Finding God’s Will: Will Jackson

This morning as the dawn’s sun peeks through the trees, I’m thinking about my last congregation where early on I quit going to the front door to shake hands with parishioners. You see it was the custom for whoever did the preaching to go to the front door and the other clergy to go to the side door. On my first trip to the side door and every Sunday after that the dear and challenged young man, Will Jackson, grabbed my hand and heart. He sat by the side door every Sunday with his beloved parents, Bill and Faye, and his big sister, Mary Katherine. Every time I walked by he reached out his hand – a touch of sacramental grace from a lad who couldn’t speak with words, but spoke with his heart. From that first time it happened I knew it was God’s will/Will for me to go to the side door because I didn’t have church that Sunday or any other until Will touched me.

Do you want to know God’s will/Will? What or who is God’s Will/will for your life? What’s your personal mission statement? What’s your church’s? I have enjoyed listening to churches share their mission statements and goals at charge conferences, and I agree with what someone once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” In my experience that lack of direction usually means a less than worthy destination. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Without a vision, the people perish.” Thoughtless doing without clear goals is busy-ness without fruitfulness. Doing lots of stuff without clarity of purpose is wearisome and lacks satisfaction. It leads to mediocrity, and describes much of what I see in our churches.

The churches that I’ve seen that are thriving know their goals. They can say them out loud, not like automatons or lemmings, but because they have a passion for a singular purpose. Someone said that mission statements need to be “long enough to be memorable, and short enough to be memorized.” I like that. The purpose of the church should have enough depth to challenge, but be clear enough to be immediately verbalized. I’ve heard some like “MD4C” which stands for “Making Disciples for Christ,” and “Together We Can Do More.” Clarity of direction is key for disciples. If leaders aren’t clear then the rest of the flock is left wandering in the wilderness!

In ­Alice in Wonderland, Alice encounters the Red Queen as she is trying to find her way through the fairy tale forest. Alice cried out, “Which way do I go?” The Red Queen was almost nonchalant in her reply, “Well, that all depends on where you want to go.” Alice continued her plea for directions with, “Well, to tell the truth, I really don’t know!” The Red Queen concluded, “Then it really doesn’t matter which direction you take, does it?” So we have churches, people, governments, and societies floundering around going in every direction imaginable like chickens with their heads lopped off because they have no clue where they want to go.

Where do you want to go? Better yet, where does God want you to go? How can you tell? I think sometimes our sense of call or direction begins with the opportunities around us. What’s the need? Other times I need to ask myself what are my passions, or as I ask the clergy who are coming in to see me for their consultation, “What lights you up?” That simple question gives me more than a hint as to what that person’s direction might need to be. What do valued and wise people in your life advise you to do? Sometimes others see more clearly than we do what our priorities should be! Of course and foremost, what has God said to us in prayer and in God’s Word? If I read the Scriptures and ask intently with undistracted focus, “What are you saying to me today, Lord?” – God usually speaks with a deep inward impression on my soul. Oh, for the courage to do what the Lord says! That’s direction!

Our Bishop, Jonathan Holston, is wonderful. He often says that we need to dream what he calls “God-sized dreams.” He’s so right! That’s a sure-fire way to avoid mediocrity. When Disney World opened south of Orlando the widow of the great entrepreneur Walt Disney stood with one of Disney’s engineers as they were both gazing at its magnificence and beauty. The engineer was sincerely trying to honor one of our country’s greatest innovators when he turned toward Mrs. Disney and said, “Boy, I wish Walt could have seen this!” Without lifting her gaze off the awesome sight of Disney World in all its splendor, she simply replied, “He did. That’s why it’s here.”

God wants us to have God-sized dreams and articulate them clearly enough to inspire others to catch them. Listen today to God’s voice and sense the Holy Spirit’s nudges; listen to your own heart and think about your passions, giftedness, and what lights you up. Listen to the wise counsel of Christian friends. Look at the needs around you that must be addressed. Knowing God’s will ain’t rocket science! Do something about it! Amid the din of all other voices and clamors for your attention, touch the “least of these” in Jesus’ name and you’ve met and done God’s Will/will. Give a listen to Martina McBride to know what I mean.

Are We What We Wear? Maybe, Maybe not!


I came to work yesterday in jeans and a casual shirt. I was very tired from Charge Conferences, didn’t feel like dressing up, so I just came to the office for pastoral consultations as is, and went to Charge Conference dressed the same way. I’ve felt a little guilty ever since. I need to take some clothes to the cleaners, but that’s just an excuse. I just didn’t feel like it.

How does it make you feel to go to a special function and there is someone there who is inappropriately dressed? Are you tired of the dressed-down casual look that is so pervasive in our society? Ball caps don’t cut it in fine restaurants do they? Where are our standards of proper decorum? But just as quickly as I want to put up fences to keep the riff-raff out, I am reminded that Jesus wasn’t very exclusive. Unlike Augusta National, He let just about anybody into the Kingdom. It was the Pharisees who had such impossibly high standards that they missed the Messiah and the Kingdom.

