Do I, or don’t I? I’m asking this question all the time as I pack up my office for a projected move. Here’s the issue: I have always loved and treasured books. Some of my books have been with me since I was a teenager. Others, I have accumulated over the years. I bought a large number of books while I was in seminary. Those books still serve as my reference library. Through the years, others have graciously shared books with me. Retired pastors have shared with me. My Grandfather’s books became mine. Many of my Dad’s books now sit on my shelves. Truth is, I just have too many books.
In this digital age, more and more of my reading material is on my Kindle or my iPad. I carry hundreds of books on a small electronic device.
So, do I or don’t I? Here’s where I have drawn the line. If the book has sentimental value to me, it goes with me. If I have no idea where a book came from, it goes to someone else. This may not be a foolproof method, but I have to draw a line somewhere.
God drew a line. Only those who were on the right side of His line would be assured of His love and forgiveness. Then God extended that line infinitely, beginning at a Cross and encircling all of creation. You made the cut. So do I. I’m having to leave things behind. Not God. “It is not His will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
See you Sunday. I may send you home with a book! What we do here matters.
I’m going through a lot of my personal belongings these days, since it appears that a move is in mine and Angela’s future. Through the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. One of the things that moving forces me to do is to decide which stuff means so much to me that I’m willing to move it with me. A good deal of stuff doesn’t make the cut, but instead ends up at the Clothing Bank or Goodwill. The rest of it ends up in the trash.
I’m down to a very few things from my childhood. There’s my baby Bible that Mom passed to me a few years ago, a puzzle my Dad bought me that is a map of Israel under King David. There’s also a knife from my Grandfather, and a little toy brought to me when I was a six-year-old in the hospital. The toy came attached to a Get Well card, hand delivered by my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Pearl Keith. That toy has been with me for over 50 years now. I take it out and I smile. A woman who taught me about the love of Jesus showed me the love of Jesus when I was recovering from surgery and was bandaged up like a mummy.
Fifty years is a long time to remember an act of love. But it will stay with me for a lifetime. My Sunday School teacher cared about me. Next time you’re asking yourself “Is what I do for the Church really making no a difference?” remember a little boy and the impact it made on his life.
See you Sunday. What we do here matters.
Underwear. We all have it. We don't often talk about it, especially in a church newsletter. But that's what's on my mind today. That's right, the preacher's writing about underwear.
One of the ministries we support in Radford is the Clothing Bank. Needy persons may come to the clothing bank and receive quality clothing that others have donated. We offer a couple of different kinds of support for the Clothing Bank. During the month of August, Central staffs the Clothing Bank for the entire month. At other times of the year, many of our folks continue to volunteer their time to this ministry. We obviously encourage our folks to donate to the Clothing Bank, and many of you do just that.
Now, back to the subject of underwear. The one constant need at the Clothing Bank is for folks to donate new underwear. While other used clothing can be cleaned up, pressed, and shared with others, it's not quite so easy with underwear. The rule, then, at the Clothing Bank is that we don't donate used underwear. It has to be new.
On April 30, we had Undie Sunday at Central. The appeal was simple: bring a pack of underwear to church to share with the Clothing Bank. It was evident that Undie Sunday was a big success. Just how successful it was was finally revealed today when volunteers began sorting and re-packaging the underwear for the Clothing Bank. Want to guess how many pairs of underwear Central donated? 471! That right, four hundred seventy-one. Since the Clothing Bank distributes underwear one piece at a time, that means that a large number of folks in our area will receive a piece of underwear and perhaps a little dignity with it. I suppose most of us don't think about our underwear too much, but that's because we have it. For someone who has none, it suddenly becomes an issue.
We help people we don't even know need the help, but in the process, people are reminded that somebody cares. That is making a difference for others.
See you Sunday. What we do here matters.
For several years now, I’ve had this thing on my phone now called “Face Time.” The whole idea is that you can talk with someone, and see them on the phone screen at the same time. Ever since I discovered this on my phone, it has had no appeal to me whatsoever. Why would I want to see someone while talking on the phone? Why would I want them to see me?
I participated in a Face Time conversation once, because a couple I was going to marry was several hundred miles apart, but the bride set it all up on her iPad and all I had to do was sit at the church and talk with the groom.
