Saturday, September 29, 2007

Will you now serve Christ in this place...

We have some folks planning to join our church this Sunday, so I've spent a lot of my visiting time this week checking in with them, to see if there are any questions, or in some cases, to learn more about the family or person. Receiving new members is always an encouraging time for a congregation. If someone wants to join with you in a purpose, it obviously includes an affirmation to you of who you are and what you are about. We tend to like the folks who make choices similar to our own, don't we?

I probably shouldn't confess this, but I am amazed that anyone actually "joins" the church anymore. We have an open door policy where you can come and fully participate in the life and worship of the church without ever joining. At Trinity you can be on a committee or task group without being a church member. The only thing forbidden is leadership as a chairperson of a ministry area, or serving on an administrative committee.

With everyone so consumer-minded today, I'm surprised a lot more people don't say, "Why join, I don't get any more benefits for joining than I do for not joining?" Add to this the factors of a) individualism over community, b) suspicion of institutions, c) minimal loyalty to groups and "brands," and d) simply the frantic, often chaotic pace of life! Still, through the gauntlet come those desiring to say, "Yes, I will serve Christ in this local church with my prayers, my presence, my gifts, and my service."

Maybe the act of people joining isn't an affirmation of the congregation after all - but an affirmation of the deep longing placed in each of us to be a part of God's family. Those who join may not even think of it in these terms, but perhaps they are responding to the divine call to live out what they believe, to "come, follow Jesus," to make their faith real in daily life with, through, and sometimes in spite of, the local congregation. May their commitments open us all to hear that call anew.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trips and Journeys

When I go on a trip, I basically know where I'm going, how I'll get there and what I'll do. That's generally true whether the trip is to a neighboring city for a meeting, or to another country for personal enjoyment or mission work. There may be changes in the itinerary, or surprises along the way, but usually when I start out I pretty well know where I'll end up.

But a journey is different. With a journey, I kinda know where I hope to end up, but even that is unsure. And I'm even less sure the route I'll be following. About all I know is that it's time to move forward and that a certain path seems right for the present. There will be new pathways and choices in the path that no one can predict as the journey develops. And the outcome? Who knows. That's the reason you go on a journey in the first place, isn't it? - to discover the outcome.

Life is full of trips and journeys. Trips get us to places and back. Journeys take us to new places altogether. Journeys tend to show up at career time, in relationships, and in faith. Some people tend to prefer one over the other, so if you start out on a journey, don't pick a trip junkie for a roomie.

It's difficult when you have someone who wants trip information for a journey experience. And it's scary when someone confidently gives you trip information for a journey experience!

What's even more confusing is that you can be on many journeys at one time. For instance, we've started a journey with Mosaic worship - don't know where that will take us. The whole Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry is a journey. At our Council on Ministries meeting last night we discussed a general proposal for the future of Trinity that emphasizes children's ministries. We approved the initiative originating from the Capital Campaign Study Committee, but basically have no idea where the journey will take us. And interwoven in these journeys are the personal ones of discovery, trust and love.

One quality that enables all such journeys is simply an openness to the future. Maybe there are better words, but "openness" works for me. Step forward, risk self and investment, walk in faith - open to what will unfold in the journey. Don't shut off the journey just because you can't see the resources needed. Don't postpone the first step because the journey appears too daunting. Who knows what God will do? If the Bible has anything to say to us about this, it is that God will provide the 'manna' for each day. And just that experience can make the journey worthwhile.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blogging Friends

No thoughts this morning. Just took a few minutes to add several links to the Fav Blogs list, friends who have been, or who have recently started blogging. Am finding this a wonderful way to keep up with folks, and be more a part of their lives. The other day I ran into one blogger at a meeting we attended, and we had more to immediately talk about. I like that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

God's Perfect Ones

I came across the following quote from Morris West's novel, The Clowns of God. And read it frequently, as another reminder of the importance of the work of our Aldersgate ministry. In the story, the pope is deposed because he reveals that he actually talks to Jesus, not just in prayer, but Jesus who has returned as Mr. Atha, to warn him again about the coming apocalypse. If I remember correctly, Pope Gregory XVII is basically exiled to a mountain-top retreat, where there is a camp for children with developmental disorders. Jesus visits him there for more conversation. He points out a young girl with mental retardation and says to him:

You need a sign. What better one could I give than to make this little one whole and new? I could do it, but I will not. I am the Lord and not a conjuror.

