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

Out of the Mouths of Barbers

We are grateful that our new church has a housing allowance, but we have never bought a house before and had no clue of the hoops that one has to maneuver to make it to closing. How many more copies of this or that will be needed? I pray that we’re near the finish line, but I imagine there’s more to be done. It would have been helpful to know NOT to buy furniture ahead of the move. It depletes your liquid assets that the mortgage company wants to measure, and that’s not a plus to your credibility as a buyer.

I never knew how much of a blessing parsonages are to our clergy deployment system. You move out and move in, food is waiting, unpacking helpers are on hand, and you’re not distracted by much more than whether or not your bedspreads match the existing window treatments. For the first time in my ministry I’ll be without an S/PPRC or Parsonage Committee person to call when something breaks. I’ll be a committee of one whose handyman skills are usually reserved for mission trips. We are grateful for a chance to buy our own home. My prayer is that Cindy and I won’t be too frazzled before we get there.

Therefore, I’m more than a little stressed right now while I’m waiting for the money that I’m borrowing from my 403B to clear the bank so I can prove to the mortgage company that I’m a  good risk. I’m also weary from finishing up appointment-making as a District Superintendent. On top of all this I’m putting out the usual fires that come from “buyer’s remorse” as churches that didn’t ask for their pastors to move want them to move now and it’s too late!

I need to remember what I told a stressed out pastor last night: “You are not responsible for your people; you are responsible to them.” There’s a huge difference between feeling responsible FOR everyone and everything, and being responsible TO others by doing the best that you can and letting the rest go. I want to be like the non-anxious presence of Jesus when he stood before Pilate, secure in who I am and not caught up in someone else’s hurricane.

I just went to get a haircut and the person tending to my very limited strands asked, “How are you today?” I started on my tale of mortgage banking, a daughter who’s had brain surgery, concern over this detail or that one ad infinitum until she simply asked, “Are you religious?” What a great segue into a spiritual discussion with a stressed out dude. It was the best haircut I ever had, and it wasn’t at all about my hair! I never told her I was a pastor, but I did tell her I believe in Jesus. She wasn’t judgmental in the least about why I didn’t seem to be acting like I actually BELIEVE in Jesus. She just simply said what I’ve heard my dear wife say over and over again, “Turn your worries into prayers.”

Goodness, how much better I felt after that haircut! Everything is going to be alright. Jesus is my Rock and Redeemer. I need to do what I am supposed to do and not freak out if the stuff hitting the fan isn’t evenly distributed. You know how there seem to be some people who have a Teflon coating and trouble never sticks to them. Well, I’m one of those who are like Velcro. Everything sticks! Lately I have looked and felt like that old baking sheet we received when we got married almost 39 years ago – bent, rippled, warped, and multi-colored from stains and grime. It might be time for a new baking sheet!

The barber asking, “Are you religious?” has been my chance at a fresh start today. I am going to redouble, triple, and quadruple spiritual disciplines that have been too quickly evaporated by and overwhelmed by the flood of urgent things. If I do believe in Jesus and life is throwing junk at me then I better spend as much or more time talking to Jesus and yielding moment by moment to God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, here’s to fresh starts with the Lord! Plus my ace in the hole is that tomorrow morning I am “getting out of Dodge” with my Bible, fishing tackle, camping gear, chess set, and a good friend to spend a couple of nights listening to the tranquil sounds of a waterfall on the New River in Western North Carolina. In the midst of night after night of Introductory Visits for new pastors, here’s my first chance in months to get away and let the Lord refresh me and I’m taking it!

I’ll be back in time to thank Cindy for being the best Mom I’ve ever seen, and preach a Mother’s Day sermon for one of my convalescing clergy. Then next Monday I’m going to my new appointment and acclimate to things. I will be there for staff and worship meetings, and spend one-on-one time with each person. I’m going to ask them two questions: “What is ___________UMC known for in the ____________ community?” and “What are you known for in ___________ UMC?” I want to hear about each person’s passions and discern how I can facilitate shared ministry and teamwork. People can do so much more when they’re having fun and doing it together!