Thinking of Pharisaical dress codes reminds me of a family that had invited a college student and his date over to their house for Sunday lunch. As everyone started to relax, the host said to the young man, “Why don’t you take your coat off?” The host had already taken off his coat and tie. The young man kind of hem-hawed around, however, as if he didn’t want to do it. Finally, he got the host off in a corner and said, reminding the man of an old trick that he knew well when he was in college, “The only parts of my shirt I ironed were the cuffs and the collar.” He had pressed just the parts that showed. The rest of the shirt looked as if he had ironed it with a weedeater! That was the way of the Pharisees: the part people could see looked great, but their interiors were a different story.

Jesus wants us to look good inside out. His solution to our dress code dilemma is found in the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s work in Sanctifying Grace that creates clean hearts and lives in you and me. We cannot measure up on our own, but God can make us new creatures! Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “The gospel life isn’t something we learn ABOUT and then put together with instructions from the manufacturer; it’s something we BECOME as God does his work of creation and salvation in us and as we accustom ourselves to a life of belief and obedience and prayer.”

This is a good old-fashioned Wesleyan emphasis on Sanctification. We’re saved by grace, to be sure, but there IS a dress code! Consider this pastor’s dilemma:
There were two evil brothers. They were rich, and used their money to keep their evil ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians. Then their pastor retired, and a new one was hired. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he was also a good preacher so the church started to grow by leaps and bounds. A fund raising campaign was started to build a new sanctuary.

All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building. “I have only one condition,” he said. “At my brother’s funeral, you must say that he was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check. The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” the pastor said. “He cheated on his wife and abused his family.” After going on in this vein for awhile, he concluded with, “But compared to his brother, he was a saint.” He did what he agreed to do. Quite ingenious, don’t you think?

Compared with yesterday I have on pressed slacks and a dress shirt, no tie, but a blazer. I figure I owe it to the clergy I’ll be seeing today to show them due respect, and the Charge Conference tonight that I care enough about their church to show it in how I look. Sounds contrived, but it’s a fact: what we look like should reflect our inner opinions of who we with or what we’re doing. More importantly I pray that today I will look better on the inside than the outside.

Charge Conference Christians


Everyone wants to put on a good face for Charge Conference. They are in full swing right now. I actually went to bed last night counting how many Charge Conferences I have had instead of counting sheep. Charge Conferences are in full-swing, along with consultations with pastors about their ministry. I have heard some great reports which underscore the very reason we have these annual meetings. The most distinctive Wesleyan doctrine is sanctification. We are “Methodists” because we believe in a methodical way to live our faith, making sure that we are held accountable. All those forms are our empirical way to gauge how we’re doing spiritually. At least that’s how I rationalize it. The bottom-line is that we believe Jesus didn’t save us to leave us the way we were found, but to transform us and the world. We need transformation, not just at Charge Conference reporting time but year round.

I wish there were a pill that would really cure all that ails us. Some might say that our national malaise is the product of a poor economy, the war on terror, midterm-election year mudslinging, the disintegration of the family, and sorry football teams. It’s tough when sports, your source of distraction from life’s difficulties, only adds to the problem. What I’ve found when life is on the slippery slope is to do something worthwhile. It doesn’t matter so much what the task, just so it takes commitment.

Psychologists, for years, have said that one of the best ways to get out of the doldrums is to make yourself do something for somebody else. They’re right! If we give in to the pits we’re never going to get out. Commitment is the ability to push through the pain, the angst, the pessimistic cynical mindset in which we find ourselves and keep at the projects that we’re supposed to complete. George Miller gave an interesting analogy, “The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” What he’s saying about Italian food is true for me. It sticks with me for a long time.

When we’re a little down, we shouldn’t give in to it. We should stick to the things that we know that we’re supposed to do. Sure, I know very well that I don’t feel like going to walk, but I also know the endorphins that are released when I exercise will make me feel better. Unfortunately, many of us easily avoid the things we should do. Jerome K. Jerome, who lived from 1859-1927, said it for all sad-sacks and procrastinators, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.”

So maybe we shouldn’t vegetate and let our burdens build up. Doing something good and worthwhile is a better answer. It’s all about commitment. Lewis Smedes puts the matter quite plainly, “I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God… When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and control at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.”

Many years ago a pastor preached on three different kinds of believers: “if,” “because,” and “regardless.” An “if” believer follows God IF he or she receives blessings and rewards in return. This person waits to see what God will do first, then decides whether or not to respond in obedience. A “because” believer follows God BECAUSE God blesses the person. This person has seen the connection between personal obedience and God’s blessing and wants to keep it going. A “regardless” believer follows God REGARDLESS of the person’s circumstances, cynicism, and hardships. A “regardless” believer honors commitment and knows that God is faithful to the faithful. Which am I today when it comes to the seemingly mundane paperwork and meeting schedule that exhibits a long obedience in God’s direction?