A Potter's Perspective on Life, the Church, and Culture

This is a good week for I Kings 17:7, “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land.” The State of South Carolina has been inundated and has literally had its fill of rain. My son’s home is split-level and the lower level flooded. His expectant wife along with their 4 and 2 year olds are staying in Aiken with us while he is at home trying to start the repair process. I have been back and forth to Columbia 4 times using every imaginable route to try to maneuver the streets. His situation isn’t dire and everything will be fine. I only mention his situation to say that there are a lot of people in far worse circumstances. People have died. Cindy’s school has been closed all week because roads have disappeared. This clean-up will take a long time, and we need the brook to dry up!

The context of I Kings 17:7 is instructional. Prior to the brook drying up, God had been feeding Elijah via ravens, and his source of life-giving water was a brook near the Jordan River. Then the brook dried up which wasn’t good news for Elijah like it is for us. It’s good news for us in flood-stricken South Carolina, but bad news for a desert-bound prophet. God then provided another avenue to meet Elijah’s needs. Maybe that’s the primary lesson from Elijah: Hang in there no matter what, or using the words of the South Carolina motto “Dum Spiro Spero, “While I breathe, I hope.” That is what defines both SC Strong and Christian Strong!

Sometimes, though, it takes a while to even gather hope. God told Elijah to find a certain poor widow in a nearby town and ask for food. She didn’t have any, plus she said that she barely had enough ingredients to make a final meal for herself and her only son before their anticipated deaths. Elijah asked for a meal anyway and she complied and miraculously her food supply stayed constant. That says something about giving even when you’re hurting. Unfortunately the celebration of that miracle was short-lived because her son did die. But the story doesn’t end there. God raised the widow’s son from the dead. We are also in that weird interval when we’re not sure how the story of the SC Flood will end, but we have hope in resurrection, beauty from ashes, bricks out of mud, and lessons from loss. Like the widow, how we respond will largely determine the outcome.

For many of us our theological understanding of God’s taking care of us has been flipped. On one hand there is ample Biblical hope that suggests that we will be saved from floods; i.e., Isaiah 43: 1-2, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you… When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” That didn’t come true for some this week, but the God “with” us part has for all of us. Other passages are tricky to understand, too, like the one Jesus uses at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27: “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” This doesn’t offer much comfort and seems to blame us if we get whacked by calamity.

Frankly, most of us would agree that we live this conundrum of “Why, O Lord?” every day and especially in times of crisis: “God, if this is the way you treat your friends no wonder you have so many enemies.” So floods, cancer, and calamities are very complex from a Christian perspective. For instance, we affirm that God sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). The part I don’t like, maybe you don’t either, is that God is the one doing the “sending” in Jesus’ sermon. I’m good with a heavy rainfall in a drought, but not like what we’ve had! The counterbalance to God’s seeming responsibility in rain or drought is the time Jesus was on the boat in the storm with the disciples in Luke 8:24. It says Jesus rebuked the storm, “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.”

Jesus only used the word “rebuke” when dealing with evil or those possessed by evil. Why would Jesus have to rebuke the storm if nature was already under his control? If God’s will is already a done deal then why are we asked in the Lord’s Prayer to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? It seems to me that nature has a mind of its own, and is often at cross-purposes with God’s perfect will. So we trust God to do what God does best and that is to enter our pain and redeem it.

God does exactly that in the Incarnation of Christ: Jesus experienced all of our problems, died all of our deaths, and ROSE AGAIN! Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:14-16 assure us that Jesus went through all of his suffering so that we can know that God will make a way for us, too. That is the basis for our hope. It is not a fanciful rose-colored hope that knows no storms. It is a hope that is true because it has been through the storms. South Carolina will live up to its motto and then some. It has done it before and will do it again. While WE breathe, WE hope!

How is St. John’s Providing Flood Relief?

We are encouraging monetary DONATIONS to SC Conference Disaster Response, which will:

* Rebuild and repair affected churches, including small churches that do not have flood insurance.

     * Initiate an estimated three-year recovery phase until everyone is back in a home.

