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!