I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you - eternal innocence. To you she looks imperfect - but to Me she is flawless, like the bud that dies unopened or the fledgling that falls from the nest to be devoured by the ants. She will never offend Me, as all of you have done. She will never pervert or destroy the work of My Father's hands.

She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human. Her infirmity will prompt you to gratitude for your own good fortune... More!

She will remind you every day that I am who I am, that My ways are not yours, and that the smallest dust mite whirled in darkest space does not fall out of My hand...I have chosen you. You have not chosen Me. This little one is My sign to you. Treasure her.

Aldersgate construction

The latest picture of our Aldersgate Special Needs Home (for adults with developmental disabilities) being built at The Oaks in Orangeburg.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Last night we began Mosaic worship. I really didn't know what to expect, and was worried we had not planned in enough detail. I rushed back to the church after a Gen Conf Delegation meeting in Columbia, to find the chapel set up for worship, looking great. Some folks were enjoying the coffee, water, and cookies set up in the narthex, and the youth praise band was waiting for me to join them in a prayer time.

But worship began and the different ones did their parts. I had to breathe deeply several times to settle my urges to step in and move things along, but actually it flowed well. I estimated about 60 present, the majority youth.

Our theme was Pilate's question to Jesus "What is truth?" After some singing and a "get to know you" ice-breaker, we watched a video clip with the kind of "person on the street interviews." Nearly everyone on the video expressed the postmodern view that truth is what each person believes is true, that there is no absolute standard of truth. Then everyone broke up into small groups for discussion on this. We had prayer time, then I wrapped up the discussion with a short talk on encountering truth, not just as knowledge, but as relationship, an encounter with the reality of Jesus Christ. We celebrated Holy Communion and closed with a time of thanksgiving and singing.

I confess I have mixed feelings this morning about the service. The big positive is that those who were present gave thanks that we had begun Mosaic. I have some disappointment about the absence of some parents and young adults who'd expressed interest in the service. Part of me wants to push toward a more "polished" look and feel to the service. But I also realize I'm the only one I know of with that issue. The participants seemed to be OK with the very casual nature of the liturgy. Well, we've begun, and we'll learn, and we'll see what picture of worship emerges for us.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I Hope It's Joy

Cleaning off my desk before leaving for the day, I came across this prayer that a colleague sent to me. It was written by a battered child, who now is in a safe home. (Shared with permission, and with original spelling, etc.)
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

My heart is broken. not one bit of love.
my soul is taken from heven and above
what is next for this little girl.
she prays at night and ask god
what is next in my life
is thear death or is thear light
or my prays full of light or is it joy
or do i fight untull day light
oh my god what is next
i hope its joy.

Ongoing Preparedness

Yesterday, while just doing some reading, I found a story I'd lost. It is by, and about Henri Nouwen. I've used it as an illustration in the Residency program, but couldn't remember where I'd seen it. But there it was, right where I'd left it, years ago, in the Upper Room Guide to Prayer for Ministers, page 124.

The opening line grabbed me again: "We're often not as pressed for time as much as we feel we are pressed for time." Then he tells about being so pressured with his demands of teaching, that he took a prayer retreat at a Trappist monastery. While there some students on retreat asked him for five meditations or teachings on prayer. Nouwen wrote that since he was at the monastery, the decision wasn't his. So he went to the Abbott saying he came on retreat to get away from having to teach for a period.

The Abbott told him to do it. And Nouwen protested, saying he didn't want to spend his retreat time preparing meditations. And the Abbott replied, "Prepare? You've been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats."

