The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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About – The Substance of Faith

 sub·stance  [suhb’- stuhns] n. that of which a thing consists; the actual matter of a thing

 

The Substance of Faith.com hosts the reflections, insights, and study of  Joel Snider, who recently retired after serving 21 years as the Pastor of First Baptist Church, Rome Georgia.

Are you searching for information on the “the substance of faith?”  More searches for that phrase bring readers to this site than any other.  If that’s why you came, here is a simple summary:

The phrase comes from the King James Version’s translation of Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   J. B. Phillips translation clarifies the idea: “Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for…”

Clarence Jordan has a famous sermon using the phrase “the substance of faith.” .  When Jordan’s sermons were gathered and published, the editor took the title from that particular sermon.

Clarence always made this point: faith is a verb, not a noun.  He based this statement on the fact that the Greek New Testament contains both a noun and a verb form of “faith”  but, the verb is more common than the noun.  English has no verb that can be translated “to faith,” so in our Bibles, the verb is most often rendered “to believe.”  The poor English equivalent leaves us thinking that faith is a mental activity: believing facts about Jesus.

So here is the idea behind “the substance of faith”: If you hope for something, then you live for it even if you can’t see the outcome.  Living for what we hope for makes hope tangible; it gives hope substance.  Living the convictions  of our faith makes our hope concrete.  Hope is just an idea – it is simply a wish – until we give it genuine substance through our actions. Living for the convictions we cannot see is the substance of our faith.   As Clarence Jordan said, “Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds; it is betting your life on the unseen realities.”

I wrote my dissertation on the preaching of Clarence Jordan and his theology still has a major impact on what I believe.  Thus, I took The Substance of Faith as the name for this website.  I hope that you will find concrete expressions of faith in my posts.  My goal is to apply real faith for the real lives we live.

The menu headings above are:

Bucket Books are the 50 books that have had a significant impact on my life.  They include literature, fiction, business, theology and more.  What books have been most influential in your life?

Other Reads are any other book I’ve been reading.

Observations are comments on life, culture, and faith.

Prayers –  I’ve written some of these prayers.  I’ve found the prayers written by others helpful.

Meditation Texts are printed in our order of worship every Sunday.  They are printed to encourage engagement beyond the worship service.

Quotes – I’ve collected thousands over the years.  Here is a place for some of the best ones to see the light of day.

Elsewhere contains anything I’ve found on the internet that I want to highlight.

Life is my place for travel, hobbies, or anything that doesn’t fit the rest of the categories.

To continue the conversation for any post, click on the title of the post and a comment section will appear.

joel

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Independence Day with Alexis de Tocqueville

Several years ago I decided to read some of the longer classic books.  One was Democracy in America, written by a French politician who toured the US and later summarized his observations of the American experiment for his readers in continental Europe.   Alexis de Tocqueville had keen insights into the American psyche.  Some of the things he wrote are instructive for pondering our history and the future of our culture. Many observations about us are as true today as they were in 1835.    On this Independence Day – enjoy.  All page numbers refer to the 1969 version published by Anchor Books.

  • In order to enjoy the benefits of society, one must shoulder its obligations. p. 14
  • Patriotism and religion are the only things in the world which will make the whole body of citizens go persistently forward toward the same goal. p. 94.
  • How can tyranny be resisted in country where each individual is weak and where no common interest unites individuals? p. 96
  • It has subsequently been found that by making justice both more sure and milder, it has also been made more effective. p. 105
  • The great cause of the superiority of the federal Constitution lies in the actual character of the lawgivers. p. 152
  • I admit that I do not feel toward freedom of the press that complete an instantaneous love which one accords to things by their nature supremely good. I love it more from considering the evil it prevents than on account of the good it does. p. 180
  • Consequently, when I refuse to obey an unjust law, I by no means deny the majority’s right to give orders; I only appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of the human race. p.255
  • If freedom is ever lost in America, that will be due to the omnipotence of the majority driving the minorities to desperation and forcing them to appeal to physical force. p. 260
  • The majority in the United States takes over the business of supplying the individual with the quantity of ready-made opinions and so relieves him of the necessity of forming his own. p 435.
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A New Digital Covenant

During the past year I have served as a consultant in two churches involved in conflict.  In both cases, misunderstood or inappropriate communication by email or on FaceBook increased the conflict.  Out of those experiences, I wrote the following piece for the Center for healthy Churches.  It originally appeared on the CHC website

By Joel Snider
CHC CoachHave you ever:

  • Sent a text that the recipient misinterpreted?
  • Wondered how to decipher an angry sounding email you received?
  • Congratulated someone on Facebook for an accomplishment, only to discover the news was still confidential?

