John Wesley Dropped His Assumptions, Can’t We?


Assumptions are dangerous. Just when I have thought I knew what to expect out of something or someone, surprise, assuming has made an idiot out of me. When there’s the quiet guy in class who you assume is just biding his time, then, wham, he writes the most insightful paper imaginable; egg on my face. Oh, it’s not the first time that assuming has gotten me into trouble. Gosh, assuming is so darn Calvinistic, predetermining a predictable outcome. If I’m a true Wesleyan, and I certainly try to be, then I should have a flexibility, and openness to what God might do – no pigeonholing allowed.

Predictability doesn’t suit God and shouldn’t suit us if we’re believers in change and redemption. Hey, the USC Gamecocks did win the National Championship in baseball! So, there goes the old chicken-curse assumption. Who knows, the football team may win 9 games this year. In 116 years of football they have only won 8 or more 3 times in the school’s entire history. So if I follow the assumption route then there’s no way it will happen, but what if I follow the route of faith?

Isn’t faith about having an open mind? With faith it doesn’t matter if the doctor is Hindu or Muslim. If the medicine is good, it had to come from the God who provides every good and perfect gift. Can I have an open mind about someone even if they are huge, anorexic, uncomely, smart-*****, slow, manic, slothful, wrinkle-shirted, starched, black, white, mixed, whatever? I sure hope I can keep an open mind. If I can then maybe, just maybe, I can see past the assumptions to the possibilities.

Don’t you like the United Methodist “ReThink Church” T-shirts. They’re cool, and we really do need to rethink church if we’re going to be relevant to today’s society. The United Methodist Call to Action group just posted at their research findings that we have a crisis of relevancy. That’s not how we got started. When John Wesley began the Methodist Movement it was because the Anglican Church had retreated behind parish boundaries and made unfair assumptions about the real needs of real people, especially the marginalized. Wesley dropped his assumptions about preaching out in the fields, assumptions about the poor, assumptions about lay preaching, assumptions about ordination and apostolic succession, and the list could go on and on. By dropping his assumptions the Spirit moved.

Go to and make a comment on the findings of the Call to Action Committee. Of course, you’ve got to read it first. Anyway, let’s quit assuming that somebody else will speak for our perspective and do it ourselves. There’s a world of hurt all around us. I think that if we quit making assumptions and open ourselves to truly rethink church then the USC Gamecocks just might make it to the SEC title game and the UMC will start making disciples for Jesus Christ. John Wesley dropped his assumptions, can’t we?

All Curses Are Dead


What a time Caleb and I had in Omaha for the College World Series. We promised each other that we would stay as long as Carolina was still in the hunt. Well, we’re home and the Gamecocks prevailed. USC has its National Championship, and the “Chicken Curse” is over! But, wait a minute – as a person of faith, hasn’t the Curse been over for a long time? Yes, it has! No matter what the problem or who the opponent is – The Curse is over! I think what made this USC team special is its non-superstar journeymen (Michael Roth; et. al.) and fun approach (Nick Ebert, Scott Wingo; et. al.) to being a team. These guys enjoyed each other and it showed. They broke the Chicken Curse through their relationship with something/someone(s) bigger than themselves.

I hope that I can live into that belief this week as I reconnect with folks in the UM Center, Columbia District churches and clergy, and continue to encourage our piece of United Methodism. I’m a bit tired after all of the Omaha and back driving; and then this past weekend, staying with Narice and Mike and having a blast with Enoch and Evy. They’re great, and Narcie is doing so well though our anxiety lingers. I just saw Caleb after being with him non-stop for 2 straight weeks. I’ve missed him and told him so. It’s good to reconnect with those that you love. Caleb has been living at home these past 4 years in Columbia and just graduated from USC. It’s been a saga and we’ve tried to maintain healthy distance in his personal life, but our 2 weeks in Omaha was absolutely wonderful. Sure, Narcie stayed on my mind, and Josh is great; but it was so good to just “be” with Caleb. It was good for our relationship.