Nouwen writes: The question, you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world comes into our world, you are ready to reach out and help. It may be a four o'clock, six o'clock, or nine o'clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God - that's ministering. (Originally in Leadership magazine, Spring, 1982)

For a preacher, finding a good old illustration is like finding an old friend. And this one speaks to me at several points. Nouwen, like a lot of other spiritual giants, knew that when he had a lot to get done, he needed to take more time in prayer. When I've got so much to do, I want to cheat on my prayer time.

It gets me that Nouwen lived under orders. He didn't make the call himself about teaching, but went to the Abbott. Wonder how our ministry would change if we quit being such "Lone Rangers" in ministry, and when to trusted friends, spiritual advisors, or coaches for decisions in ministry.

And finally, the whole idea of living in a state of ongoing preparedness. My perfectionism tells me I've got to get the research done, cover all the bases, and come up with my best effort, which then is re-worked. One of the good things about blogging regularly is that it pushes me out of that mode. Give yourself with what you already know. Live in the state of incompleteness, always in preparation, always in expression. But do so grounded in prayer.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Lighter Side

OK, I agree with Joseph's comment on the last post. Time for something lighter, and especially since it's my day off. So here's a couple I like from

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Pastoral Role

I am a pastor. That sentence seems so simple. But it is quite a journey to get to an appreciation of that what statement means. To find my identity as a person and as a professional in that statement is to set out some boundaries. It is to bring focus to what I am and what I am not, to what behaviors ensue and what do not.

There are needs impinging upon the role of pastor that push us into specialization. Are you an evangelist? Are you a church administrator? Are you a church growth specialist? Are you a mission motivator, a teaching pastor, a counselor, a political activist, a Bible scholar, a theologian? These are but a few of the many ways a minister begins to identify herself or himself. And with all these variations, what has become of the identity of pastor?

Is the term just a catch-all, an umbrella title that includes something of all the specialties? Is it a foundation from which one moves on (with experience or additional training) to particularity in ministry? Is it simply an ecclesiastical term for a category of ministry? Looking at a parallel in medicine, is a “pastor” to be equated with generalist, (and thus relagated to a lower professional status, similar to a General Practitioner versus a Specialist)?

Or is the Pastoral role an identity in and of itself? The long journey of identity in ministry brings me to assert that it is indeed a ministerial identity that can be clarified, claimed and lived out. It is highly useful for providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment in living out one’s call.

To be a pastor is to be one whose prime concern is the spiritual care and formation of the people. It is to “tend the sheep.” It focuses on the person and the relationships. To say spiritual care and formation does not mean that the pastor is not concerned with the physical needs or other needs of the person. It is to say instead that all issues and needs find their connection to the spiritual journey of the individual or group. Theology, praxis, visioning, and development all play a subservient role to the spiritual journey of the people.

The image of the shepherd may prove helpful. One who knows the weather, the terrain, the physical attributes of the sheep employs all the variety of knowledge to one end, the tending of the herd.

The pastor dabbles in the specialties, but sublimates them to the pastoral need. What is the point of church growth? Is it to report numbers and receive approval from supervision, local or connectional? Or is it to both lead new persons to an engaged journey of faith, and re-energize the community with the necessary adaptation to new persons? Similarly, the pastor does not establish a counseling practice, but counsels regularly with her people in the midst of their daily lives.

The message of the incarnation, that God has chosen to “pitch God’s tent” in our midst, that is, to dwell with us, is a powerful Biblical revelation. God has chosen to be with us in all circumstances, good or bad. Of all the callings in ministry, is it the pastor’s particular call to make this theological truth tangible in the lives of people among whom he or she serves. It is a calling not to be the way, or even to make a way for others, but to point to The Way.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Parents can be so wrong sometimes

Yesterday, I didn't hear my daughter Kelsey get up. She's an early riser, like me, so that was odd. Checking on her, she protested she was sick with a horrible sore throat, and while she felt a little warm, it was pushing it to say she had a fever. I was dubious for two reasons, she'd had a busy weekend going to Clemson for the game and an overnight, and she had a big Calculus test waiting on her at school.

