Airplanes, Life, Church: It’s A Matter of Trust

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The Thoughtful Pastor

photo courtesy © Jolin | Dreamstime Stock Photos photo courtesy © Jolin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Like millions of others, I shall board an airplane tomorrow. First a reasonably quick flight to Philadelphia and then an overnight flight to Tel Aviv. Every step of this journey is an exercise in trust.

We trust the competence and willingness to abide by traffic rules of our driver and other drivers on the way to the airport. We trust the people who check us in that our luggage will actually arrive with us and that we’ll board the correct flight. We trust the baggage handlers and the people who designed that system. We trust the TSA to do their screening jobs with competence and thoroughness. We trust the mechanics who check out the airplanes and the maintenance schedulers to keep the planes in good repair. We trust the food handlers that they are not loading the food with devastating bacterias. We…

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Go Where You Are Needed

2014-12-20_21-42-27On Wednesday we found out that our dear friend, E.L. Thomas lost his battle with cancer. Earlier that week, on Sunday, we learned that an old school buddy passed away. I really wanted to attend both services to support these people and their families. Here is the problem; both services are scheduled so close together that I can’t go to both.

What should I do? Here is my reasoning (good or bad, right or wrong). E.L. was a good friend whom I loved, respected, appreciated and admired. He was a big part of the church and gave all that he could to seeing that the work of the church went forward. He was a Jesus man and everyone knew it.

My old school buddy is a person I knew in the 8, 9, and part of the 10th grade. We played sports together, delivered papers together, failed at Boy Scouts together. We weren’t real close but we did a lot of the same things – so we were in the same ball park of thinking and doing.

I moved away to another town in the 10th grade and did not see this friend for 53 years now. Since retiring I have tried to locate him to get reacquainted, but no one seemed to know exactly where he was. It was as if there was an official edict given that his name not be spoken. It just seemed so strange.

Later, especially this week, some information came dribbling in: He graduated from high school, went in the Navy where he served a tour in Vietnam. He went to college and retired from being the greens keeper at one of the local golf courses. All of that was in his obituary. What was not in there was the back story of his life. I have heard from several friends and my family members that he had a problem with drugs. Don’t know what kinds. I do know that for some people one taste and you are hooked. Some say that some drugs are so strong that it attacks the pleasure centers of the brain and you would rather have that drug than any thing else… even friends, family, etc. I don’t know what my friend was in to, I just know that he spent some years in and out of prison.

Like I said, I don’t know what my friend was into… but I do know one thing… no matter what it was, he was and is still a child of God. His life may have taken him to darker paths than most of us traveled… still Jesus was close at his side. He may have done things that were outside the norm and most of us would find appalling. Still, still Jesus was holding him close.

I want to say a word to my friend… a word that has become synonymous with returning Vietnam veterans. It speaks a word to those of us who served there and were not welcomed back home. We were labeled with all sorts of names by people who would not serve their country. Every veteran who served in Vietnam came home wounded in some way. For many of us we died over there and just didn’t know it. So to my friend, on many different levels, let me reach out my hand, open my heart, and say: “Welcome Home brother, Welcome Home.”


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.


The Heart with a Smile

45241_1484948975411_5273848_nToday we lost a beautiful person to the ravages of cancer, E. L. Thomas. I will always remember how he introduced himself to me as we met for the first time several years ago. He was the lay leader at the church I was being appointed to serve. He stuck out that salesman hand, and with a huge smile on his face said: “Hello preacher, I am E.L. Thomas – your lay leader – the E.L. stands for “Ever Lovin’”. We had a good laugh about that, but I later realized that “Ever Lovin’” described him to a tee.

I never saw E.L. just sitting around. He was always a blur of motion and activity – always laughing, always planning, always on the move, always helping, hoping and praying.

E.L. was also a bright and shinning example of caring for all of us to see, as he constantly cared for his wife Martha who was going through the different stages of MS. I know there must have been moments when he was at the edge of his energy, when he felt like he couldn’t do this any more. But we never saw that. We saw an E.L. who was always lifting, hauling, caring – doing all he could for the love of his life. If we could care for our spouse half as much as E.L. cared for Martha we would be in great shape. He set the example by showing us it could be done… and done with style.

I loved his smile which opened the world to his heart. He was a happy, loving man who really cared for people – all sorts of people – and cared for his Lord and His church. He was always excited about his church and what we were doing and could do. When we saw E.L. we saw a man who was being touched by Jesus.

I will miss him – we all will – because we need, really need people like E.L. Thomas – people who bring the Lord into our presence with their care, energy, love and grace. “Ever Lovin’” we are gonna miss you – but we know you and Jesus will always be Forever Lovin’.


