Monday, May 25, 2020

He Gave His Life for His Country

Today Cathy, Hannah and I visited the grave of Furman Smith, the first Medal of Honor recipient (U.S. military's highest decoration) from the state of South Carolina.

Smith, a 19-year-old farm boy from Six Mile, was in Lanuvio, Italy with Company L, 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division in a mission to liberate Rome, when his unit came under heavy Nazi fire, wounding his commander and another soldier.

Instead of retreating with the rest of the company, Furman Smith stayed with his fallen comrades in an attempt to protect them. Smith fought valiantly but eventually lost his life after being swarmed by a force of 80 German soldiers.

Today, his name graces a highway about a mile from our home, and his body lies at rest in the Pleasant Hill cemetery between his parents and his younger brother, Mit, who died the following year at the tender age of 17.

Researching Furman's story today, I discovered a sister born earlier died of the plague in 1918.  It it is sad to imagine how the parents, Charles and Oley (Merck) Smith, were able to cope with such devastating loss.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Happy Aldersgate Day: A Heart Strangely Warmed

Here is the account from John Wesley's journal:

Wednesday, May 24, 1738
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.

After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

Thursday, May 25:
The moment I awakened, “Jesus, Master,” was in my heart and in my mouth; and I found all my strength lay in keeping my eye fixed upon Him and my soul waiting on Him continually. Being again at St. Paul’s in the afternoon, I could taste the good word of God in the anthem which began, “My song shall be always of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be showing forth thy truth from one generation to another.” Yet the enemy injected a fear, “If thou dost believe, why is there not a more sensible change? I answered (yet not I), “That I know not. But, this I know, I have ‘now peace with God.’ And I sin not today, and Jesus my Master has forbidden me to take thought for the morrow.”

Wednesday, June 7:
I determined, if God should permit, to retire for a short time into Germany. I had fully proposed, before I left Georgia, so to do if it should please God to bring me back to Europe. And I now clearly saw the time was come. My weak mind could not bear to be thus sawn asunder. And I hoped the conversing with those holy men who were themselves living witnesses of the full power of faith, and yet able to bear with those that are weak, would be a means, under God, of so establishing my soul that I might go on from faith to faith, and from “strength to strength.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Praying for Rain

Sometimes people avoid reality by praying for painless miracles when they should be dealing honestly with their situation.   "Watch and pray," Jesus said (Matthew 26:41).

 To illustrate this point, Anthony de Mello relates the following tale in The Song of the Bird:

The old man dearly loved his after-dinner pipe.
One night his wife smelled something burning and shouted,
"For heaven's sake, Pa!  You've set your whiskers on fire!"

"I know it," answered the old man angrily.
"Can't you see I'm praying for rain?"

Image credit: Old Man Praying, artist Julian Falat

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Different Personalities Need Different Encouragement

“We live by encouragement,” said actress Celeste Holm, “and we die without it – slowly, sadly, angrily.”

Every person you meet needs encouragement.  It’s part of what it means to be human.  All of us need a boost from time to time, and nobody lives constantly on the mountaintop.  We need each other for regular upliftings.

Most of us recognize this responsibility, and have a desire to encourage others, but often our attempts misfire.  Perhaps this is because personalities differ, and what encourages one person may not encourage another.

Authors such as Joyce Littauer, Gary Smalley and Tim LaHaye, have identified four basic temperament types:

  1. Sanguine – “Let’s have fun.”
  2. Melancholy --  “Let’s go deep.”
  3. Choleric --  “Let’s get moving.”
  4. Phlegmatic – “Let’s get along.”
Personally, as a sanguine, I’m inspired by inspiration. Just give me an uplifting quote or idea, and that will pump me up.  Positive thoughts help me combat a sagging spirit.  I peruse books and other resources regularly, looking for a good, positive, inspiring thoughts to brighten my day. It helps me keep on the sunny side. Sometimes, I mistakenly believe everybody else will be uplifted by the  same things that encourage me, but I am learning that different personalities require other types of encouragement.

When a melancholy shares a burden, the last thing they need is an "inspirational thought" or trite pep talk.  “No worries!  Everything’s going to be just fine!  You’ve just gotta believe!”  Those responses are unhelpful. Instead, the way to encourage melancholics is to understand them. They need a caring friend who will truly listen, empathize, and comprehend the depth of the situation. Their encouragement comes from not feeling alone.

The best way to encourage a choleric, on the other hand, is to do something!  They become discouraged and frustrated when people sit around flapping their jaws without taking action.  Hashing in circles is the way to drive a choleric bonkers. They interpret inaction as apathy and encouraging them means getting things done.

Finally, phlegmatics are encouraged by peace. They are disheartened by quarreling, arguing and negative nitpicking. Gary Smalley compares them to the golden retriever: loyal and easy going. For them, encouragement comes when people work together harmoniously for the common good.

This brings me to three important points:

1.If you only use your natural encouragement style, you will miss the bullseye with 75% of your friends.  Nobody connects naturally with everybody. It takes effort to understand.

2. If your effort to encourage someone backfires, pause and ask if it might just be a personality collision.  You may need to make adjustments.

3. The best way to encourage others is to speak it in their language.  The more deeply you know a person, the more likely you will know what they need. This requires listening, careful attention, and a willingness to step beyond ourselves. It helps to remember this encouragement is for them and not for you.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

George Had Problems

George had problems -- lots of problems.