But we let her sleep, made an appointment with the doctor for the afternoon, and Cynthia and I went on to our morning tasks. I came home midday to fix the sick meal standard (chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers and ginger ale - it cures anything). Her sister called to made sure she was watching the sick-time movie. Whenever our girls have been home sick, seems they've always watched the Anne of Green Gables series. With all that and the time for the test already passed, I figured I was throwing away good money taking her to the doctor. Wrong.

"Strep throat, and it's good you recognized it early," said the doc. Kelsey cut her eyes to me as a way of saying, "See, I told you I was sick!" Such wonderful parenting moments!

By the way, if you want a good clean movie to watch, good character and story development and well-photographed, let me recommend Mrs. Potter. Cynthia brought it home Saturday night for us to watch. I figured it would just be a chick-flick. But, wrong again. I'm going to have to be sharp this week, I've already got two strikes on me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

No maintenance lawn?

Saw this algae dominated lake the other morning and stopped for a shot. Strangely pretty, except it snuffs out the other life in the water. You can make your own illustration from that.

Jesus Keeps Coming To Church

First, he showed up three weeks ago, right when we were busy with our big Welcome Sunday. He came in looking just like one of the homeless people we often get from the shelter a couple of blocks away. I wasn't sure it was him, and did the usual procedure of alerting the ushers. In the past, some of our shelter visitors have taken to roaming the halls and stopping folks asking for money. But now we have a pass-code on the door leading to the Nursery wing and ushers have been asked to intercede if the pan-handling starts.

But right before the worship processional began that day, I saw Jesus seated at the back by one of our members, who pleasantly pointed out to me we have a guest today. And our member took Jesus to the lunch we were having that day, and apparently invited him back.

The next Sunday I saw him walking up the street before the early service, stooped over a bit, with a sort of shuffle -step. Afterwards he asked about a Sunday School class. Another member said she'd show him to a class of people about the same age, and led him away.

I thought that was the end of it, but last Sunday, when I got to the front of the sanctuary at the second service, I saw him sitting in the back. Unmistakable - crumpled clothes, mis-aligned smile, and hair done by fingers, sitting in a sea of properness.

Yesterday, just after I'd started my Inquirer's Class, for new and prospective members, the door opened, and in he came. We had to stop for a moment while some of the folks made room for another chair in the circle. Then we continued our introductions to one another.

We learned that Jesus had a name, a pretty name, Elenita. Had recently moved into supervised adult-living apartments nearby. And was frustrated because each Sunday, the supervisor says she isn't supposed to walk the three blocks away from the apartment, but she insists she is going to church. Whereupon the other class members encouraged her.

And on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue, as was his custom. (Luke 4:16.) Thank you, Lord, for honoring us with your presence. Thank you, members, for your welcoming spirit. Maybe this "Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds" marketing line means something after all.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Via Georgetown

Haven't blogged since Tuesday because of travel. Went to the Bishop's School at the beach. Thursday had to go to Columbia for an Aldersgate Special Needs Meeting, then back to the beach for the end of Bishop's School. Thursday I started a post on changes in the orders of ministry, but it got too complicated, so I didn't post it. That's got to be a sign of how our structure needs work, when even a blog post to talk about it quickly gets too complex.

But I broke up one of the trips by stopping in Georgetown to take some pictures. I'd remembered a small church from my Salkehatchie Camps there, years ago, that had a hand written sign out front, The Fire Baptized, Holy Spirit Filled Apostles Church of the True Vine of Jesus Christ. I didn't think it would still be around, and didn't find it. But I did find one church with an interesting sign.

