldn’t do- God is trying to tell you to NOT touch the fish, to NOT allow yourself to be dragged down.
#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 Holy Spirit Is…Author

The Holy Spirit Is Author      A man called his neighbor to help him move a couch that was stuck in a doorway. They pushed and pulled until they were exhausted, but the couch wouldn’t budge. “Forget it,” the man finally said. “We’ll never get this couch in.” The neighbor looked at him and said, “In?” Fortunately, God’s wisdom isn’t like that- His directions are clear.

The Trinity- Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a tough topic. First off, the word “Trinity” doesn’t even appear in the Bible. You have to dig for the overall concept. We are told that God the Father sent Jesus the Son. We are told that Jesus is not only the Son but He IS God in human form. And then, there is the Holy Spirit.

After His death and resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving behind His Holy Spirit as God’s agent on Earth. Let me repeat that- the Holy Spirit is God’s agent on Earth. He’s the experience we can have of God. He’s how we can have the work of Jesus Christ applied to our lives. He’s the way we can understand God’s Word. Without the Holy Spirit, we’re like the disciples before Pentecost- sincere but struggling with confusion and defeat. Samuel Chadwick, a great 19th Century Methodist preacher, summed it up concisely: “The Christian religion is hopeless without the Holy Spirit.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll dig deeper into exactly Who the Holy Spirit is. Each week, we’ll focus on one word- a name that describes the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:20-21 Above all, here is what you must understand. No prophecy in Scripture ever came from a prophet’s own understanding. It never came simply because a prophet wanted it to. Instead, the Holy Spirit guided the prophets as they spoke. So, prophecy comes from God.

     When I read a Stephen King novel or a Leonard Sweet book, I’m reading things that came from the minds…fertile minds, to be sure…of humans. But when we read the Bible, we’re NOT just getting the insights of a human- we’re receiving inspired Words from…God’s Spirit. The Bible is inspired, literally “God-breathed,” by the Holy Spirit, the elusive third member of the Trinity. God’s Holy Spirit moved, prompted, prodded and behooved somewhere in the neighborhood of 39 authors to write the 66 books of the Bible. He did it so that they would preserve forever that which He breathed into their minds…and hearts. The words of the Old and New Testament grew out of the Holy Spirit’s desire to better connect with His people. But, what does that look like? You might be thinking, “There’s a lot in the Bible I don’t understand; a lot that’s not clear.” And to that I say, “Join the club!” There’s a lot in the Bible that isn’t clear to me, either. But as Mark Twain said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I DON’T understand that trouble me; it’s the parts of the Bible that I DO understand!” If we spent more of our time being obedient to the parts of the Bible we DO understand…we’d be doing a pretty good job of obeying the parts we don’t understand, too.

There are many theories as to HOW the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible. One theory is the “dictation theory”. The idea is that the Holy Spirit pre-determined each word that the authors wrote- the “authors” were nothing more than secretaries. That makes the words of the Bible the ACTUAL, authoritative words of God.

Another theory is called “negative assistance”. This theory claims that the authors expressed their own thoughts in their own style and words and the Holy Spirit only intervened when it was necessary- to keep them from “making mistakes”.

Some believe that the Holy Spirit provided the ideas, thoughts and concepts to the authors. They then wrote down their own words, using their own writing style. Others feel that the authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit in a way that their normal abilities were heightened, allowing them to convey their thoughts with greater power and clarity than normal.

I don’t believe that God literally dictated every word to the Bible writers like some stereotypical 1950’s boss dictating a letter to his stenographer secretary. Instead, the Spirit guided the minds of those writers to express the thoughts that He wanted shared. The creation of the Bible wasn’t simply a random bunch of stories and ideas written down by a random bunch of people. The Holy Spirit carried the process from onset to completion. Yes- the Bible was written by people. Yes- we get THEIR language and THEIR style. But they aren’t just writing from themselves- they are writing from God. They are inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us from the outside through His Word, but He also speaks to us from the inside as He confirms His Word- a mantle upon our shoulders, a crown upon our heads and a seal upon our hearts. The Bible isn’t a math book, or even a history book, to be studied, analyzed and picked apart. Instead, it is, at its heart, a love story, written by God and breathed out by His Holy Spirit…for us. The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s Instruction Manual. We read the it, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that He can lead us in the ways that He would have us go.

The Holy Spirit has filled the Bible with promises…to us…but the only way for us to know what those promises are and receive the peace that they provide is by getting into His Word and discovering things for ourselves. If you never follow the prodding of the Holy Spirit and open the Book, you’ll never be able to benefit from those promises. And worse yet, you won’t get to enjoy a relationship with the One Who made those promises.

When we know the Author of God’s Word, suddenly the contents of His Word come alive in a way we never could have imagined. Any way you parse out the writing of the Old and New Testaments, they are NOT the words of men but the Word of God! There are truths in the Bible that, ultimately, our eyes can’t see, our ears can’t hear and our minds can’t know. But when we let the Holy Spirit breathe those Words INTO us…our heart connects with them. The Bible is the Holy Spirit-inspired love story between us and God- and it’s true. We can trust that…and believe. Do you know the Author of the Book?

A Relatively Bad Day!

Image result for crummy day     I do not like to whine. I especially don’t like to whine in this space. Seeking pity is NOT something I enjoy. Don’t like it. Don’t want it. Don’t seek it. On the other hand, I have tried hard to make this space as honest and real about the cancer journey as possible- often to the point of pushing me pretty far out of my comfort zone. Today’s post is one such example of that. 

