Prayers for The UMC Judicial Council

The United Methodist Church’s version of the Supreme Court, otherwise known as the Judicial Council, will be ruling in October about Karen Oliveto’s consecration as a UM bishop, and they’ll be adjudicating whether an annual conference’s clergy session and Board of Ordained Ministry can properly have before them persons who have self-avowed behaviors that are in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. It is basically a question of whether an annual conference’s prerogatives outweigh General Conference’s actions.

The first major Judicial Decision which established that General Conference is preeminent in legislation and supersedes annual conferences’ administrative function, was made back in 1972. In reference to the establishment of the General Council on Ministries, the Judicial Council  stated in Decision 364, “The General Conference may not delegate legislative functions and responsibilities which are assigned to it by the Constitution.” This specifically helps us pray for the Judicial Council because at issue is who outranks whom in our checks and balances system. The bottom line is exactly what the Book of Discipline says in Par. 509.1,2: Only the General Conference has the authority to speak for the church.

Judicial Decision 1321 that was rendered at GC2016 also covers this in great detail and cites previous decisions of church law (All Judicial Council Decisions can be researched online at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council). Decision 1321 reinforces that the General Conference certainly has full legislative authority over all things “distinctively connectional” (Par. 16), including matters of defining minimum clergy credentialing requirements (Cf. Judicial Decision 536). There are plenty of Judicial Decisions that make the recent actions of certain annual conferences null and void, even the election of Karen Oliveto. My interpretation of the aforementioned decisions is that it is impossible in our connectional polity for an annual, central, or jurisdictional conference to contravene the General Conference.

It really doesn’t matter if an annual conference says persons are in “good standing” if they have already self-avowed that they are in opposition to The Book of Discipline. The declaration of the General Conference is the last word, and the “right to trial” guaranteed to each UM clergyperson is moot when someone precludes the need of a trial by their own volition. Judicial Decision 980 is very specific if an annual conference’s Committee on Investigation refuses to certify a bill of charges and ignores stated facts that ipso facto would convict a person. The Decision reaches two very pertinent conclusions: “Should members of the Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience, such members must step aside…” and  “persons who state that they cannot in good conscience uphold the Discipline are ineligible to serve on a trial jury.”

As a historical aside, after the 1956 GC had approved full clergy rights for women a specific case arose about some who refused to enforce the GC’s action. This Decision is a great help in understanding our denominational jurisprudence and the rights of whole entities in the church to ignore General Conference decisions. The Judicial Council rendered Decision 155 in 1958 which stated clearly that everyone had to abide by the same Book of Discipline. This was a wonderful decision in many ways, and in this case in setting a legal precedence (Par. 2611 BOD) of Book of Discipline over all other documents and entities. It alone speaks for the UMC.

Similarly, Judicial Decision 886 offers clear guidance in our current milieu. In its opening “Digest of Case,” the decision says, “The Discipline is the law of the Church which regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church. As such, annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions.” It seems obvious that connectionalism is based upon mutual covenant keeping, or the whole house falls.

The United Methodist position on the practice of homosexuality extends both grace and definite boundaries. It is a complex issue. Not only is the authority of Scripture involved, but also our ecclesiology. My sincere hope is that our denomination can work through this. My plea is for us to honor the Study Commission and pray for them as they do their work on “A Way Forward” on this issue.

In the meantime, all of us need to keep covenant, whether pro or con in changing the language of the Discipline about the practice of homosexuality. We pray and hold fast in the interim. I remind all UM clergy that Judicial Decision 986 says that any pastor that deliberately encourages withholding apportionments is liable for a charge of disobedience. BOD Pars. 340.2(c)(2)e, 639.4 and 247.14, last sentence, are very instructive. Let’s remain calm and let the judicial process work.

This is about the rule of canon law and covenant keeping in a connectional church. These are tenuous times for us. We can either obey the General Conference or fracture into something we’re not. I wouldn’t want to be anything else than a United Methodist. Every person who has been ordained promised to keep our rules and stated that he or she agreed with them. I made that promise, and I’m still keeping it by the grace of God.