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.

The Big Dance

thLast night the NCAA Division One Collegiate Basketball Tournament proper began. Sixty-four of the best teams are seeking to be crowned champions. We always see great basketball in the NCAA Tournament. We don’t always win, but there are usually some really good games.

The ACC looked terrible last night. All our teams were lucky to come away with a win. We turned off the NC State game  and went to bed knowing that they were going to lose… and woke to a great buzzer beater surprise. I am glad all our ACC teams won (even the baby blue one).

Basketball players… from the time they are kids in the driveway or backyard are dreaming about making it to the Big Dance. The Big Dance is the NCAA Tournament – the place where all your skills are played out on the big stage. It just may be that place where the thing we have practiced in the driveway all those years comes true: 4-3-2-1 he shoots and hits. We win the game.

There is another Big Dance going on that many times we miss… the Big Dance called a life that matters… where we are not afraid to get involved and live our lives to the fullest.

What made me think of this was a video we made for Stephen and Joy for Noah’s first birthday. The music behind the video was a prayer by Lee Ann Womack entitled “I Hope You Dance.”

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder

You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leaves you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’
Don’t let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

Did you hear those words: “When you get the chance to sit it out or dance… I hope you dance.” Enjoy these games – these guys are dancing. Enjoy the fullness of your life and keep on dancing… and give faith a fighting chance.


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.

The Dropped Baton

oly_ap_relay_drop_580Our grandson has just made the middle school track team. He is not a big, fast runner with great endurance. He does run the 800 meter, which appears to be a paced sprint. Yesterday was their first track meet at Northern Guilford Middle School. Northern Guilford Middle and High school is one of the newest high schools, middle schools in the Guilford Country system. Being the newest also means the best facilities of all the public schools in the GCSS. It is a school facility we should all appreciate.

There were middle schoolers of all shapes and sizes, abilities and lack of ability all over the place. Some of these students (especially from Northern) looked like they were already on track for a college track scholarship… wow were they fast. One kid on the 1600 almost had the whole last lap to himself. He had a good stride and a great pace. This guy knew what he was doing.

Then came the “Oh No” moment. During one of the relay races, on the last turn – running neck and neck, our guys dropped the baton. That race was over right there. I felt so bad for them. The hardest part of a relay race is not the running, not even knowing which runner to put in what leg of the relay, but the critical part is making a smooth hand off of the baton.

Dropping the baton is also important in the life of the church. Earlier this week I was reading a blog (I believe it was), a Christian Clergy blog where the clergy blogger was stating that Evangelism is the only thing pastors should be doing these days in the church. He even went so far as to say that all that old time pastoral work of caring for the flock was out of date. We are not to spend our time visiting the sick, teaching Bible studies or spiritual renewal, caring for the so-called needs of the congregation. We are to be out bringing people into the kingdom.

I was shocked and stunned as I read this. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I sure hope I read him wrong. But then another clergy blogger… also speaking in “aren’t you impressed with my intellect” language, voiced the same opinion.

I was about to respond when this new clergy blogger responded in words I could relate to. I wish I could locate the blog so I could quote it. But I guess I will just have to try to remember the gist of what he said. Our calling in ministry is the call to care for God’s people in all situations of life. As pastor we are called to care for our flock – the people we are charged to serve and the wider parish of those in need. Yes, that means we are to visit in homes, care for the elderly, the infirm, the sick, those in prison, counsel with those who seek our understanding, preach sermons written to speak to the needs of our folks and all folks going through the dark night of the soul. We are also called to create an atmosphere in the church where all people feel loved and welcome. This means we spend many nights in hospital waiting rooms, the bedside of our folks in nursing homes and Hospice facilities. And yes it means that sometimes our families come in second place to the work of ministry…but that is also part of the calling.

It is not a nice, easy, stressless 9 to 5 banker’s job. It is caring for people with the love of God in all situations, circumstances and all times. If you are not willing to give it 70 – 80 hours a week, you should find a nice office job somewhere. The ministry is a calling upon your whole life… first place in that life.

But here is the deal… until our folks know that we love them… and they know that by our words, actions and heart… they will never give us the political capital needed to do the work of evangelism. Yes, I believe evangelism is part of the calling as well. But it should happen through the ordering of the ministry of the entire church through the leadership of the pastor. It grows out of a love for each other and a willingness and desire to share that love with all outside our doors.