I am going to ask how each person finds renewal in Jesus, and here’s a question for all of us: “Who’s winning in your life: your worries or your faith?” If it’s our worries then let’s do something about it. As the old hymn goes, “I’m going to lay down my burdens, down by the riverside…” What about it? Feeling like Velcro collecting stress, a dented old pan whose shiny wore off a long time ago, then let me ask you: “Are you religious?” That barber asked a great question to put me back on track with Jesus. It’s a great question for you, too, and so is “Where is your riverside?” Give a listen to this quartet of barbers and turn your worries into prayers!

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!

Keep Calm and Carry On!

I saw a sign in front of a church that looked downright wrong to me. I’m sure they meant something else. It said, “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help.” As a District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church I have experienced the unfortunate reality that sometimes the church can exacerbate worries more than help them. Church squabbles and differences of opinion distract too many Christians and turn them into worriers.

This is a season to be thankful, not worry! I am enjoying everyone’s “Thirty Days of Thankfulness” posts on Facebook. Each day’s renditions of gratitude for simple and profound gifts are inspiring. What a great thing to do. It reminds me of the refrain in my Mother’s favorite hymn, “Count your many blessings, name them one by one.”

What a great spiritual discipline, especially if you are a worrier. “Turn your worries into prayers!” is an often heard phrase in our house, and I’m the one who needs to hear it.  I come from a long line of worriers. My Dad worried himself and everybody around him so much that I once made him a perpetual calendar that used interchangeable complaints and ailments for daily use. I called it, “Papa Mac’s Ailment Calendar.” At the bottom, I emblazoned the phrase, “For God’s sake and Mother’s, you only get to complain about one thing per day!” After getting upset about it, he actually lightened up and started showing it to his buddies.

Worrying doesn’t help a thing, does it? Someone said it’s like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere. Jesus talked a lot about not worrying. The most familiar verses are Matthew 6:25-34, but I’m especially partial to Luke’s version of the same passage. Luke 12:22-34 is really neat. Verse 32 nails it: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” What wonderful words of promise and a cure for worry!

I’ve heard from several well-meaning people that there are exactly 365 “Fear not’s” or “Do not be afraid’s” in the Bible, but what I add up with my concordances is about 70-something, even when trying different translations. Sure, it would have made a great devotional book to have one per day as a reversal of my Dad’s Ailment Calendar, but ONE is all we need anyway. If God says it one time then that pretty much covers it, right? However, there are lots of anti-worry passages, whether they have the exact wording or not. For instance, James 1:17 says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Isn’t it good to know that God is the unchanging source of all that is good! That’s a worry-killer!

What about Psalm 46? The whole psalm is great, but I cling to verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God…” Sometimes I can forget that so quickly, and I end up worrying. I get panicky over little things like where my cars keys are, and big things like Narcie’s health. If only I can wait on God without worrying! Instead I run around and make more trouble for myself and others. Heck, the debit card that I thought was eaten by the ATM machine turned up this morning as I happened to reach behind my car seat. Of course, this was weeks after I had already been to the bank and applied for a new card and put a stop payment order on the old one. I know not freaking out and being still are better choices to make. If I can stop and pray, “Lord, please show me where ________ is, then in that simple little act God usually lets me know which way to turn. It worked last night when searching for my watch!

This reminds me of one of the traditions found in the Navy. You’ve probably seen ship’s officers “piped” on board by a Bosun or Boatswain. These sailors use a high-pitched pipe that is like a bugle on land and can carry a specific tune and message. Each “call” is meant to be heard over the din of sounds found on a typical naval vessel. When a disaster or emergency occurs on a ship the Boatswain uses a specific signal called, “The Still.” The signal basically means, “Stop what you’re doing. Pause. Get your bearings. Prepare to do the right thing.” To some it may seem like a waste of precious time, but it actually saves lives. It clears away the confusion of worry and panic, while helping everyone remember their training. In stillness we find clarity that steers us in the right direction. Wouldn’t this world be a better place if we chilled out more before we react poorly and say or do the wrong things?

