Keeping Calm in the Age of Nuclear Weapons

I attended a small Baptist college in Minnesota.  Every weekday, Monday through Friday, the campus came to a standstill in the middle of the morning.  Classes ended.  The coffee shop closed.  The post office shut its doors.  The administrative offices locked up.  Everyone was encouraged to go to the field house for our daily chapel service.

It was not required, but I always found it beneficial, so I went every day.  I can remember very few of the messages I heard over those four years.  Even though we were supported by the Baptist General Conference and most of the speakers came from that tradition, still pastors of other evangelical churches were invited to speak as well.

One of the few United Methodist preachers who spoke regularly was Dr. C. Philip Hinerman, pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.  I remember vividly one particular January morning when Dr. Hinerman spoke at a chapel service.  In the depth of Minnesota winter, when most of us were as pale as ghosts, Dr. Hinerman stood before us with a deep bronze tan.  He went on to explain that he had just returned from a vacation in Miami. (That was impressive, that Methodist preachers could take mid-winter vacations in Florida.)  He went on to talk about how unnerving it was in the late 1960s, to be on the beach while aware that there were nuclear missiles pointed our direction from ninety miles away in Cuba.

I originally was going to write something entirely different, but recent reports from North Korea brought his sermon back to mind.  We live in a dangerous world.  Whether it is danger from Cuba or North Korea, al qaeda or ISIS, we do not know what lies in our future.

In his very brief sermon, Dr. Hinerman spoke about it this way.  We can either live our lives in fear or trust our lives to God.  I could shake in fear as I lay on the beach or I could put my life in God’s hands.  I chose to trust God.   I encourage you to do the same.

When he was done, many of my friends were not even sure what he had said.  But it struck me profoundly.  So profoundly that almost 50 years later, I still recall it.  Life offers us many choices, some mundane and some life changing.  But every day, we are faced with a simple choice:  do we live in fear or do we live in faith?  Do we trust God to take care of us or do we trust ourselves and our human leaders?

The psalmist put it this way:  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses (the ICBMs of their day), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7)

Later in book of Psalms there is a line that one of my college friends (Dave Shupe) used to sing:  “My times are in thy hand.  O Lord, I wish them there.” (from Psalm 31:15)

Ultimately, that is our only safety.

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Which Way are You Facing?

Several weeks ago, I wrote a brief summary of what happened to me one morning on my daily walk.  I want to revisit that event a little more in-depth.

As many of you know, my dog Churchill and I walk every morning for 3-5 miles.  Each day we take different routes, but on Monday, Wednesday and Friday we usually take a route that includes the golf course closest to our home.  We live in a community that is built around one of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Courses.  Three courses are built around the same club and the Highlands course winds through the neighborhoods of Hampton Cove.

I have said that we live on a fishing lake and I don’t fish and in a golfing community and I don’t play golf.  But I enjoy both.  I enjoy the lakes without dropping a line and I enjoy the golf course without ever teeing off.  By going before 7 a.m., we can wander through the holes on foot without disturbing any duffers.  It is a beautiful time to walk the gently rolling terrain, and in the summer it is the most comfortable time of the day to be out there as well.

Other walkers, joggers and dog walkers also take the same opportunity.  Sometimes we see the same people regularly.  One of those was a man walking his dog, Savannah.  I know the dog’s name, but not the man’s.  So for several days we had crossed paths in a similar place near the 14th fairway.

One morning, after several days of rain, I was heading toward the sunrise and noticing the sun breaking through the clouds.  I was thinking how delightful it would be to have a sunny morning again.  I was feeling uplifted and joyful as I walked the cart path.

Soon, I met up with Savannah and her owner coming toward me from the opposite direction.  As we got within conversational distance we greeted each other.  One of the first things out of his mouth was surprising to me.  “Looks like it’s going to storm,” he said, pointing over my shoulder.

I was shocked as I turned and saw the angry clouds gathering behind me.  I was watching the sunrise and feeling uplifted.  He was looking at the clouds and feeling threatened.  As it turned out, the storm did not materialize, but neither did the sunny morning.

As I thought about this experience, I realized how philosophical it was.  Depending your focus, your mood could differ radically.  Walking toward the sun was uplifting.  Walking toward the clouds was threatening.

This applies to life in a larger sense, as well.  What we focus our lives on, what goal we strive for, determines how our lives develop.  If we focus on the positive, our lives can be positive.  If we focus on the negative, our lives can be negative.  Sometimes life is not as simple.  Sometimes it is shades of grey.  Sometimes we have to look hard into a negative situation to find something positive.  Sometimes even the most positive situation has its negatives.

But our general attitude does not need to controlled by the negative.

When I shared the original idea on Facebook, someone left the comment, “It’s not where you start, but where you are going that is important.”  That is so true.