     As I have shared before, one of the many side effects of the chemo is a constant struggle between constipation and diarrhea. Too much Miralax and you develop problems with diarrhea. Not enough and you get constipated quickly. Mix that with “what day did I get chemo?” and “how much chemo did I have this week?” and it is a carefully balanced roll of the dice every week.  

      This week was a “full-blown chemo on Monday” week. So, the Miralax was dutifully applied. Things seemed to be going OK…until Thursday. The Miralax seemed to be working a little too well. But I didn’t want to take anything to counteract that because that balance is so delicate. Turned out, that was s MAJOR tactical error. Without getting too graphic, let’s just say that by the time Friday morning came, I had been to the bathroom 21 times in 24 hours. That made for a MISERABLE Thursday night- cramping, pain and basically NO sleep.  

     By the time my wife came downstairs, about 7AM, I was relatively dehydrated and relatively miserable. I had come downstairs without my glasses and didn’t have the energy to go back up and get them, so I was not willing to dig in the kitchen medicine drawer for anything that would counteract the effects. She found some for me, which I started taking. By 8AM or so, my body finally…stopped. I finally felt comfortable to go to bed and slept until about 2PM! 

     In the end, I assume I picked up some kind of bug because my immune system is so compromised. I am now focusing on chicken broth and the BRAT diet- bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. We have also pushed the water to build back up from dehydration. As I write this (early Friday evening), I have had 2 cups of chicken bouillon, a few crackers and an English muffin. Maybe today I can actually branch out to a little more food. 

     Again, I don’t mean to be too graphic. I don’t want pity. But it’s important to understand that, sometimes, cancer patients simply CAN’T stray from home. It has to do with strength, to be sure. But it also has to do with what your body is doing and what you have to do to adjust. My gut tells me that today will be a rather low-key day. I will probably sleep a lot better tonight. Then, I will be strong enough to get up tomorrow and answer the bell at church! The upside? NO chemo this coming week! As my wife and I keep saying, count our blessings and take this one day at a time, one hour at a time, one moment at a time! 

     #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! 

More Sleep is Required!

asleep 2     Sleep is an interesting thing. I can remember a time when I needed almost NP sleep at all. Give me more coffee and off I would go! I was a night owl who could still get up early and get to work on time! As I got older, I needed a LITTLE more sleep but could still function on less than most. Go, go, go! Energizer Bunny! Tigger! 

     And then, this whole pesky cancer thing came up. As it unfolded in time and space, basically EVERYTHING changed. But one thing that changed pretty radically was my sleep schedule! The man who could just keep right on going simply…couldn’t anymore.  

      Here’s what it looks like now. I tend to go to bed at about 9PM these days- HOURS ahead of when I USED to go to bed. Some nights, I read a bit before I fall asleep. Often, however, I don’t even bother- I just get in bed and I’m out!  

     So, let’s say that by 9:30PM, I am asleep. An average morning has me getting up to an alarm at 6AM. That’s 8½ hours of sleep. Then, I am up and functioning, going into the office, etc. until noon. I go home for lunch and then often I take a nap. If I can avoid scheduling anything in the afternoon, I do. I can’t always accomplish that, however, because I AM still working. But if I nap, which is pretty common, I lay down about 1PM and sleep until about 4PM. That’s 3 hours.  

     That gets me up about 4PM. I might have meetings, work to catch up on or a practice in the evening. So, it is not uncommon that, either at home or at the church, I have church-related things to do. And then, by about 9PM, I’m “out of soap” and ready to go to bed again.  

     If you do the math, that means that, for every 24-hour period, I probably average 11½ hours of sleep. That leaves about 12½ hours a day awake. Take 3 meals/day away from that and I am down to about 10 hours/day. Take about 8 hours/day away from that for work and I’m down to 2 hours/day.  

     Bottom line here? 5 days of each week (more or less) are sleep, eat, work, eat, sleep, work, eat, work…start all over again! And yet, I have found that two things are true about that schedule. 1. the fact that I can still work is part of why I am still alive. 2. the fact that I get that much sleep is another part of why I am still alive! 

     So, along with my family, my God and my faith, I am grateful for sleep and I am grateful for a church family that has supported me in adapting my schedule to allow this all to happen! God is good, all the time! 