It amazes me that people let you take their pictures. I surely don't look like a photographer, with my little Nikon Coolpix digital, that I detest, by the way. Since I don't have a telephoto lens where I can 'swipe' a shot from a distance, I have to get close. So I always ask if it is OK. Sometimes I get a No, but usually they stop and pose. Of course, it helps if you strike up a conversation first, especially if it is to be a picture of children. Can't be too careful these days, I might be a looney.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Our nominee Tim McClendon

This past June, the South Carolina delegates to General Conference and to the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference unamiously endorsed the Rev. Dr. Tim McClendon as our nominee for the episcopacy. We will elect one new bishop (unless there are some surprise retirements between now and then) at our SEJ Conference next July. We think Tim is not only the best qualified through his experience and service for the job, but that he will provide the kind of leadership our church needs for the future.

I'm blogging about Tim now because a web site about Tim,, introducing him to the other delegations, has been set up. I hope you will visit it, and maybe leave Tim a note of encouragement.

I've known Tim many years and teach alongside him at the Emory Course of Study during the summer. He's a solid, compassionate pastor, who's carried those qualities into his role now as a District Superintendent. And most people know he's a Discipline whiz who knows how to make our structures work for ministry. He's also a potter. A few years ago, he was the speaker at our church's winter beach retreat. The photo is one of Tim at the wheel, throwing clay and teaching about the life of grace. Our members who attended still talk about how great that retreat was.


I sometimes struggle with the "familiar" texts. When the lextionary presents a passage that is so well known, you read it, and read it, and wonder what can you say about it in a sermon that isn't so blatantly obvious. Sometimes it feels as though it's all been said before, and there is nothing new under the sun.

That's the way I felt last night trying to work on a sermon for this coming Sunday. I felt drawn to the gospel lesson, Luke 15:1-10, which has the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. But I was coming up with nothing.

I tried the "explosion on paper" method, where you take a notepad and write down any and every thought that comes to you while ruminating on the passage. One thought will lead to another and then as you go back over it, often a theme emerges. Nope, nothing, even after three pages of word pictures. I was tired and went on to bed.

Then I woke up at 4:30, laid there in the bed, and my sermon - along with a title (The Seeker) - was simply there in my head. Eureka! Got up, made a pot of coffee and started typing it out. Amazing how the brain can keep working while you sleep. Come to think of it, that's how I got through my college classes!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The first pieces are put in place...

We're probably doing it all wrong. Sunday afternoon we had our first meeting to plan Mosaic, a new worship service. Six youth and five young adults met with the youth minister, the music minister, and me to see what we might do to create a new worship experience in our church. Most had never heard the term "emerging worship." So I gave them a brief introduction about the ancient-future orientation, emphasizing the goal of making worship highly participatory. I shared some stuff from the Gen. Board of Discipleship web site about the four movements of worship: gathering, proclamation, thanksgiving and Communion, and sending forth. Then I reviewed what the staff had already done: choosing a name, designing a logo, collecting the equipment we have available, and reserving a time on the church calendar. Then I turned it over to them and sat back, wondering what would happen.

The youth jumped in first, excited about the possibilities. Then the young adults started filling out what the service could look like. Then came a call to prayer and then they split into groups to work on the music and the worship. Mosaic is to begin in two weeks! Just two weeks.

I've read the books and I have considerable experience in how churches operate. Allow a minimum of six months to initiate a new worship. Build interest and gain approval through the right church structures. Pray, plan, design, incorporate, and communicate every step of the way. Well, we're out of the box on this one. We have six Sunday evenings lined up for the fall series of Mosaic, and for me, the big question will be whether leadership will emerge to sustain it. But I have to admit it was delightful to just be a participant in the plannings and to see the way the others jumped right in with ideas and commitments.

Different, but Same

My wife Cynthia was back in prison this weekend, working through a program called Epiphany, with the young girls incarcerated. She told me she counseled with one young lady whose story was horrific - all the abuse she'd been through and the things she'd done. The girl looked to be in her early 20's, but when Cynthia asked the girl's age, she was shocked to hear she was only 16! That's the age of our daughter, who this weekend, as a Certified Lay Speaker, filled in for Cynthia by preaching at her church.

