Remembering Daddy on Father’s Day 2014

As Father’s Day approaches my Dad’s life vividly floods my mind. He and Mother were a great team. As I actively try this morning to recall them both I spent more time listening to what my Daddy said and watching what Mother did. It was not that both traits weren’t important but their individual strengths leaned toward doing for my Mother and saying for Daddy. They weren’t deficient in either skill. Mother was a doer without fanfare that helped people, cut the grass, and made sure her three sons’ needs were met. Daddy was a professional talker, literally, whose proverbs and talks can be replayed at a moment’s notice. 

He was an auctioneer that graduated in 1939 from Reppert School of Auctioneering in Decatur, Indiana at the top of his class. His primary vocation was in the stockyard business, owning 5 at one time: Wilkes County Stockyard in Washington, Georgia; Thomson Stockyard in Thomson, Georgia; Saluda County Stockyard in Saluda, SC; Lugoff Stockyard in Lugoff, SC, and the original one in Edgefield, SC. He was very successful to say the least as a communicator and as a people-connector. His gift of gab served him well both professionally and personally. He turned many an enemy into a friend through active and effective communication. 

He and Mother were keen examples of Christian character. They loved people and proved it in ways that went above and beyond what I witnessed in others. Together they made a decision to adopt a mentally-impaired African-American. Frank Arthur became a part of the family before I did since I was born when my parents were in their early 40’s. Daddy taught me how to shave by shaving Frank. They both taught me compassion for the hurting through meeting Frank’s needs. They showed that love can conquer injustice when you put a real face (Frank’s) to it.

A fond memory that sticks in my mind this morning is walking up the 17 steps past their bedroom to my upstairs abode and overhearing their last verbal check-in as they were preparing for sleep. I heard love expressed; days unpacked and analyzed; concerns voiced; hopes and dreams visualized and planned. I heard their character embodied in those stolen moments. Then when I got upstairs to my room there would always and every night be a three-fold knock on the wall below me. My Daddy could have been just checking to see if I was really in bed, but in my heart of hearts I knew there was more, so much more. Those knocks were Daddy’s way of saying what he said to me countless times during the day, on the phone, or in a letter: “I love you!” Every night I knocked back, tap-tap-tap – “I love you!” 

Daddy’s affection was real, palpable, genuine and even when he got angry and verbalized it, his love always spoke louder. Oh, how he and Mother loved us and each other. They were married 56 years when she died seven years before his own death. The depth of his loss was exhibited in his inability to live in our home place without her. He moved to be closer to my middle brother which was, interestingly, the same thing that his father did after my grandmother died. We have been blessed all along our family tree with parents that loved each other to the grave and beyond.

In our theological enterprise that we call eschatology or the study of the final things; i.e., death, heaven, judgment, the end of the world – there is an acknowledgement that there is no end to love, the circle is unbroken, and as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed we do believe in the Communion of Saints – that mystical but very real interconnection between the saints militant who are alive on earth and the saints deceased but more alive than ever in the church triumphant.

On days like Father’s Day I can literally feel those saints’ presence. I can hear Daddy’s voice. My reminiscences become real. I am inspired to say things that my children not only need to hear but will hopefully treasure some day. On this Father’s Day 2014 I remember my father, Ralph Thomas McClendon, and am grateful to Almighty God for a wonderful Daddy. 

God bless us all to become fathers and mothers to the parentless in this often loveless and unloved world. There are people watching and listening, or as Daddy used to say, “Small pots have big ears.” Let us give them something to hang onto, to remember, and to celebrate.

Daddy & Microphone in Hand
Daddy & Microphone in Hand

 

Clergy as Family Reunion Facilitators

Last week I attended a Dr. Ken Callahan Seminar where he effectively reminded us that churches are active mission outposts, pastors are shepherd leaders, and the community is a family. Three months from today on June 25, 2014 I will be the new pastor of a vibrant and exciting church. How will the transition go? Will I be ready? I have high expectations that everything will be absolutely great, but I am reminded of Loren Mead’s description of pastoral transition as “running through thistles.” Ouch!

I want to avoid as many “ouches” as I can! In preparation I have been rereading some familiar material about starting well in a new parish. One of the best and concise books is The First 100 Days: A Pastor’s Guide by T. Scott Daniels. It is a book that challenges me to pay attention to God, my family, and my next parish.

We have all heard mentors and advisors say, “Just love the people!” But every church is different and so is every pastor. Some congregations are in the throes of separation anxiety because they love their current pastor so much. Every mentor I’ve had has expressed how much better it is to follow someone who is loved than a clergyperson who is disliked. Following a beloved pastor may make things a bit rough at first but early on the family lovingly absorbs you into its fabric. That’s their pattern! To follow someone ineffective or disliked makes you the quick hero, but the angst and anger toward that pastor is just as quickly transferred to you as the love was in the first scenario. The challenge is to do well in either case.