     #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 Miss Illinois Pageant

foxalI have been told that I have some of the STRANGEST stories around…well…here you go! When my oldest son was about 8 years old, I had the pleasure (?) of serving as the “warm up act” for the Miss Illinois Pageant. (Don’t ask…it’s a LONG and rather dull story!) As I have mentioned before, I am a magician/juggler, and they needed someone to come and simply warm up the crowd. I was NOT televised or featured- instead, I was the sacrificial lamb who was led out to get the crowd “off their hands” as they say and get them ready to make some noise. SO…I packed up my cases AND my son, who wanted to serve as my “assistant”, and headed out. What I found was rather interesting! There were people there who were glad to see me, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the show, and responded accordingly. And then I found some people who came to see the pageant and couldn’t tell the difference between my presence there and the worse idea they had ever heard!! Well, my portion of the show started, and my son- the assistant you may remember- was a bit…scared. Stage fright set in and he just kind of stood there, deer in the headlights look plastered on his face, for the first part of the show. But as we went on, he began to loosen up a bit. By the time I got to the juggling portion, he was pretty comfortable. SO comfortable, in fact, that he ad-libbed a line that stole the show and was the biggest response of the whole night. One of the things I do is juggle a butcher knife along with two juggling balls. Leading up to it, I do what I call “The Lettuce of Death”! I begin with the obligatory 2 balls and an apple, eating the apple while I juggle. Then I switch from the apple to a head of lettuce. I build up the lettuce as being SO dangerous- “look at these razor-sharp edges…” You get the idea. Then, I juggle two balls and the head of lettuce, eating the lettuce as I go. The result is that lettuce flies EVERYWHERE and pieces of it end up hanging out of my mouth. (My mother would be SO proud! An expensive, 4-year college degree being put to GOOD use!) Well, right at the end of The Lettuce of Death, as I began to transition into the butcher knife as the REAL dangerous part, my son looks at me, walks over, picks up a big leaf of lettuce, takes a bite, looks at the audience and says, “You know, actually, The Lettuce of Death is QUITE tasty!” The place went up for grabs and any tenuous hold I had on the audience to begin with was gone, never to be regained! I muddled through the rest of the act, realizing this classically-trained performer had been upstaged by an upstart!
Ego is an interesting thing. You need SOME- confidence in your God-given gifts is essential to using them to their fullest in the world. But too much causes all sorts of problems. It causes us to lose focus, to become obsessed with ourselves, and to forget Who it is that gave us the gifts we have in the first place. Now, I find when I talk about this, folks fall into 3 camps: 1) “I HAVE no talent”, 2) “I HAVE talent- I don’t need God”, and 3) “I have certain gifts and graces, given by God, that are dependent upon Him for their success.” Where are YOU in that spectrum? Only you (and God) know the answer to that question. But the answer affects how you use those gifts- how you live your life.
If you feel you HAVE no talent…sorry, but you’re wrong. We are all gifted by God- not in the same way, but we all have things that we are good at that can be used to serve God through serving others. If you feel you have talent but no need for connection to or thankfulness for God…again, sorry, but you’re wrong. What you have is a gift- you need to be mindful of the fact that the gift could be fleeting AND that there should be thankfulness to the One Who provided it. If you recognize that you have certain gifts and graces which are wholly dependent upon God for both their presence in your life and their power to impact others- you’re on the right track! It took a dressing down from an upstart 8-year old to help me understand this concept- I pray it settles into your soul in an easier and less embarrassing fashion!

     #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 Little Slice of Heaven

a little slice of heaven     Another funeral yesterday. This was “technically” not a funeral but a graveside service. But regardless, another death in the larger, extended church family. As I have shared before, these things tend to seem to come in “bunches”. I did 10 last calendar year, which is somewhere between “normal” and “slightly more than normal”. I have now done 8 so far this year, and we aren’t even out of June yet. 

     The other interesting dynamic is where they happen. In the last community we served, there was only one funeral home. So, while I certainly did funerals for other funeral homes in the surrounding area, especially living so close to Champaign/Urbana, the VAST majority of the funerals I there were in the local Funeral Home. 

     Here, there are FOUR funeral homes in town- a town of roughly the same population as the last town had. But this year, either most or all of the 8 I have done so far this year have all been with the same funeral home. In fact, one of the “retired” gentlemen who work for the Funeral Director at this particular home and I were talking yesterday. As he dropped me back off at my car after all was said and done, I shook his hand and said, “As always, good to see you. It’s just a shame it’s always in this setting!”  

     Working with this funeral home shows me yet another way the people of this community to be so kind and reach out to us during my cancer journey. Walking on level pavement is not too bad for me. I can’ walk as far as I used to be able to, by any stretch of the imagination, but I usually do pretty well on level, paved areas. Waking out in the grass, however, is a different story. The uneven ground makes me a bit more unsteady. I struggle more to walk through a yard or a cemetery.  

     Yesterday was a good example. I carefully walked from the hearse out to the graveside. (As my wife and I say, a fall and a broken hip, shoulder or elbow could be inconvenient at least, catastrophic at most.) After the Graveside Serice, where I use one of the structural pillars that holds up the apparatus that keeps the casket suspended above the vault as a brace, I took the few steps necessary to make contact with the family. That meant stepping away from my “brace” out onto uneven ground. I touched base with them and then headed back the few steps to my “brace”. Those few steps back were more unsteady than I planned and I staggered a bit. Once back to “home base” stayed there until the gentleman who drove me back came and said he was ready to go if I was.  

     He ten, without even asking, gently to my arm and started to walk with me, helping keep me steady without making a big production out of it. As we cleared the tent, one of the gathered family members who also attends the church we currently serve came up and gently took my other arm and, together, they walked with me back to level ground, helping me stay upright. Once we made it back to the road and near the heart, my ride back to my car, they both quietly “peeled” off and went their own way, leaving me to thank them and get in the vehicle! 

     Let’s be honest- that is SUCH a nice thing to do. And that is just ONE example of the ton of the little things” people in the community do for us. Two days ago, I was walking when a van pulled up. A woman I know from the community got out and said that she saw me and just felt called to get out and come pray for me. So out there on the public sidewalk, she prayed for me and my family. 

     These are NOT things that normally happen. But this is not a “normal” community. Soon after we moved in, a parishioner said, “We hope you like ot here as much as we do. This community is a little slice of Heaven right here on Earth!”! Amen! 

     #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! 

