December 24, 2017

An Important Announcement

After eleven wonderful years as pastor of Cairo First Church of the Nazarene, it's with a heart full of gratitude that I announce my resignation, effective January 28.

Eleven years is lengthy tenure for a Nazarene pastor--nearly three times the average.   But, the great people at Cairo First have made it more than worthwhile.  I've formed wonderful relationships over these years that will be treasured.  While there's always a touch of sadness that comes with saying goodbye, however, there's also the excitement of a brand new hello.

There’s nothing more fulfilling in life than doing the will of the One Who calls and sends us. When the Lord called me to the pastorate in 1996, He took me to Mark 6, where He sent His Disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Now, two decades later, He’s brought me to Mark 6 once again, where He also told His disciples, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”

The Lord has opened the door of opportunity for me to rest awhile from the pastorate, to be fed and nurtured spiritually, and to answer His call for the second half of my life, whatever that may bring.  I’ve followed His lead faithfully through sixteen years in the pastorate and over twenty years of preaching the Word.  As He leads in a different direction for a season, I'll continue to follow Him wholeheartedly, believing that He knows what's best, and will never lead where He doesn't provide.

As for where I go from here, I'll be spending a few months in Savannah to reconnect with my family there and be present for Mikaela and Ethan's wedding, then make my new home in Minneapolis, MN, where more family is waiting.

I would greatly appreciate your prayers as I transition into the next phase of my life.  I look forward with anticipation to discovering what His ongoing plan for me holds, and trust Him with all of the details.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas! 

May 20, 2017

To Jodie, My Four-Legged Godsend

Picture a little boy--five, maybe six year old--playing in his yard.  His neighbors have a dog named Jodie.  The boy gets too close to the dog, like little boys will do.  The dog goes to attack him until his older sister, who is watching, comes to his aid.  From that point on, the boy (who, just to get the not-so-surprising revelation out of the way, is me) begins developing a fear of dogs.

Fast forward a few years.  That boy is now eight or nine.  He sees his best friend (a dog owner and lover, for the record) with a bandage on his eye.  It seems that a dog at a relative's house had attacked him and nearly ripped out his tear duct in the process.  From this point on, the boy's fear is solidified.

And, that's the way it was for meuntil you came into my life.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  That boy is now a grown man, living on his own, and still terrified of dogs.  His best friends call to tell him that they'd adopted a puppy from the Humane Society the day before, whom they'd named Jodie.  The little one had been abandoned in the parking lot at Walmart, and they'd fallen in love with her immediately.  

But, they had to make a day trip an hour or so away to keep an appointment, and didn't want to leave her alone in the house, so they ask if he'd come over and puppy-sit for a while.  At this point, the guy has successfully hidden just how afraid he is of dogs.  But, he couldn't say no to his friends, and it was just a puppy, after all, so how bad could it be?

To this day, my friends and I disagree as to this size of this puppy.  They claim that her length only stretched from the palm of your hand to the joint of your elbow.  I claim she was roughly the size of a horse.  Maybe my fear had me seeing things bigger than they really were.  😊

So, I went to their place that afternoon, sat on their couch, and kept a wary eye on this puppy.

They say that dogs have a way of sensing fear, and that this sense of fear can often produce nervousness and even a backlash from the dog.

I have no doubt in my mind that you sensed my fear that day, Jodie.  But, you didn't react with nervousness or with a backlash.  No, you did the complete opposite.  You decided that me being afraid of you didn't work for you.  And so, you did the one thing you knew how to do to alleviate that fear:  you loved me.  Truly.  Fully.  Relentlessly.

Little by little, day by day, month by month, you chipped away at the wall that I'd erected.  Before long, I could walk you.  Then, when I'd sit in that old recliner, you'd curl up between my legs under your favorite blanket.  Before I knew it, we were spending an entire week together while your family took a much-needed vacation.  Then, I could hand-feed you, which you thought was just the greatest thing in the world.