     * Walk with those who, even with FEMA help, will not have the resources to rebuild.

Why money rather than tangible assistance?

     * While bottled water, food, and flood buckets are absolutely necessary, the UMC Disaster Response team will provide sustainable and long-lasting means of recovery, rather than solely initial relief.

     * Our UMC SC conference staff are trained to identify how our resources can be used most productively.

     * ALL donations will only be used for SC flood relief as our apportionments cover all administrative costs.

How can I give?

* Bring a donation by the church office or drop it in the offering plate.

     * Cash donations and checks: Please specify on your envelope or memo line “SC flood relief.”

     * Donate online at:                                                                                                                     http://www.umcsc.org/data/disasterresponseflood2015.php

South Carolina

The United Methodist understanding of Holy Communion, “The Eucharist” and “The Lord’s Supper,” has been on my mind because this coming Sunday is World Communion. Watching Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. and his celebration of Mass was a timely reminder to ponder differences of opinion about communion. On one end of the spectrum is the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation where the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ. On the other end is the Baptist; i.e., Zwinglian view that the sacrament is a symbolic “ordinance” – something Jesus ordered us to do and is strictly memorial in nature.

“This Holy Mystery” in our UM Book of Resolutions answers most, but not all questions about our beliefs and practices of the sacrament. We’re somewhere between the Roman Catholic view and the Baptist. Scholars would say that we fall between the symbolic and literalists, in usual United Methodist fashion, and our view would be an amalgam of “virtualism” and “consubstantiation,” with the latter also known as “corporeal presence.” Virtualism derives its name from the Latin, virtus, which means “power” so that partaking of the sacrament gives real spiritual power. Consubstantiation or corporeal presence means that the elements of bread and wine/juice are Jesus’ body and also remain bread and wine at the same time.

It’s the word presence upon which United Methodists focus. It gives some wiggle room for ambiguity and mystery in this both/and understanding between that which is spiritual and that which is material. There should be little wonder then that the UM and Episcopal traditions hold to a middle way between both of these, and always speak of the sacrament as conveying the “real presence” of Jesus. “Real” denotes Virtualism’s emphasis on spiritual power in the sacrament, and “Presence” is indicative of Consubstantiation’s corporeal or bodily presence although United Methodism does not support that the elements literally change into Christ’s flesh and blood.

We do, however, hope that we as Christians become Christ’s body; i.e., his flesh and blood in intention and action in the world. When we say “real presence” it is a spiritual reality that defies logical and empirical explanation, but it is more than a ordinance. It is real sacrament whereby God gives grace through our partaking.

In the midst of this debate we must embrace both mystery and certainty. In the sacrament, Jesus shares himself and grace is given. “Real Presence” is as close as we can come in conveying the essence of this mysterium tremendum. We believe that Holy Communion is much more than either an empirical miracle or a symbolic remembrance.

You may think, “What does it really matter?” Frankly, you’re probably right, and that’s something that I’m pondering, too. What matters to me is that the sacrament, however defined, unites us to Christ and one another! The worst thing that we can do is celebrate World Communion Sunday and not want to be connected to Christ AND one another. We may have our differences in theology and the way that we do church and theologize about the sacraments, but we can get along because we unite around the most important truth: “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

For sure, we know that every denomination has its distinctives. For instance, United Methodism seems to be more defined by its practices than by its doctrines, but that’s an inaccurate conclusion. We may be called “Methodists” because we are methodical and believe in doing more with our faith than pondering it, but our theological underpinnings are as solid as any other faith. We have our “Articles of Religion” and “Confession of Faith” in every Book of Discipline. We do, however, focus on a systematic and practical faith, and it was birthed through our founder John Wesley’s primary beliefs about God. Some denominations emphasize that humans are made in God’s Legal Image. On one hand, this view has been used as an excuse for humans to take advantage of Mother Earth. On the other hand, it is a call for better stewardship of the planet. While agreeing with the latter, Wesley focused on our being made in God’s Social and Moral Images.