If you haven’t had one of these experiences, you’ve had one similar.  We can all share stories of digital communication gone wrong.

Members of faith communities today often ask, “How will we relate to each other as Christians in a digital world?  How will we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ever-changing cyber-world?”  Many assume they know the answers, only to discover that not all members of the fellowship share the same convictions.

How do we come to a common understanding of appropriate digital communication?  A church may adopt an official policy on the subject, but policies are only enforceable with employees.  How does the broader membership agree on principles of internet conduct?

While exploring this idea, I discovered the concept of a digital covenant between members – a common commitment to how we treat each other in the virtual world as part of Christ’s church. I don’t have a finished product, but here are some suggested principles.

  • Use digital communication for information, but not for emotions.    Seven percent of interpersonal communication is verbal – the remainder is non-verbal. The recipient can’t see your facial expressions, hear your tone of voice, or read your body language in an email or text.  Ninety-three percent of your digital communication is hidden and, therefore, easy to misinterpret.  If your message has emotion behind it, go see the person or pick up the phone and call.
  • CC Wisely.   Copying someone on an email is for information, not leverage.  Do not copy someone in order to pressure the primary recipient.  Consider using this practice at work, as well.
  • Do not share another person’s information digitally until they do.   I know an instance where a person posted a prayer request on Facebook, “Pray for my neighbor whose father died tonight.  She dreads calling her children at college to tell them their grandfather is gone.”  It seemed innocent enough until the Facebook user’s daughter saw her mother’s post, made the connection and texted one of the grandchildren,  “I was sorry to hear about your grandfather.”  It was an unfortunate way to hear about a death.   Therefore, be respectful.  Either ask directly if you can share the information or wait until they post before you do.
  • Ask for permission to post pictures of children.  A couple shared a video of a funny moment in their child’s life.  One of the recipients posted it to YouTube.  The parents asked them to take it down, and they refused.  They were addicted to the number of hits they were getting.  The parents found that even though their child was the subject, they had no legal standing to have the video removed from the internet.   Get permission to post pictures or information about another parent’s child.  If a friend asks you to remove a photo or information about them, respond in Christian charity and comply.
  • Remember that the world is your audience.  Randi Zuckerberg says when you share information digitally, think “Who among the recipients do I trust the least?”  The question sounds cynical, but contains much wisdom.  Don’t say anything in an email that would embarrass you if it were forwarded.
  • Remember the permanence of the digital.  Digital communication is quick, convenient, and allows us to stay in touch with more people we could never see or call. The ease of writing and deleting lulls us into thinking messages come and go.  Google’s search ability is quick and its memory is permanent.  A tweet or post that may seem funny in the moment can have lasting embarrassment.

Remember Colossians 3:17 – “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus….”    We don’t have permission to stray from the mind of Christ just because we are angry, or participating in sports – or because we are on the internet.  Paul mentions no exclusions to “everything.”

These are starting points for a covenant about how we treat each other in the digital age.Consider having a church discussion about the idea. Develop your own principles and then pledge together to treat others on the internet in a way that honors Christ.


 

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Seven Conversations

 

I’ve never been on Facebook.  I’m one of the few Ludites left who is concerned about privacy.  Therefore, I’ve not seen firsthand the interest in one of my sermons on parenting that has resurfaced.  I appreciate the kind words that have been forwarded about it

Based on that sermon, several  parents have asked, “What are the questions to ask our children?”   Since I entered retirement, I’ve been working on a book about this idea.  The current title is Seven Conversations.  I won’t try to preview the whole book here but in response to texts and emails, here are the basics:

How can we wait? Teaches delayed gratification.