I really don't know what to do with this juxtaposition. Of course, I can be grateful, for being born into a lineage of grace, and being able to pass that on. And I can anguish in prayer, along with Cynthia, for the young women who have little idea what wholesome love is like; who don't know they can trust a Heavenly Father to love and forgive them. But the starkness of contrast between the lives of two 16 year olds leaves me longing for God's Kingdom, where two girls, living in worlds so different, can know the same life-giving grace of God they desperately need.

Then add this to the weekend. One of the ladies in my church, who is fiercely angry about the pews being removed from the chapel, called to say she wanted to drop by the house. She came to the door and handed me a copy of the new book about Mother Teresa: Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta" edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk. She said that she heard it had just arrived at the book store and since I'd mentioned it in a recent sermon, thought I'd like a copy.

This is the inscription on the flyleaf; To Stephen (and Cynthia), in Christian love (in spite of our disagreements), then,her name. We have distinctly different views of the church facilities. She wants to preserve the historic, Gothic character of the facilities, and I'm more concerned about adapting the rooms to present and future usage. We have our differences, but are bound to one another under the same discipleship, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. It is rare (unfortunately) to serve among people who keep their dissatisfaction focused on the issues and don't personalize the conflict, who can demonstrate love while disagreeing. Different we be, and yet the same, sinners being redeemed by grace.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another Picasso perhaps, if I'd only studied....

Met a new friend yesterday who is a local art teacher. I immediately felt a slight sense of intimidation due simply to the fact that I love artistic expression, but feel incompetent myself to produce anything of artistic quality. After somehow putting that into words to her, she simply said, "I disagree."

Basically what she then told me was that so much of art is learned. Whether you draw, paint, sculpt clay or whatever, you can learn to express yourself better and do a better job at it. If you were to take a group of adults who have not taken any lessons and had them draw, paint, or sculpt, their work would be comparable to children's work. But if those same adults had studied art the same way they had continued in youth to study math, english and science, their artistic expression would be much more advanced. So, she said, "Go, take a class in whatever medium you like and get started."

To me, she definitely made a great case for adequately funding the art program in our local schools! (Which in most school districts is woeful.) But she also made a great case for Christian education in the church.

If you were to take a group of Christian adults who haven't studied the Bible or aspects of the faith since childhood, their spiritual concepts and expressions would likely be comparable to children's. But if those same adults had continued to learn as disciples, the same way they'd continued to learn in other important areas of their lives, imagine the spiritual maturity that could be present in our congregations.

So, if you've ever said, "I can't pray like others," or "I know so little about the Bible it's embarassing," or "I wish I knew what to say to people when they are grieving or struggling," go, get involved in a study group and in the church, and get started.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Parental Powerlessness

Children are not supposed to die before their parents. Don't know where I heard that, but I thought of it yesterday when I visited the parents of a man who died in our community. I remembered a tombstone from the 1800's I saw in Scotland, that listed six children. When I greeted these parents I sensed a black void of grief lurking in the room, held at bay by their stoic resolve. Our moistened eyes acknowledged the pain, but there wasn't sufficient strength to speak of it beyond my expressing sadness for their loss. Quickly the conversation turned to the blessings of their son's life. And there are many.

Clark Bynum was a successful businessman in Sumter, a basketball standout in high school and college, and gained extensive fame when he and a friend helped
subdue a hijacker in 2000. I never really got to know him personally, but from all reports he was a devout Christian man whose complete trust in God blessed others as he lived as a servant of Christ, and especially in these last months as he battled cancer.

I left the Bynum home and decided to spend the afternoon at home, with my daughter, home from school early because of the pain in her wrist. Last week she had to leave tennis practice because of the pain, which the orthopedic doctor thinks is due to a torn cartilage. We'll know for sure after an MRI this week.

