Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lorraine at WalMart

Sometimes my fast food stories don't even happen at fast food establishments.

One day awhile back I had to return an item to our local WalMart. This is quite an ordeal, at least to me. First you have to collect your item and your receipt for the item. Then when you arrive at the store, you must speak to the door greeter. By the way, this is almost the only time that the door greeter will speak to you voluntarily. Never mind, if the shop lifter alarm goes off they will run to greet you as well.

Anyway, the door greeter will check your return item and cross reference it to the receipt that you have supplied. If it all passes muster the greeter will place a blank price sticker on your return item. This is to indicate that the greeter is doing his/her job, I guess.

The next step is to go to the customer service desk. After waiting in the line (there is always a line), you usually have to endure a series of questions to verify your worthiness for your exchange or refund. Finally, when you have passed this interview (sometimes it feels like the third degree), your issue can be resolved.

It was at this point in my exchange that Lorraine said something to me- something apart from the standard script. She said, "Are you a pastor, or something."

I don't get that question very often, at least not in the real world. The bad thing is that if you are a pastor, and someone asks you about it, you can't really deny it. I admitted my position and I asked her "What gave me away?"

"Oh," she said. "I have seen you reading your Bible in McDonald's several times. I knew that you had to be a minister."

I learned something that day. You are always on display. People are always watching where you are, what you are doing, and how you speak to others. I didn't know Lorraine before that day. Now I notice her and speak to her each time I am in her store. She may confide in my some day when she needs prayer of counsel. And who knows how many other people have noticed me? Who knows how many people have noticed you.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Here are some observations/ experiences/ opinions that I have developed about people welcoming one another and being generally friendly.
  • When I visit churches that are not my own church, I feel most welcomed in African-American congregations (even though I am often the only Caucasian present.
  • Christians, in general, love to reach to others as long as they come to church and it takes minimal effort on our part.
  • We love to welcome people who look like us, think like us and behave like us.
  • We love to be friendly to people in our own social and financial circles.
  • Most people love it if you are friendly and welcoming to them.
The problem with all these things is that we are too inconsistent. We love to think that we are welcoming, often without actually being welcoming.

There are large numbers of people in every community who are open to our invitations and advances. If we are willing to be welcoming and open, there are plenty of people who are accepting of us.
  • There are the elderly who have been forgotten by family and who have out-lived their friends. They are waiting for you and I to be friendly to them.
  • There are the homeless, poor and drug addicts who feel as though no one gives them a chance. We should be willing to be open to them. Welcome and care for all types of people.
  • There are young people who feel alienated and ignored by their elders. We ought to treat young people as for real humans, not as children who need our constant protection, oversight and rules.
  • There are people who look different that we do. We should be open and accepting of all the people who are children of God.
So, to everyone, I say: WELCOME.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting Ready to Say Goodbye

The news is out, but we have several weeks to go. You have no doubt heard by now that the Millers (and the Martins and Permans) are leaving Howe at the end of June. We will begin a new chapter of our ministry lives on July 1 at Argos United Methodist Church. At that time you will get a new pastor as well. I am sure by the time you read this you (and I) will know who the next pastor will be. We should all start praying for that person right away. We should pray that the transition would be easy, that the new pastor will love the people of Howe and Pretty Prairie, and that both congregations will embrace him/her.

In the mean time, I would like to reflect a little, and dream about what the future might hold for all of us.

To begin with, we have experienced a lot as a family here. Molly started and finished middle school. She started and finished high school. She started college. Molly also went to her proms, got her driver’s license and performed in the school musical. Life was pretty good for Molly in LaGrange County. Shannon worked in two different jobs that she really loved- the current one she hates to give up. She had surgery to remove ovarian cancer. I struggled with gout and had skin cancer. But we both have felt that the community of Howe and the congregations of Howe and Pretty Prairie were perfect for us.

In ministry we have had tremendous success through the years. At Pretty Prairie we have repaired all the windows, re-oriented and replaced the porch/ front steps, built a ramp, re-roofed the church, installed central air-conditioning, fixed the issues with the bell tower and built a lovely home for the bell. At Howe we have upgraded and replaced our sound system, got a new organ, remodeled the restrooms and put a new roof on the church. But none of those items are ministries.

We have not lacked in ministry, though. We have had several years of very positive ministry with Kid’s Club. We have housed and then sponsored the only pre-school in Howe. The Coconut Hut has become one of the outstanding outreaches of our churches. We have had great music programs. One of our members has entered the ministry. Several members of both churches have completed Lay Speaker’s training. We have provided worship services monthly at Life Care Center. We are very involved in ministries with our cluster group at Pioneer Estates, in worship and in Mission Possible. We connected with Master’s Commission. Both churches have supported- and participated in- missions in Uganda and Jamaica, among other places. Our churches are the primary support of Wesley School in Uganda, and the only support of Kanyike Joseph. We have done great things, and God willing we will continue to do great things for God.

So what does the future look like? Who can really know? I think it looks good for both churches, and for our family. Everyone gets a new, fresh start. We get a clean slate. And that’s what the Christian faith is all about. We get to start new ministries, breathe new life into old ones and to continue the work that God has given us. New lives will be won to Christ and others will grow in faith. More people will be called into ministry and God will be glorified.