For the last year or so, though, you really weren't Jodie anymore.  Not quite, anyway.  Your attitude was different.  You would usually stiff-arm me when I went to pet you.  You were moodier.  You were more aggressive.  The experts say it's the usual pattern as your breed ages.  Still, though, you always found a way to show me that you loved me, and I never doubted it.

When I left your house on Thursday, I never once imagined that I'd seen you for the last time.  

Don't get me wrong.  I knew you were getting close to the end of your lifespan, and that we had more days together behind us than we had ahead of us.  But, I thought that, when your time came, I'd know it, and I'd have the opportunity to spend one last afternoon with you, to hand-feed you one more time, and to say goodbye to you.

I really should've known better, as much as I've faced loss in my life already. But, in my defense, I've never lost a pet before today.  And yes, your daddy and mommy and brother, my best friends in the world, were your favorite people, and that's exactly the way it should've been.  They were there from day one, after all.  But, I was there from day two, and you always made me feel like you were a little bit my dog, too.

When your family called this morning to tell me that you were gone, I was stunned and heartbroken.  Ten years ago, I never would've imagined shedding tears over the passing of an animal.  But today, at a point in my life when I feel all but emotionally spent, my tears have fallen all day.  It was only when my cat, Chester, came along that I began to understand the kind of bond that can form between human and pet.  When you came along, Jodie, I understood it even more deeply.

It struck me just this evening that it was a dog named Jodie who started my fear of dogs.  How wonderfully redemptive that it was a dog named Jodie who ended it.  

So, here are my final words to you, my friend:  Thank you so much.  I owe you more than I could ever hope to repay.  I've always known that the Lord sends special people into our lives.  Now, I know that sometimes, those special people may be dogs.  Thanks to you, I'm sure I'll love more dogs in my lifetime, like I already do now.  But, you'll always be the first.

Love Always,
Uncle Brian

February 19, 2017

To My Colleagues In The Clergy--Past & Present

First off, let me make it absolutely clear:  this message is to all of my fellow clergy members.  All of you, regardless of status, race, gender, nationality, age, and life status. (Yes, it goes to those who've left this world, as well.  Yes, I realize that they can't read this.  It's still being communicated to them.  Cut me some slack.  😃)
  • If you're currently in the pastorate, as a senior pastor, an associate pastor, a music pastor, a youth pastor, an executive pastor, or any other type of classification, full-time or part-time, this message is for you.

  • If you're a chaplain in the armed forces, the medical field, the various fields of public safety,  a grade school or college campus, a sports club, team, or organization, or any other field, this message is for you.

  • If you're an evangelist, music evangelist, or any other classification, full-time or part-time, this message is for you.
  • If you're a missionary of any classification, serving domestically or overseas, full-time or part-time, this message is for you.
  • If you're retired from any of the above fields, this message is for you.
  • If you're currently in the process of education for any classification of ministry, this message is for you.
  • Whether you've been a paid minister or you've never made a dime in your life from fulfilling the call, this message is for you.
  • If you're no longer in any of these fields due to various and sundry circumstances, this message is for you.

  • If you fall into a category that I've failed to mention, this message is for you (and I'd love for you to leave a comment here and let me know where you fit).
Regardless of any of the above qualifiers, of denomination, or of anything else, if you've ever been part of this siblinghood of God-called ministry, the following message is meant for you:

Thank you.

I've lived my entire life in the pastorate in the Church of the Nazarene, as the son of a pastor, and now as a pastor, myself.  If you ministers were in the Church of the Nazarene in Georgia, Wisconsin, or  at ONU, you watched me grow up there along with everyone else.  I was at the District functions, the camp meetings, the zone (er, mission area) rallies, the chapel services.  So many of you, to my young, impressionable mind, were larger than life itself.

Then, I answered the call myself, I went through the course of study, and I joined your ranks.  Men and women I looked up to are now my colleagues.  And, as I've walked this path alongside you for these nearly twenty-one years now, I've realized something important:  you haven't received nearly as many expressions of gratitude and praise as you deserve.