When we do not care for our people and seek to do evangelism it is understood as the old numbers game… making the old barn bulge. They see it, know it, and reluctantly go along with you. But it will not last long before you find open revolt. Why? Because you haven’t taken the time to love them and show them that they matter. What you have done is tell them they are less important than the ones you are trying to reach now. However, if you go the extra mile and really love them, show them you love them… they will follow you into legitimate areas of ministry… even ones they feel are out of their comfort zone.

Yes, evangelism is important. But caring for your charge comes first, last and always.

When I was appointed to the Leaksville Church in Eden, I compared the pastoral transition to a quarterback throwing a pass down field and the receiver catching it in stride… not missing a step. We build upon what others have done before us… add our layer of ministry… as others add their layers after us. We can either add to the ministry of the church or take away from it by our approach. If we decide making a name for ourselves is more important than the growing of ministry, then the church will falter in its steps while we are there. If we build upon what has gone on before us we will find that we leave a much stronger church. We are a brotherhood/sisterhood. When we see it as I AM IN CHARGE we lose at lot… and so does the church. Don’t drop the baton.


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.

Bracketology

thWell, the selection committee has made their selections and filled out the field of 64 teams who will make up the NCAA Tournament this year. And, as of course, there is always some controversial selections. Needless to say, they cannot please everyone.

I don’t understand all that goes into being in or out of the tournament, but I have heard that it includes things like strength of schedule – how many tough teams, ranked teams you played this year, how well you did against them, and perhaps what the coaches think about the potential of your team.

I am sure there is more, much more than that. These are highly knowledgable people who live basketball who are making these decisions. This year the controversy is over the number one seeds – how did Duke get a number one seed and Virginia who was ranked number 2 in the nation most of the year end up with a number 2 seed? I went to Duke – that’s my team, and yet I wonder about this also. We did beat them this year… So maybe that was the difference.

I must say we never get it all right – none of us – no matter how well we think we have it together or how on top of things we believe ourselves to be. We may think that we should be chosen but those who do the choosing may have a completely different idea of who is chosen. We play well some days and other days we don’t even show up (look at Duke). This is true in all areas of life. We don’t know what brackets lie ahead of us. Some may be easy while others impossible. We are thankful that the brackets have NOT been already chosen for us… we have free will. But we are even more pleased that the final game has already been won. March madness (Lent) leads to Championship Sunday (Easter).

Since the game has been won we don’t work to get into heaven – that is already ours through faith – what we do is respond in faith to the victory of Christ Jesus by living in a way that each day reveals more of His likeness living through us. Do others see Jesus living through you? Be a winner in life, love each other and people will begin to see Jesus living more and more in us.


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.


Smack My Hand

letterwritingAs everyone knows, I have written three books since last November; The Sayings of Noah – a book about the sayings Noah made back around the time he was four years old. I took these sayings and developed them into a Lenten series; Daily Moments with Pastor Steve is a devotional book developed from the devotions I started writing daily back in 2007; and finally The Grieving Heart is a compilation of funeral homilies over several years.

All of these books are self-published which means they also have to be self-promoted. I thought that Christian people, perhaps even United Methodist clergy would really enjoy being able to see these eBooks. In addition, I have published The Grieving Heart in print.

Apparently I don’t know how normal people act – handle promoting a book on the internet. So I started posting promos about the book on Facebook in United Methodist groups. I received some criticism from one administrator of one United Methodist clergy group. I talked with a clergy friend of mine who knows the proper etiquette of book promotion on the internet. I appreciated his insight but did not have the time to do all the things he suggested. So I continued to post my promos this time with some changes. I still would post on our conference page and United Methodist Clergy pages plus post on author, Kindle and book lovers groups.

Including the author pages I was sending my information in front of 200,000 people each time I posted to these 72 groups. I made sure that I did not post too often to groups who frowned on book promotions.

I viewed many videos on internet book promotions and at least one of these so called experts said he posts twice daily to get east and west coast prime times. He also added that if you do not get some criticism you are not promoting enough. Well, I am not posting twice a day, not even once a day, more likely every couple of days. But I have hit the criticism criteria.

Another author who teaches in London says that for the average book – that is any book (print or eBook) that is not on the Best Seller’s list – the sales average around 200 book sales per year. I put my books up for sale in December 2014, Jan and Mar 2015, and as of today I have sold 80 books. Every time I post to these 72 or so groups it takes a couple of hours. Plus I write a blog almost every week day. That also takes time away from my other writings.

I am wanting to write some fiction books… but I can’t if I have to spend my time promoting when it should be writing time. I am really conflicted right now. I want to write but I don’t want to spend all this time making sure I sell what I write. But I don’t have the popularity of being a Bishop or some controversial figure that would allow me to approach Cokesbury/Abingdon Press or some of the traditional publishing houses. They won’t even receive a manuscript from the likes of me… not even if I had an agent – which I could not afford. Now days you even have to have an agent to get and agent.