Judicial Council Book Pic

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South Carolina Flood Relief

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 Chaos Imperative – Blessings in Disguise

A blessing in disguise is a rare event for me, but I’ve had several this week. First we had a situation with a medicine that one of us takes. There’s never been any problem with getting it refilled, and it has been a regular medicine for years. The pharmacy, however, said it was disallowed by the insurance company. To make a very long story short, it’s been quite a saga of calling the doctor’s office, speaking to just the right nurse who could read the file, going through a committee of the pharmacy provider, getting an automated message last night that it was approved, “Yay!” and then 3 phone calls this morning to get a whopping three pills because the pharmacy has to order this med because it’s about to go generic. Whew!

You’re probably asking, “What was the blessing in disguise?” In the midst of all the events surrounding this saga, it dawned on me that a med that I’ve been taking for years seemed to be running low when I opened the bottle last night. I remembered that I had talked to my doctor about a refill several weeks ago, and his nurse called me to make sure that she had the right number for the call-in prescription line. I didn’t think anything more about it, safely assuming, I thought, that it would arrive shortly in the mail. But in the midst of dealing with the other medicine situation it dawned on me that I usually would have received the meds by mail by now so I went on-line this morning and checked to see if it was on the way. It wasn’t!

So I backtracked with the doctor’s office ad infinitum and called our mail-pharmacy number. Now things are straight on both meds and they’re on the way, plus the rest of the first pharmacy order should be here tomorrow. Breathe! The blessing in disguise is that if I hadn’t had a problem with the first medicine then I probably wouldn’t have remembered that the second one was delayed or noticed that it was running low. By the time I would have figured that out, I would have been out of that one, too!

Blessings in disguise are hard to see when you’re in the throes of anxiety. No wonder the British Navy has a whistle they blow just before they come to “battle stations” in a crisis or emergency. It’s called “The Still.” Their thinking is that if we will pause before we get freaked out then we’ll be better able to think and handle the situation in a much more productive manner. I just finished reading a book called The Chaos Imperative by Ori Brafman and Judah Pollack that makes the same point. They suggest that a little unstructured space or pausing can provide insights and innovation. They call it “white space.” White space allows us to recognize more clearly the blessings in disguise that we have written off as horrible intrusions. As Christians, we call this space: prayer, meditation, Sabbath, or doing our devotions. Whatever we call it, our times apart allow us to see God’s perspective on our anxious moments and recognize blessings in disguise.

My second “Aha!” moment of a blessing in disguise occurred over the weekend into yesterday. Last week was my week off. After trips to see grandkids, I was looking forward to a weekend of catching up on favorite TV shows that we had DVRed. I particularly wanted to watch the Masters. Guess what? Our TV went out. I called the cable company and the first night they said that it was an area wide issue. The next day it happened again and the person that I finally reached said it was just a service issue unique to us. Don’t you just love all the “press number” hoops you have to work through to get to a real person! Anyway the person had me reprogram our remotes, unhook the cable, re-do it, send a reset order over the line to the cable box, and on and on until 45 minutes later on Saturday afternoon they said there was no hope, and that the earliest we would get a service call was going to be on Tuesday – yesterday. Goodbye “Master’s” and “Elementary,” and “Bones,” “Antiques Roadshow,” and “Last Man Standing.”

The blessing in disguise was that instead of freaking out, Cindy and I were disconnected from our cyber-lives for a blessed few days and simply sat in our den and talked and read, went to bed early, and rested much better. On top of that when the repairman did come yesterday, it not only was a very simple fix, but he and I had a very helpful serendipitous conversation about faith and hope. It became a sacred moment – all because the TV went out and we went beyond a having a hassle-filled hissy to being still. The next time I get frazzled I’m going to latch onto Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God,” and give purposeful pausing a chance. There are blessings in disguise that I need to see. How about you?

Chaos Imperative

Taking the Rat Up!

