Filled Me With Grace

opalee HallToday I learned that one of the sweetest ladies I have ever known, Opalee Hall, stepped through heaven’s gate. I accepted this news with sadness and joy. I am saddened that we will miss her, but I am happy that her journey has now ended and she is in the Heavenly Country reunited with those who have gone before her.

I enjoyed her beautiful smile, loving spirit, and compassionate soul. When I would visit with her in her home we would talk about the good old days, the work of the church and how we need to reach out to bring others into the church. And then we would do our Blue Devil Dance…. she, like me, was a big Blue Devil fan. We also talked about her being from Leicester (north west of Asheville) where my dad served the Methodist Charge (Sandy Mush) back in 1949. We found that we live in such a small world.

I remember all of these things – especially her faithfulness… being in church every Sunday she could, even Sundays she probably did not feel like it. But there she was with that smile and that discerning involvement in worship. She was one of those people you could always count on to be there ready to sacrificially give all she could to move the church forward. And that she did for many years. If there ever was a time when I was feeling discouraged all I needed to do is look at her and her presence (who she is and what she was about) would lift my spirit.

She gave me a very special gift one Sunday as she was leaving church; she said: “Steve, I appreciate what you are trying to do at our church.” Those sincere words can keep a pastor going for a long time, working harder than ever.

She kept me going for a long time because every time I saw her she filled me with grace and reminded me of Jesus. I miss her greatly… and so will our church.

The Big Bang Theory

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A lot of people now days are in love with the hit show “The Big Bang Theory.” I must admit that I love the talented writing and acting on that show. As you know these scientists are Star Wars Fanatics. They know everything there is to know about those movies. Today I want to try a little bate and switch… that is from now on every time you hear about Star Wars your mind thinks Church Wars. I am doing this hoping that this little trickery of the ole grey matter will help us get involved in helping to heal the church. Dale Roach has written the following.

Churches are supposedly a haven to retreat from the world and the conflicts that our society introduces to us. Supposedly!

In fact, the church can often be a place of mortal combat between those who make up the fellowship. Growing up as a “preacher’s kid” introduced me to the reality that one does not escape conflict just by stepping through the doors of a church building. When you walk into a church you walk into the presence of varied personalities. Now it would be our hope that all those personalities in the church would be strong, mature Christians. This is not the case.

Most churches are made up of every type of person you can imagine. Conflict arises due to the fact that most congregations are not equipped to deal with the various levels of maturity within the congregation. To deal with conflict and address it before it gets too far out of hand you need to recognize the characteristics of those who make up your church.

The Non-Christian
All churches have some non-Christians within the congregation. They may attend faithfully and they may participate in all the affairs of the church but there has never been a time of “true turning to God” in their life. Just because their name is on the church role does not mean much if they are not giving their life to Christ. What is really dangerous is if a “non-Christian” is given a leadership role in the church and the justification is, “Well, he’s a good person, he attends well and he even gives money to the church.” If this is the case in your fellowship just get ready for conflict to explode somewhere down the line or if non-Christians gain the majority of leadership roles, spiritual death of the fellowship will take place.

The Baby Christian
Conflict shows up if you allow a baby Christian (a newborn) to take a leadership role that should only be given to a mature believer. No one would allow a baby to drive their car unless they have a strong desire for a severe accident. Babies are to be nurtured, fed and watched over carefully. It takes time to become a leader. Christians have to grow up to become healthy leaders!

The Adolescence/Teenage Christian
Not too long ago my wife came across a study that showed that the human brain does not completely mature until after the age of 21. We have raised a child. I believe every word of this study. Spiritual growth and maturity is much like human growth. It is a big mistake to place a new and growing Christian in significant leadership roles. Many times the ministry of a fellowship will be destroyed not by an evil heart but an immature mind. Spiritual maturity is essential for productive church growth. It can be observed that the reason some congregations do not flourish is due to the maturity or lack of maturity that some church leaders possess.

The Retired Christian
Some church members have thrown in the towel. “It is time for the young people of the church to take over.” is their theme. This is an extremely sad philosophy and theology. Conflict will evolve in any congregation in which the seasoned veterans of the Faith have retired. There is not a retirement schedule in the work of the Kingdom. When someone comes to the place in their Christian journey that they basically quit, it pushes them into the next characteristic – The Dead Christian. This characteristic speaks for itself. If a believer refuses to be used after a period of time a spiritual funeral will take place whether they admit it or not!

The Maturing/Adult Christian
These are those who bring a wealth of wisdom into any congregation. They are the ones who can help any fellowship avoid the blasts of conflict. These mature people do not desire to see conflict, however, when trouble arises they are determined to move the fellowship to the other side in a healthy fashion. A mature leader has learned how to deal with diversity. In fact, they recognize differing personalities and opinions as a wealth of possibilities and resources.

Where are you in your Christian journey?

Dale Roach

Although I appreciate and agree in some part with his observation, I don’t think that it is quite that neat. I believe that all persons, no matter what stage they may find themselves, should be mentored to serve and given responsibilities according to their gifts and graces  in order that they can grow their faith. Any of those people in any of those categories (top to bottom) are capable of firing the first shot in a church war… and keeping the war going. After all we have this thing called the human condition. I believe that we must grow a congregation where all of those people are cared for and nurtured, where they can mess up and be forgiven, where the leadership is more about the love and grace of Jesus Christ than we are about impressing those who will move us up the ladder. The church must grow to become the Koininia – the Communion of Christ – the body of Christ… where our first thought is to forgive, nurture, and accept anyone and everyone… to offer love and allow others to express love.  Our task is to keep working on love!!!


a Grieving Heart

You 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.