How can you do that yourself?  Teaches independence.

What shall we eat? Invites the family to a common table.

What are we thankful for?  Teaches gratitude.

What shall we give? Teaches generosity.

What shall we pray for?  Instills faith.

I’ll save the seventh as a tease.  I’ll get to another post soon to explain why these questions and qualities are important.

If you are interested in more about parenting, scroll right and read my post “The Lottery,” if you dare.


 

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The Antidote for Suffering

Second Sunday of Easter – Year B

Acts 4:32-35

The Antidote for Suffering

From Morguefile.com

Suffering implies some sort of pain. It may be the physical pain of illness, the hunger of poverty, the emotions of grief, or the shock of betrayal. One way or another, suffering includes pain.

Our society today is obsessed with remedies for pain. We consume vast quantitates of medications designed to mask the reasons for physical pain. We spend time with therapists and absorb countless self-help books in a quest to eradicate the pain of guilt. People hook up to avoid the pain of loneliness.   As one song says, “Some drink to remember. Some drink to forget.” Both sides of the equation are about pain.

The list of the ways we look for an antidote to suffering is endless.

This passage for the Second Sunday after Easter suggests a different approach.   It suggests community as a way to deal with suffering.   A community is group of people committed to one another – and a common approach to life. In the case of the early church, it is a commitment to the risen Christ.

32 The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. 33 The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, 35 and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need. (CEV)

The testimony of the Word is that the member of the early church shared completely in this community and the suffering of want was eliminated. Community was the antidote to suffering.

This type of radical community has rarely been practiced in the history of the church. Many of us can name a few communities who have practiced it – primarily because they are well known due to their departure from the way most of us live – including me.

Too radical for you? Think of other examples where community mitigates suffering. Twelve-Step groups find their power in community. When crisis strikes, we ask for the prayers of as many people as we can because we find comfort in the prayers of Christian community. Don’t we often ask, “How do people get by in dire circumstances without Christian friends?”   That question is simply a way of asking, “How do people handle suffering without community?”

Perhaps these more common ways of alleviating  our suffering by gathering together might be hints that the radical community of the early church is not an ancient practice, long discarded; rather, it is a timeless practice waiting for people of faith to discover its full power.

 

 

 

 

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Quotations on Easter

Christian writer Barbara Johnson says that we’re Easter people, living in a Good Friday world.

Anne Lamott, in Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith, p. 140

A careful reading of the entire new Testament suggests that the resurrection experience involved both Jesus and his followers, took place not only on the single day later known as Easter but continuously, and consisted of the presence of the risen Jesus among his followers through the Holy Spirit.

Luke Timothy Johnson, in The Creed, p. 12

The truth of the resurrection is not simply that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but that he now shares the life and power of God.

Luke Timothy Johnson, in The Creed, p. 178

Life on the other side of Easter is not easy and we are tempted, and in fact we succumb to our temptation, to go back to where we were, and to what we were, and to what we were doing before Easter came along and interrupted us with its power, its glory, and its transformation.

Peter Gomes, in Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, p. 79

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Easter South of the Equator

I read about a woman in New York City who was interviewed as she departed church one Sunday. A reporter asked, “What is Easter?” The woman said, “Easter is when we throw off the robes of winter.” A critic of Christianity said, “Easter is a spring ritual celebrating the ancient myths of the Mediterranean mind.”

Christians and nonchristians alike tend to join Easter with the arrival of spring. Between now and April 1, we will see countless pointers to new blooms, the end of winter’s grayness, and the reemergence of green in our yards. Spring is our dominant metaphor for Easter.

I want to raise the question: is spring an appropriate analogy for Easter?  Perhaps not. I came to this conclusion several years ago when I traveled to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. One of the things that I really wanted to see while there was the Southern Cross, that constellation that can only be viewed south of the equator. One night in Kenya, I asked a resident of the country to help me find it in the night sky. There it was.