I need hope to conquer worry! The Great Recession has knocked a dent in our ability to fulfill the so-called “American Dream” of home ownership. Our doctors and medical experts are great but new diseases are cropping up every day. Ebola and the new viral respiratory disease attacking children are real fears. On the political front, Isis is a new threat that President Obama wants to eradicate. Real and imagined fears consume us every day.

In order to survive we need an overwhelming awe of God, faith in Christ’s love, and an assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence so that faith and hope will sustain us in troublesome times. Several years ago a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particularly sick child. The teacher told her that the class was studying nouns and adverbs and hoped that the child would not fall behind the other students by being in the hospital.

The teacher went to the hospital and found the boy in the burn unit. She wasn’t prepared to see the young man in such pain and obvious agony from his burns. He and his situation looked terrible. She was about to run to the door in horror when she stammered, “I’m the hospital teacher, and your regular teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.” The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, “What did you do to that boy?”

Before she could finish with an abundance of apologies, the nurse interrupted her: “You don’t understand. We’ve been very worried about him and his will to live.  But ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment… It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy would they?” Everyone needs hope! It motivates us. It encourages. It pushes us beyond the bad news and helps us grasp new possibilities. It stops worry in its tracks.

In the pioneer days of aviation when planes were little more than mere fabric held together by piano wire, a pilot was attempting a flight around the world. After he had been gone for some two hours from his last landing field, he heard a noise in his plane. He recognized it as the gnawing of a rat. He realized that while the plane had been on the ground a rat had gotten into the fuselage.

For all he knew the rat could be gnawing through a vital cable or control of the plane. It was a very serious situation. He was both concerned and anxious. At first he did not know what to do. It was two hours back to the landing field from which he had taken off and it was more than two hours to the next field. Then he remembered that a rat is a rodent. It isn’t made for heights; it is made to live on the ground and under the ground.

Therefore the pilot began to climb. He went up a thousand feet, then another thousand and another until he was more than twenty thousand feet up. The gnawing finally stopped. The rat was dead. He could not survive in the thin atmosphere of those heights. More than two hours later the pilot brought the plane safely to the next landing field and found the dead rat.

Worry is like a rodent trying to crash our planes, dash our hopes, and make us give up. Our job is to inspire others like the teacher with the burned boy, and find encouragement ourselves by taking the rat up into the rarefied heights of heaven where we can reach out and touch the face of God through prayer and praise. Worry can’t live when it’s that close to God. I am going to try to take the rats up today to God and let them die because they don’t compare to the power of God that seeks to work his wonders and way in our lives. Have hope and discard worry. God is greater than both! Today is going to be a great day if we will believe it!

biplane

Hope Sustains Us!

Last night my new District Superintendent, Cindy, and I went to have our Introductory Visit at my new appointment. The Staff-Parish Relations Committee was great as is the church! It is so wonderful to get to know people and begin conversations about new ministry opportunities. To share in the grief of a beloved pastor’s move and start a new chapter with a new pastor and church is holy ground that is fertile with hope and emotion. I was very impressed with everyone’s thoughts, comments, and expectations. They energized me after a long and draining post-Easter day of Cabinet meeting.

The Cabinet’s work is grueling and impacts so many lives. It carries a holy heft of responsibility. Add that responsibility to the usual after Easter gasp for more air and you get a sense of my plight and that of many clergy and staff, choirs with Easter Cantatas, worship committees and all of Holy Week’s services, parking lot greeters who directed newcomers to sanctuaries, and all the other myriad people who help facilitate worship during the past week and what do you get?

The answer is a collective sigh that is either a sign of church overload or the best kind of tired that there is. It’s a good tired if you knew that you did your best to serve God and others. However, a lot of the folks I know need a vacation from their Easter vacation, and God bless the school districts who wisely gave students the week after off! A lot of us after Holy Week feel kicked to the curb by all of the activities. It’s almost like trying to adjust to daylight savings time or resetting our biological clocks three time zones over.

No wonder the Sunday after Easter is called “Low Sunday” with low attendance, low offering, and low about everything including energy. It’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year. Easter Sunday’s expectations were for a great sermon, great music, great attendance, and a great Easter meal to boot. For most of us all of this came true, but how do we keep Easter’s triumphal pace?

