The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Quotes on God and Justice

Here is a sampling of quotations on God and Justice from my old sermon research notes.

For many people, justice is whatever they personally consider fair. It can be as arbitrary and changeable as stock market value, at the whim of circumstances and history, worth one thing one day and altogether another the next day. For others, it can be explained by such catch phrases as “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And it all too easily can slide into vengeance, self-righteous demands, racism, or revenge and retaliation on an emotional level. But religiously in the Judeo-Christian tradition, justice always looks more like mercy than anything we would label justice.  — Megan McKenna in Send My Roots Rain, p. 8

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.  — Augustine

Scripture and Christ’s explicit teaching make the call to justice just as non-negotiable as the call to prayer and private morality.   — Ronald  Rolheiser, in Against an Infinite Horizon, p. 124

If Jesus had only been a mystic, healer, and wisdom teacher, he almost certainly would not have been executed. Rather, he was killed because of his politics—because of his passion for God’s justice.  — Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, p. 92

Another reason is the common misunderstanding of “God’s justice.” Theologically, we have often seen its opposite as “God’s mercy.” “God’s justice” is understood as God’s deserved punishment of us for our sins, “God’s mercy” as God’s loving forgiveness of us in spite of our guilt. Given this choice, we would all prefer God’s mercy and hope to escape God’s justice. But seeing the opposite of justice as mercy distorts what the Bible means by justice. Most often in the Bible, the opposite of God’s justice is not God’s mercy, but human injustice.  —  Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianit, p. 127

Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person?   —  Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz, p. 20

Consider a harder, but more excellent, way. A group of lively Christians gets together to pray, eat breakfast, and discuss strategy for demonstrating the lordship of Christ in their business practices that day. They ask: “How, today, can we write a policy, sell a house, lobby for a law, advertise a product, in a way that honors Christ and makes God’s name more respected? How can we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as members of our profession? How can we keep our jobs and still do what is right? How can we avoid being conformed to this world and yet work effectively in it as transformers of culture for Christ’s sake?”   —  Cornelius Plantinga in Beyond Doubt, p. 71

One might go as far to say that perhaps justice fails to be done only if the concept we entertain of justice is retributive justice, whose chief goal is to be punitive so that the wronged party is really the state, something impersonal, which has little consideration for the real victims and almost none for the perpetrator. We contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice, which was characteristic of traditional African jurisprudence.   —  Desmond Tutu, in No Future Without Forgiveness p. 54

Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as He lives, by dying as He died who died to Himself.  —  George MacDonald: An Anthology – 365 Readings (Edited by C. S. Lewis), p. 103


 

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Seven Deadly Sins – Lust

Half-truths are often the worst lies. It’s hard to think of an innocent half-truth.  Their whole purpose is to deceive.   They hide lies behind a portion of truth.  Like a magician’s slight-of-hand, a half-truth directs our attention away from what we aren’t intended to see.

Among the seven deadly sins, lust is the most obvious half-truth and therefore, the greatest deception.   It represents sin’s slight of hand.

To see my point, we have to understand the proper connection between sex and love.  Our society conflates the two.  We use the expressions “having sex” and “making love” in the same way.  To society at large, their meanings are close enough to be used interchangeably.  In a biblical world view, sex and love are related, but not identical.

Love is patient and kind.  It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It’s not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  It never fails.  (Of course you recognize the teachings of Paul in I Corinthians 13.)

When a couple loves each other this way and commits to each other for a lifetime, sex is the physical communication of their commitment in its highest form.  Despite some flawed “Christian” views of sex, in this context, the context of marriage, sex is good.

Lust’s slight of hand tries to convince people that sex is always good, even when divorced from love, commitment, and marriage. It’s half-truth says that we can divorce the physical from the personal. From the biblical point of view, however, “casual sex” is an oxymoron.  In this regard lust always fails.  It can’t deliver the fulfillment it promises because it has come unmoored from it’s natural and necessary anchor, which is commitment.  It becomes, what Eric Fromm calls, a “joyless pleasure.”  (Think about that expression for a few minutes.  It can describe binge eating, substance abuse, pornography addiction, and the hollowness of sex for the sake of sex. I find it revealing and haunting. See Fromm’s To Have or to Be, p. 100)

This is why lust always fails.

Here are some insightful quotes on lust.