If you’re ever around a United Methodist who knows anything about how we do church, the word “conference” will come up. Another United Methodist word, “connectionalism,” is synonymous. We are a worldwide denomination that has layers of conferences that promote our connectionalism. Our way of doing church starts with charge conferences, all the way through church conferences, district conferences, annual conferences, jurisdictional conferences/central conferences, and General Conference.

Why in the world do we confer or conference so much? We believe that it reflects the social image of God. If God exists in the social community that we call the Trinity then we should, too! The old joke is that the only difference between “United” Methodism and “Untied” Methodism is where one puts the “I.” If the Trinity is three distinct persons, yet one, we can respect one another’s uniqueness and still be one. The church should be as distinct and indivisible as the Trinity. We should never let our “I” subvert our “We” as a church.

We United Methodists also hold with Wesley that we humans are made in God’s Moral Image. In other words, God always does that which is right and moral. Likewise, we have been created in God’s image to be moral creatures. Adam’s “Fall” made that undoable, and caused us to experience total depravity, but, thanks be to God, Jesus gives us a fresh start. Jesus gives us multiple opportunities to truly become perfect in intention, if not action, in accordance with Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is the root of United Methodism’s emphasis on personal and social holiness whereby God’s sanctifying grace transforms us and the world around us.

World Communion Sunday underscores both Wesleyan distinctives of conference and holiness if we let it. When we partake of the sacrament we find ourselves at one with each other and Christ. We experience sanctifying grace and forgiveness that give us another start on the highway of holiness. This is why we call the sacrament “The Eucharist.” “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” so this Sunday we say “Thanks be to God!” when we receive this marvelous and mysterious gift of grace. Someone said it well, “The three most desired phrases that we humans want to hear are: ‘I love you,’ ‘I forgive you,’ and ‘Supper’s ready.’” All three can be experienced this Sunday in the Lord’s Supper. Come and eat!

Communion Picture

I’m preaching on Psalm 1 this coming Sunday and not feeling at all like a tree planted by God’s living water. There’s some soul drought going on. Do you have days when you can perceptively feel the heaviness in the air, even the cosmos? These are the times that the poem “Footprints” is helpful. It reminds me that when I have felt the most tired and alone and I’m upset that there’s only one set of footprints on the beach, that’s exactly when the Lord carried me.

We go through life thinking that we and God are walking hand in hand and see two pairs of footprints. Suddenly we notice there’s only one set and we wonder where God went. We have all been there. Whipped, tired, and worn. If another shoe falls, we don’t have the strength to pick it up. We need Jesus to carry us. Unfortunately, I often teeter into a melancholy and find myself unable to get moving again. I want Jesus to keep carrying me.

That’s not the life most of us want. We want God’s help when we’re powerless, but we prefer joy. Someone said it this way, “Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” I think it’s more than that. It’s more than Jesus carrying us through tough times. It’s more than hanging in there. We want to do more than survive. We want to thrive!

This is when I most appreciate the variation on the “Footprints” poem. It fulfills Psalm 30:11, “You (Lord) have turned my mourning into dancing; you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” I don’t know if you’re ready to hop out of the Lord’s strong sheltering grip and get on with Life with Jesus by your side, but read this and see if it describes where you are or want to be:

“Imagine you and the Lord Jesus are walking down the road together. For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints go along steadily, consistently, rarely varying the pace. But your footprints are a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures and returns. For much of the way, it seems to go like this, but gradually your footprints come more in line with the Lord’s, soon paralleling His consistently.

You and Jesus are walking as true friends! This seems perfect, but then an interesting thing happens: Your footprints that once etched the sand next to Jesus’ are now walking precisely in His steps. Inside His larger footprints are your smaller ones, safely you and Jesus are becoming one. This goes on for many miles, but gradually you notice another change. The footprints inside the large footprints seem to grow larger. Eventually they disappear altogether.

There is only one set of footprints; they have become one. This goes on for a long time, but suddenly the second set of footprints is back. This time it seems even worse! Zigzags all over the place. Stops. Starts. Deep gashes in the sand. A disordered canvas on the sand, as both sets of footprints go every which direction. You are amazed and shocked. Your dream ends.