Composting For Spiritual Health

Image result for composting     When I was a kid, we had a pretty comprehensive plan for disposing of waste. (To clarify, we are NOT talking about “human waste” but instead “trash”!) Let’s start with what went into waste cans in the house. If it was organic waste- egg shells, vegetable peels, fruit rinds, scrapings from a dinner plate, anything like, it went into an old plastic ice cream tub and got dumped daily into the chicken pen. (They will eat almost anything, including and egg that has cracked. (Yep, if they lay an egg and then step on it, cracking it sufficiently enough to smell the contents, they will eat it!) If it was a newspaper or a magazine, it went to in to a pile in the garage and was used, among other things, to put down in the garden, under the straw, to cut down on weeds growing. 

     If it burned, it went in a different collection can and was taken out to the burn pit every day- a concrete block-constructed cube with a grate in it, and burned. Periodically, the burn pit would have to be shoveled out. The ashes would go to one of the yet-to-be mentioned option! If it wasn’t organic, a newspaper or a magazine or wouldn’t burn, it went in yet another container and was taken out daily to a ravine toward the back of the property where it was dumped, to cut down on erosion. 

     Then, on to yard waste. Grass clippings, leaves and small sticks from the yard would go in the compost bin. The contents of that bin would need to be “stirred” with a pitchfork periodically, to keep the whole of the contents exposed to the air some it would compost. The ashes from the burn pit went into the compost bin as well. The larger limbs that fell in the yard or the barn lot went into a pile in the corner of the pasture and burned when the pile got big enough 

     That, my friends, is a PRETTY comprehensive plan for disposing of “trash”! Some if it wouldn’t be deemed “correct” today, but it was what we did. For years, we had NO “trash man” because we had nothing for them to pick up! We were all trained at a young age to sort this way and it seemed like the normal thing to do. And it was all because of my mom- the self-professed “organic gardener”! 

      Imagine if we spent such effort on ridding ourselves of our own “garbage”. Picture- we would work, every day, to separate the whet from the chaff in our lives. The winnowing fork would be a daily tool we would use on our lives, tossing everything we have in the air so that good stuff- the wheat- would fall straight back and the much lighter chaff- the crud- would get caught in the wind and carried away. 

     God gives us the tools we need to do just that. But we have to use them. We have to be willing focus, every day, on moving forward. Some days, we will seem to race forward while other days- not so much. But in the end, it’s NOT about how far you get every day. Instead, it’s about trying to move the correction direction every day. I don’t think God grades solely on statistic progress but on progress of any kind! 

\     #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 Major Staff Change

Image result for associate pastor     Now it can be told! About 3 years ago, the church we had grown to the point that we really needed to add staff. Interestingly, we are now considered, by United Methodist standards, a “large church”. (we closed last calendar year with an average of right at 333 people/week in worship. I’ll let YOU decide what size church that makes us! Because of that fact, we were understaffed. So, the Finance Team, in conjunction with the Staff Parish Relations Team (the “Human Resources Department” of the local church), added a line item to the 2017 budget allowing for that. It was to be a half-time Associate Pastor. We ideally wanted a recently retire Elder in the United Methodist Church was no longer active but wanted to be involved in ministry at some level. I shared with them at the time that A. we needed that position if possible but B. it was going to be hard to find someone who travel the distance MOST people in that position would have to travel and therefore C. we might well NOT find someone.  

     We then set out to look. And we looked EVERYWHERE, let me assure you. But after 3 months, we hadn’t had ONE viable candidate apply. I believe that God always answers prayer. And every answer is one of three things- yes, no or not now. God clearly did not say yes at that time! So, we backed the truck up and took and different road. We switched the job description from a 2-hour/week Associate Pastor to a 25-hour/week Director of Young Adult/Young Family Ministries. We interviewed and hired someone who was already affiliated with the church. 

     The hard thing about staffing the church is that you hire quality people but others recognize their quality, too. And people tend to need full-time employment. And so, churches tend to not be able to hold on to quality employees terribly long. Such was the case here. Our somewhat recent got a full-time offer she simply couldn’t pass up. And who in the world could blame her for that? So, I congratulated her on her new job, thanked her for her service, told her we’d miss her and wished he well! 

     That left us with a hole in the staff and an opening in the budget. And I see a staff change as unfortunate but also an opportunity. So, I sat down to re-examine the whole Associate Pastor option. That led me to ask a simple “yes or no” question of someone at our United Methodist Conference Level. That led to a meeting that led to a phone call. Within hours of that meeting…we had a GREAT Associate Pastor candidate!  

     He has 42 years of experience behind him. He is officially retiring from full-time ministry in about 2 weeks. And he wants to remain active, on a part-time basis, in some area of ministry! Oh. My. Goodness! He and I chatted…for 75 minutes! Based on that chat, our Staff Parish Relations Team met, discussed the entire process and agreed that meeting with him was the next step. So, we scheduled for him to come this past Monday evening, a week ago today, for just that purpose. He and his wife joined us for what proved to be about a 45-minute conversation. When we were done, we thanked them for their time and they left. We unanimously agreed that this was great fit- a “God thing”. I called him back, we sealed the deal and he starts with us on July 7- the first Sunday of the month. I even asked him if he didn’t, after 42 years of full-time ministry, want to take a month or so off. He said, “No! I’m ready to go!” 

      I am absolutely jazzed that he is joining us. He brings a WEALTH of experience and knowledge. He is excited about the new challenge. He is going to LOVE this congregation and they are going to love him! He will be able to do anything I can do- the first time in the 7 years we have been here that we have had that option. He will fit seamlessly into who we are and what we are doing. And I just KNOW that he is going to have a very positive impact on the life of this church.  