Now, however, I have suddenly become very interested in Face Time. I am a new Grandpa, and I live 6 hours away from little Olivia, the most beautiful, intelligent, month-old baby in the world. I get to see her, and I talk with her while she squeals her approval. Face Time is now a wonderful tool.
It's about motivation, isn't it? We tend to accomplish what is most important to us.
That's true in every facet of our lives. We do the things we're motivated to do. So, what are we motivated to do? The things at the top of our lists are the things we get done.
During this Lenten season, I hope you are asking the big questions of yourself. Questions like:
See you Sunday. I’ll be the grinning Grandpa.
What we do here matters.
The big challenge for me as I do my work is to remind myself constantly that my life happens in weekly rotations. I write a new sermon every week. I prepare a new Bible study every week. And I'm supposed to write a new blog post every week.
The problem? I forget to write a blog post every Monday because it falls down my "to do" list, and then after a few weeks of not getting around to doing it, my blog has suddenly become old and stale, and I am several weeks behind.
Today, I recommit myself to using this space. Those who read my essays here know that I find great joy in writing them, and even greater joy in learning that someone is reading them.
So, I'm back. And I'm humbled by everyone who reads these posts.
And while I'm at it, can I ask a question: Are there things you have gotten out of the habit of doing that bring you joy? We all fall off our proverbial wagons. As people of faith, we realize that we can be forgiven, and we can move forward.
See you back here next week!
Angela and I went away last week and spent some time at the beach, and we also did something that we had planned to do before, but never got around to doing it. I love history and all things historical, so we stopped on the way back from the beach to visit the Jamestowne Settlement. I marveled at how people created a new life in a difficult place, and I stopped at every point on the tour, read the stories, then moved on to the next marker. The temperature that day was just plain hot, and the humidity made certain that any reasonable person would seek out air conditioning. We did just that, stopping at a cafe on the grounds that had cool air and iced tea. Unfortunately, the first settlers couldn't go into the cafe and cool off.
I was especially intrigued by the history of the churches that served as houses of worship for the settlers. The church had been relocated a couple of times during the early years, but we stood in the beautiful church building that had been moved back to the original site. There, we saw the grave stones in the cemetery. Several of the stones had long inscriptions on them, and a few of them ended the same way. The biographies on the stone ended with these words: "Awaiting a joyful resurrection." Those early settlers lived difficult lives. Many of them died young. But pulsing through this community was the hope of a joyful resurrection. They were planted in the earth with the faith that someday, they would be resurrected to new life.
We have a lot of things that make life easier today. We have air conditioning and heat. We have a ready food supply. We have health care that extends our lives and adds quality to our years. Compared to the settlers, we have it made. But at the end of the day, we also share the same hope. Some day, we, too, will be planted in the earth. May our hope and our faith leave no doubt that we are awaiting a joyful resurrection.
Joe was holding on the phone for me. What was I going to say to him? Joe and his wife Ann were both alcoholics. They would stay sober for a few weeks, then one of them would relapse, and then the other was not far behind. They would almost certainly get into a fight when they started drinking, and then the same script would play out. The police would come, arrest one or the other, or sometimes both, and in a few days, it would all be forgiven and forgotten between Joe and Ann.
I knew the story well because I was their pastor. They tried. They really, really tried. Yet all their efforts just seemed to underscore that they needed something more than I could offer. They were committed to Christ. They prayed for forgiveness and practiced forgiveness, but alcohol held a death grip on both of them. Ultimately, they separated and then divorced. They were bad for each other.
I answered Joe’s phone call. “Dale,” he said, “I’m just a hopeless drunk.” I tried to assure him that he was not hopeless. But I knew in my heart that he needed professional help to go along with his Christian hope.
Last week, I went to visit a church that is helping people like Joe and Ann. They are preaching the Gospel, while offering support groups to help people silence the demons and find peace in Jesus. The church is in Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville, TN, and it sees as many as 700 people come together and worship and support one another on Thursday evenings.