I looked at my sleeping daughter and like any other parent, would have gladly traded my healthy wrist for her damaged one. And when I think on this feeling, my thoughts go to parents over the world who endure witnessing their children suffer greatly, many times for preventable reasons, such as hunger and war. We do all we can as parents to shield our children, but when it comes down to it, we are powerless to prevent their pain. Yet our love keeps us vulnerable and in this powerlessness we taste the poignancy of God's love.

I do not understand this deep mystery. Many years ago, theologians like Moltmann gave me concepts and words to talk about an awareness that had grown inside me since teen years. It is a Biblical concept, well known and much written about, but still one that has to take root inside you. That is, that while God is a God of all power and authority, God has chosen to relate to us through God's passion. God's power is known in weakness, and God redeems in the midst of suffering and pain. For God so loved the world that God gave God's own Son to suffer and die, holding back all the power and authority God possesses, to redeem us through the mystery of powerlessness and love.

"My ways are not your ways," God is quoted as saying. And the apostle Paul writes, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing" (1 Cor 1:18). I wonder if we come closest to knowing God, not in the moments of estacy or transcendent joy, but when we enter the pain and suffering of others and feel the breath-stealing weight of "powerless love" upon our hearts. And in the mystery of God's passionate presence and redemption we have the assurance, Cast all your cares upon God, because God cares for us. (1Pet 5:7). I claim that promise for myself, for the Bynums, and for all parents today.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Top Ten Questions

Cynthia and I were visiting with our friends Jim and Kathryn today (all of us ministers) and we were talking about a lot of things pastors have to deal with. So we came up with:

The top ten things Not to ask your Pastor.
10. I’m coming to decorate my Sunday school room at 7 AM Saturday, do I need to get a key, or will you be there?
9. Have you visited my aunt’s brother’s daughter-in-law’s neighbor who’s been in the hospital since last Tuesday?
8. Right before the worship service, “Can I talk to you a minute?”
7. Reverend, what do you do the rest of the week?
6. What do you wear under your robe?
5. Preacher, what’s the chapter and verse for that passage that says “the trees of the field will clap their hands” (or any scriptural phrase)?
4. Did you wash your hands before you served us communion?
3. A new family moved in beside us this week, have you visited them yet?

2. Why don’t you do things like our last pastor?

And, the number one thing not to ask your Pastor -
1. Are you sure you feel called to the ministry?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The walls are up!

Secure walls. Secure dwellings. Well, not secure right now with no roof or anything else, but it won't be long. On my way to Allendale yesterday to visit a family at a funeral home, I stopped by The Oaks in Orangeburg, one of our church's centers for retirement living. I wanted to see the progress on our Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry home. I drove down the long entrance road, lined with the ancient oaks, and there it was. I walked through the studded-out rooms and it hit me, in a few months there will be six adults with developmental disorders calling this home. I was caught by surprise by my emotions and I was glad I was alone. There have been years of meetings and business and now to actually see this dream materializing moved me. But being the male I am, I swallowed my feelings, grabbed my little camera and took some pictures before the evening enveloped us.

Add to this the good news that our Columbia home is back
under construction. Held up by a zoning complaint, the hearing last Friday went in our favor, and after this week, that home should be about ready for the roof trusses. There are six females anxiously waiting its completion, and of course, waiting for us to hire and train staff and raise the rest of the operational budget.

To be honest, I have had some jealously toward my
colleagues who have been serving on other Boards of Trust for our institutions. Listening to them talk, their experiences have been so different than mine. For a small state, we have some excellent, prestigious colleges and homes. Their trustees have work to do, but there are administrative staffs that prepare everything ahead of time and there are institutional resources that undergird their work. Our Board has had to do everything from scratch, with none of us experienced in creating a service institution. And we still have a long road to go to gain Conference recognition and support. But driving away from the Oaks, I realized my colleagues should be jealous of my trustee experience. To be part of a dedicated group of people who have come together to serve a particular group of people in need has been a rich experience. To be able to walk through the rooms of your shared dreams is amazing. Now with everything else, we'll have to watch out for tidal waves of joy.