So, I apologize for filling up my FaceBook page with several posts every few days about a book I feel would do people good to read. I can’t promise I will change posting. I just won’t send them to United Methodists groups – apparently they are just too proper to allow such a violation of their sensitivities.


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.


New Book in Print

The Journey

a Grieving HeartNew Book is in print! 

For forty years I have been seeking to console and uplift the grieving hearts of those I served as a pastor. I wanted everyone to leave the church feeling the love of our heavenly Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. I have compiled some of these homilies in this book to help us all find comfort and share it with those we serve. I hope you enjoy.

Reverend Stephen M. Martin

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What Causes Them to Go?

stop_isis_word_cloud_illustration_shape_hand_print_cg7p3508650cLast night on the evening news Scott, when giving the story of the three young ladies who left London to join Isis in Syria, asked the CBS news audience “Why do they go?” I turned to my wife and said: “That is the big question isn’t it. If we could find that answer, we could solve the problem.”

These men and these girls are giving up their lives for Isis. The men know they will most likely be killed. The women will be given to the men (fighters) as wives, I guess so they can reproduce more fighters with their babies.

As I pondered this question I thought about all the people who give up – sacrifice something vital in order to do what they do. I raised my hand with many other people back in the 60’s vowing to protect and defend the United States against all enemies both foreign and domestic. Boot camp at Parris Island, SC gave us such pride in who we were, MARINES, we knew that we could not be beat – we were the best there was. Pride filled our being, honor and valor became watch words. Now it was death before dishonor.

We had no idea that meant dying for our country… not really. Soon people were dying for that vow and we didn’t even know what we were protecting and defending. Many thousands died in the jungles of Vietnam not knowing why they were fighting except their country said “Go.”

After four years in the Marines, college and seminary I raised my hand again and said I will follow Jesus, I will rightly administer the Word and Sacraments of the Lord, I will order the church’s ministry so that it will follow the guidance of Jesus. I was giving up one life-STYLE for another. I was giving my life in service to the Church. And for forty years I served her with everything I had.

So what is happening with Isis? I believe, and I am certainly no expert on anything, that this is a religious calling of sorts – or at least these people are convinced they are in a righteous calling from God to fight against that which is bringing harm to their fellow Muslims. The answer must come from a combination of constraints upon the social media which outlaw hate speech – calling these people to hate westerners at therefore join Isis to kill them. The second part of this is perhaps the most important, and that is to call upon, in a very personal and powerful way, the Muslim leaders of the world to stand up regularly and strongly against Isis radicalization of these people.

The answer lies within the Muslim communities and its leaders to turn the tide – stress the peaceful side of their faith and speak against the killings. They can no longer sit on the sidelines watching this evil take place and say nothing. It is their responsibility to teach their people the real beliefs of Islam… and therefore bring about a knowledge of that which is a true calling from God and that which is hype.


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.

Where’s Waldo?

WheresWaldoDo you remember seeing all those books, puzzles, games and pictures asking you to look all around the picture to answer the question: “Where’s Waldo?” Waldo is this thin, dark haired young man hidden deeply in the picture. He wears glasses, red and white striped shirt and hat, with a pair of jeans.

I remember searching for long periods of time before finally finding Waldo.

Well, today I found Waldo at Harris Teeter. I saw this young man walking out to his car parked in a handicapped parking space. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion hear the rest of the story.

Waldo walked to this car. An older, beaten up sedan with the gas lid missing. It had a handicapped placard hanging from the mirror. Waldo was carrying several bags of groceries. Following him was an elderly black man who could barely walk. Waldo loaded the groceries into the trunk and the old man got in the front passenger’s seat.

Waldo got in, backed the car out and stopped at the front of Harris Teeter. Again, he got out as this little old black lady pushed her buggy (which looked like she needed as a walker) toward the car. Waldo unloaded her groceries and helped her into the car. He returned to the driver’s seat and they drove off.

I know where Waldo is… or at least where he was at 5:25 Wednesday afternoon… he was at Harris Teeter on Lawndale helping his neighbors.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when everyone was asked that question: “Where is Waldo?” we all could stretch our hands to the sky saying: “I know, I know. He is at Harris Teeter helping his neighbors in need.”

Are you Waldo?


a Grieving HeartYou will notice at the bottom of the header (above) are a list of my books. I have added the last one so you can order The Grieving Heart in paperback form. All the other books are eBooks. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read these and I hope they will help to bring you comfort and grace in time of need.

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