I understand that, being a minister myself, this could seem like a self-serving train of thought.  I don't know exactly how to express the fact that I mean it as anything but.  I serve the single greatest congregation in the world.  I'm loved by them beyond my imagination--more than I deserve, in fact.

There's a plaque in my church foyer with the names of every pastor that's served our congregation in its seventy-six years of existence.  Every time I see it, I can't help but look at it in awe.  No.  If anything, I see myself as the least among our siblings.  You all never cease to amaze me.  I consider it an undeserved privilege just to be counted among your ranks.

But, I understand now much better than I ever have before, that what you do, what you've done, has come at a price of some kind.
  • There have been family struggles, financial struggles, cultural struggles, personal struggles, or professional struggles, and those are just a few categories to consider.  Many of you have, by God's grace, overcome these struggles.  Some have been victimized by them.
  • There have been Sunday nights when you just know that someone has served up roast preacher for afternoon dinner, Monday mornings when you've thought about hanging it up, and Tuesday board meetings where the ones who were supposed to be your staunchest allies have either turned on you or condoned it with their silence.  Many of you have overcome these circumstances.  Some of you paid with a forced resignation, some with a forced retirement, some with a forced exit from the ministry.  Some of you were fully supported by leadership.  Some of you were partially supported, but soon forgotten.  Some of you were all but abandoned.
  • There have been frustrations that come with the territory of rightly dividing God's Word among our fellow finite, flawed humans with various opinions and worldviews.  Many of you have overcome these situations.  Some of you have been compelled to other pastorates or other fields of service and profession as a result of these things.  Some have even felt compelled to other faiths or worldviews.  I believe that God's Word is true, and I pray that you'll embrace this, as well.  But, regardless of where you are now, you've walked this road with us, just the same.  You understand both its roughness and its blessings, and I won't ignore your contributions or pretend that they didn't happen.  I can't.
  • There have been times when you may have stumbled badly.  Most of you, I hope, were met with grace when you humbled yourself before your people and sought restoration.  Some of you, I know, were met with condemnation.
  • There have been the instances particular to fields that some of you are in that I have little familiarity with.  But, you know what they are, you understand them, and you've lived them.
I've only scratched the surface of the scenarios that present themselves along this road.  You who are reading this know what you've faced personally, and what the outcomes have been.  You also know about the day-to-day struggles of ministry life that present themselves to all of us in one way or another.   This is just a rough piece, carved out in a few minutes of gratitude and inspiration.  It's not eloquently worded, but it's heartfelt and sincere.

Regardless of scenarios or outcomes, regardless of the forms that it's taken, you've paid a high price to fulfill God's calling on your life.  But, you've paid it willingly; and, the vast majority of you would say without hesitation that you'd pay it all over again.

I can't declare that people across the nation and around the world offer you the gratitude you so richly deserve.  But, I can say that whether you're active or retired, younger or older than me, have logged more or fewer years in the ministry than I have, I owe you a debt of gratitude.  I am what I am as a pastor, in great part, because you've walked this road, too--either before me or beside me.  Your contributions have helped to shape me.

So, if you haven't heard it for a while, hear it now:  I love you.  I appreciate you.  You've made a difference in my life.  I owe you more than I'll ever be able to fully express or fully comprehend.

From one of your own:  thank you. 

February 14, 2017

What Is Love?

", don't hurt me...don't hurt more..."  --Dee Dee Halligan, performed by Haddaway

Sorry, but that's proper primary response to the question, "What is love," just like this is the proper primary response to the question, "What/Who are you?" (note:  headbutt optional).

You know, I'm all for the message that the highest, purest form of love is that which God has for us. In fact, I preached right along that line this past Sunday.

But, as we proclaim that message, both on Valentine's Day and throughout the year, we really need to be careful not to create false equivalences.

For example, the comparison is drawn in Scripture that marriage is a reflection of God's relationship with His people.  But, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge the fact that, often in modern Christian society—and, especially on this day of the year—we tend to co-opt that comparison to tell singles that the presence of God's love should fill and negate the need for relational and marital love. 