Someone said you have to be relational to be relevant. Isn’t that the truth. If one wants to make a difference in a life, a country, or a community – you have to be connected, relational. As a family we have felt that through Narcie’s illness. I felt it in Omaha with Caleb and new found friends. I want to feel it in church, too, but I have to admit that’s a bigger task as a District Superintendent. I think it’s one of our biggest challenges for Christianity. Thanks to being a DS I think I kind of get it about those who stay home on Sundays because they’re so beat up by the work week. We have to make church a relational family, not an entertainment center or a dull dirty monument to yesteryear.

Personally, you guys are winning the battle for relational Christianity when it comes to me and mine. Sure, I don’t have one church or a church home, it’s more like 70 of them, but after 4 years of quality time with each clergy, multiple charge conferences, UMM Retreats and Events, UMW Events, and myriad meetings of every ilk; I feel connected to the entire Columbia District; and through the Connectional Table, SC Annual Conference, and the Worldwide UMC Study Committee, I feel as close as a phone call or email to our whole denomination. I am grateful for how relevant you all are because you have chosen to be relational with my family. Thank you! Thank you!

I am very grateful for Caleb choosing to reconnect and relate to his old man for 2 solid weeks of baseball and camping in Omaha, Nebraska. And, of course, we now relate to a bigger Gamecock Nation. There’s a lot of truth in the saying: There’s strength in numbers, and the song that says “reach out and touch someone” is playing in my head. Here’s to us on this Fourth of July weekend: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of Many, One.” You have to be relational to be relevant!

A Week in Omaha


It’s been a while since I blogged. I know that most of you have been keeping up with Narcie through her blog at and that you have heard her good news. Her tumor is not malignant; it’s stage 2 not 3 or 4 (although I wish had been a stage 1). The Tumor Board will meet next week to determine the next course of action. We appreciate your prayers and keep them coming. This thing has the potential of growing back and she will have MRI’s every few months to keep track of it.

Last week after I had done all the “busy” things that I could do to keep from crying, Caleb and I headed to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. Those of you who know me are quite aware how much I love college baseball. This is my fourth trip to the CWS, 2002, 2003, 2004, and now for Rosenblatt Stadium’s last season. Caleb and I have an adventure. We always do! Maybe the low point was sleeping on the pavement in the rain to exchange general admission tickets for reserve seats. We/I have been to all the games, and the days are running into each other in my mind. Last night’s thriller against Oklahoma was UNBELIEVABLE! We won in the bottom of the 12th with 2 outs.

We play Clemson tonight at 8 and I don’t have my tickets yet – freaking a little bit about that, but it will work out. It got into the 60’s and I wass too beat to sleep on the pavement again. We’re staying about 3 miles from the stadium at Lake Manawa State Park, $11 a night and eating on the cheap. This has been a good distraction from all of Narcie’s drama though I’ve been calling numerous times a day. The proof of that is that the only time I’ve cried in since all this with her started was on Wednesday when she called and gave me the report. These were tears of joy. My little/big girl may get to live and I’m so grateful to God. I’m grateful that Caleb is here with me, too, and the rest of you have been as well.

By the way, since Cindy comes from a big Clemson family, and Josh graduated from there, I made the fateful promise not to pull against Clemson unless they were playing Carolina. I’ve kept my promise, but NOT tonight. We have to beat them the next two days in order to get into the Championship series that starts Monday. Go Gamecocks! This what sports was meant for: to give you a minor distraction from life, and that sports shouldn’t be a life unto itself. Fullness of life can only come from Christ, that I know!

Anyway, thanks to everyone for your prayers and keep them coming for Narcie.

$25,000 Fine for Storming the Church!

I watched South Carolina pull off the upset of #1 Kentucky in basketball and was so ecstatic. If I had been there I would have stormed the court, $25,000 fine or not. But then perspective hits me – how many poor people could be helped with $25,000? How many Haitian orphans could have their lives changed? Why don’t people storm the church? Interesting!

Why do we spend so much money on coaches’ salaries; i.e., Lane Kiffin? It’s a big business when we see players jump ship to the NFL like Sidney Rice, or the three “one & done” freshmen players for UK who were being scouted by a dozen or more NBA scouts the other night. SO, college athletics is very often NOT about an education. It’s about making a buck for the school, the player, the agent, or somebody.