This reminds me of those British “Keep Calm and Carry On” T-shirts with a crown on top? Actually you’ve probably seen variations of them all over the place, especially on social media. In my googling I found out that the phrase was first used on posters and other items in 1939 at the start of WWII. It was a way to bolster the spirits of the British when things looked bleakest and there was the temptation to give up or give in to worry. I’m glad for its resurgence, but God’s been sending this message for a lot longer than 1939! Check out 2 Chronicles 20:1-22 for just a little proof. This passage is a testament to the “Keep Calm and Carry On” theme!

Whatever happens today – Pause and be still before God. Don’t let worry kill you. Keep Calm and Carry On!

keep-calm-carry-on

Want to Go to Heaven?

Last night I wasn’t far from the convenience store that sold the over $400 million dollar lottery ticket to a guy who was on an errand to buy some hotdog buns. Without finding any, he decided to purchase $20 in lottery tickets instead. He won and has chosen to remain anonymous. I surveyed the charge conference members last night to see if anyone had an especially big grin on his face, hoping to spot the big winner. I know the UMC is against gambling, but, you know, the devil has had the money long enough. It’s time for Jesus to get his due! Without observing anyone with a rags-to-riches look on their face, I dared to press the issue and outright ask if anyone wanted to come forward and let us know they won. No takers!

But when reading the epistle text from I Timothy 6 for this coming Sunday, I see that we’re already rich enough: “Godliness with contentment is great gain (I Tim. 6:6).” There’s nothing wrong with money but loving it is “a,” not “the” root of all kinds of evil (6:10). There’s plenty of ways for money to lure us away from faith. I Timothy 6:10b says, “Some people people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” It’s not that life or poverty has attacked them with problems. They have “pierced themselves.” It’s fascinating, but true. We can want and want and want, and let our faith be replaced by fret, and pretty quickly we’re sunk spiritually and our financial condition is no better either. Our griefs are compounded.

In contrasting worry with faith, Jesus promoted the life of faith over an incessant desire for what we think that we need. He says in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In essence Jesus is stating the same words that Paul so beautifully writes in I Timothy 6:17 Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…” and a moment later he really gives every church stewardship campaign a boost, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure… for the coming age,” and here’s the part that really lights me up – the “so that” at the end of verse 19: “so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Wow, if I give generously and quit worrying about money and spotting lottery ticket winners to solve all the world’s ills then I will “take hold of the life that is truly life.” That is one of the greatest promises in the Bible! Who wouldn’t want the life that is truly life?

The best formula to gaining riches isn’t hitting the jackpot but giving what you have away. Listen to Luke 12:32-34 where Jesus says “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted…” Listen also to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Now, that’s a great formula for Godly gain!

Of course there was someone else with a different formula. They said the sure-fire way to get rich is to get 50 female pigs and put them together with 50 male deer. If you do it you’ll have 100 sows and bucks! Ouch! So sorry! No, the only certain formula to be content and blessed is not in the worrying or hoarding, but in the giving to and for God to a hurting world. Simple as that.

Someone was offered an option if they wanted to go to heaven or hell. First they visited hell. There were throngs of people sitting across from each other at banquet tables loaded with mounds of sumptuous food. Each person had 4-foot-long chopsticks in their hands. Everyone was emaciated, gaunt and starving even though the table was loaded down with a feast. Then the person went to visit heaven and, guess what, it was a nearly identical scene: throngs of people at banquet tables loaded with food with 4-foot-long chopsticks in their hands. The only difference is that all the people in heaven were well fed, happy, full to their heart’s content. The visitor asked why things were so different for the people in heaven than they were for the people in hell especially since the circumstances appeared the same. The answer was pretty simple. The people in hell were trying to feed themselves with their 4-foot-long chopsticks and physically couldn’t get the food in their mouths. The people in heaven used the same chopsticks to feed each other and were as happy as could be.