Now you pray: ‘Lord, I understand the first scene with zigzags and fits. I was a new Christian; I was just learning. But you walked on through the storm and helped me learn to walk with you.’

‘That is correct,’ says the Lord.

You continue, ‘… and when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps; followed you very closely.’

‘Very good. You have understood everything so far,’ says Jesus.

‘… when the smaller footprints grew and filled in Yours, I suppose that I was becoming like you in every way.’


‘So, Lord, was there a regression or something? The footprints separated, and this time it was worse than at first.’

There is a pause as the Lord answers with a smile in his voice. ‘You didn’t know? That was when we danced.’”

Maybe today is a day that you need Jesus to carry you and that’s fine, might even be necessary. Maybe today’s a day when you want to walk hand in hand beside Jesus with two sets of footprints. Frankly, what I’m feeling is to get up and go, and stop wallowing in this soul’s dark night. I need a dance partner today – Jesus. I want joy; to thrive, not just survive! What about you?

Dogs and Cats as Christians

How would politics change if there was no more mud-slinging? We’re over a year away from the election and it is ridiculous. How about a requirement that we follow Jesus’ “Golden Rule.” It is never out of date or style, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a rule that is pertinent to the immigration crisis in Europe and the U.S. It hits home with issues of racism, prejudice, and the general animosity we feel toward everyone that irks us. It works behind slow drivers, in front of slow clerks, and beside inattentive wait staff. We want to be treated fairly and nice, so we need to treat everyone else the same way. How would our day, life, ministry, marriage, and demeanor change if we simply follow Jesus’ advice and treat people the way we want to be treated?

Consequences and ripple effects come to mind. Bad deeds reap repercussions and good ones pay kindness forward. Welcoming the stranger, immigrant, and the family outcast is an act of grace that we ourselves desperately need. No one has a corner on the market of either goodness or evil. In Romans 3:23 we get the Lord’s perspective on the universal human predicament, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” In John 3:16 we see God’s worldwide remedy, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s judgment on our sin is always bracketed by Jesus’ grace.

Of course, it’s not cheap grace. Jesus’s death came at an ultimate cost. Reconciliation costs everyone! Following the Golden Rule is extremely difficult! To forgive an offending party is hard. Just ask the families of the Charleston Nine. I listened last night to two of the survivors and was struck once again by the magnitude of their grace. They made it clear that the only way they have been able to forgive is because they themselves have been forgiven. We can welcome the unwelcome and love sinners because there’s not that much difference between us. We all need Jesus, don’t we? The reciprocity of the Golden Rule is common to all, so why don’t we practice it?

I know my usual reason is my own hubris. Many of us make the assumption that we’re better than others and look down our noses at them. Since we think we’re better, then we don’t think it’s fair or right for us to have a Golden Rule quid pro quo equanimity in our relationship with the lesser-thans. How elitist and not at all like Jesus. Plus it’s just not true. We are ALL guilty and deserve God’s wrath, “Except for the grace of God, go I…”

I’ve been reading a book, Cat and Dog Theology, that is subtitled “Rethinking Our Relationship with Our Master.” It makes an interesting analogy that discloses my self-centered smugness. It offers a suggestion that Christians can either be like cats or dogs. Cats are finicky and pretty much think that the world revolves around them. Dogs are eager servants and loyal to a fault.

These are generalizations and there are certainly exceptions. Some dogs are mean and lazy, and some cats will purr you into a good mood with their affection. Nevertheless, the analogy is effective in convicting me of being too self-centered to follow the Golden Rule. Rather than please the Master, I often think I’m the master. I want to be a loving dog-like Christian that welcomes the stranger, and not like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs that is too scared to budge because I might get hurt.

It takes risk and courage to follow the Master. My experience is that dogs do leashes better than cats! Cat or dog Christian, which are you? Consider the story of two thieves to help you decide. They barged into an old man’s room and demanded all of his valuables and money. They told him that there was no way for him to stop them. He replied, “I don’t want to stop you. Here, take what money I have and anything that you can use.”