     I mentioned that God always answers prayer. I also mentioned that, 3 years ago, God did NOT say “yes”. He either said, “no” or “not now”. This time, He has CLEARLY said, “Yes!” And so, in just a couple of weeks, we embark on a new journey. I can’t wait! 

     #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! 

Unsung Heroes of the Bible: Simon of Cyrene

Unsung Heroes Simon of Cyrene     Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said, “My wife just had a baby.’ The audience applauded. He then went on to say, “it’s our 5th child.” The audience was dead silent. He chuckled, “Yeah, that one doesn’t get quite the same response, does it?!” He then went on to say, “You know what it’s like having a 5th kid? Imagine you’re drowning, then someone hands you a baby.”

Great heroes, both men and women of faith, have been recorded throughout the Bible. However, there are many Biblical characters who can be easily overlooked and yet should be regarded as heroes, not necessarily because of their extraordinary feats but because they simply chose to align themselves with God. Week 1, we started with Old Testament unsung hero Rahab of Jericho. Week 2, we looked at another Old Testament unsung hero- Jethro. Week 3, we considered yet one more Old Testament character who had the courage to say, “If only”- Naaman’s Wife’s Maid. Week 4, we moved into the New Testament and we considered the Thief on the Cross. Week 5, we stayed in the New Testament and looked at a dedicated disciple who died and came back- Tabitha. Week 6, we continued in the New Testament as we looked at a disciple who was VERY reluctant to do what God was calling him to do- Ananias. Last week, we jumped back to the Old Testament to look at a character who does something VERY gruesome to turn the tide of a war- Jael. Today, we bring this series to a close with a step back into the New Testament as we look at a man who is called to act above and beyond what is normally expected- Simon of Cyrene.

Matthew 27:32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.

I want you to picture this- it’s Good Friday. Jesus started the week riding into Jerusalem triumphantly while the people waved palm branches and shout, “Hosanna in the highest!” He spent the week trying to prepare the disciples for what was to come. Thursday was the Passover meal. Jesus and His disciples gathered in the Upper Room. He washed their feet- a sign of servant leadership. They shared in the Passover meal, with Jesus reimagining it as His new covenant, because the old one had been fulfilled.

They then headed out to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. As Jesus wrestled with the fully Man and fully God halves of Who He was, the disciples were falling asleep on the job. Jesus came back, woke them up, chastised them for not remain vigilant and then pointed out that His accuser had come. Judas Iscariot showed up with Roman soldiers- ready to arrest Jesus.

Jesus is beaten, tried and found guilty. He is sentenced to be crucified. He is dragged out into the street and forced to carry His cross down what has come to be called the Via Dolorosa- the Way of Sorrows. As the procession makes its way through the streets of Jerusalem, it becomes more and more apparent that Jesus is NOT going to make it all the way out to Golgotha- the Skull- the place where He is to be crucified.

So, the soldiers overseeing the prisoner transport reach into the crowd to get someone to carry the cross for Jesus, just to make sure He makes it to Golgotha. And they grab our buy- Simon of Cyrene. To say we know nothing about him is a gross understatement. What you heard in the Scripture reading was literally all we know. We don’t know if he was a believer. We don’t know if he was chosen on purpose. We don’t know what became of him AFTER his brief appearance.

What we DO know is that, regardless of ANYTHING else, when Simon was pressed into service, he did it. He picked up the cross of Jesus Christ…and carried it. He picked UP the cross of Jesus Christ and he carried it. And THAT, my friends, is what I stopped by here this morning to talk to you about.

What does it mean- carry the cross of Jesus Christ? It means to take up the burden along with the blessing. It means to accept the weight of your shame and disappointment. And it means to go the extra mile. If we are told to go one…go two. But what does that look like in “real time”? It looks like…obedience. It looks like compliance. It looks like commitment and dedication. Carrying the cross of Jesus Christ means to look beyond the pressures and demands of the world and instead focus on the “yoke of Jesus Christ”, for it is “light”.

What burden are you carrying around right now that is threatening to completely overwhelm you? We all have them. Perhaps you are putting in the sort grass right no. But the truth is that you have been in the sand trap before…and might well end up there again. Those burdens threaten to overwhelm us. We have days when we can barely even breathe. But when we pick up the cross of Jesus Christ, it puts everything else in perspective, because His burden is easy and His yoke is light.

Picking up HIS cross means putting ours down. You simply cannot pick something UP if your hands are full of baggage already. And when you set YOUR stuff down, there is an important step that you HAVE to be willing to take. If you get up the courage to set it all at the feet of Jesus and instead pick up His cross, you HAVE to be willing to leave your crud at His feet. Laying it down does you NO good if you simply pick it back up when you are done. You HAVE to trust that Jesus will handle whatever you have laid there.

So, back to the question at hand- on this Father’s Day, what is YOUR burden? What is the cross you bear? Is it relational? Is it physical? Is it financial? What is it- the thing that weighs you down every day? Today- right now- you are invited to bring it to Jesus. We are going to open up the altar. If you feel Jesus calling you to bring your burden down, set it at the Prayer Rail, pray to Him for strength, then LEAVE it, pick up His cross, which is easy and light and move forward- the DO it. Mirror Simon of Cyrene. Please come, for all is ready.

A MAJOR Anniversary

     Tomorrow is Sunday. As you know, if you read this blog regularly, Sundays are dedicated to the print version of that day’s sermon. Therefore, I write what would be, under other circumstances, tomorrow’s blog…today!  