That experience started me thinking about the differences in the hemispheres. I paid attention in social studies as a child, so I knew the seasons are opposite. I wondered, “What do they do about Easter down here, when nothing is blooming and everything is dying?” How do have Easter if you can’t point to green grass, flowers in bloom, or the death of winter passing away? How do you celebrate Easter south of the equator, without the metaphor of spring? I goggled sermons in every English-speaking country south of the equator that I could think of. I discovered they do quite well without spring.

A couple of years later, I found these statements by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Mediations on the Cross:

Good Friday is not about the darkness that necessarily must give way to light. Nor is it the winter sleep or hibernation that stores and nurtures the germ of life. Rather, it is the day when the incarnate God, incarnate love, is killed by human beings who want to become gods themselves. It is the day when the holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, really dies—of his own will and yet as a result of human guilt. p. 71

Easter does not celebrate a struggle between darkness and light….It does not celebrate a struggle between winter and spring, between ice and sunshine. Rather, it remembers the struggle of guilty humankind against divine love, or better: of divine love against guilty humankind. p. 70-71

In the beginning chapters of Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul is speaks to the Corinthians about earthly wisdom, worldly wisdom, and how there is nothing in it that would make you think about how God saves us. Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the Gospel, not with words of human wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

Skip ahead to chapter 2 and we read, “And the things we speak of, we were not taught by human wisdom, but we were taught by the spirit who expressed spiritual truths and spiritual words.” His point is you could look at spring all your life and never come up with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The cross is foolishness.

Too often we ask nature to do our preaching for us. We ask questions such as, “How could you look at the beauty of spring and not believe in God?” As if that experience tells all a person needs to know about God and Christ. Can we look at blooming azaleas and deduce, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Is there anything in a dogwood that says, “Love your enemy”? Is there anything in grass turning green that says, “If you would be my disciple, deny yourself and pick up your cross daily and follow me”? In all of nature is there anything that says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and his son came into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”?

We need to remember that Easter is not simply a time of general renewal but this is a time when we come to worship because Christ has redeemed us by his cross — and the last enemy has been destroyed.

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So this is Love

Left to Right: Cherry, Donna Brown (aunt), Jordan, Natalie Brown (cousin), Rachel, Joel, Dottie Grace (cousin), Kelly Brown (uncle).
Kayytie and Jace in front.
Paulo is on duty and missed greatly.

Many of you know our older daughter and her husband have been working toward the adoption of a daughter.  Yesterday, July 11, Kaytie was made an official part of their home, joining Jace as our grandchildren on the Hernandez side of the family.    No adjective describes fully the power of the day.  Paulo was patched in, via conference call.  The judge asked him why he wanted to adopt Kaytie.  He gave a simple, powerful statement.  The judge said it was one of the best rationale’s for adoption he had heard.  Until Rachel spoke.   I don’t have a copy of what Paulo said, but here are Rachel’s words:

Your Honor, I have known that I would be asked this question for many weeks and I have struggled to put my feelings into words. Part of me feels very guilty to say that, but Kaytie’s life, especially the beginning, has not been easy and therefore perhaps that it is why I couldn’t just give an easy answer. I don’t know a lot about Kaytie’s first 6 years but I know that the culture of where she was what not one that cultivated love, learning, laughter or loyalty. Thankfully she found her way to a loving home filled with several foster siblings, and a foster mom whom Kaytie loves fiercely and I don’t think will ever forget. When she entered this home she did not know the basic things most 6 year olds know such as colors, animals, letters, or numbers. She struggled with coordination and strength. She did not like to speak to others and was obviously afraid of much. Through diligence, love, and patience she has surpassed what anyone thought she might accomplish. Since she came to be a part of our family she has grown even more. Her favorite color is pink, with purple as a close second. She hasn’t met a dog that she didn’t instantly want to pet or take for a walk. Her favorite letter is K for Kaytie and her second favorite letter is J for her brother Jace. She loves turning somersaults into the ocean waves, swinging, and riding her bike. And she is learning to live with less fear.