Where would you rather go – heaven or hell? If heaven, you’d better start practicing here! Taking hold of life that is truly life – giving is more important than getting! Amen!?!

Embracing Blessedness over Worry in a Worrisome World!

Today is my brother’s birthday. Ralph is the eternal optimist. He has been through more than his share of problems, including heart surgery, diabetes, and business challenges, but he has always been one to see the cup more than half full. I guess that this positive outlook came from my mother’s side of the family because our Daddy was a worrier. The events of this last week would have absolutely freaked him out. Daddy worried about worrying!

One year I thought that he was unduly dragging my Mother’s optimism down so I thought that I would make him a Christmas present that would make him lighten up. The little church that I was serving had a mimeograph machine. Those of you who can remember using them recall the smell, the ink, the aggravation, and the inevitable mess. Anyway I typed up a template, glued in a stencil, and made a perpetual calendar of sorts. I entitled it, “Papa Mac’s Ailment Calendar.” For every day of any given month I typed in different things that were on his worry list and his lips. There were things such as illness, money, taxes, arthritis, bursitis, and any other “itis.” I added a sub-title that said, “For God’s sake and Mama’s, please only worry about one thing per day!”

I’m glad that my brother Ralph is pretty much immune from our McClendon OCD-ish list-making worryitis. Jesus had a lot to say about worry and its futility, “How can worrying add a single hour to your life (Matthew 5:25-34)?” A guy went to his doctor and complained of feeling run down. The doctor said, “Sir, you’re not run down. You’re too wound up.” Not Ralph, but it is the story of too many of us, right? This past week exacerbated it!

Contrast a worry-filled life and the blessed life of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10).” In the aftermath of last week’s tragedies and the anticipation of unknown troubles ahead, how do we embrace and live into the blessed life that Jesus offers?

It is difficult at best to live in the world while not being of the world. For each beatitude that Jesus offers, there is evidence of a contradictory worldview around us. Being poor in spirit is less valued than being rich in spirit, upbeat, exuding self-confidence, and on top of the world. No one wants to be poor in spirit. Our culture values winners over losers. We would rather be happy than mourn. The meek are devalued in our pushy society where we belittle those who aren’t assertive enough and can’t “suck it up” and succeed. Those who want righteousness as their daily sustenance appear weird in our condoning, non-condemning society where the strongest rebuke is “I’m just saying…” Mercy is seen as weakness. We want justice and we want it now. Being merciful and being the most litigious society on the planet aren’t compatible realities.

Goodness, purity of heart is just plain unrealistic. I’m just being human. In other words, forget about regeneration and new life. We have turned piety into a bad word! At least peacemakers have gotten good press this past week for running toward danger and subduing evil. For the most part, however, we applaud vigilantes and anyone who stands up for themselves. Think about the political nastiness of D.C. Where are the peacemakers in our homes, schools, churches, and government? Lastly, who wants to be persecuted? Give me a break. We all want to go along to get along with others. I remember when I used to walk out of movies if I heard certain words, and now I’ve sadly become inoculated.

No wonder worry has overtaken us! We live and act like we have one foot in God’s peaceful kingdom and the other in a violence-ridden world. Our split personalities have torn our lives asunder. We shouldn’t be surprised at the calamities and atrocities that surround us. As good as humankind is, too often we hide the Creator’s image and embrace the darkness of our masks.

We have got to make better daily choices: Be blessed or yield to worry; Trust in self-made goodness or depend on God’s grace; Be like Jesus or Judas. If we keep on living like the distinctions aren’t clear then the light grows hazy, if not dark. No wonder Jesus ends the Beatitudes with talk of persecution. The clash of values leads to clear division. In the words of Chris Tiegreen, “The Beatitudes serve as an emphatic imperative: Live in the world where God placed you, but never, ever blend in.” Amen.

Don’t Let Worry Kill You, Let The Church Help!