     Tomorrow marks a major “anniversary” in the life of my family. Tomorrow is the 2-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Can you believe that? 2 years. Earlier that week, I went to see our family doctor because it was hard for me to swallow. It felt like a sore throat and was accompanied by swelling under the jaw line- I had this big ol’ paunchy jowl. I was sent to have a scan the next day. And then, the following day, which was Thursday of that week, we were called back into the doctor’s office to tell us that there was something not good going on. The word “necrotic” was tossed out. 

     I said to the doctor, “Doesn’t ‘necrotic’ mean ‘dead’?” He looked at me as if to say, “Shoot! I was hoping you wouldn’t know that!” We were told we could either go to Peoria or the University of Iowa, both about 90 minutes away from where we live. We chose the University of Iowa. So, they got on the phone immediately and within about 20 minutes, we had orders to show up at the ER of the University of Iowa hospital as soon as we could get there. (The ER was seen as the fastest way to “get into the system”. It caught our attention that there was a strong sense of urgency involved- never a good thing! 

    So, we drove to the University of Iowa and checked in at the ER. Over the next few hours, blood was drawn, scopes were done, other tests were ordered, consultations happened. Later that day, they wanted me to check in and stay until they could do biopsies on my neck to see what was going on. This was still Thursday and they were saying the biopsies wouldn’t happen until Monday or Tuesday. I questioned why I would want to stay in the hospital from Thursday afternoon to Monday or Tuesday…just waiting for a biopsy to be done. The doctor couldn’t really argue that question, so they sent me home. 

     Then, the next day, Friday morning, we got called bright and early saying that the biopsy was scheduled for 11AM THAT morning and could we make it? So, we got ready in a hurry and headed out. I ended up having, as I recall, 12 separate biopsies taken that day. They used a smaller needle to inject a local anesthetic into the spot where the biopsy needle would go. Then, they would insert that biopsy needle into the correct spot, guided by a tech using Doppler technology, and the “saw” in and out, trying to get some good tissue to analyze. Each time a needle came out, it was immediately handed to a specialist who would evaluate the sample to see if they got what they needed. Then, on to the next needle. In the end, the tissue was SO necrotic that they struggled to get ANY viable tissue.  

     We then planned on meeting with the doctor we had hooked up with in the ER the previous day to review the results. That happened about 5PM that same Friday in an empty lobby at the hospital. The news was NOT good, right from the get-go. And the doctor was, thankfully, very up-front and honest, not pulling any punches. We then left the hospital, drove through a Hardee’s because none of us (me, my wife and our younger son) had eaten and then started to long journey home. That was a difficult drive. 

     Much of the reason that was such a difficult drive was that the doctor had said that the average “life span” of someone diagnosed with what I had was…4-8 months. MONTHS! That was hard to hear. There was not a lot of sleep had that first night. That Sunday was the ONLY Sunday I have missed since due to cancer- I simply wasn’t emotionally ready to “answer the bell” that day. Within days, we were meeting with doctors galore, talking about tracheotomies and feeding tubes, chemo and radiation. Another, more invasive type of biopsy was scheduled and carried out on my neck. Things unfolded quickly/ 

   4-8 months. And here we are, exactly 2 years later, still kicking. No funeral. No tracheotomy. No feeding tube. Still working. Still eating solid food. 2 different rounds of radiation. More chemo than I have been able to keep track of. And we just keep on pushing. Not gonna lie- it gets harder every month/week/day. Chemo is now the LAST line of medical defense we have to lean on…and it is NOT the most fun thing to lean on! And yet, we are still standing! 

     Thank you to my wife and family for their overwhelming love and support. Thank you to the congregation we currently serve for their amazing support. Thank you for our larger family and many friends who continue to support us. Thank you, readers, for your love, prayers and support. And thank you God for walking this journey alongside us.  

     #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! 

Stanley Cup Winners!

Image result for stl blues      My wife and I grew up in the St. Louis area. We lived on the Illinois side, but have always considered St. Louis home. That’s why I am such a die-hard Cardinal fan. I started a “love affair” with baseball in 1967 and 1968. I was 6-7 years old (you do the math!) when the Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox 4 games to 3 in the 1967 World Series and lost to the Detroit Tigers by the same number of games in 1968.  

     I survived, like all Cardinal fans, the “drought” of the 1970’s- NO World Series appearances. I reveled in the 1980’s, when they won the 1982 World Series, beating the then American League Milwaukee Brewers, 4 games to 3. They always went to the World Series in both 1985 and 1987, losing to the Kansas City Royals 4 games to 3 in ‘85 and to the Minnesota Twins by the same margin in ‘87.  

     I then survived the 1990’s, when the Cardinals again went the entire decade with no World Series appearances. The 2000’s picked up, with them appearing in both the 2004 and 2006 World Series. In 2004, they were swept by the Boston Red Sox 4 games to none. But they did win the 2006 World Series, defeating the Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1.  

      So far this decade, they have appeared in 2 World Series- 2001 and 2013. They won it all in 2011, defeating the Texas Rangers 4 games to 3. They fell to the Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 2. And if you add to all of that the 1964 World Series, when the beat the daunted New York Yankees 4 games to 3 (but I was only 3 years old and don’t remember that one!), that brings their total World Series appearances and wins in my lifetime to a pretty impressive total- 10 separate World Series appearances with 5 World Series wins in my 58 years of living. Quite a run over the long term. 

     But during my lifetime, something else sports-related happened in St. Louis. Ironically, this “other” journey began the same year as the first Cardinal World Series I remember. In 1967, the St. Louis Blues came into existence as an expansion team in the National Hockey League. I also remember that. In fact, somewhere in a box I have a clip-on button commemorating their becoming a team.  