For me it boils down to one word: Hope! In tiredness, illness, or sheer exhaustion the question is, “Do I have hope?” I must let resurrection hope capture my worries. That’s what the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection did, and this is exactly what our world is longing for. Everyone around us is looking for renewed hope. The church is essentially a people and place of hope! The very reason the early disciples switched from Saturday Sabbath worship to Sunday was because Jesus rose on the first day of the week! I want that kind of life altering hope!

When we feel our spirits sagging and our worries mounting we should embrace God-given hope. Listen to Paul’s reminder: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people (I Corinthians 15:13-19).” Easter hope is now and forever!

Therefore, no matter how drained from a post-Easter let down we might be, this is exactly the time we should cling to hope. Hope for me isn’t an exuberant emotion. It’s a sustained positive outlook in spite of feelings or circumstances. Yes, problems and challenges exist, but Easter reminds us that we can have a hope that is everlasting. Easter candy and chocolate Bunny ears disappear a lot more quickly than the ubiquitous artificial “grass” from depleted baskets, but the hope of Easter, the enduring triumph of Easter is should always remain. So, hang in there! I have hope and am expectant of happiness – got to embrace hope first! Give Pharrell’s “Happy” a listen:

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 Big Day for Narcie

Today is a big day with Narcie. This is her first MRI after the May 10 Brain Tumor surgery and we need you to help pray that everything is A-Okay. She’s a fighter, a wife, mother of two preschoolers, and campus minister and Director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Florida. She is a wonderful daughter, big sister, and lover of Jesus!

Here’s what she posted last night about today’s events:

“I have my first MRI post-surgery tomorrow at 9 am. The doctor is going to read it at our appointment at 1 pm. I’m not expecting that the tumor will grow back overnight. Not by any means. And I’m sure the doctor’s visit will be anticlimactic – but only in a GREAT, AWESOME, GOD way.

This song “Hurricane” by Natalie Grant has really struck me lately.”

I would appreciate your prayers for her scans at 9 am this morning and the doctor’s appointment at 1pm today, October 14! Pray for Mike, Narcie, Enoch, and Evy and everyone who is working for Narcie’s healing. Thank you for your support. We couldn’t make it without you.

I was at one Charge Conference yesterday afternoon where folks were asking about Narcie and the pastor suggested that we all hold hands and pray. That meant a lot. It does every day. I know that we all face hurricanes. The hope we cling to is that God will find us in the hurricanes of life, and be with us! Whatever you’re facing this week, trust that! Have a listen to Natalie Grant’s “Hurricane:”

Just talked to Narcie and MRI is clear! There was some fluid and she has 4 more months of chemo. Next MRI in 3 months. Please pray that she handles the chemo and it does its job! God is good and we’re grateful to the Lord and y’all! Here is link to Narcie’s post appointment thoughts as she and family try to take it all in: http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/survival-mode/

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!

The Night the Devil Came to Church!

I heard of a lady who wanted to paint her back porch’s walls and ceiling and didn’t want to mess up the floor. She carefully laid out a drop cloth, taped it down, and went to get her painting supplies. When she came back the drop cloth and all the tape had disappeared. She wondered what in the world had happened until she noticed a pile of plastic twirling around on the ground in her backyard. It seems a snake had come up on her porch and got entangled in the drop cloth. The snake went on its way but couldn’t shake off the plastic because of the tape. In fact, the harder it tried the more ensnared it became.

Sounds like me and my personal efforts to shed some of the crud in my life. I’ve seen it in church, too. Church is where we ought to know that we can’t save ourselves. We need Jesus. I remember a cartoon showing the crucifixion scene depicting Jesus saying, “If I’m okay and you’re okay, what am I doing hanging on this cross?” It’s Easter season in the church, but we don’t act like it. We want to fix ourselves rather than let God do it.