Please also take the time to leave a good review with Amazon. After today, these books have been published in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan.

Why I Am Still A Christian?

thToday I read a blog which I regularly follow. It touched me and made me think. I want to share some of my own thoughts with you using her words as a springboard.

She asked the question “Why am I still a Christian… despite… well, despite everything?  If we were to take everything negative… everything that should drive us screaming from the church… would we still be a Christian?

Why am I still a Christian when a mega-star pastor can affirm an admitted pedophile but seeks to disgrace this man’s former wife when she rightly petitions the state to annul a marriage that was fraudulent from the beginning?

Because I know that on this day, a bundle of nobodies made sure that the hungry homeless were fed a hot and nourishing meal and asked nothing in return.

Why am I still a Christian when a fame-blinded prosperity pastor tells his flock, many likely living on a bare edge, to each give $300 so he can have a $60,000,000 airplane?

Because I know the woman whose thankless job means she spends her days raising funds so that children have a safe and properly equipped public park where they may play and explore.

Why am I still a Christian when daily I see theologians and pastors tell those who don’t fix their definition of sexual “rightness” that they are less worthy in the eyes of God and will suffer eternal torment if they don’t get it right?

Because I know the pastors and people who toil quietly to bind up those wounds and pour healing balm on the battered hearts and torn faith of the despised and denigrated.

Yet even as I affirm I am still a Christian, I am aware of a large body of those who also call themselves “Christian” who would not admit me to their table. I had a long conversation with a good man who is a leader in one of the neo-calvinist, fast growing churches. After I pressed him on the issue, he finally admitted that I am not welcome to participate in the sacrament of communion there, despite the fact that they say they have an open table. My beliefs do not line up adequately with theirs for me to have a place at the feast.

I am aware that some whom I love with such undying passion that I would indeed willingly lay down my life for them are questioning my salvation and whether I will spend eternity with them. They wonder if I am one of those non-elect who will experience never-ending conscious torment. I know this. My heart breaks. However, I will not return to that world.

But I am still a Christian. In my maturing Christianity, I have moved from the God of anger, a God who appears to despise the very creation and the creature made in God’s image, a God whose capriciousness says, “Yes, I pick you but you I do not pick.” Yes, I have left it.

I am instead in love with Jesus who came to open wide the doors to the heavenly places to all, to the outcast, the leper, the foreigner, the sojourner, the widow, the orphan, the barren, the lost. I am in love with this one, sent by the Cosmic Lover, to hold in his dying agony all of our betrayal, all our ignorance, all our stupidity and meanness and murmuring and gossip and greed and lust and envy and gluttony and laziness and self-righteousness and sexuality and then say, “Father, forgive them. They simply don’t know what they are doing.”

I am in love with Jesus who would pay the ultimate price out of love . . . and then show us that death cannot contain or hold back that love. It will indeed find life again.

Yes, I am a Christian despite my growing despair over our infighting, over ridiculous battles about the tiniest of matters, over the way those who also call themselves Christian decide that it is OK to demean women (or slaves, or people of color or those who long for a same-sex marital covenant) as part of God’s will.

I am a Christian despite the fact that my own beloved United Methodist Church will undoubtedly crumble to dust in the next 20 to 30 years because we have forgotten that we are supposed to treat one another in the same way we ourselves wish to be treated. Our uncivil treatment of one another, not outdated polity or aging buildings and parishioners, has so infected us that we are about to go into septic shock.

But I am still a Christian despite . . . well, despite everything but Jesus.”

After spending the night thinking about her words I find that many of them are great and what I need. However, I find that too many of them are about finger pointing at the people who do not match what she considers a Christian lifestyle.

Sunday, my pastor used the Cherokee Legend of the Two Wolves to help explain our spiritual food. Allow me to share those words with you now:

An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story.

I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.

But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.”He continues, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when none is intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.

But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great.It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.

Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?” The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

As you read the blog I’ve shared, I ask that you overlook the finger pointing at all the wrong that is going on around you… all the ways you are putting others down while lifting yourself up… and focus on the two wolves living inside you. Which one is winning? Which one are you really feeding? That is the real question of the day.

You will notice at the a Grieving Heartbottom 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.

Please also take the time to leave a good review with Amazon. After today, these books have been published in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan.

Good Night Newman!

autocorrect failureShirley and I are so fortunate to have two wonderful grandchildren. They are funny, smart, creative and tolerant of their old grandparents. They have even gone so far as to text us on occasion. The other night Noah got a taste of what autocorrect failure can do to your text. He and his Mamaw had been texting for a few minutes. It was time for him to go so he signs off by typing “Good Night Mamaw!” However, the words that came through (after autocorrect did its thing) were: “Good Night Newman!” Feeling like she was on an episode of Seinfeld, Shirley responds: “WHAT?” Noah writes back and explains what has taken place. Now, his nick name is Newman. So is Shirley’s.

My brother and I recently had a good laugh about autocorrect. Shirley and I have had our laughs about all the stuff that comes out differently than we typed. This morning I spent a bit reading through some autocorrect failures posted on the internet. Some of them almost caused me to go blind they were so funny and I laughed so hard.

Perhaps we need autocorrect failure to give us a laugh and have us not to take ourselves so seriously.

Good Night Newman


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.

Please also take the time to leave a good review with Amazon. After today, these books have been published in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Japan.