     I will admit, I have never been much of a hockey fan. I played “street” hockey as a kid because of a friend who was/is a huge fan. We had hockey sticks but no puck, so we flattened a beer can and used it! (It HURT when you got hit by it on a slapshot attempt!) Amazingly, they went to the Stanley Cup Finals (the World Series of Hockey) 3 times- seasons 2-4 of their existence! (1978, 1969 and 1970) But they lost each time. They then went 58 YEARS without making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals.  

     That all changed this year. They not only made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but the won it all on Wednesday night, defeating the Boston Bruins 4 games to 3. The Cardinals were out of town, so they opened up the stadium and offered (as I recall) 22,000+ tickets to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup on the Jumbotron. I THINK I read those tickets sold out in 20 minutes! 

     Congrats to the St. Louis Blues! After living through 10 World Series appearances and 5 wins, as well as 2 Super Bowl appearances with 1 win for the then St. Louis Rams, I can now add a Stanley Cup win for the “other” major sports franchise in St. Louis, It was an exciting season with a very exciting ending! 

     #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! 

Grilled Cheese and Fries

Image result for grilled cheese     Eating is an interesting thing. Nearly two years ago, when this whole cancer thing came up. The doctors were talking almost immediately about feeding tubes and tracheotomies. I mean, within DAYS. The prognosis was bleak. I started the week thinking I had strep or something. I ended the week…dying and facing major life…and end of life decisions. Not the BEST week of my family’s life.  

     And, because of the radiation they did on my throat, I was reduced to eating/drinking EVERYTHING out of a blender or an Ensure bottle. I honestly thought, during that time, that I would never be able to eat solid food again. 

      I was reminded of those days last night as we ate dinner. We had grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and fresh fruit. And...I ate them! And I’ve been eating food like that for quite a while now. Every week, when we go to see the oncologist, they ask a HUGE battery of questions- the same questions they ask every week. “How’s your appetite?” “Still don’t have one.” “How’s your ability to taste?” Still don’t really have much to speak of.” “But you’re maintaining your weight.” “Yep- that’s because I continue to eat anyway…because I hve to.” “Do you use Boost or Ensure?” “Nope- I eat REAL food at every meal!” 

     In other word, I am not only NOT relegated to a liquid diet or a feeding tube. I am actually still eating REAL food. I have found that there aren’t a ton of things I can’t eat. Chicken that’s not been blended it tough. Steak or roast is not do-able. But I eat hamburgers and taco meat. I eat fish. I’ve had fried shrimp. Corned beef hash. Eggs. Ravioli. Black bean soup. We find LOTS of ways for me to get my protein. I also eat canned veggies- fresh ones tend to be too crunchy or I have to cook them to death. I can eat bananas with peanut butter. Grapes work GREAT. Canned pears and canned tangerine sections are a staple. Rice. The list goes on.  

     It is such a gift to be able to actually eat real food that I don’t even care if I am hungry or can’t really taste much of anything. It SURE beats the alternative! I understand that there may yet come a day when I can no longer make this claim. So, we embrace the gift while we have it! Therefore, HUZZAH to a grilled cheese, fries and fresh grapes!! 

      #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! 

Marvel Movies and Church Growth

Image result for endgame logo Being A. a holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in acting, B. a lover of movies and C. a self-proclaimed comic book/super hero geek, I have had a special “bond” with the overwhelming project that the Marvel movie studio recently completed. Back in 2008…did you READ that? 2008…Marvel released a movie called Iron Man. Directed by Jon Favreau, the movie told the “origin story” of a somewhat minor comic book character named, aptly, Iron Man. Favreau wanted Robert Downey Jr. In the title role. The studio did NOT. They wanted Tom Cruise. They didn’t trust Downey, he of drug addicts, arrests, jail time- even though, by then, he was an Academy Award winner for Chaplin. Iron Man was to become the “tentpole” movie for what has been, arguably, the greatest “build” in movie history.  

      Over the next 11 years, Marvel Studios would put out a total of 21 movies- 21 MOVIES- leading up the Avengers:Endgame. 22 movies, all connected, all a part of a larger story, and leading to one place- the culmination of the story. 3 days ago, Endgame had reached $2.713 BILLION with a “B” dollars in worldwide box office. The ONLY movie to EVER make more in worldwide box office was Avatar, and Endgame is current $75 million short of that total.  

     I want you to think about that information for a moment. 11 years. 22 movies. 1 vision. 1 major story arc. It has never been done in the history of movie making. And, I am convinced, it will NEVER be duplicated. This lightning will never be caught in a bottle again. Never. 

     I bring this up because, as of last night, my family has seen ALL 22 movies. Every last one of them. The one movie we hadn’t seen yet, the penultimate Captain Marvel, is available on pay-per-view. So, we spent a whopping $6.99 to rent it last night. That was AFTER taking out a home loan to go to the movie theater two weeks ago to see Endgame. We have seen then all. Some on regular TV. Some on pay-per-view. Some at the theater. But we have seen them all. But 22 movies in 11 years. All of them.  

     Now, I am not asking you if you have seen them. I am not asking if you even like those kinds of movies. Why? Because I totally understand if you haven’t seen ANY of them because those types of movies simply don’t float your boat. No harm, no foul. But you have to acknowledge, either way, the amazing accomplishment Marvel Studios has pulled off. 22 movies in 11 years. All connected. All addressing an overarching story but also able to stand on their own- more or less. 