My life has been very different from Kaytie’s. I have been blessed to know a lot of different kind of loves from many different people and if I am honest most of those loves have come with only a few challenges. You may be familiar with the Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians 13. There are many characteristics mentioned about love in these verses but not one of them says that love is easy. My love for Kaytie, if I am honest, it is not easy. But I have learned much about love and perseverance from this 7 year old. It has helped me gain another glimpse at just how much God loves me and how I am called above all else to love others. I read a quote that says “’Family’ isn’t defined by last names or by blood; it’s defined by commitment and by love. It means showing up when they need it most. It means having each other’s back. It means choosing to love each other even on those days when you struggle to like each other. It means never giving up on each other.” I believe this world be a better place if we all defined family in this way. So, today and all of my days, I promise to be strive to be that kind of family for Kaytie.

The judge said he thought it was impossible to improve on what Paulo said, but Rachel did it.

As a pastor for more than 40 years, I have often preached and written about love that is distinctly Christian.  Rachel’s comments contain more power and passion than any sermon I remember preaching.    If you aren’t sure what love is, here it is, lived clearly…and fiercely.

We welcome Kaytie Hadassah Hernandez to this family of love.

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The Lottery

“The Lottery” is a famous American short story.   It has appeared in countless literature textbooks and anthologies since The New Yorker first published Shirley Jackson’s piece in 1948. The event which gives the story its title takes place in a small American town as residents prepare for the annual drawing of lots. Jackson describes the preparations and the emotional anticipation of the characters getting ready to pull slips of paper from a black box.   Not until Bill Hutchinson draws the black dot do we begin to see that this is a lottery no one wants to win. After a second drawing among the Hutchinson family, Bill’s wife, Tessie, holds the single slip with the black dot. When the story ends with the rest of the village stoning Tessie, we realize that the only thing Tessie wins in this lottery is the opportunity to be a victim.

The story has sparked controversy for decades. Most readers find it hard to identify with a village that could turn its back on one of its own and ignore the cries about the injustice of the lottery of death.

My mind turned to “The Lottery” recently when I heard the story of Brian, a middle-school student diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The treatments compromised his immune system and he was forced to avoid crowds. For months his mother home schooled him until his ability to fight infection recovered to the point that he could return to classes. You can imagine his anticipation as he prepared to get back to his normal routine and to be with friends again.

You can also imagine his surprise when he returned to school and his friends ignored him. Maybe we should say they shunned him. None of his friends had anything to do with him. Disturbed by her son’s account of the day, Brian’s mother called the mother of one of his friends to see what happened.

The friend’s mother reported that several parents met during Brian’s absence and decided their children could not be Brian’s friends any longer — because he was going to die. His death, the woman explained to Brian’s mother, would be too traumatic for their children, so it was best they cease being friends now, in order to lessen their grief later. No one has said that Brian is certain to die, but Brian’s friends ignored him to save themselves the possibility of pain.

Congratulations, Brian, you’ve won “the lottery,” where being one among thousands means losing, not winning. It means being cut off from the people who once surrounded you as community and friends — and now turn their backs on you as you die. Just like Tessie Hutchinson.

In case you are wondering, yes, this is a true story. I’ve altered the circumstances to protect both the innocent and the shameful. Though I will never meet them, I would like to address the parents of Brian’s friends.

If you only take one thing from this article let it be this: you cannot protect your children from grief.  If Brian dies, your children will still grieve. Long ago I tested a theory of mine. I asked people, “Who was the first person your age that you can remember dying?” As most people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or when the World Trade Center was attacked, every person I asked had an immediate answer. They remembered a child hit by a car. A teenager who died of a mysterious heart attack. A suicide. They remembered the name of those who died and their age when it happened. Your children will remember, too. You can’t protect them from knowing and you can’t make them forget.

You cannot stop death from coming near your children and you cannot stop them your from grieving when it does. By removing them from contact with Brian, all you have done is added the prospect of shame to your child’s grief if Brian dies. Your children will know he died and they will remember they turned their back on him when he needed them most. I have seen the grief of those who failed to do their part as a friend or family member died. No grief is pretty, but the grief of the guilty is the ugliest of all.

And, in your effort to protect your child, what if you do raise a son or daughter who has no connection to those in pain, no grief for the dying, and no guilt for their own actions? Congratulations, you have raised a sociopath. Look up the definition. Was that your intention?