Oh, you've heard it before.  In fact, you may have seen it today on social media.

"Single on Valentine's Day?  Not overflowing with happiness over that?  Just let Jesus be your Valentine!  He's all you need, anyway!"

"Well, isn't it true that Jesus is all we need?" you ask.  Actually, no; at least, not the way it's intended in that phrase.

Now, don't label me a heretic just yet.  It's certainly true that:

  • the crucified, risen Christ is all that's necessary for our salvation.
  • the written Word reveals God's will to us concerning all things that are necessary for our salvation (that specification of "for our salvation" is a finer point at which the Church of the Nazarene parts company with many of our protestant sister denominations).
  • God, in His grace and goodness, as the Sovereign Creator & Sustainer Of The Universe and the Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, provides certain of His blessings to all of humanity,
  • the Lord promises to provide all things to His followers.

But, that's just the point:  He will give us "all things," as in all of the things we need.  It's a plural direct object, meaning that there are multiple things we need, graciously provided by the hand of one God.

"Jesus is all we need" is no more the complete answer for humanity's longing for companionship than it is for humanity's need for food.  

In the perfect, sinless environment of Eden, Adam still had to eat, and he still needed human companionship.  Consider the fact that in Genesis 2:18, Adam's lack in this respect is the one thing in all of a pre-sin creation that God says is "not good."  Thus, God created Eve as an equal possessor of His image, an equal servant in His Kingdom, and an equal companion to Adam.

Jesus will provide all of our needs; and He, personally, is absolutely our deepest, greatest need.  It's only when we have Him that all of the other things we need can be everything they're meant to be.  But, that doesn't make Him our only need.  In fact, the fact that we need so many things, and that He is willing and able to provide them, highlights God's greatness all the more.

So, having established all that, let's be real: this cliché we've used for so long in Christian circles, “Let Jesus be your Valentine,” honestly skews and cheapens both forms of love; and, that's a crying shame.

If God's love is higher than all other forms of love, if it's broader in its scope and deeper in its impact,  if it's the greater reality which all other forms of love are meant to reflect, then where do we get off thinking that we can flippantly relegate it to the status of nothing more than essentially a palette swap for marital love in an attempt to "fix" the loneliness expressed by our fellow human being?

In fact, if we ought to just be happy and content and downplay or deny the longing for relationship because "Jesus is all we need," then it would seem that you married folks who repeat this cliché to your single friends and acquaintances have rejected the all-sufficiency of God's love by getting married.  Either that, or you just get to have your cake and eat it, too.  😉

I realize that those are overly-exaggerated points.  But, hyperbole can help to get a point across; and, my point is this:  we've got to be more careful with our words and phrases, especially when imparting them to others.

By the way, to be absolutely clear, this isn't some new problem brought on by the rise of social media and memes. The fact is that American society has long placed such a high value on personal comfort that we're willing say anything to make others feel good.  For most people, that's because seeing others not feel good makes them not feel good, and that's unacceptable.

But, then again, I'm just a middle-aged single guy.  What do I know about love?

January 12, 2017

Lies, Darned Lies, and Platitudes

Do you know what too many people don’t understand?  That not everything is formulaic in this world.

We live in a society that, more and more, is examining the science of things and infusing scientific thought into things we hadn’t before.  The study of sports science, for example, is yielding new equipment, new procedures, and even new measurements of performance.  The beauty of science is that it always yields verifiable, replicable results.  

But, as much as we human beings are bound physically and even mentally to science, there is, despite our increasing efforts to prove to the contrary, ultimately no science to human emotion. 

Emotions stretch beyond the bounds of the physical and mental.  They aren’t predictable or immutable.  They’re fleeting and fluid.  You can never truly pin down emotions into a predictable pattern or subset.  

I think this is a point on which most people would agree, with the potential exception of the hardcore, Temperance Brennan types out there—and, even she started coming around in the later seasons.