My Daddy was a worrier. He had his reasons thanks to barely being a survivor of the Great Depression. He had a long list of concerns, but in retrospect he was pretty much an optimist. After having to quit school in the 8th grade to help his family earn a living, he ended up in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He learned valuable skills and earned a little bit of money to send home. He took a chance and learned how to auction and scraped together enough money to go to Reppert Auction School in Decatur, Indiana. He did well with his big risk. He took chances all his life when I think about it – too many to chart right here. Having 3 sons was one of his biggest!

But, you know what gave him the most worrying fits – University of South Carolina sports. Gosh, Daddy would get so worked up over a game that sometimes by the time he got to the stadium he would be so nauseous from his nerves that we had to take him home. It’s one of the reasons to this day that we’re early birds to sporting events and most everything else. You’ve got to have enough time for unexpected contingencies so you can go home and make it back to the stadium in time for the game to start!

And here I am just back from Annual Conference and about to head to Omaha for the College World Series. Sure I could sit at home and watch it on TV, but I’ve been every time USC has gone under Coach Ray Tanner – 6 trips. In the last 2 years my youngest son Caleb and I were there for the duration as the Gamecocks brought home back to back National Championships. So here we go again about to get in the car. Our tickets will be at will-call and I have campsite #33 at Lake Manawa State Park reserved. I’m a bit frugal so the $11 a night fee isn’t too much of a stretch.

The side benefits include Father’s Day with Caleb, good baseball, and lots of time to read and reflect before Jurisdictional Conference starts on July 17. Since this isn’t the first time I’ve been the conference’s Episcopal nominee I do know what to expect. I know it will be both stressful and exhilarating. I trust the Lord and the process, but it’s scary. Going to Omaha is just what I need. If I stay at home the fear factor may kick in. I would imagine that some of you can commiserate with me about worries and stress.

They say it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you. Imaginary or not, fears can catch up with us. Fear can be paralyzing. One church sign was frighteningly near the truth: “Don’t let worry kill you, let the church help!” It’s almost not funny! For clergy, worry and church can often go hand in hand. What do we do with our worries? Do we bury them, or let them bury us? Do we have enough faith to take risks for God?

One day in July, a farmer sat in front of his shack, smoking a corncob pipe. Along came a stranger who asked, “How’s your cotton coming?” “Ain’t got none,” was the answer as he continued, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid of the boll weevil.” The visitor then asked, “Well, how’s your corn?” The farmer replied, “Didn’t plant none. ‘Fraid o’ drought.” The visitor continued his line of questioning, “How about potatoes?” The reply was familiar, “Ain’t got none. Scairt o’ tater bugs.” The stranger finally asked, “Well, what did you plant?” “Nothin’,” answered the farmer. “I just played it safe.”

Playing it safe can be downright disastrous. Divine motivation demands our willingness to go out on a limb. Fear has to be defeated. Some of us anticipate the worst and don’t try anything. God wants us to put on our wave-walking shoes and get out of the boat of our comfort zone. I know that we all fear the unknown. I like routine as well as the next person. I’m infamous for ordering the same dish in restaurants. It’s simple really. I don’t want to be disappointed, but if I’m not willing to try something new, think what delights I’ve missed.

When a person fears the worst will happen, their own thoughts may help bring it about. Someone once wrote, “Fear is the wrong use of the imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.” The story has been told about a salesman who had a flat tire while driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night. He opened the trunk and discovered that he didn’t have a lug wrench. He looked around and could barely see a light coming from a farmhouse. With relief in mind, he started walking through the driving rain toward the house.

The salesman began to think all kinds of thoughts. He thought, for instance, that the farmer would surely have a lug wrench that he could borrow. Next he thought about how late at night it was, and, of course, the farmer would be asleep in his warm dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. And so on and on his thoughts went as he was walking to the farmhouse. Being soaking wet didn’t help his thought process, either.