The good news is that whether you follow a beloved longtime pastor, a divisive church splitter, or a middle of the road maintenance minder has little consequence because you control you, not the circumstances. The best approach then is to do a lot of observation at first while repeating the mantra under your breath: “Listen, listen; Love, love!”

I need to get to know the church by becoming a keen sociologist and historian, by working hard to understand the church’s current reality and its processes from vision to finances; and by falling deeply in love with the community. “How do they do things here?” can be answered through bulletins or orders of worship – videos of high Sundays and the ones in between would be extremely helpful. However, from a sociological point of view, how is this church a family? What is its unwritten but very real ethos and set of family rules?

How do they talk and do I have the capacity to speak the same language? Learning what “funeralizing” someone meant became extremely important when I moved from seminary in Boston to a three-point charge in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina! I specifically remember being asked to go visit someone and given a country store and a “colyum” as landmarks. I was supposed to go past the store and take a right at the “colyum.” I found the store but I had no idea what a “colyum” was. When I went back to the store and asked where the person’s house was and they said, “Take a right at the ‘colyum.’” My response was, “Could you spell that for me?” They answered: “C-O-L-U-M-N!” Oh….. I got it and made it to my destination. I had to learn the lingo, the church and community’s history, the expectations of the pastor, the lay leadership, the flow of the worship services, the people who needed immediate pastoral care, the vision and plans of the church, and all the mundane but IMPORTANT idiosyncrasies of that unique family.

The greatest challenge was joining the family! One of the metaphors that The First 100 Days uses is that a new pastor is someone who has been invited to become a “facilitator at someone else’s family reunion.” A new minister isn’t a member of the family automatically any more than a new son-in-law or daughter-in-law is. Newbies have “positional authority” by virtue of their legal or titular standing; i.e., “This is my ____ ___ ______.” However, they don’t have real authority until it’s earned or, I daresay, a grandchild comes along! Some clergy try to get by as long as they can by the “reputational authority” they’re given by their predecessor, the inquisitive detectives in the church who check them out ahead of time, the Bishop, or their bio. I am firmly convinced that pastors don’t really get an invitation to join the family until they acquire “relational authority” through significant interactions with people.

Please note that the word “authority” does NOT carry its usual heavy-handed meaning. Since “authority” comes from the word “author,” it really means doing something creative and productive rather than destructive; as Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Authority built through relationships with people and communities isn’t engendered through titles and degrees. It comes through an incarnational presence with people at their most important life events: illnesses, births, deaths, marriages, crises – whenever and wherever the clergyperson is invited to be a part of the new family.

According to author Scott Daniels the notion of “The First 100 Days” was originated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt after his inauguration in 1933. In the midst of the Great Depression he and Congress paved the way for the main components of the New Deal to be enacted in his first 100 days in office. It wouldn’t have happened unless he had the political capital to get it done. FDR had almost two years of campaigning under his belt before the clock started on his presidency. During those two years FDR articulated and garnered support for what was accomplished in his first 100 days! New pastors don’t have that luxury or capital!

In quick-step time we must gain capital through relational leadership with careful attention to avoid rushing. It sounds like an oxymoron to hit the ground running while going slow enough to really get to know the lay of the land. Relational authority has to be earned and that takes time, skill, and observation. It also requires the support of a new church family that is willing to be helpful, supportive, and patient. The most important key for all concerned is to trust in Jesus and follow His example. Then the rest will take care of itself!

Itinerancy and Appointment-making Survival!

This is an anxious time for the churches and pastors who expect a move in the United Methodist Church this year. Itineration is at the heart of who we are and what we do in clergy deployment and is a reflection of our outward focus to the world. We are people of community – a community of faith that builds us up and holds us accountable, and a secular community that needs our ministry! In Wesley’s parlance we do “works of piety” to strengthen our personal holiness, and we do “works of mercy” to transform the world for Christ.

Both of these actions are best done in community. Our piety is enhanced and built in discipleship groups and relationships. For clergy those relationships are bound by covenant in the annual conference and expressed in local churches or other extension ministries. Our works of mercy center on our local and global community. Our entire system is one in which we embrace the motto, “Together We Can Do More!”

Therefore, in and for community, through the combined efforts of many, we move clergy around to enhance works of piety and mercy. John Wesley called this active movement of clergy, “the apostolic plan of evangelization.” He sincerely believed that a primary genius of the Methodist Movement was itineration. Clergy were not to become “settled” as they routinely were in the Anglican Church of his day. In his mind, it was better for clergy to be constantly on the go in outreach to the world. The United Methodist Church continues to call clergy and laity alike to have a vibrant responsive ministry to our contextual realities!