They took everything they could see and one of then pilfered a new shirt he saw in the old man’s closet. Just as they were leaving with all their booty, the old man said, “I didn’t realize that you were interested in clothing. Here, take the coat that I bought this afternoon. I’m certain it will fit you.” One of the thieves demanded, “What’s your game, old man? Why are you offering me the coat?”

The old man replied, “I try my best to live by the commands of Christ. He told his followers not to resist those who are evil and that if someone takes your shirt to offer him your coat as well (Matthew 5:39-40). The two men listened with amazement to the man’s simple words. Then they carried everything they were stealing back into the house.

As they left, the first man whispered, “Pray for us, old man.” The second one just shook his head and said, “I didn’t know there were any Christians left in the world.” Live the Golden Rule and watch how the world will change. Cats can be casual observers of life and its hardships. The world needs us to go get help. Woof! Woof!

Clergy Burnout and Labor Day

Labor Day and clergy make for an interesting pair. One issue is mixing the secular with the sacred. Most of us clergy aren’t too fond of that, but we do have sense enough to know that you better mention mothers on Mother’s Day. Another Labor Day issue is that most people assume that we only work one day a week. They wonder, “What would clergy know about labor anyway?” That’s a hoot.

Being clergy is a 24/7 job. In this morning’s mail I got an appreciation card with a cartoon strip from “Dennis the Menace.” It shows Dennis talking to a minister, “So, Pastor, you work Sundays and the other six days, you just hang out?” The person graciously wrote that they knew I was working hard, and I very much appreciated the card. My question is, “What other profession needs this affirmation?”

Just google “clergy burnout” and you’ll get a quick education on pastoral demands and their toll on ministers. So, of course, clergy work hard, but too often we do it to please others, and that’s fool’s gold. It looks good, but it’s not real. It doesn’t really satisfy. We need to be God-pleasers more than people-pleasers. This could be one of the reasons for the high clergy burnout rate. Journals suggest that 50% of young clergy will give up on ministry in their first 10 years. That’s horrible, but I understand it. The demands are high, our offices are as close as our ever-present cell phones, and the pastoral needs of our stressed generation are never ending.

If anyone thinks being clergy is a lightweight job, good luck. For most clergy it requires a college degree and a three-year 90-hour Master’s on top of that. Then you’re only as good as your last sermon, except that good pastoral care and relational skills will make up for preaching an occasional dud. Our ministry is part counselor, speaker, teacher, chaplain, CEO, administrator, bookkeeper, UN Peacemaker, comedian, village story teller, community activist, fundraiser, home health provider, taxi driver, and financial advisor.

How hard is it? God wants us to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. The former is prophetic and risky. The latter is a never-ending emotional roller coaster. Both tasks are fraught with costly sacrifice. On top of that, churches expect people with a boatload of education to do this work with a nearly insurmountable amount of seminary debt and start off getting paid less than minimum wage for the amount of hours put in.

What makes or breaks the demands is how we answer the question of who we’re working for? If we’re doing ministry because of some unresolved crud in our own lives, it won’t end well. If we’re working for people and to please them, it won’t end well either. Our uneasy but blessed task is to please God more than anyone else.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all did that in our labor, whatever our work may be? A story adapted by William R. White from Aesop is informative for anyone tempted to play to the crowd rather than their calling. It’s called “The Miller, His Son, and Their Donkey:”

“A miller and his son were traveling to market with their donkey. They had not gone far when they overheard three women at a well. ‘Have you ever seen anything so strange? Two men are walking when they could ride. Why do people have donkeys?’

Responding to the women, the miller quickly put his son on the back of the animal and continued on the journey. Soon they met two men in the midst of a fierce debate. ‘I say the present generation shows no respect for its elder,’ cried the older man. Spying the miller and his son, he continued, ‘There, that proves what I am saying. The young, healthy lad rides while his old father is forced to walk.’