And, if we follow the plot of Shirley Jackson’s story, what about next year? What if your child is the next to win the lottery? Will you voluntarily withdraw from public life so that their surviving friends will not have to love your sons and daughters, lest they grieve more when your children are gone? What if you get cancer? Will you move away from your children to spare them the pain of seeing you die? No, you will cling to every precious moment because, like Brian, you will need the presence of those you love.

I have a suspicion that the issue here is not the tender feelings of the children, but your own fear. The fear that you will have to think about death and try to explain it to your children. The fear of your own children’s grief. The fear of facing the prospect that your children are also mortal. It is a terrible thing to love that which can be taken from us.

The adage says “growing old is not for sissies.” Neither is parenting. So buck up and take the responsibility that you cannot put aside, no matter how difficult it is. You signed on for the task when your children were born.

Teach your children that true love is not without sacrifice, but it is the sacrifice that makes it most dear. Teach your children that real life cannot be avoided, but it can be lived courageously. Teach them that faith in Christ is strong enough to sustain us, even when we don’t understand all that happens around us.

You cannot control the events in your child’s life. Such control is an illusion.   You can, however, help your children develop the virtues and the faith that empower them to bear with and to overcome life’s most painful moments. But first you will have to acquire them yourselves.


 

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Planning for Retirement

This post was originally prepared for the Center for Healthy Churches. If you are interested in discussing how to plan for retirement in another field, make a comment below, or email me.

 

I admit it – I am anal. A classic “Type A.” I’ve tested as a conscientious personality style, the characteristics of which include: not resting until the job is done and done right, working hard to do well, and loving to work and be challenged. If there were a club for those least likely to retire early I would be a charter member. Last May, however, I retired at 63 and haven’t regretted it a day.
In order to make this transition, I started thinking about retirement eight years ago. Two factors weighed on me. First, I knew I wouldn’t be happy in retirement without something meaningful to do. Finding something to fulfill me in my post-pastor chapter of life could not wait until the day after my last Sunday. Second, my love for the congregation would not allow me to walk away from the pastorate with a large amount of unfinished business (there’s the conscientious personality trait rearing it’s head). If I had hopes of retiring I had to know what I could do for personal fulfillment and I had to know what God needed me to do in the church I served. I could not discover these two things overnight; they required much prayer and work. Eight years seemed a workable timeframe, so at 57, I began a journey of spiritual discernment.

I “tried out” a few paths to personal fulfillment. Some did not satisfy, including training as a mediator. I also created a website where I could author in small doses to see if writing would be gratifying. That experiment worked. Leadership coaching already provided significant gratification and felt like a ready-made extension of ministry, so I continued to develop those skills.

Additionally, a friend and I developed a list of things we wanted to do, if only we had more time. We all know the tyranny of a crowded calendar on a beautiful spring day. These are the days we want to be outside, soaking up the sunshine, but we have people needing appointments and deadlines to meet. With the help of my friend and I created a simple catalog of “things I’d like to do today.” I wanted to learn Excel, take better photographs, go cycling…I have more than 25 things on that list.

Consequently, the day I retired I was training for a cycling trip. Three writing projects awaited me, along with multiple coaching clients.

Along with the joy of grand-parenting and family life, they provide satisfaction and avenues to continue my calling to minister. Had I not planned ahead and discarded a few interests that did not fulfill, I would not have been ready. On the few days I’ve suffered boredom, I take a hike, grab my camera, or cycle an extra hour, relishing the fact I have time to do them.

The discernment process also uncovered three major projects which seemed necessary in the life of the church. I sketched a rough timeline for them and began to work toward their completion. A nugget of wisdom says: “the days are long, but the years are short.” Without the intentional plan for these long-range projects, it would have been easy for time to slip away, while waiting for a more convenient time to begin them.

God speaks to each of us in different ways. On a February day, two months after surgery resulting from cancer screening, God spoke to me. I didn’t hear a voice, but the Spirit made a clear impression on my heart. It was time to retire. When I felt that prompting, I was ready. I had discovered some things that were fulfilling to me and I could see the end of the church projects I had started. I could see where one path transitioned into another. In May I announced to the congregation I would retire twelve months later.