Over the years more and more clergy have stayed longer in places. This can be a great thing if clergy and churches are continually creating new ways to minister to people. If churches and clergy are going through the motions, then it’s not. John Wesley said of himself, “If I were to stay in one place for a year, I would preach myself to sleep!” Wow, that’s a tough threshold, but his point, of course, is keeping the Gospel fresh, and the laity and the clergy, too.

But here I am about to move from being a District Superintendent back to the parish (At least that’s my hope), and I’m pondering how well I am handling the anxiety? I just got off the phone with a young clergyperson about to take their first appointment and my repeated advice to him was, “Pray and hang tight” By the way, “Hanging tight” does not mean to tense up. It is a charge to hold onto faith more than ever!

These are words that I need to heed. This is the first time in my ministry that I have known in advance that I’m definitely moving! There’s an eight-year term limit on DS’ so this has been anticipated, but I think that knowing I’m moving has actually exacerbated the uncertainty more than diminishing it. I have 15 more years of service somewhere(s), and am ready to let go of the trapeze bar that I’m on and grab the one that’s flying my way!

I’ve been meeting almost daily and quite a few times on Sundays with the persons anticipating moves in the Columbia District – S/PPRC’s and clergy. Everyone’s a bit nerved out. Sure, I know that this emotion will switch to anticipation and excitement when appointments are announced on March 10, but until then what can I and they do to find a centering place in God? When all of us in pulpit or pew have had what we perceived as less than favorable experiences in the past, what do we do to allay our fears today?

Isaiah 40 is an anchor in this storm of “already and not yet.” It begins in verse one with a message of comfort. Isaiah 40:1-11 is a song about God’s redemptive power. Words and phrases that speak of hard service being completed; that God’s comfort is greater than our fear of calamity or the “System” is balm to our souls. I especially like verse 11: “He (God) tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

For every clergyperson with a family, it’s good to know that God and the Cabinet care for you, your young, and whatever special circumstance is yours! God’s care extends to all involved in the appointment process. Yes, there will be hard decisions made, and there will be disappointments, but by the grace of God there will not be any mis-appointments when it’s all said and done!

Further comfort from Isaiah 40 is lined out in the litany of things, people, and systems that are no match for God. Verses 12-26 dare us to ask, “Who is God’s equal?” Is God greater than the nations? Absolutely! Is God greater than any human idol including a “plum” appointment? You know so! Is Creator God more powerful than creation, and the answer is certainly “Yes!” Is God greater than the princes and rulers of this world who sometimes are called bishops and superintendents? You better believe it! Is God greater than the starry host and the cosmos’ systems? By all means!

If this is all true Isaiah 40:27 confronts my fears with the pertinent question: “Why do you say, O Jacob (Tim), and complain, O Israel (Your name), ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?’” If God is greater than the litany of powers lined out in the earlier verses, then there is no cause for complaint or fear. There is, on the other hand, cause for great faith!

Therefore, Isaiah 40 concludes with a canticle of praise and comfort:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young people stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

For all of us in this itinerant ministry called United Methodism, may we hold fast to God and trust!!! In the Olympic spirit give a listen to Eric Liddell’s reading from Isaiah 40 in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” Pray and hang tight!

Dealing with Death and Suicide on Gaudete Sunday

Sudden death gut punches us with the dreaded reality that life will never be the same. This Sunday is going to be especially difficult for one church and several families this year. I just received a report that a wonderful elderly couple was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. They were both great people, and people of faith. I don’t know all of the details, as if anyone can, but the report thus far suggests that declining health may have led to this drastic decision. I hurt for their families and desperately hurt for these precious people.

How can anyone who believes in Christmas joy and Easter resurrection see these terrible acts as a viable option in the face of life’s difficulties? Death at one’s own hand flies in the face of the joy and hope that we Christians profess. I personally know life is difficult, but there is no easy way out for anyone in these situations. The survivors of such actions are scarred for life, including the generations that follow. There are palliative methods to ease life’s burdens through the comfort of family, friends, the church, and hospice, without the necessity of such desperate action.

Certainly I don’t think that suicide is an unpardonable sin. I have known situations where people simply could not see beyond their hands, so to speak. The darkness so fully enveloped them that poor decisions were made. They were momentarily out of their best minds or thinking to a degree, and if human courts let people off due to temporary insanity, how much more will the courts of heaven? God is a God of grace and mercy and that is my firm hope in this situation, and there is little else to go on in this bewildering time. A decision was made, whether with rational culpability or irrational nonsense, and lives and families have been shattered. Who in their right mind would want people to remember the circumstances of their death instead of all the years of faith, good deeds, and positive character traits? It just doesn’t make sense, and I guess that’s the point. We will never know the whole story so we’re left wondering and crying.