Quoting Malcolm Muggeridge:  “Christianity…does not say that, in spite of appearances, we are all murderers or burglars or crooks or sexual perverts at heart; it does not say that we are totally depraved, in the sense that we are incapable of feeling or responding to any good impulses whatever.  The truth is much deeper and more subtle than that.  It is precisely when you consider the best in man that you see there is in each of us a hard core of pride or self-centeredness which corrupts our best achievements and blights our best experiences.  It comes out in all sorts of ways—in the jealousy which spoils our friendships, in the vanity we feel when we have done something pretty good, in the easy conversion of love into lust, in the meanness which makes us depreciate the efforts of other people, in the distortion of our own judgment by our own self-interest, in our fondness for flattery and our resentment of blame, in our self-assertive profession of fine ideals which we never begin to practice.     Philip Yancey in Rumors of Another World, pp.123 ff

“When you have indulged a lust, your wing drops off;
you become lame, abandoned by a fantasy.
…People fancy they are enjoying themselves,
but they are really tearing out their wings
for the sake of an illusion.”      Rumi

“There is no dignity when the human dimension is eliminated from the person. In short, the problem with pornography is not that it shows too much of the person, but that it shows far too little.”  John Paul II

Lust and disgust keep close company.   John Updike

 

See Also:

Seven Deadly Sins: Introduction

Seven Deadly Sins:Envy

Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

Seven Deadly Sins: Greed

Seven Deadly Sins: Sloth

Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

 

 

 

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Seven Deadly Sins – Anger

Many of the Seven Deadly Sins seem outdated. Take Sloth, for instance.  Many millennials  don’t want a lane in the rat race.  Their life-work balance is skewed significantly in favor of life over productivity.  Their parents see it as sloth; the millennials do not.   Of course that is a misunderstanding of sloth, but the important point is that sloth as a traditional “deadly sin”  doesn’t communicate well today.  It, and others of the seven, feel like the character defects of a bygone era.   Anyone preaching about these sins has to find ways to overcome the psychological resistance of the listener.

Not so with anger. This is anger’s hour to shine.  It trends every day.  It is one of the most defining characteristics of the society in which we live.

We see anger in the many rages we confront (or exhibit!) ever day: Road rage, air rage, office rage, desk rage, work rage, bike rage, commuter rage, sports rage, grammar rage, sports rage, technology rage, and the one about to drive our country into pieces – political rage.

The anger of our era doesn’t simply show in newsworthy moments of rage, such as the rise of shooting incidents in schools and in the workplace. It happens in thousands of other, less volatile moments as well.  Anger is behind the rudeness you encounter (or express) in line at the grocery store.  It’s the motivation behind a significant percentage of office theft.  Disgruntled employees who feel they’ve been treated unfairly filch items as perceived compensation for the way they were treated.

Anger stokes talk radio, sets the scene for video games, and lurks behind the psyche of every bully.  Perhaps anger has never been more destructive to individuals, families, and society than it is today.   Anger is the spiritual carcinogen of our time.  Never have Christians had greater need to confess and repent of their own anger.  Pastors have no greater preaching challenge than confronting the anger that eats at the souls of their members.

Be forewarned: Sloth may seem outdated, but today anger is loved.  Like many toxic, physical behaviors, people are addicted to their anger.  What will they do at night if they can’t rail at an opposing team or political party on social media?  Like substance abuse, it gives a big high.  It feels like power.   But it never, never – NEVER – satisfies a life.  It never restores the soul. Even though anger kills, your parishioners may not like to have it taken away from them.  Repentance of Anger comes at a high price.

Here are some quotations that might help those who step into the pulpit.

If it is true that the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, and if anger is disturbance of the heart, then there is no greater obstacle to the presence of the spirit in us, than anger.  John Climacus

Honest anger obeys three rules.  It does not distort; it is not rage; and it has a time limit.  Ronald Rolheiser in Against an Infinite Horizon,  See pages 168-170 about honest anger.

Anyone can become angry.  That is easy.  But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way, this is not easy.  Aristotle

Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.  Benjamin Franklin

Angry people are not always wise. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

A man can’t eat anger for breakfast and sleep with it at night and not suffer damage to his soul. – Garrison Keillor

There is no psychological reward for anger…. Anger is debilitating. In the physiological realm, it can produce hypertension, ulcers, rashes, heart palpitations, insomnia, fatigue and even heart disease. In the phsychological sense, anger breaks down love relationships, interferes with communication, leads to guilt and depression and generally just gets in your way. You may be skeptical, since you’ve always heard that expressing your anger is healthier than keeping it bottled up inside of you. Yes, the expression of anger is indeed a healthier alternative than suppressing it. But there is an even healthier alternative than suppressing it–not having the anger at all. In this case you won’t be confronted with the dilemma of whether to let it out or keep it in.   WAYNE W. DYER, Your Erroneous Zones

Some of these quotes and ideas are expanded in a previous post Living in The Age of Rage

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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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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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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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Pictures from May 1

Special thanks to Sam Ratcliff for the great shots from my retirement day.  Thanks to Nancy for delivering!

Our family - back row, starting left: Jordan and Dave with Josie, Paul, Jace and Rachel, my sister Jennie McNeal. Lucy is in my lap.

Our family – back row, starting left: Jordan and Dave with Josie, Paulo, Jace and Rachel, my sister Jennie McNeal. Lucy is in my lap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A great staff to work with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends from high school and Auburn came from Birmingham: Susan and Rusty Foster, janet Walker.

Friends from high school and Auburn came from Birmingham: Susan and Rusty Foster, Janet Walker.

 

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