     In the ensuing years, others have tried. DC Studios- Superman and Batman. Universal Studio- classic monsters. Lucas Films- the Star Wars movies. They have all met with varying levels of success. But none of them have come CLOSE to 22 movies in 11 years. Stars Wars has, what, it’s 11th movie coming out and the original came out in 1977- 42 years ago!  

     Why is all of this a big deal? I used the term “lightning” in a bottle” earlier. That term, obviously, points to something so rare it almost never happens. As I watched Captain Marvel last night, I was reminded that we have been fortunate enough, in our ministry, to being a part of catching lightning in a bottle not once, not twice but three times in three churches served. What is that lightning? Church growth. At the first church we served, we were fortunate to be a part of a church growing 400% in 7 years- 200/week average yearly church attendance to 800/week average yearly church attendance. At our second church, 100/week average yearly worship attendance to 200/week average yearly attendance. And at our current church, 200/week average yearly attendance to 300/week average yearly attendance.  

     Many churches and/or pastors NEVER get the gift of seeing that. We have been blessed with 3 times in 3 churches. And what a blessing it has been. It’s been awesome to see God at work, every day at every church. Do I know the secret to it all? Do I know why it happens in some churches and not others? If I did, I would write the definitive book, sell a gazillion copies and retire to a tropical island!  

     Church is much more art than science. But in the end, it’s about being faithful to God in YOUR context. It’s about NOT trying to duplicate what some other church did or is doing and instead focus on what God is calling YOU to in YOUR setting. It’s about focusing on “I must decrease so that He may increase”. It’s about not trying get the glory and the credit but giving it where it is supposed to be- at the feet of Jesus! 

     #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! 

God Doesn’t Answer All Prayer

prayer-on-my-knees4     Now that you are here, let me admit that the title of this blog is a form of “clickbait”- a title that may or may not be what the site is about that is designed to simply urge you to click the link! But what so you THINK about the title? I have had people all through our ministry say words to the effect that, “I prayed and prayed and God didn’t answer my prayers.” Sometimes, they get so disillusioned by that newfound conviction that they are driven from the church, from their faith, by their perception.  

 And I get that. I honestly do. The easiest example I can give is that you have a loved one who gets sick. So, you pray and pray and pray to God to heal them. And...they die. Meanwhile, the whole time the pastor has been flapping his or her gums about “God’s will be done.” “NO! I was told, ‘Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will open. Anything you earnestly pray for…you will get. God AND...LIED to me!” I get it. 

     However, it’s not that simple. Think it through in a macro sense, taking it out of your personal situation for a moment and applying it to the “the Big Picture”. Does God break into time and space and HEAL someone? Absolutely. We can probably all remember times when we know someone, or hear of someone who had a tumor or whatever. And people prayed and prayed about it. But the doctors continue to say, “This is NOT good. They will NOT survive this.” And then, one day, they go in for another scan…and the tumor is GONE! And the doctors don’t have a gear to explain that. But the family directly impacted, as well as all the others who prayed, smile knowingly, nod and wink at each other and say, “YOU may not know, but WE do!” Great story. 

     On the flip side of that coin are the people who got prayed HARD for. And, despite all that prayer, they die, just as the doctors predicted. That’s when it’s hard. It’s easy when you are “putting in the short grass’ and quite a bit harder to have “chip out of the sand trap”. And those closest to them are often left feeling empty, broken and cheated by God. 

       DOES God answer ALL prayer? Why do some live and some die? Why does God CHOOSE (and logic would dictate that it’s a choice on His part) to “save” some and NOT save Some? Let’s unpack that. Does God answer ALL prayer? I am convinced the answer to that question is, “Yes” The difference is that the answer is NOT always, “Yes.” Sometimes, the answer is, “No.” And sometimes. The answer is, “Not now.” We want “Yes” ALL the time. It doesn’t work that way. That begs the NEXT question- why? WHY doesn’t it work that way? This is where I have to say that I haven’t the foggiest idea! I’m going to go out on a limb here and run the risk of offending a WHOLE lot of people- in an odd way, a gift from the cancer diagnosis. I have been given the freedom to say what I want and let the chips fall where they may. What are people going to do? I already have terminal cancer diagnosis hanging over my head. What are people going to say to me or do to me that is worse than my diagnosis and treatment? I’ll tell you what- nothing! 

     Here’s the possibly offensive comment- if you have a pastor who tells you “God needed another angel” or “Heaven needed him/her” or anything else that implies they KNOW why God let’s some die and some not, be VERY wary of them. Be willing to walk away from them and their ministry. Why? We can’t POSSIBLY know the answer to those questions. We can have our OPINION, but there are some pastors who want you to believe they have ALL the answers. Anything less makes them less than perfect. 

     But we can NOT know. We can imagine. We can speculate. We can rage against God. But in the end, it comes down to trust. Perhaps He DID break into time and space and “save” your love one. Perhaps He didn’t and they died. Perhaps the ONE thing you wanted didn’t happen when YOU wanted it to happen but happened 3 years later? Yes. No. Not yet. All answers. Just not all answers you might have wanted. 

     Do I pray that God will break into time and space and take this cancer AWAY? Of course. Has He done that yet? No. He HAS given me quite a bit more time than the doctors did. And so, we pray for “complete healing”. But we also plan as if we never know how this will end- because we don’t. None of us know how and when our lives will end. Hopeful pragmatists! 

     #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!