I just wish that I and others might have picked up on the warning signs, and somehow my mind keeps debating if Christianity as a whole has let such people down. Instead of encouraging an endurance that comes from hope and a joy that is not dependent on circumstances, we have often taught people to count on themselves for supposed solutions. The essence of the Christian faith is to count on God, but we are either too distracted by the world or prosperity-Gospel advocates to know that band-aids and panaceas only mask pain, not defeat it.

Although specifically difficult for grieving families, this coming Sunday is still Gaudete Sunday, otherwise known as “Joy Sunday” with its pink candle on the Advent Wreath.  “Gaudete” comes from the Latin gaudium which means “joy,” and it’s the source of our contemporary word “gaudy.” When I think of something that’s gaudy, I think “tacky” more than joyful. In the face of any tragic news I have to wonder whether we are joyful enough as Christians to be called tacky. Do we dare proclaim faith, hope, and even joy as an affront to the dour and horrible machinations of the forces that would cause pain and suffering? We are fighting a war between joy and despondency, and lights and tinsel aren’t weapons enough.

Jesus, the conqueror of death and despair, is the King who has come and is coming again, yet I’m afraid that we have domesticated his incarnation with decorations and pleasantries so much that we miss the audacious joy, the tacky but unconquerable hope that flows from the amazing news of a Savior who left the safety of eternity and immersed himself in time to be with us in our every trial. As a result we have gotten so caught up in the peripheral trappings of Christmas that we have been less than Incarnational with those hurting around us. We keep silent and dare not be tacky enough to intrude and enter their pain. It’s high time to be tacky once again. This is Gaudete Sunday’s solemn reminder to me in the face of this tragedy.

Someone anonymously said, “The cross leads to joy and not just happiness. There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is a checkbook that has money, a car that works, a good date for Saturday night. Happiness is the absence of major hassles, or terrorism or crime; happiness is kids getting good report cards and spouses getting a raise. Happiness is something we know as enhancement or protection of our own lives. Joy comes in connection with another or with Jesus. Joy can happen without money or a working car. Joy happens when we get to the core of life and realize that love is at the center. Joy befriends us; love accompanies us. Jesus is God-with-us and will never leave or forsake us. Joy is not the absence of suffering; it is the presence of God.”

May God grant peace to all those who are suffering that they may know the audacity of Christ’s presence, the essence of joy. Happiness is fleeting while joy endures forever. Perhaps more than ever, we need Gaudete Sunday this year.

A Message From Narcie

Most of you know that my daughter, Rev. Narcie Jeter, Gator Wesley Director at the University of Florida, had a second brain tumor surgery May 10 of this year. She is so strong because God is so strong. She just wrote this and as I got home late last night from presiding at a charge conference she had just posted this. I needed it. Maybe you do, too, or someone you know. Thank you for your prayers for Narcie. Thank you to Jesus who makes us all Overcomers!

Her blog is “Blessings on the Journey” and this post can be found at:

http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/overcomer/

Getting Personal with Jesus

What’s the difference between being a “professing Christian” and a “professional Christian?” This is a daily struggle for me as my faith is lived in the context of being a professional person working for the church, in the church, and is paid by the church. I’m feeling very uncomfortable as a “church professional” these days. I’m in my last season of charge conferences as a judicatory authority in the role of District Superintendent, and I swing back and forth between the grief of seeing these 8 years of relationships end and relishing the thought of being back as a local church pastor.

I really miss the rhythms of the Christian calendar as a pastor. As a DS, I pretty much have just two seasons: Charge Conference and Appointment-making seasons. Even though I have tried to remain connected to the Christian calendar by spending lots of time in local churches and with pastors, I am still burdened by the “tyranny of the urgent” in my superintending role! Every day, and I mean every day there is junk that I see as a DS that I never saw as a pastor, and everyone thinks that their problem should be at the top of my priority list. DS’ are in the trenches as the first-line of defense against anarchy and church squabbles. I love being a missional strategist as a DS, but many days I am swamped by an endless litany of minor things.

 These days make me think that I would rather be a professing Christian than a professional one! I suspect that every pastor, clergy person, judicatory employee, and maybe local church member has had or is currently experiencing a similar thought. I have met local church members who have gradually morphed from being persons of faith to being tired “church leaders,” and in the process they have become jaded by it all. Their cynicism toward church life and the hypocrisy of fellow members and/or ministers makes them frustrated enough to want to quit the church and run back to Jesus. Well, Hallelujah – that’s the answer isn’t it? Maybe, maybe not – we’re called to be in community with other Christians however hard the prospect might be, but we’d better run back to Jesus, too, as job # 1!