Immediately the father told his son to dismount, and he climbed on the animal’s back. They hadn’t gone very far when they met a man and his wife walking down the road. ‘Look at that mean father,’ the woman exclaimed. ‘He rides while his little son has to walk.’

Embarrassed, the miller took his son by the arm. ‘Come up here with me. We will both ride on the donkey.’ Together they rode toward the market. Soon they met a group of men loading hay beside the road. ‘Shame on you,’ a fat man cried, ‘over-loading the poor donkey. Why, the two of you are strong enough to carry that poor animal.’

Both the miller and his son quickly got off the animal and walked along until they found a large log. They tied the legs of the donkey together and slipped the log between the animal’s legs. Then they attempted to carry it over the bridge that led to the market.

People on the other side of the bridge roared with laughter when they saw two men trying to carry a donkey. The noise so frightened the animal that he kicked loose and fell into the river and drowned.”

On this Labor Day let’s all try to please the God who made us and called us to our various tasks. Being a people-pleaser may get you plenty of kudos, but won’t do much to help anyone else. I Corinthians 15:58 says it well, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” If Jesus had been more interested in pleasing people than God then we wouldn’t have a Savior! The cross would have never happened, and Easter would have been unnecessary. Working to please people will throw your donkey (another word comes to mind) in the river. Save your donkey!




“Perspective” is the theme word for my life lately. I have done three family funerals this summer. Today I’ll be burying a first cousin the age of my oldest brother. He died 5 years ago. It has become increasingly clear with all these funerals that each of us has our own experience of other people. In my family it was mainly about age. My brothers and I were 8 years apart. I don’t even remember my oldest brother living at home. When I was two, he went off to college.

I had a totally different experience of my parents and grandparents who, by the way, lived with us. In talking to cousins lately, we each have a different perspective. Rather than correct one another and declare this is truth and that isn’t, it has struck me that we all have a little bit of it. We have different perspectives much like the differences between eye witness accounts of the same accident. It’s not that one is right or wrong as much as the view from which one is standing.

The lesson for me as I have had some of my assessments and memories challenged is to cut some slack and listen more than I talk. The grandfather that I loved and adored was aloof and feared by others in the family. Uncle Lee was the one to give each of the nieces and nephews a silver dollar with his initials on it in red finger nail polish or a gift wrapped along with a pig’s ear. He was a meat-cutter after all. Uncle Homer taught me how to fish, marry well, and love college football. Uncle J.C. loved Christmas and survived the WWII horrors of Iwo Jima, nightmares included. He was my mother’s favorite. Grandmother was prim and proper, and the two smells that I immediately associate with her are Ben Gay and Sauer Kraut. She was a tough one and gave her only daughter, my mother, fits.

The cousins have no clue what it was like to live in the same house as your grandparents. To them it might have seemed like a blessing, but it was tough. Thank God for being able to go outside and sneak down to the pond to catch some fish. Perspective makes some sinners into saints, and saints into sinners. If we all knew the whole story then I wonder if we could bear the revelation.

Then I think of God’s perspective. God knows all the ins and outs of everything and everybody. God’s perspective and omniscience doesn’t miss a trick. There are no 8 year gaps in God’s vantage point of creation and its creatures. I have learned a lot this week about people that I thought that I knew pretty well. It hasn’t been so much that I have been right or wrong. I may not have been there or saw the same thing. What I needed this week was to just listen and take it all in. I guess this is a vote for family reunions where you do more than play nice. I want to hear everyone’s perspectives and learn.

There was a time in our family history that everybody farmed. By their standards success was measured by the bushel, the bucket, or the barrel. I’m reminded of the story that says a lot about perspective. One dirt poor farmer never had a bumper crop. He couldn’t afford good machinery or good seed. They lived in a modest shack, but they were happy.

The father worked hard and taught his only son the satisfaction of an honest day’s labor. The family worked and laughed together as a family but to the boy it seemed that they mostly labored together. Every day was full of chores.