And from a religious point of view, we are to focus our lives on Christ and his mission.  We focus on God’s plan, not the obstacles along the way.  As Paul says in the epistle to the Philippians, “But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (3:13-14)

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Goose, Goose, Duck

As preschoolers, many of us played a similar game.  If you grew up in most of the country, it was known as “Duck, Duck, Goose”.  If you grew up in Minnesota, it was known as “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck”.  Same game, just a different name.  According to Wikipedia, the “grey duck” version is closer to the Scandinavian origins, so you Minnesotans can feel superior.

Nowhere is the game called “Goose, Goose, Duck”.  Except for a small pond where my dog, Churchill, and I walk once or twice a week.  There, a good-sized (25-30) flock of Canada geese makes its home.  And there in the midst of the flock of geese is one odd-looking member.  It is a duck that is mostly black, with some white splotches and red around the eyes.  It is kind of odd-looking and it may have an injured foot because it seems to wobble when it walks.

But this duck is part of the flock.  He may stand out in stark contrast to the rest, but he has been part of the flock for several years.  Each year new goslings are born and grow up to adults.  They all know this “ugly duckling” as part of their family.  I don’t know whether the goose part of the flock changes from year to year.  I don’t know if some fly off to new ponds and streams (who can tell them apart?).  But the black duck remains, year after year.

I don’t know where he came from or even if he is a “he”.  I don’t know how he came to adopt this flock as his family. All I know is, he is as much a part of the flock as goslings that are born into it.  This pond is home and this group of geese is the flock.  Even the odd one.

Sometimes our families have their “odd ducks”.  Sometimes our churches have their “ugly ducklings”.  Sometimes our friends or work associates include people who are “just different”.  And many times these people are made to feel less human or less accepted.  They are only reluctantly included in plans.

My hope is that there is some place where these “different” people are not only accepted, but valued.  That we can see them as special, important, children of God.  And I hope that one of those places is the church or other place of worship.

Several years ago, I was the principal of a small alternative school for students who needed a place to fit in.  One of the students that year was a young man with Asperger syndrome.  At the time, I had never heard of it or known anyone who had it.  This young man was very bright, but socially awkward.  Toward the end of the second quarter, he was doing so well, he was poised to make the honor roll.

Just before the Christmas break, we had a party for the kids.  There were only about 10 students, so it was not difficult to include everyone.  After lunch several of us began to play “Uno” and this young man was invited to play. We were all playing together and laughing and kidding each other when his mother came to pick him up.  I will never forget the look on her face as she watched him play.  She was almost in tears because, I think for the first time, she saw her son with a group of kids who accepted him and he was interacting with them and he was “normal”.

When we returned to school after the new year, he was not there.  After he had been gone for several days, I went to his home to see what happened.  I don’t know what caused it, but he decided he did not want to return to school.  He was over 16 and there was nothing his mother could do to make him go.  He never gave me a good answer as to why he did not want to return.  He would have graduated that spring.

Even though I felt like we had failed him, his mother said before I left that I had given her the best Christmas gift she had ever gotten.  She saw her son just being a normal kid, surrounded by people who accepted and liked him.

Sometimes we never realize how important acceptance is.  Jesus included the rich and the poor, the socially acceptable and the social outcasts.  He set the example for us.  Rather than a bar called “Cheers”, the place where everyone knows your name and accepts you should be among the children of God.  I hope your fellowship includes a few “odd ducks”.  They make life a lot more interesting.

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What Were You Doing During the “Summer of Love”?

What were you doing fifty years ago?  If you are younger than 55, you either were not alive or have no real memories of the time.  But a significant number of my readers were alive and remember that summer.  As the media later dubbed it, it became known as the “summer of love.”  But I also watched some programs that noted that in some cities it was a summer of violence and riots.

Most of us who remember those days did not know that it was the “summer of love” and only came to know it as such much later.  A preacher friend of mine wrote in Facebook that he started the summer learning how to kill people as a new recruit in the military.  However an experience with God changed that for him and he returned home feeling that he was called to save people as a minister rather than to kill people as a soldier.  (If you want to read the story, look up Jerry F. Reeder’s Facebook page.)

I had a decidedly less spiritual summer in 1967.  I was the head life guard at a Christian camp just north of Minneapolis.  There were regular spiritual experiences and Bible studies, but I was not deeply moved by them. Instead, my experience was much more hedonistic.  There is something about being a life guard that is attractive to the opposite sex (even though the movie Baywatch bombed).  For the first time in my life, I was cool.  I was able to have my pick of the girls and made the most of that opportunity (although it remained G-rated).  Even natural disasters, like a nearby tornado, became an opportunity to hug a bunch of scared girls.  It was definitely a summer of love for me.