So how in the world can I get ready to be a pastor again?  How can any of us stay connected to Jesus and put up with church life? How can you church leaders out there shy away from the power trip of being “pastor wanna-be’s,” church gatekeepers, power brokers, even “pillars of the church,” and be satisfied with being simply known as a faithful Christian? I am naïve enough to think that if I can nurture being a “professing Christian” once again it might make a difference in my being a “professional Christian.” It’s my hope that the same would be true for all of us.

It’s an obvious answer, and perhaps much too simple in our complex world, but could the difference simply be in professing Jesus more? What if I viewed my personhood and existence as a child of God as more important than my duties as a professional “Church” person? What difference would it make if I professed my faith more than worked for the church? I can hear the familiar refrain from countless funerals of “good” Christians over the years: “She/He loved the church and worked for the church – blah, blah, blah.” What kind of message is that? Yeah, yeah, yeah – it means they found value and strength in the community of other Believers, which is true, but sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, it meant they abandoned their families to open church doors, turn on furnaces, turn off lights, serve on countless committees and they lost not only their first love for Jesus but their love for people, too. They replaced a personal living relationship with Jesus with a non-smiling drudgery-laden burdensome guilt trip of working for Jesus.

The problem is that Jesus prefers to have people connected to him who then are inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear fruit for him. Jesus didn’t have people “working” for him. His wasn’t an employer-employee relationship with the disciples. Sure, Jesus had followers whom he sent out, but their missions were by-products of a direct and personal relationship with Him. If I don’t keep the personal connection with Jesus primary then I’m no better than the people Jesus talked about in Matthew 7:21-23 who said they did all kinds of great things yet the Father said, “I never knew you.” Doing, doing, and doing yet no personal relationship is the damnation of many.

Do I do what I do for Jesus because of closeness to Christ or has it become a rote routine profession? You want to know one of my problems as a “church professional?” Instead of professing Jesus in a fresh intimate way, I’ve found myself some days blatantly distant from Christ. I end up overcompensating by pretending as if Jesus and I were great buddies and it doesn’t matter what I do or the attitude that I have or the actions that I take; i.e., “Jesus and I have THAT kind of relationship.” Too much familiarity with Jesus by clergy and church leaders has led to the looseness of tongue and behavior that sometimes cripples the church. If you don’t know what I mean, go play golf with a bunch of preachers, or stay up all night cooking bar-b-que with a group of church members. You will witness first-hand the fulfillment of Aesop’s saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” New Christians or young clergy don’t need to be exposed to the laxness of “professional” Christians. Professional Christians are one step away from being non-Christian or almost Christian as John Wesley described them.

Like the Pharisees who were the religious professionals of Jesus’ day, the institutional church today is loaded with people in both pulpit and pew who have lost their first love of God with all their hearts, minds, souls, and bodies. The result is a “Church-ianity” of tired half-Christians who in someone’s words, “Have been inoculated with so many small doses of Christianity, they haven’t caught the real thing.” Therefore, if you feel more “professional” than “professing” as a Christian today and the evidence is stacking up against you, my suggestion is to reconnect with Jesus. That’s what I need to do! I need to get more personal than professional with the living Christ. Jesus calls us to a personal relationship, a discipleship that is built on a relationship more than religious professionalism. So whatever my discipleship is today, I want to make sure that it is intensely personal with Jesus. That’s why Jesus said, “Follow me.” That’s getting personal more than professional!

Stir What You Got!

I haven’t blogged a few weeks and that says a lot about the limbo-land where our family has been. In the last month we have welcomed a new granddaughter and we have been with Narcie after another brain surgery. She describes it on her blog at www.narciejeter.wordpress.com. Where I am emotionally and theologically is an interesting place. We physically came back last night from Narcie’s, but our prayers and hearts are still there. We transition today from one night at home to going to the South Carolina Annual Conference Cabinet Banquet and one last prep time before AC starts tomorrow afternoon. As Parliamentarian I am trying to hone my skills so I can be of help, as if he needs it, to Bishop Jonathan Holston. How blessed we are to have him as our Episcopal leader!

Where I am is twixt and ‘tween: not in Florida with Narcie and not quite mentally in South Carolina; not in Columbia and not yet in Florence yet for Annual Conference; not in summertime but almost; not at work but always working. It’s an emotional time clinging to the renewed hope that God and the doctors hold out, the time between MRI’s, chemo and radiation treatments; between Enoch’s birthday celebration yesterday and Evy’s dance recital today. It’s waking up and thinking, “Where am I?” I can’t even tell if I’m spent or rested. It’s almost an out-of-body experience. Too many of you have been exactly where I am and know how weird it is. Right? Is this our new normal, or, come to think of it, hasn’t life always been this way?

