Sunday, June 30, 2013


A few days ago we made a trip to Savannah without using the faster expressway.  Traveling down a two lane highway for the sixty or so miles between here and Savannah made for a slower journey, but as is always the case, there is more to see.  Tunnels of pine trees get replaced by open landscape bringing houses, fields, and sky into view.  As we approached Savannah, I found myself anticipating one spot.  Our trip carried us through an area where we lived when I was an early adolescent.  When I saw the Woodlawn United Methodist Church which was my church home for a couple of years, I was a little more than surprised.  I knew the four lane road had eaten some of the land in front of the church, but I did not know the building would have a sign in front of it reading, "For Sale."  I was looking for a church logo and  only saw a "For Sale" sign.
I guess I had heard somewhere in the recent years that the church had been closed, but still it was a shock.  It always saddens me a bit to see sacred space abandoned.  Back when I was there as a young teenager, no one was thinking about the day when the church on the corner would no longer exist.  Instead, it was a place where people prayed for the future and worked for the growth of the church.  There are all kinds of reasons given for the closing of churches, but none of them really erases the sadness.  Churches are not supposed to be closing, but apparently, some do.
No doubt the remaining remnant still present when the doors were locked for the last time have scattered to some other congregation.  Some might look back and see wasted effort by so many since the church on the corner did not last as long as someone's dreams and prayers.  But, to reach such a conclusion would be a mistake.  The Word teaches us that nothing done for God, whether it is sermon, or service, or prayers is wasted.  Whatever is done in His name has a life that a locked door and a "For Sale" sign cannot take away.  What is done for Him is always like good seed planted in fertile soil.  It will bear fruit long after the doors are closed for the last time.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bad Advice

I heard the argument.  It took place in a Sunday School class that valued discussion.  Maybe if the class had valued teaching more than discussion, it would not have happened.  Sometimes I have wondered what is accomplished through the exchange of bad ideas that are embraced as if they are gospel truths.  Anyway, they argued, the bell rang to end that particular round of Sunday School, and they hushed and left.  She never knew her words had been so offensive and he quit coming.
"I'll not go back to the church as long as she is there!" is what he said when I noticed his absence of a few weeks.  He had always been one of those "every Sunday" guys and it concerned me that he was on the edge of dropping out.  After talking for awhile, I gave him some really bad advice.  Since we had more than one worship service and there were several other Sunday School classes, I offered, "Try attending the early service (which I knew she did not attend) and visit another Sunday School class."  He did.  He returned with a schedule designed to avoid seeing this woman whose words had so offended him in the Sunday School class.  When I left years ago for another church, he was still living with my terrible advice.
I should have said to him, "You must practice forgiveness," but instead I helped him live with the brokenness in his life.  I enabled him to accommodate his sin.  I was too concerned with getting his body in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and not concerned enough about the well being of his soul.  It was bad advice.  I have often regretted it, but the past is filled with unchangeable stuff and this mistake is one of them.  When he arrived at the Pearly Gates and was asked about this particular brokenness, I can imagine him saying, "You remember that preacher You sent to our church, well, all I did was follow his advice."  Actually, I hope a better and wiser preacher followed me and led this soul down the path of forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Tension

Before writing another word, I must confess my bias.  Everyone's view of what is before them is affected by the lens through which they see.   The church does not always handle a holiday like Father's Day (or Mother's Day) with a lot sensitivity toward those whose situations are less than traditional.  When I was seven years old, my Father died.  Five years later my Mother re-married and I became fortunate to have a second adult male in my life who helped steer me toward manhood.  However, not every child is so fortunate.  A lot of children are living in less than traditional homes.  In some places Fathers are absent.  In some places they are abusive to the point that adult children would like to remove them from their memory.  The same kind of dynamics are present on Mother's Day as well and, perhaps, made even more difficult for some women who want to have a child but cannot, or who remember an abortion, or the death of a child through a miscarriage. 
What is obvious is that these holidays are not such celebrative moments for many, but times which have to be endured while the rest of the church puts on party hats.  Just as Christmas can be tough on those who suffer loss during the holiday season, so can these other holidays cause a lot of grief and pain.  While some children are making gifts for Daddy in Sunday School, others are sitting more mindful than ever that there is no one to give such a gift.  And our congregations are full of such children.  They are filled with families whose scars make it impossible to just smile and go on as if nothing painful is happening.
It makes me wonder why the church has such a need to make such an issue of a secular holiday.  Celebrating secular holidays is not a bad thing, but I often ask myself as it starts unfolding around me if doing it during the time the church gathers is not an inappropriate use of the moment given to us to offer worship and praise and glory to God.  I often remember a clergy friend who was always more insightful than I am who kept asking us, "Are you going to preach the secular holiday, or are you going to preach the gospel lesson?"  Each time he posed the question, those of who heard found ourselves experiencing the tension between the secular and the sacred. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I remember them all.  There have been ten in all including the one that is filled in these retirement days.  What caused the counting was my thinking about what is happening this week.  This is the time of the year when preachers who are moving actually move to their new appointment.  Tomorrow is the traditional moving day in this Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Next Sunday a good number of preachers will be standing in new pulpits.  Some of the ones from which I have preached have been more elaborate than others, some have been higher than others, but all of them have been places set aside for the preaching of God's Word to the people of God.  How they look is not nearly as important as what happens there when God's people gather.

Preaching from a new pulpit is like moving into a new house.  When we move into a new place, our memory tells us where everything is supposed to be.  The only problem is the new house has light switches and corners in different places and it takes time before we become comfortable with new surroundings.  My experience with pulpits has been much the same.  It takes time to get comfortable preaching in a new pulpit.  No matter how many pulpits have been a part of a preacher's history, a new one is a new one and it just takes some time to feel at home and comfortable while doing the preaching.  In time it becomes such a familiar and comfortable place, but not usually on the first Sunday.

Fortunately, what does not change is the message.  The setting may be different.  The people facing the preacher may have different names and faces.  The lighting may be different.  Everything may be different, but not the message.  Regardless of where the preacher stands to preach, the message to be preached is the same message that was preached from the very beginning.  Style and form may change, but not the message.  The preacher is the one who speaks on behalf of God and the one whose charge is to point people to Jesus.   After some preaching, the pulpit will begin to feel like home, but from the very beginning what can be proclaimed is the unchanging word about this One named Jesus who has come to save us and to finally take us home.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Evening's Glory

When my body shall lie beneath the earth,
And my eyes have been closed in death,
No longer will I marvel at earth's heaven,
Nor praise the One who gave me breath.
But, if the earth is full of such splendid glory,
How much more shall be the edge of heaven's shore.
What eyes of earth cannot behold will fill the soul,
The radiating faces of a great cloud of witnesses,
Long since gone, but once again now in view,
And the presence of the Holy One
Who long ago traded heaven's glory for earth's agony,
Rising from death to live gloriously in my soul.