So why, then, do so many of us fall into the trap of believing that there are verifiable, replicable, one-size-fits-all means of dealing with human emotion on so many different fronts?

Now, before you shake your head and say, “People don’t do that,” consider the following.  

When someone we know and care about loses a loved one, what often occurs?  We hear (and, at times, even repeat ourselves) the cut-and-dried platitudes and pieces of advice that have become so commonplace.  

Now, I’m not referring to Biblical truths that we share here:  they're a solid foundation.  I’m talking about the other things, and some of them contradict themselves.  
  • You need to let it out.
  • He/She wouldn’t want you to cry.
  • The Lord never gives us more than we can handle (an absolute butcher job of Scripture that we’ve let slip into our Christian vernacular).
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • You can probably think of others, too.  
We expect grief to be dealt with in a formulaic fashion, but it just doesn’t work that way.

Now, consider the fact that grief isn’t limited to just instances of death (even though we often overlook that fact).  
  • The parent whose child has just left for college sometimes grieves.  
  • The employee who’s lost his/her job sometimes grieves.  
  • The person who’s seen a cherished relationship end grieves, too.
That last one is one that we really treat in a formulaic fashion.  

If there’s anything outside of dealing with death that we desperately want to be cut and dried, simple and easy, and cleanly routine, it’s recovering from a breakup.  

I’m fairly certain that's because we don’t want to see our loved ones hurting; though, I’m not always convinced of whether that’s because we care about said loved one so much, or because their grief makes us uncomfortable, and, that thought could be applied to any instance of grief.

I will say, for the record, that I believe that my own family’s hearts have been in the right place in this regard throughout my lifetime.  (Don’t go writing me any disgruntled e-mails, siblings and parents. 😜)

But still, the platitudes persist as people try to make a science out of recovering from heartbreak.  
  • In the end, this is a good thing.
  • It wasn’t meant to be.
  • Just get over it and move on.
  • Put yourself out there.
Now, these things do work for some people. If you’re a twenty-something, attractive female, you can just move on, put yourself out there, and have another date in the heartbeat.  But, as the Everly Brothers sang, “If you wonder who the loneliest creatures in the world can be, they’re the ugly duckling, the little black sheep, and me.”

It’s just not as simple for some as it is for others.  

Dates aren’t readily available for everyone.  All hearts don’t heal at the same speed.  There’s no science to this, as much as we want there to be.  I know that all of this probably isn’t a popular take on emotion and grief, but it still needs to be recognized and understood.

So, what do we do to help the hurting in our lives?

Let me answer that with an observation.

Do you know what I haven’t gotten enough of since my own recent breakup?  Hugs.  I mean, real hugs.  Not the “thanks for coming, be safe on the road” variety.  Genuine, unsolicited, “I know you’re hurting, I love you, and I’m always going to be here for you” hugs.  

Don't get me wrong; I've gotten a few, and I'm grateful for them, and for the people who gave them.  But, the members of my support system have their own problems and concerns, and all of them are pretty significant right now.  So, I can't fault them in the slightest for concentrating on those things.  Their needs and concerns are important, too--more so than mine, to be honest.  You can’t really ask for those kinds of hugs, though.  They’ve got to be offered freely.

Of course, not everyone appreciates hugs.  But, everyone appreciates something.  

It’s for us, as family and friends, to learn what the hurting in our lives need to sense our care and concern, and then provide those supportive gestures sincerely.  Recognize that the process is different in every case, and commit yourself to be there for the hurting through the process, whatever that may entail, for as long as it takes.  The hurting might be inclined to tell you exactly what they need sometimes, but don’t count on that or wait for it to happen.  Be proactive in finding out and providing those needs.  

I promise you, there’s no better way for us to show a hurting person that you care than to take the initiative in addressing his/her needs in a way that that will benefit them, not in the way that seems right or most convenient to us.  That kind of caring goes further than any well-meaning platitude, and it doesn't even require speech.  Our efforts can always say what our words may fail to express.