One more thing remained. During my last year, I made regular lists of my duties. What pastoral tasks happened weekly, monthly, and annually? What processes did I initiate that might not occur to anyone else? I was 42 when I went to First Baptist in Rome — the junior member of the staff. After 20 years I possessed much of the institutional memory. With the help of others, I compiled a list of my duties and made explanatory notes for many of them. I believe that list was the most helpful thing I did for the congregation, prior to retirement.

Planning for retirement is about more than IRA’s and Social Security. If we take our callings seriously, retirement planning includes discerning what Christ needs from us in our current roles. We all want to know we finished well. We also want to consider how to continue our calling in another form. There is no retirement from our Christian commitment, but that doesn’t mean we have to keep the same role.

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Seventeen Year Locusts and the Long View of Life

I wrote the following article for The Center for Healthy Churches.  It originally appeared at chcchurches.org.

Recently I returned to my home state of West Virginia to conduct a funeral for a distant relative. Following the service at the funeral home, we drove to the cemetery in a procession. After arriving, I walked to the back of the hearse where I joined the funeral director and six pall bearers I did not know. We stood awkwardly while we waited for others to exit their cars and for the family members to take their places.

While standing there, we heard it A loud, metallic buzz that came from nearby trees. Very loud. It faded slightly and then rose again. The pall bearers looked over their shoulders, trying to see the source of the noise. “The seventeen year locusts,” pronounced the funeral director, who had seen the questioning on all our faces. “They’re back. Its the seventeen year locusts.”
I had not thought of them since I was a child, living with my grandparents. Perhaps I’ve lived in the wrong regions of the country, or in a city, where they don’t’ swarm, but I hadn’t heard them or thought about them in decades. But I remember my grandmother telling me how particular strains of locusts had a long life cycle, much of which approached dormancy. Then, after seventeen years they appeared again in large swarms. Now, here they were, swarming and buzzing, One pall beard noted that they sounded apocalyptic – so great was their noise.
My grandmother warned they’d be back, but I wasn’t paying much attention when I was twelve. I had more pressing things to do in the next seventeen years than to wait on the return of locusts. From the time she told me about them until they returned the first time I would live in four states, get my driver’s license, graduate from high school, college, and seminary. I would marry and be waiting on my second child to be born. With that much living to do, who has time to think about something that takes seventeen years to happen?
Now, in my sixties, I stood behind the hearse and listened to the swarm. I made the quick calculation and realized, that since my first encounter with the locusts, I have lived through three, seventeen year cycles. How long seventeen years seemed back then; how quickly 51 years have gone by since. This is always the problem in taking the long view in life. The future looks incredibly distant from the front side and remarkably short from the back side.
If only we could learn to take a long view of life when we were younger. When I hear an older people say, “If I had known how long I was going to live, I would have taken better care of myself,” I know they wish they had taken the long view. I’ve read articles by investors who wish they had placed more trust in the power of compound interest over time instead of trying to hit the moon every year with a hot stock tip.
I believe the long view of life is the healthiest and most effective. It allows us to be intentional about life and purpose instead of responding to the “tyranny of the urgent” the things which get in our way and demand our attention.
What does it look like to take the long view in ministry? Here is one, simple idea: write down a preferred future for you and your church. It may be a detailed strategic plan, but it may simply be a guiding sentence. Look at it no less than once a month and do one concrete thing to move forward the vision God has given you.
Funerals happen. People show up at your office door unannounced. Interruptions abound. Therefore, don’t get discouraged if you don’t wok on the plan every day or every week. But every month, do at least one thing to move it forward. Do something to move the glacial pace of change and improvement one inch in the direction God indicates. Just one inch.
An inch every month may not seem like much, from where you stand today, but by the time the locusts return you’ve moved seventeen feet. When you take the long view, incremental movement adds up over time.
We can apply the power of long term, incremental change to the churches we serve, or to our personal lives – losing weight, working on a degree, or writing that book we’ve dreamed of authoring. Moving an inch here, losing a pound there, writing a page this month and next. Pretty soon you’ve made progress. Real progress.
The key is to get started today. From experience I can tell you that the locusts will be back before you know it.

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