We will miss Howe and Pretty Prairie. We will always hold our time here as a blessed period in our lives. We are looking forward to a new kind of relationship with folks who have been parishioners, but will now be fondly thought of as friends. We will always be praying for you. And we hope that there is kindness in your hearts toward us, and that you will be praying for the Millers.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lenten Sacrifice

Through the years I have done a pretty fair job of making sacrifices, fasting, during Lent. I am having a little bit of difficulty this year, however. I have a million excuses, but the bottom line is that I just haven't come up with the thing- or things- that I am supposed to give up for these 40 days.

I can report on previous year's fasts, though. So here they are, in no particular order. These are the sacrifices I have made through the years for Lent.

  • Salt
  • Doughnuts
  • Secular music
  • Reading anything but the Bible
  • Pop/Soda/ carbonated soft-drinks
  • Chocolate- especially those Cadbury and Reese's Eggs
  • Hamburgers
I am open for suggestions for this year's sacrifice. Help me out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday V

So here it is again. This is the fourth Ash Wednesday that I have written in this blog. It was on Ash Wednesday that I began writing here and so it seems appropriate that I would contribute something on this day again.

With that being said, let me share some thoughts that are in my mind this Ash Wednesday.

  • Ash Wednesday begins the Christian season of Lent.
  • Lent is the 40 days that precede Easter, excluding Sundays. Sundays are not included because they are little celebrations of Easter itself.
  • We celebrate Lent for 40 days because of the 40 days that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. He fasted and confronted Satan for that time period.
  • Ashes are imposed on the first day of Lent to symbolize the mourning that we have when dealing with death. "We are ashes, and to ashes we will return."
  • The ashes are obtained by burning the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday worship service.

This evening we had a worship service to celebrate the imposition of ashes. In addition to confessing our sins, praying, being pardoned and reading the Scripture, I was able to share a few thoughts about Lent. This year I am going to focus on giving for Lent.
  • Giving up things. Many of the traditions of Lent have to do with sacrificing or fasting certain items. Some people give up chocolate, or meat, or pop. We do need to make sacrifices to begin to understand Christ and his gift to us.
  • Giving up. There are things that you are doing in your life that you need to stop. You need to give up, to surrender. God wants something better for your life.
  • Giving up control. One of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith is that humans long to be independent and in control. Following Christ, however, requires that he be in control of our lives.
  • Giving. To be truly Christian we must be gracious and generous, welcoming and loving to all people. That means that we should be open, that we should share and that we should contribute as often as we can.
  • Forgiving. We have all been hurt or taken for granted. For Lent this year we should all focus on those who have wronged or taken advantage of us. After all, our bitterness only hurts us.
Join me in this season of Lent by being a "Giving Person," won't you?

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Culture of Creativity

God made everything that exists. On that premise rests every truth, every action, every belief of my life- and I believe most people's lives. The Bible teaches that God is the creator. However you choose to believe that the universe came into being, I choose to believe that God was, and is, the instrument behind it.

Not only that, I believe that God is still creating. There are new things to see and experience every day. There is no limit to what God can do, and his creativity is unending. His goodness is all around us. He is still doing new things and solving old problems. He is actively creating, even today.

Additionally, I believe that God made humanity as his representatives on earth. We are, therefore, to aspire to creativity. You and I are supposed to be creative and creating. We need to not be stuck in a rut. We should be looking for new things, always.

It logically follows, then, that the church should be a culture of creativity. We are to be creative and to encourage others to the same. We should be seeing new art, singing new songs, reciting new liturgy and designing new programs for outreach, evangelism and discipleship.

A creative church will be a growing church.

A church that is not a culture of creative will weaken, shrivel and ultimately die.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inside Out

I've been thinking about problems in our world. I guess I do that more than I should, or maybe more than is healthy for me. I came across a new one, though. Here are some of the problems that have been occupying my mind of late.
  • The divorce rate in America is profanely too high.
  • Pornography is ruining lives, relationships and communities in epidemic proportions.
  • Prostitution is more widespread than anyone, including law enforcement personnel, is aware.
  • Cosmetic surgery, fashion, diets and makeup are all HUGE industries in our country.
  • Promiscuity, in all its forms, is rampant in every community.
  • Pop culture is consumed with the latest scandal involving Britney, Lindsay or Charlie.
All of these problems are caused by the same few things. I am sure that there are more problems that can be included, but this will give us a start.
  1. To begin with, we American humans are focusing almost exclusively on external stimuli. We do not see the inside of Britney, only how her external parts excite and titillate us. Very few people (maybe no one) know who she really is. And sadly, most of us do not care. We choose our favorite movies on the basis of who the stars are. We might choose our mate based on the way they look or how they make us feel. This is most unfortunate.
  2. Although we are initially attracted to others based on appearance, often we do not get beyond that surface impression. The value of another person is only the aesthetic of external beauty. When my wife no longer turns me on, we conclude, she is no longer of any value to me.
  3. A consequence of this appearance-driven ethic is that we developed warped ideas about our own value. We feel as though we are less important when we are less attractive. We get uncomfortable when people are interested in our internal stuff. Life gets complicated below the surface. Self esteem and self confidence are harder when they have to do with attitudes, opinions, values, personality and beliefs more than the way we look.
  4. Looking at someone and appreciating their beauty, although a worthwhile endeavor, should never take the place of knowing someone and caring for their person.
  5. My value is not based on what someone else thinks of me, or even the way I look. My value is based on God's love for me, and my ability to know and be myself, the way God intended.