He pondered that even if the farmer did answer the door, he would probably shout some rude vulgarity at him. This thought made the salesman mad. After all, what right did the farmer have to refuse him the loan of a simple lug wrench? He was stranded in the middle of nowhere soaked to the skin, and the farmer was a selfish clod! Fuming, the salesman finally reached the house and banged hard on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” His face white with anger, the salesman called out, “You know darn well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!” Anticipating the worst can become self-fulfilling prophecy. With fatherhood, sports, and the workings of the church, let’s give God a chance and stop worrying! Look for me in Omaha! I’ll write another blog when I get back. Catch me on Twitter and Facebook and Go Gamecocks!

General Malaise

Maybe it’s the clouds and drizzle that we’ve had for three days, but I’ve literally sensed a pall over things. I don’t know what it is, but IT is usually something. Charge conferences are going well although there have been a few rough patches. There have been the usual nay-saying phone calls that are the soup de jour for a district superintendent. I have been non-reactive and tried very faithfully to be calmer as things get more tense. So far so good, but I have a wierd sense of dread-like unease waiting for the other proverbial shoe to fall. I am not a worrier, but there’s that nagging question of “What’s going on?” running through my subconscious and breaking into my conscious thinking. Have you ever been like this?

I am sleeping well, eating well, been around good positive people. My devotional life is great. Heck, even the stock market has been pretty much up for the last week. The biggest downers that I can point to are Steve Spurrier, the USC Football Coach, acting juvenile with a newspaper reporter that gets his goat, and 5th year senior quarterback Stephen Garcia’s final dismissal from the team. As a long-suffering Gamecock fan I know not to get too worked up or stressed out about the fortunes of our football team. I know this feeling I’m having isn’t about the ALCS or NLCS baseball games or a delay in the NBA season. Sports is a wonderful distraction from life, but I’m not one of those who lives and breathes for the next game or the stat line. Sure, it’s important and I want my team to win but there are bigger fish to fry in the game of life.

So what is it? What is it for you? Is there a general malaise that’s befallen society, the church, me, you? Christmas is coming and I have pottery to make but the thought of doing it is daunting rather than its usual exhilaration. Has the worry-bug got me? You? Maybe. Most of us in church work know the truth of the misconstrued sign, “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help!” Yep, for us churchy types, lay or clergy, the church is often our source of anxiety, not the cure. Worship and spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, serving others, being in a small group, and giving always improve my depleted emotional resources. Going to Mt. Mitchell is my oasis but that won’t happen again until sometime in November or next spring. Too cold and wet right now. Now into a three-day funk it wouldn’t much matter what I do or where I go. As someone said it, “If you want to get away from it all, don’t take it all with you.” Yeah! Duh, but what if there’s no escape?

Caleb has been to visit friends in Washington State for a few weeks. Maybe it’s him on my mind. Narcie will be soon due for another MRI in the midst of what I call our “prolonged anxiety” about the brain tumor, but I’ve been following Cindy’s sage advice: “Turn your worries into prayers.” Maybe the breakthrough is just around the corner. I pray so for her and everyone who is out of work, who is facing the unknown with a terrible or unknowable prognosis, or anyone who  is sensing a cloud of nebulous bewilderment. These are stressful times!

So I’m going to turn back to the One who is ever ready to come to our aid: God! Jesus! Helmut Thielicke, in his book Life Can Begin Again, offers a great word for me and all of you who are tired or just plain weary: “We should not artificially turn away from our worries by constantly listening to the radio, for example, or running to the movies, or some other kind of busywork, but rather direct our cares to him who wills to bear and share all our sin and all our suffering and therefore all our cares. No diversion, but directing our cares. This is what to do. Jesus did not say: Look at the ostrich, how it buries its head in the desert sand and so tries to escape the fear of danger. No, he said: Look at the birds of the air, keep your eyes open, stand up straight and look to the heights where God makes known his grace and care.” Matthew 11:28 works, too. Straight from Jesus: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” 1 Peter 5:6 is also a help: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may lift you up in due time.” Isn’t it due-time yet? That’s not my task. My task is to humble myself and wait. God does the lifting. Check out 2 Chronicles 20:1-23 and start warming up the choir!