Yet, so many people love sports! I’m one of them! Sports events are distractions from everyday life. Maybe the reason sports figures are so overpaid is that they give us a taste of immortality, a momentary, if fleeting, adrenaline rush, a release of endorphins that carries us beyond the mundane difficulties of daily life. Why else would we call Super Bowl Sunday “super”?

I have wondered for some time about the connection between sports figures’ salaries and the salaries of people in helping professions. The teachers who help the players make the minimum score to even play ball are paid a miniscule amount in comparison. Is there a valid reason for the difference in pay? Is it the danger that athletes face, or is it the difference in the pay-off for the spectator?

Unfortunately, I think it is the latter more than the former. Why don’t people get as excited in classrooms and sanctuaries as they do in stadiums and arenas? I was often thrilled with being in a classroom, at least in the subjects that resonated with my passions. Often it was because the teacher was an exceptional communicator or person. If the teacher or preacher was dull it was hard to be enthused. Using the criteria of relevance or quality of teaching, being thrilled in church should be an automatic occurrence.

Jesus Christ is far superior to any teacher, preacher, or sports star ever known. And Jesus is better than any coach, too. Former football great Henry Jordan was quite revealing when he talked about playing under coaching great, Vince Lombardi, the coach for whom the super Bowl Trophy is named. Henry Jordan said about Lombardi, “He treats us all the same – like dogs!” That was his most quoted line, but Henry Jordan had others almost as good: “I play for the love of the game, the love of the money, and the fear of Lombardi.” He also said, “When he says, ‘Sit down,’ I don’t look for a chair.”

What do we say about Jesus? Does talk of Christ and the Kingdom salt our conversations? What are our stories of Jesus like? Do they reveal our passion and hero-worship? Does Jesus command our respect, our loyalty? Does He get our adrenaline pumping and our endorphins flowing? If He doesn’t, then it’s not Jesus’ fault because Jesus is no wimp.

Jesus is like a legendary coach, superstar player, and Teacher of the Year rolled into one. Coach Bum Phillips once philosophized: “There’s only two kinds of coaches, them that’s been fired and them that’s about to be fired.” Jesus supersedes both categories and is beyond compare! He’s never had a losing season. He’s always a winner, and there’s nothing that He can’t handle. As Christians, we’re playing for the Jesus Trophy! People should sense that kind of excitement in our sanctuaries, our homes, and our schools – wherever we might be. Maybe then sports will become just one of many ways that people get their juices flowing. Maybe then everyone in every job will be paid for how well they represent Jesus, the Author of Greatness. I’m waiting for a $25,000 fine for people storming a sanctuary. What an idea!

Expecting Different Results


Well, I couldn’t help but wax on a little more about how our denominational inertia simply galls me. We do the same darn things and expect to get different results. It seems to me that Jesus said He was going to do a NEW thing. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic isn’t going to cut it, but I have churches and pastors that aren’t supporting our new thing of a huge Youth Event, “Revolution,” as one pastor dared to put it to me, “because we don’t know if it will be worth coming to…” Malarkey!!! How will you know and how will you make a difference unless you dare to do a new thing?
Last weekend, a week ago right now, I went with my brother and his grandson to the University of South Carolina, Bowl Game, against the UCONN Huskies in Birmingham, Alabama. It was freezing, but none of us, though lifelong USC fans, had ever been to one of our bowl games. We wanted to be there and I had high hopes that our team would show up – but they didn’t (Kinda like not attending “Revolution” or not paying apportionments). Oh, the team came out and the cheerleaders (pastors) waved the flags, but what happened: the same-old-same-old. In 118 years of college football at USC we have only won 8 or more games 6 times. What a mediocre tradition that is, and more the fault of ineptitude than a puported “chicken curse.” You can’t do the same things time and time again and expect different results.
Waving flags is great, but I’m ready for better results. The United Methodist Church has superb theology, a praxis of personal holiness and social holiness, but we’re still declining in numbers, at least in the US. What’s up with that? I think it’s old thinking and doing, domestication of the Gospel, and wimping out on evangelism. It’s high time to quit waving the flags, and start actually doing something on the field of life!