January 1, 2017

The Digital Front Porch: An Introduction

First, a pointed disclaimer:  I thoroughly despise the Christian blogosphere.

I know that sounds like heresy coming from a pastor, but hear me out. 

One of the things that’s made my Facebook experience so much better is the little dropdown arrow at the top-right corner of posts.  When third-party websites or Facebook accounts are shared, it gives the option to block all posts from that party.  I’ve made a consistent practice out of doing this with pretty much every post I’ve seen from popular Christian bloggers for well over a year, (with the exception of my Mom, of course).  As a result, my news feed has been largely free of the Christian blogosphere’s presence, much to my relief. 

I’ve made such a concentrated effort to rid my social media presence of those influences because what I refer to as the Christian blogosphere has degenerated into little more than a political sounding board erected in a theological minefield.  Whether it be organizations or individuals, too many Christian bloggers are using their online presence primarily for political and social engineering.   Some have even taken up the mantle of the radio shock-jocks, with provocative, controversial headlines designed to generate the clicks.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because if you’re still on this page after reading all that, you need to know that I want nothing to do with the Christian blogosphere I’ve just described. 

So, what you should expect from this blog, then?

Every time I write a guest post for one of my Mom’s blogs, she tells me that I should start blogging, because I have such a “way with words.”  I think she’s meant that I should put out one of the many devotional style blogs that you see around.  But, the truth is, I’ve tried that more than once in the past, and it always quickly fizzled out.  Some people just aren’t cut out for that style of writing, and I’m one of them—and no, it’s not the same as sermon preparation.  Besides, I’ve some fine family and colleagues who are producing solid material to that end—the foremost of whom is Mom herself, whose blogs are quite great.

That’s not to say that nothing I put here will be focused on my faith, though.  Quite the contrary—the Lord is at the core of my life, and that’s the basis of my worldview--though, to be clear, I don't talk very much about politics these days unless I'm asked.  So, if you’re looking for something designed to supplement your devotions, a political opinion page, or a doctrinal or theological treatise, I'm afraid you may be disappointed by the frequency and content of the posts most of the time.  Again, I highly recommend my Mom's blogs for that purpose, especially to you ladies.

When I do write, which is pretty rare, I get the most fulfillment when I simply put my thoughts on the digital page.  

That's why social media is such a wonderful innovation to me.  It lends itself to that style of writing. But, even then, I often hold back—more than I probably should, in fact.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve put fingers to keyboard to express thoughts that weighed heavily on my mind, only to either delete the writing or, in rare cases, save them to my hard drive.  I’ve done so because I’ve suspected that my words wouldn’t be well received, especially not on a shared community like Facebook.

You see, the things I have on my mind aren’t always peppy, happy, and upbeat. 

They are, however, always real.

But, that can rub people the wrong way, especially coming from someone in my vocation (a subject that I may explore more deeply down the line).  Sometimes, though, serious thoughts need to be expressed.  Expressing these serious thoughts, whether verbally or on social media, usually results in someone getting upset for one reason or another—and, since I hate upsetting people, I usually just keep my mouth shut. 

But, this isn’t a shared community.  

Sure, there’s a comment section, and you're welcome to use it—encouraged to, even—but it’s moderated, and it’s going to stay that way.  This is my cyber-territory, and this is where I’m going to attempt to express those not always rose colored, but always genuine thoughts.

An acquaintance of mine once referred to social media as a digital front porch that wraps around the globe.  Your front porch is one of those places where you can sit down and shoot the breeze about anything that’s on your mind.  Nothing is off-limits on your front porch unless you decide it is, and you can talk forever or say nothing at all.

So, that’s what you can expect here.

This is my Digital Front Porch.  

If you want to, you can feel free to pull up a rocker and sit awhile.  Yeah, it's just me expressing my thoughts and opinions; but, that's what a front porch is for.  Besides, what good is expression if you're expressing yourself to no one?  Nobody talks just to hear themselves talk.  So, I'd love for you to join me, friend.  I do like good company.