This is why I haven’t written anything lately. What can you say or write when you’re at that hinge point between a life that was and a life that will be. Platitudes don’t cut it and I’m not much of a poet, so let’s just see what comes out. Here’s what I know: I should not worry about the unknown. I need to celebrate every day’s joys and accomplishments. I will not mope around. I will make plans to work and/or relax with purposeful intention. Most importantly, I will live each day with faith, hope, and love.

Faith walks a path unseen, yet believed. Faith trusts in Jesus who is the “same yesterday, today, and forever.” Faith believes no matter what, God can work all things together for good. Faith is both a gift and a choice. God gives us the gracious ability to believe and it’s up to us to believe. Therefore, I choose faith!

Hope is a little different. It is an expectancy of good. I’m not talking a weak hope, like hoping it’s going to rain without carrying an umbrella. Hope is a firm belief that God is good and does not and will not abandon us. If faith is my choice then hope is God’s choice. Hope isn’t about me turning on a switch or something. It’s about me accepting a calm but determined assurance that everything is going to be alright! This kind of hope is neither wishy-washy nor maudlin stupidity. It is a sincere trust in God’s best intentions for us. For me, Christian hope is a noun first that I get to turn into a verb through faith.

Faith and hope sustain us. We should avoid the Charlie Brown attitude that says: “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time.” One way for me to fan faith and hope into positive expectancy is through love. Relishing God’s love through Christ empowers me to love others, even the unlovely. Love allows hope’s noun and faith’s verb to form a complete sentence: “Since God has good intentions for me (hope) and gives me the grace to believe (faith) then I will live like it through love.” Love conquers evil with good. Love is the evidence of faith and hope every time!

This story from Abingdon Press’ The Heart of the City by Howard Edington inspires what’s next for me: “Late one Sunday night, as my uncle, Andrew Edington (college president and Bible teacher) was returning home, he stopped at a roadside diner in a Texas hill country town to snag a quick cup of coffee. As is typical of all the Edington males, he quickly used all the sugar packets the waitress had left on the table for him, but wanted more. As the waitress came near his table again, he called out, ‘I want some more sugar, please.’ The crusty old gal defiantly put her hands on her hips, leaned over toward him and snapped, ‘Stir what you got!’ That lesson has proved invaluable over the years. No church is perfect, and sometimes you encounter circumstances that make it less than what you hoped… What to do? Stir what you got! … What to do? Stir what you got!”

What to do for us, for Narcie, for Josh, for Caleb – for me, Cindy, and maybe you – Stir what you got! Stir faith, hope, and love and see what happens!

Brain Surgery to Birthing a Baby

It’s a new day, a new season. I welcome Pentecost for lots of reasons this year! This morning at 6:28 a.m. a new granddaughter was born. Joella Anne McClendon was born to Josh and Karen and beautifully welcomed by her big sister Kaela. Joella is an interesting name, and it fits both Pentecost and my family. Her birth will always be connected to the Spirit’s power predicted by the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32) and fulfilled on the first Pentecost. As for the name’s connection to us, I can name at least 17 family members who have been named Joel. Joel/Joella is a great name that literally means, “The Lord is God!” Josh’s Hebrew classes have come in handy as he and Karen have selected names. Whenever there is an “el” in a name you can bank on God showing up because it is a shortened rendition of Elohim (God). Way to go in sharing the faith-reminders of Kaela (“Who is Like God?”) and Joella (“The Lord is God!”).

Our whole family says “Amen!” because we need faith-reminders. Who doesn’t? Narcie’s brain surgery was a scant 9 days ago. The surgeon deftly removed the tumor and margins, and slowly but surely, as predicted, Narcie’s speech and fine motor skills are returning. Please keep praying for her as she continues to improve. We have been flying the trapeze between brain surgery and birthing babies. We need a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to ride these waves from crest to trough and back to crest again. Have you ever felt like an unanchored buoy bobbing from one emotion to another? Oh, Lord, we need your Holy Spirit to give us strength. We praise you for the mighty things you have been doing in Narcie and with Joella’s birth, but please help us to catch our breath. Interesting that the Hebrew word used for the Spirit is ruach, or “breath.”