Should I Pray for My Team

The longest prayer I ever heard, and I mean ever, was at a high school football game. A pastor in that small town had evidently been saving up for his big chance to pray under the “Friday Night Lights.” He prayed for the football players, the referees, the coaches, the assistant coaches, the cheerleaders, the bands, the parents, the teachers, the school administrators, and the highway patrol officers who were directing traffic. No joke, he prayed so long and for so many people that the game started 20 minutes late!

Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for prayer, and “Sweet Hour of Prayer” is one of my favorite hymns. Nevertheless, prayer at sporting events bothers me, and it’s not just because I’m such a stickler about the separation of church and state. I think my problem stems from being a University of South Carolina Gamecock fan. I grew up going to all the games. I heard Dr. Lauren Brubaker of U.S.C.’s Religion Department pray at every game year after year. Here’s my problem as a U.S.C. fan. If you pray for the best team to win, that’s probably the other team. If you pray for nobody to get hurt, that might negate Carolina’s only hope of winning. Bottom line, I agree with Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra. Once, when a batter stepped into the box and made the sign of the cross, Yogi said to him, “Let’s just leave God outta this, okay?”
Okay, I yield. I know prayer helps us in everything, but really… should we pray for our team to win? There’s an anonymous tongue-in-cheek story that puts this question in perspective: “Jesus Christ said he had never been to a football game. So we took him to one, my friends and I. It was a ferocious battle between the Protestant Punchers and the Catholic Crusaders. The Crusaders scored first. Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. Then the Punchers scored. And Jesus cheered wildly and threw his hat high up in the air. This seemed to puzzle the man behind us. He tapped Jesus on the shoulder and asked, “Which side are you rooting for, my good man?” “Me?” replied Jesus, visibly excited by the game. “Oh, I’m not rooting for either side. I’m just enjoying the game.” The questioner turned to his neighbor and sneered, “Hmm, an atheist.”
Is God an atheist when it comes to sports? What harm is there in praying for good results about a game, a great round of golf, or a super outing on the lake? The answer is, “Nothing,” unless we take God’s apparent disregard or ambivalence to our request as indifference. God cares, for sure, about every facet of our lives, but maybe God has bigger fish to fry than who wins the game, and God expects us to be the cooks. Luke DeRoeck put it this way in a letter to the editor of Sports Illustrated, “To suggest that God really cares about the outcome of a sporting event is preposterous. Conservatively, 20 million people in the United States went to bed hungry on Super Bowl Sunday. A God who cares about the outcome of the Super Bowl is not a God I ever want to meet.”
Being a good sports fan is great. I know I love my team. Being a disciple, however, is more important than anything!

Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s hard to pray for my favorite team in the upcoming Carolina-Clemson game. Prayer and sporting events haven’t worked out that well for me in the past. In 113 years of football, South Carolina has only won 8 or more games three times. Need I say more? If I pray for the best team to win, that team might not necessarily be mine. So, this year I know exactly what kind of prayer I should pray. It should be a prayer of thanksgiving. The same could be true for Clemson folks, too, and perhaps for fans of about every team. I have a lot to be thankful for as a Carolina fan, and more so as a human being.
There are so many blessings that are better than the vicissitudes of sports. There are many good and great things that overshadow an entire world’s bad news. In the midst of the somber we can either give in to depression or count our blessings. We all know which is better for us, even when it’s tough to do.
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? In a village in Denmark, there is a beautifully landscaped cemetery next to the community church. A visitor noted that at least a third of the gravestones there have the inscription, “Tak,” written upon them. That’s Danish for “Thanks.” What a wonderful sentiment whether it’s meant as gratitude towards God for blessing us with life, or as thanks to the people who visit and helped us get through life. Annie Dillard captures this same attitude in her words, “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please,’ but ‘thank you,’ as a guest thanks his or her host at the door.” “Thanks!” aims positive energy towards God and others.
Without thanksgiving our prayers are too much about us. We end up treating God like some sort of Cosmic Genie. I know it’s something that I sometimes do. Often in my prayers I spend a lot of time on the things that I need or what I think others need. This part of prayer is called “supplication.” We often spend the majority of our prayer time focusing on what we want God to supply, rather than saying, “Thanks.” I’m reminded of the story about the couple in the aftermath of World War II. They were getting ready to go to the memorial service for the son of friends of theirs. The young man had been killed in the service. His family was dedicating a window in their church to this young man who had lost his life. The window cost $50,000.
“What a beautiful thing to do in memory of their son,” the wife said to her husband. Suddenly, she turned around with an ashen look on her face and said, “What are we going to give?” Her husband replied, “What are you talking about? We don’t need to give anything. Our son came back alive and well.” “That’s exactly what I mean,” his wife responded. “Our friends lost their son, and they’re giving $50,000. We got our son back, and we’re not giving anything???” Even with the sour economy, there’s so much to be thankful for this year. I’m going to count and account for my blessings!