I was preaching revival services in the small South Carolina town of Wagener, and one night we all got a jolt. A lady had brought her boom box to play recorded music as her accompaniment. She finished singing, the offering was taken, and I had started preaching when I noticed that a snake had crawled out from behind the boom box. The lady later surmised that she had left the boom box out in her carport while she went back inside her home giving the snake ample time to crawl into the empty battery compartment. Nevertheless, the snake slithered off the front pew and started heading toward the pulpit and me. I stopped preaching and asked the ushers to immediately come to the altar. They looked at each other like I was crazy so I emphatically repeated my request. They walked up and saw the snake. One of the ushers stomped the snake and the other picked it up while it was still wiggling like crazy. The crowd gasped and some swooned as the ushers escorted the snake outside. I went back to preaching. The next night the place was packed. It seemed like the whole town got wind of the “devil” coming to church and they wanted to see what was going to happen next.

Oh, the devil still comes to church. In John 13:31-38 Jesus tells his disciples he’s going to leave them and to love one another. Peter wants to know where he’s going and says he’s willing to lay down his life to follow Jesus. Jesus tells him that Peter is going to deny him 3 times before the rooster crows the next morning. How like me and maybe quite a few folks in church? We talk big and before the sun comes up, we’ve blown it. We need Jesus or we get tangled up worse in our own failures.

Sure, we need to do our very best to live Christian lives, but if it weren’t for grace we don’t have a chance. The Wesleyan matrix of grace is so descriptive of our Christian hope. God woos us through prevenient grace that comes before we even want or expect it. Justifying grace is when we are regenerated and reconciled to God. Sanctifying grace is that continual process of God making us into Christ’s likeness. It’s all grace from start to finish!

C.S. Lewis was asked why so many Christians seem less than perfect. His reply, “You should have seen them BEFORE they became Christians.” Absolutely, the devil comes to church every time we enter, but, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can be a saint every time we leave. We can either slither in and slink out, or we can walk out into the world filled with grace and hope.

Narcie Needs Prayer!

I try to write a weekly blog as a part of my spiritual disciplines, but just before Easter I was knocked into silence by personal events. Two weeks ago we learned that our daughter Narcie McClendon Jeter was going to face more uncertainty with a brain tumor. Narcie is the United Methodist Campus Minister and Director at the Gator Wesley Foundation in Gainesville, Florida where she ministers to the students at the University of Florida and Sante Fe College. It is a marvelous ministry! I know that I am biased, but she is amazing, and she has an extraordinary family. She and Mike have been married for 11 years now and are parents of our grandchildren Enoch (5) and Evy (4). We love them so much!

Almost three years ago Narcie was diagnosed with an oligodendroglioma brain tumor. You can google it to find out the particulars because I’m not going to put into print the ominous facts and statistics. I am simply asking you to pray for Narcie, her precious family, and her students. I can feel the tears just at the brim as I write this, and for years I have ministered to people who have been through so much worse, but I’m a Daddy or “Padre” as Narcie calls me. It’s tough, but God is stronger than death, brain tumors, and whatever adversity we might face.

Now, I know facts are facts and that every medical statistic has exceptions. I also know that Narcie comes from good genetic stock of beating the odds. My Dad was given 6 weeks to 6 months to live when he was 48 as his cancer metastasized, and he lived for 38 more years! My most sincere prayer is, “Lord, Please do the same for Narcie. Please heal my daughter!” I want her to live a long full life that goes way beyond her 33 years.

It’s possible, and that’s why Dr. William Friedman, the Director of Neurosurgery at Shands-UF Medical Center, is going to operate on May 10. Please pray for him and all of those who will be working with Narcie to get rid of this thing. Pray for Cindy and me as we seek to support Narcie, Mike, and the kids. We know the facts, but faith is greater than facts. That’s the audacity of Easter! God doesn’t cause pain and suffering. God endures it and beats it. What God does is deliver us from death and the grave!

I know how much courage Narcie and Mike have, and I am astounded. I sense in them the reality of Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thank you for your prayers and support for Narcie. We trust in the Lord. All hail the power of Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Narcie’s Blog is called “Blessings on the Journey” and is at http://narciejeter.wordpress.com/

Check out her post on 3/28