So during Pentecost we celebrate the power of God’s Spirit poured out on Jesus’ followers. Pentecost has appropriately been called the birthday of the church, and it will certainly be remembered by us as Joella’s birthday. Pentecost is very personal this year because of Narcie and the baby.  Why? The answer is the same as it must have been for Jesus’ followers on that first Pentecost. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost turned reluctant fear-ridden disciples into daring witnesses for Jesus. After Pentecost every apostle but John gladly died martyr’s deaths for the sake of Christ. The Greek word martyrios meant witness before it came to mean someone willing to die for their beliefs. Pentecost gave Jesus’ followers supernatural power that inspired them to do amazing things.

Pentecost is such a contrast to our usual experience of God. Perhaps we should let God shake us up more so that we won’t be so freaked out by life’s tidal waves. How would we react if our church buildings were shaken like what occurred on Pentecost? What would our reaction be if we saw flickering flames dancing above people’s heads while they spoke about Jesus in unknown languages? Would we be worried? I hope not, but most of our churches are afraid of a smidgeon of the Holy Spirit, much less a real dose. Pentecost is a reminder of what God can do in and through us, not what God can do for us! A God chained to our desires will always be too weak to deliver us from evil or whatever trouble comes our way.

So from one extreme to another we go, God-in-a-box to God-unleashed. Which would you rather experience? I heard of one woman whose idea of worship was decidedly focused on meeting her own personal needs. She complained to the organist one Sunday, “Your preludes are so loud, I can’t hear what my friends are saying.” True Spirit-filled worship is more in tune with what pleases God than us. After all, transformative worship correctly identifies God as the audience for everything we do in worship. The congregants are the actors, and those who serve behind the chancel rail are stage hands of sorts who direct the congregation/actors in whether or not to bow their heads, give offerings, stand up, or sit down, etc. Worship services put God first and foremost or they aren’t worship, and they aren’t relevant to people who have been on life’s trapeze without a net!

Pentecost should remind us that God can do mighty things that are out of the norm to those who truly worship. A woman was attending a meeting of Church Women United where the secretary asked what her church affiliation was. She replied, “I’m United Methodist, but my husband is nondimensional.” Surely she meant nondenominational, but being nondimensional in our faith seems to be pretty popular – shallow, predictable, with a one-sided “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Many want a domesticated God that isn’t Pentecostal. We are afraid of a multi-dimensional God because a wild God who shakes buildings might shake us up, too. Let me tell you, from what we’ve been through lately, and more truthfully our whole life, we don’t want a flat one dimensional or non-dimensional God ever! We want and need the real deal – a God of Power and Might! Come, Holy Spirit, Come! Who is like God? Nobody! The Lord is God! Amen!

Kaela & Joella
Kaela & Joella
 

Our Family Wreath Includes You!

Years ago Cindy and I bought a framed pressed flower wreath composed of the tiniest of colorful blooms. It still hangs on our wall. Inside the wreath in dainty calligraphy were prophetic words that we have tried to honor through all the subsequent years: “Our family is a circle of strength and love, with every birth and every union, the circle grows, every joy shared adds more love, every crisis faced together, makes the circle stronger.”

There have been births and deaths, tragedies and triumphs, and we continue to praise the Living God who gives us the grace to endure together. If anything, it’s the together part that makes the journey easier. No wonder Jesus wanted his followers to be formed into a community of faith. The “two or more…” of the church represents the strength that we gain from bearing one another’s burdens. I can tell you this if you don’t have a community of faith, United Methodism’s connectionalism works! I want to say “Thank you!” to all of you who have been a part of our family sagas over the years. You have lightened the load. You have inspired us to live life with honesty and hope through Jesus.

The Christian faith is not an opiate for the masses as said Marx. Christianity is a very real source of hope. The world’s ways of coping with problems isn’t sufficient. Take a peek at the mostly inadequate methods espoused:

Sixteen Thoughts to Get You Through Almost Any Crisis

1. Indecision is the key to flexibility

2. You cannot tell which way the train went
by looking at the track.

3. There is absolutely no substitute for a genuine lack of preparation.

4. Happiness is merely the remission of pain.

5. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

6. The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.

7. Someone who thinks logically is a nice
contrast to the real world.

8. Things are more like they are today than
they ever have been before.

9. Everything should be made as simple as
possible, but no simpler.

10. Friends may come and go, but enemies
accumulate.

11. If you can smile when things go wrong, you have someone in mind to blame.

12. One-seventh of your life is spent on Monday.

13. By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.

14. This is as bad as it can get, but don’t bet on it.

15. Never wrestle a pig; you both get dirty and the pig likes it.

16. The trouble with life is, you’re halfway through it before you realize it’s a “do-it
yourself” thing.

Although there may be some truth in a couple of these, all in all these clichés are absolutely no comparison to the hope that comes from Jesus Christ. John 10:10-11 says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Yes, the source of evil and disease isn’t God but the thief. Jesus is the Good Shepherd that gave himself so that we poor sheep can have life to the full.