George had problems with his wife.  She was too demanding.

George had problems with his daughter.  She was too whiny.

George had problems with his teenage son.  He was too irresponsible.

George had problems with his boss.  He was too controlling.

George had problems with his co-workers.  They were too opinionated.

George had problems with his next door neighbor.  He as too chatty.

George had problems with his mother-in-law.  She was too nosy.

George had problems with people at church.  They were too hypocritical.

George had problems with the grocery store cashier.  She was too slow.

George had problems with the barber.  He cut it too close.

George had problems with his children's teachers.  They were too strict.

Problems, problems problems.  Poor George wondered why he had so many.

Too bad he never did figure out what everybody else knew all along. .  .

George was the problem.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A Retirement Tribute to Fred and Sondra Andrews

This month, Fred and Sondra Andrews retired from vocational ministry after serving Alive Wesleyan Church (Central, SC) since 1977. Before this, they were Wesleyan missionaries in Sierra Leone, Africa. 

For the first 30 years at Alive (formerly known as First Wesleyan Church), Fred was the senior pastor -- and then, in a gesture of tremendous grace and humility, stepped aside, handing the reigns of leadership to a younger visionary, Tom Harding.  Since then, Pastor Fred and Sonnie have provided exceptional pastoral care for the congregation, shepherding the flock (especially the traditional service and long tenured members) in manner that looks much like Jesus. 

The explosive and exponential attendance growth Alive Wesleyan Church experienced would never have occurred without the wholehearted support of this beautiful couple. They have demonstrated a Christlike spirit through difficult transitions and joyful hope that believes the best.  Fred and Sonnie stand as shining examples for the rest of us of what it means to love others well. 

This remarkable couple should not have to wait until heaven to hear, "well done, good and faithful servants."

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Bringing Beauty: Finding the Poetic in a Pandemic

A webinar devotional teaching I shared with a group of pastors from the Indiana South District of the Wesleyan Church.  I thought it might be an encouoragement to you.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Thoughts in Solitude

Sheltering at home, I am reminded of Thomas Merton's "Thoughts in Solitude":

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think that I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always

Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
For you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Hymn Penned in a Plague: Now Thank We All Our God

  1. During the Great Pestilence of 1637, Martin Rinkart, age 31, found himself in a distressing situation as the only clergyperson in Eilenburg, Germany. The plague had broken out in this war torn community, and all of the other clergymen had either died or departed.  

  2. Left alone to meet the vast spiritual needs of the entire community, Rinkart officiated 4480 funerals ( 40-50 per day) including that of his first wife.  

  3. A severe famine followed the epidemic, and the good pastor rose to this challenge, working with town leaders to provide relief and organize assistance. He also led negotiations to secure peace with their enemies.

  4. In the darkest hours of the epidemic, young Pastor Rinkart served as a beacon of light and hope for others. It was during this time that he wrote the beloved hymn "Nun dankket alle Gott" (Now Thank We All our God), which is now often sung in Thanksgiving worship services around the world.

  1. Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
  2. Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
    Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
    With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
  3. Oh, may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
    With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
    And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
    And guard us through all ills in this world, till the next!
  4. All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
    The Son, and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven—
    The one eternal God, Whom earth and Heav’n adore;
    For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Great Advice for Sheltering in Place

Keep a Routine
Be With Jesus
Check on a Neighbor
Only check News Twice a Day
Limit Escaping Behavior (Netflix & Social Media)
Share Toilet Paper
Great advice from my pastor, Pastor Tom Harding, Alive Wesleyan Church.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Troubled Waters

Troubled waters swirl and crash
in restless waves
on Gitche Gumee's southern side.

Somehow, I identify
with heavy sighing.

But still, looking long and up
I see a large horizon
deep waters fading blue,
reaching up to touch the morning sky.

And in my sighings,
hope's arising. . .

Just in time to whisper,
"All is well. Peace be still."
I wrote this poem on a windy day, as I peered out the hospital waiting room window overlooking the shore of Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior), and noticed angry waves crashing violently on the shore.
The troubled waters matched my anxious spirit, as, heavy-hearted, I awaited news from the operating room. But then, lifting my eyes towards the distant horizon, I observed Superior's serenity from the larger perspective.

Photo Credit:  Wes Wilson

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Six Ways Pastors Pray

As a pastor, I was often called upon to say prayers several times a day. My prayers, as Adolph Bedsole (1964)  noted in Parson to Parson, can be summarized by the following categories:

1.  Ritualistic Praying: Saying prayers as a part of the pastoral function.  Prayers in worship services and other ministry settings.

2.  Routine Praying: Prayers for meals; the prayers spoken as a regular pattern of life.

3.  Official Praying: Prayers at civic functions such as graduations, house blessings and ski races.

4.  Emergency Praying: At times of crisis and deep need -- an urgent calling upon the Lord.

5.  Praying on the Run: Maintaining a spirit of prayer as you navigate the day's events and circumstances.

6.  Praying in the Closet (Praying Deep):  Carving out extended time with the Lord to drink deeply from the spiritual well.

All pastors engage in the first four kinds of praying. Many actively participate in #5 -- praying on the run. The greatest lack is in the sixth category. A failure to pray deeply results in shallow living and anemic ministry.

Bedsole, A. (1964) Parson to Parson. Baker Book House.