Gamecock Disaster and Theodicy

>I could spit nails! Early this morning I tuned into “The Game” on FM107.5 to hear the Gamecock woes after last night’s humiliating loss to Vanderbilt. There’s nothing better than USC and Clemson losses to remind us all that life is more than what happens on the gridiron. There are much more important things for us to be about. Living and breathing football is an obsession. As a Gamecock fan I should be used to losing and being mediocre. In 114 years of football at USC, we’ve only won 8 or more games 3 times. Hey, we sure know how to tailgate though, and we surely live up to the SC state motto Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope.” It’s just sad and disheartening when you pin your distraction from real life on a team that perennially lets you down. Maybe it’s a good thing to get this idolatry over early in the season so we can focus on reality. The reality that I need to think about is Jesus, the One about whom the writer of Hebrews says, “…is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

This begs a question in the midst of life’s travails, even when they’re on the football field. The question is why bad things happen to people. Why do some people get away unscathed by problems and appear to have a Teflon coating where nothing bad sticks to them? Others, usually good people, go from one crisis to another. Why? I guess it’s a question of theodicy. Theodicy is a peculiar, almost sacrilegious word. Its roots are in Theos or God and dicy, the same root that appears in the word “judicial.” Theodicy literally means “Judging God.” It sounds, at first glance, like a spiritual no-no, but God is big enough for us to question. Check out Job’s experience when asking God, “Why?” for all of his calamities.
So Gamecock and Clemson fans, let’s ask the Why-question: What is our theodicy? Sure James (1:2ff) says we should count it all joy when we have trials, but doesn’t identify the source of the junk that comes our way, at least not until verse 13 of the same chapter, “When tempted/tested, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’” Interesting, isn’t it? So God isn’t the source of the junk that happens.
I’ve been reading a book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence, by John Sanders. He talks over and over again about how Scripture presents God as “relenting” from doing certain things. Of course, this could be anthropomorphic language about God, putting human language on a God who’s really above that. Can God really change God’s mind and action? If we don’t really think so, then maybe we should become Calvinists. If we take seriously the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “…Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven…” then we must believe that prayer can possibly change things. The Wesleyan point of view allows God to change. I know this flies in the face of one of the long-held tenets of Christianity, and may be where I am personally closest to heresy. The idea of God’s immutability is at stake, and I’m okay with giving it up. I believe the Wesleyan view that focuses both on God’s grace/love and process theology allows, even encourages, a progressive view of God’s interaction in the world. God loves creation and its creatures enough to allow us to change our minds, to let nature do what it will, and yield to the utter fickleness of humankind. Our Wesleyan understanding of grace’s progression toward sanctification leaves great room for change, on God’s part and ours.
So why do bad things happen? I’ll lift up four reasons that come quickly to mind: our choices, the choices of others, the general crap that’s in the world because of the Fall, and Evil. Maybe there are really no accidents, there are only crashes caused by one of these 4 sources, but never God. So where’s God? God is doing what God has always done since the Garden: God is seeking us out in the crap and wants to redeem our situations. God does not cause them, but walks with us and gives us the ultimate victory through Jesus Christ. God doesn’t have a pre-set plan for our lives that precludes our ability to change, and God loves us enough to change with us. So with football out of the way for another season due to a mistake-prone offense, defense, coaching staff, etc, I’m going to throw my foibles and thick-headed mistakes onto a God who risks – A God who risks loving me and risks watching all the stupid things that happen on this planet, yet enters our vicissitudes and consistently loves. That’s the basis for my hope and lessens my acrimony on this dark day of Gamecock defeat.