As a family we thank you for your prayers through the years. Some critical times were when we lost our fathers 5 weeks apart in two sudden deaths, and your support through the deaths of both of our mothers was unwavering. Your prayers and presence through my brother’s sudden death were comforting. Your wisdom and guidance through our youngest son Caleb’s journey have been appreciated as well.  You have been with us through the births of our grandchildren Enoch, Evy, and Kaela, too. Guess what: Josh and Karen are about to have another daughter within the month, so thanks ahead of time for prayers for them! The baby is going to be another little girl! My Dad often said that he would have traded all three of his sons for one daughter so Josh and Karen are doubly blessed!

Thanks to Narcie, I can really understand my Dad’s sentiment about daughters. So today I want to thank you especially for your support through Narcie’s travails. It doesn’t seem like it’s been almost three years since her first surgery and diagnosis of an oligodendroglioma brain tumor, and here we go again. May 10, this coming Friday, she is scheduled for another brain surgery. Dr. William Friedman at Shands Medical Center at the University of Florida will be the surgeon. Pray for him and the whole team!

When Narcie got the appointment at UF for the Gator Wesley Director’s position, we had no clue that they had a medical school, much less a renowned tumor center, and Dr. Friedman is chair of the department! God’s providence is marvelous. Even when life’s storms have come our way, God has provided. God doesn’t cause the dilemmas, but God always provides a way out. I Corinthians 10:13 says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”

So thank you now for the prayers for Narcie, and please continue to lift her up. We will make it by the grace of God. We will continue to live in a posture of faith trusting in a good God who gave his only Son that we might have everlasting life. We will rejoice together and suffer together, and we will prevail together! Thank you for being a part of our family wreath,

tim

Spillers and Pillars

Caught in time is how I feel today and I would rather transcend it. Caught between now and Narcie’s brain surgery on May 10; caught between this job and the knowledge that a year from now we will be somewhere else; caught between weekends; caught between trips to Mt. Mitchell or the New River; caught between earth and heaven, caught between here and now & there and then; caught between the seen and the unseen – feeling caught. Caught like Australian singer Lenka between “enjoying the show” or “I want my money back.” Have you ever felt caught?

I sense the lingering memories of yesteryear, go through the motions of today, and pray for better tomorrows. There’s always hope, and, frankly, the good motto of South Carolina doesn’t do hope enough justice, “While I breathe, I hope.” Nope, hope is a forever thing, not just a breathing living thing. The Audacity of Hope, by then Senator Barack Obama is about embracing hope over cynicism – lots of luck with that in Washington. Yep, Hope is an audacious thing.

How did I claim hope this past weekend? I planted flowers, not vegetables. I did that a lot as a youth, too, but vegetables are “useful.” I wanted something better than useful to put an end to this prolonged semi-winter weather we’ve been having. To embrace spring I called upon the memories of a great Mom and Dad who taught me the names of flowers, how to lay out a plan, and visualize a seed into perfect bloom. I planted 2 large flower beds and two containers. Now that takes hope even when you have a picture on the seed packet.

Mother said a profound thing about flower gardens and arrangements, “You’ve got to have spillers and pillars.” You need the flowers that spill over, know no boundaries, and give big splashes of color. You also need to layer the bed by height, texture, and spread in order to create visual interest. You can’t just have all short plants. You’ve got to have pillars, too.

So, I’m looking at my list of spillers and pillars with a hopeful eye today: pinkish purple Ganges Primrose, pink and white Pentas, lime green Marguerite Sweet Potato Vines, Diamond Frost white Euphorbia, purple Angelonia, colorful wave supertunias like Royal Magenta, Blue Denim, Bermuda Beach, Picasso in Pink, Pretty Much Picasso, and basic but classy red, white, and purple wave petunia plants. I also added mini-petunias called Superbells in Blackberry Punch, Cherry Star, and basic red and white. I finished things off with a garnet Vinca called Pacifica Cranberry.

Use your imagination and try to glimpse the cranberry, purple, lime, pink, red, magenta, and Baby’s Breath-like white Euphorbia dancing together. You’d have to see the Pretty Much Picasso and Picasso in Pink to believe their “pop.” They’re mostly a cross between pink and fuchsia with purple throats and edged with lime green. They are like, “Wow!” The whole assortment is spillers and pillars. They give me hope, and that’s more than useful!

On this rainy Monday caught between “enjoying the show” and “I want my money back,” I’m choosing to enjoy the show! Through the audacity of hope and the promise of color-to-come through my spillers and pillars, life is a faith journey that calls us to be like flowers: bloom where we’re planted, let our joy spill over, and stand tall as a pillar for the outrageous possibility of a life in faith.