Once a neighbor dropped in for a brief visit when the father and son were chopping weeds in a field of waist-high corn. The prosperous neighbor knew how to raise corn so he couldn’t help but comment, “Your corn is tall enough that these weeds won’t hurt. There’s no need for you and your boy to work so hard chopping them.”

The poor farmer wiped the sweat from his brow and replied: “Maybe. But I’m not just growing corn. I’m raising a boy.”

That son continued to learn about hard work and graduated from high school as valedictorian. As he gave his speech to the rest of the graduates, the poor farmer leaned over to his wife and whispered, “That boy is the best crop we ever raised.” Perspective. It is invaluable and needed not just when we gather to celebrate the living or the dead. Perspective is needed in everything from church to politics. The way to get God’s vantage point is to listen and observe; and love more than you judge.

family reunion


Everybody Needs a Study

There’s a person in my life that keeps me honest. One of the ways that he does it is to ask, “What have you been reading lately?” It doesn’t necessarily get me on a reading frenzy, but it does make me think about how and with what I have been feeding my soul. Too often I find myself flitting frenetically from one situation to another without the quality intake that I need to face the so-called “tyranny of the urgent.” Pastors are blessed in that it is expected that we read. Our offices are often called a “Study,” as if to drive home the point.

There’s no better book to read than the Bible, of course. Reading it prayerfully through careful listening to God’s heart is sublime. I really appreciate devotional books that offer more transformation than information. I especially like anything by Chris Tiegreen. He’s my go-to devotional guy. This is soul-reading at its best. Another such book for any potters out there is one that resonates with me: The Soulwork of Clay by Marjory Bankson. Good stuff.

I also like to re-read Rev. William C. Martin’s insights from his book The Art of Pastoring. His breath-prayers from his other book, The Way of the Word, give me a day-long focus that sticks with me. Listen and hear with me one of Martin’s observations to pastors from The Art of Pastoring:

“You are a minister of the Word but not of words. The Word was in the beginning before words and beyond words. And whether they weave sophisticated patterns of intellectual magic, or they strike with passion at the heart of the people’s emotions, words are not Word for the Word is inexhaustible. One can only stand in wonder and point.” Wow. Will I stand in wonder and point to Jesus today or limit God either by my poor inadequate words or an overzealous appreciation of my own voice? I want to let Jesus the Logos speak!

So there are books that are read for diversion and those that inspire transformation. For escape, I prefer historical fiction, a mixture of mystery and history. Since I like to be surprised, I don’t checkout best-seller lists. Finding a good book is more of a serendipitous discovery that is often aided by wise and helpful mentors. Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s family systems primer, Generation to Generation was suggested by a good friend and has been seminal in my understanding of society, church, and interpersonal relationships. It has actually brought me healing! The Starfish and The Spider and business books by Malcolm Gladwell come to mind as important, but anything by N.T. Wright is even more appreciated. His How God Became King gave me more insight into Jesus than seminary.

One of my favorite things to do is to take a mixture of books to Mt. Mitchell or the New River and read for a week. My traveling library will include escapism stuff by James Patterson, Baldacci, Cussler, Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child, and anything with a hint of the Knights Templar. Throw in a few “business” genre books, capped off by N.T. Wright’s latest or Migliore for theology, and I’m set. I do love Clark Pinnock and John Sanders on Process Theology, too, and Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons are exquisite reading. It also does me well to reread Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings every couple of years while listening to the “Best of the Moody Blues.” It is bliss to know that Frodo lives even after the fires of Mordor! I can hear the hoof beats with the Moody Blues playing on my buds. I will often take with me The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. They are a walk back in time, but they are timeless in their wit and insight.

The point of all this isn’t to declare myself as a nerdy bibliophile. To the contrary, I mix it up between the serious, practical, sacred, and mundane. The real deal for me is to take time, Sabbath, and let words enrich me. They transport me to another time, place, context, and give me what I need most: perspective. They provide a creative pause in the rush of life’s crises. Please read more than this blog today! If we don’t take the time to read, we will burn out quicker than a match on a windy day. Let me ask you my friend’s question, “What have you been reading lately?” Everybody needs a study!



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