I’m excited because Cokesbury is helping other congregations begin recovery ministries throughout the Southeastern United States, and they are willing to partner with us in order to help us tap into a ministry that is changing lives and changing family histories. I met a guy at Cokesbury who had the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. He had that same hopeless look that I had seen in Joe and Ann. But this guy heard the Gospel on Thursday. He heard that there is a way out. He joined in singing songs about freedom. Because of the church in his community, there’s hope. I want us to do this. I want to help the next Joe and Ann. Pray for us as we take the necessary steps to become a place for recovery.
See you Sunday. What we do here matters.
I still remember shaking my head at the news. Michael Phelps had been arrested for DUI. "What a waste," I thought. "How could a young man with his talent keep making headlines for all the wrong reasons?"
That was a few years back. After the past week, I found myself cheering on a man who seems to have gotten his life together. Watching his skill in the swimming pool was exciting to say the least. At this point, his Olympic career is without a rival. Phelps now has enough gold medals to fill a bank vault.
Phelps grew up. He also became a father. He recommitted himself to returning to world-class conditioning. And the other part of the story is what happened in his spiritual development. He found great inspiration in "The Purpose-Driven Life." He learned to live for a lifetime instead of just for the moment.
We talk about that most every Sunday at Central. We talk about what God wants from us and for us. We talk about what God has given to us that we can share with others. I don't expect to win Olympic medals, but I do hope that at the end of my life, I will earn more than a medal. I hope to hear Him say, "Well done!"
See you Sunday. What we do here matters.
For the past three months, I have spent one weekend a month helping prepare our newest batch of pastors for their first appointments which will begin for most of them in late June.
I have been a part of this process for nine years, first as a teacher for the school and ultimately becoming one of the persons responsible for leading the school for the past three years.
Every year, I am impressed with the people we have who have sensed God's call on their lives, and who are responding by making themselves available to take on a new and challenging task.
I remember a man who was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease, who wanted to complete the class and serve as a pastor for as long as his health would allow. I remember a psychiatric nurse, who came to believe that she could help others find peace through Jesus.. I remember a woman who had grown up in a preacher's home, a woman who had been taught it was wrong for women to be in ministry. She threw off yesterday's chains, and looks forward to a bright tomorrow in ministry. I think of a man who came from the military. He said that he was really good at tearing things up, but now he wanted to be a part of putting things back together. And I think of all the young adults who have passed through the school, feeling the call to reach their generation for Christ.
My classes have made me a better pastor, because my life has been enriched by their faith and enthusiasm.. So I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the first step for so many of our first-time pastors. God keeps calling them, and we keep training them. Someday, one of them will be my pastor. And I'll be like a proud papa, saying "I knew they were going to be good!"
As we head into our holiest days of the Christian year, several things are on my mind that I’d like to share with you today.
EASTER CELEBRATIONS ABOUND: On Easter Sunday, we will offer three very unique Easter services. At 7 AM, we will celebrate Jesus’s resurrection as we watch the sun begin to rise and awaken a world that is forever changed because of an empty tomb. Danny Nettleton will plan and lead us through the Sunrise Service. At 8:30 AM, our praise band will lead our worship. I will be preaching in this service. I am really excited about my sermon, which will ask the question “Why Mary?” At the 11 AM service, our choir will present its Easter cantata, entitled “Insert Name Here.” There will also be a brief version of the 8:30 sermon.
GOOD FRIDAY SERVICE: Pastor Don is planning a meaningful time of worship as we come together to remember the sacrifice which Jesus made for our deliverance from sin and death. The most solemn service of the year prepares us to come together on Easter and proclaim the Resurrection.
MAUNDY THURSDAY SERVICE: We will meet in the Fellowship Hall for a commemoration of the Last Supper. As we have in previous years, we will find a table set for us, as we share Holy Communion around the table. Beautiful music will aid in our worship and remembrances.
A PROUD PASTOR: On this past Friday and Saturday, Simone from our church was praying in the Prayer Chapel from 9 AM until 9PM both days. I must say that my time in the Prayer Chapel was meaningful and transformative for me, and the good spirit in worship on Sunday bore witness to the fact that our prayers were more powerful than we can imagine.
There’s a lot happening. May we sense the presence of God in our lives in a powerful way as we work together to offer Christ to our community..
What we do here matters.
Come visit us!