But it had nothing to do with real love.  It was much more about physical relationships than self-giving love.  In Greek, it would have been different words:  eros not agape. The erotic love is not necessarily negative.  It was the normal word for love between husbands and wives.  But the word Jesus uses in the New Testament is the less common word “agape“, or self-giving, self-sacrificing love.  It is the kind of love demonstrated by Christ as he voluntarily gave up his life for us.  It is the kind of love that the early church demonstrated as they shared their resources with those in need.  It is the kind of love that inspires us to choose against self-interest when it may be better for our neighbors.  It is the kind of love Jerry Reeder chose.

I attended a funeral this past week for someone I met 32 years ago.  At her service there was a lot of scripture read (by her grandchildren).  But the one that stood out most to me was from 1 Corinthians 13.  This beautiful poem of love is read often during weddings.  It is much less common in funerals.  But it was most fitting for Mary Lou West Walker.  She personified that kind of love to all who knew her.

What a legacy to leave!  During the 60’s, a new chorus was popular among young Christians and it is still heard from time to time in churches:  “They’ll Know we are Christians by our Love.”  When we come to the end of our lives, what kind of love will most represent us?  Will our friends, neighbors and family say the most memorable thing about us was our love?

That is my prayer for you and me.

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Anyone Know Where I Can Get a Weekend Weather Person?

Many years ago, I was a full-time radio person in a local Christian station.  The salary was barely enough to pay the bills and I was looking for a way to make a few extra dollars.  I went to one of the local television stations and filled out an application.  I was hoping to do some “voice over” work on commercials.  As I was finishing the paperwork, someone burst into the room where several of us were sitting and said, “Anyone know where I can get a weekend weather person?”

The thought of doing actual on-air work where people could see me scared me to death at that moment.  So I kept quiet and shook my head.  Since then, I have wondered what would have happened if I had taken the chance and stood up and said, “Right here!”

Of course, there is no guarantee that I would have gotten the job, but my failure to respond guaranteed that I did not get the job.  Shortly after that, I began the process of returning to the ministry and that led to almost 30 years of pastoral service. I doubt that I would have responded to the ministerial call, had I begun a career on television.

Since that day, I have had many more opportunities to make choices, as we all do.  We wonder about “the road not taken” and realize that it has made all the difference.  When I was on leave from the ministry, finishing up my doctor of ministry degree, I turned down two offers to take full-time jobs in radio again.

I have come to believe two things to be true.  First, we never accomplish anything by dwelling in the past.  It is a wonderful place to visit, but we cannot stay there.  No matter what our choices at the time, if we made them for good reason, we must trust that we made the right choice and that we went where God was leading us.  I believe I did more positive things for the world by following the lead of the Holy Spirit back into the ministry.  I may not have had the worldly success I might have had, but in the end, that is unimportant.

The second is that even when we may have made a mistake and chosen the wrong alternative, God can still redeem that choice and make the best of it.  Every choice closes the door to some options, but also opens the door to other possibilities.  I have worked with inmates in prison who know they made some bad choices.  But many of them learn that, through chapel programs and other channels, their lives can still have meaning and purpose.  Even a “lifer” can “bloom where they are planted”.

I met a 94-year-old woman in a nursing home many years ago.  She had the most positive attitude.  So many of the people there were down and depressed.  But she took it upon herself to be a cheerful presence in their lives.  She was very hard of hearing and could barely see, but she could wheel her chair down the halls and talk to her neighbors and staff.  She was a ray of light in a dark and dismal place.

So what is important is not what choices, good or bad, we made in the past.  What is important is what we are going to do today and tomorrow.  As long as we have breath, there is something we can do.  Maybe we can’t do what we used to be able to do, but we can still do something.  There is a beautiful song on the Eagles’ “Long Road out of Eden” album called “Do Something.”

Do something
It’s too easy not to care
You’re not ready for the rockin’ chair
Get up and do something
Do something
Don’t wait too long
Even if it’s wrong
You’ve got to do something
Do something
It’s not over
No, it’s never too late.


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Widening the Driveway, 2017

I like yard work in general, but there is one job I try to put off as much as possible.  Recently, the time came to do it again.   I refer to it as “widening the driveway”.  But I don’t do it with added concrete or asphalt.  Instead, I use an edger.  Edging the lawn is not my favorite task, so I put it off as long as I can.

After months of neglect, there was a lot of work to be done.  Interestingly, as I began to trim back the grass from the edges of the driveway and sidewalk, I found that they were wider than they appeared.  I remember a phrase I learned in high school science (either chemistry or physics), “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  And nature had seen the driveway and sidewalks as a vacuum and moved to fill that vacuum.  In trimming the edges, I added a couple inches to each side of the driveway and an inch to each side of the sidewalk.  Hence the term “widening the driveway.”

By doing nothing to control the takeover, the lawn sought to control its own boundaries.  Left unchecked for years, I imagine the sidewalks and driveway might eventually disappear from view altogether.

To me, this is a metaphor for life.  Our lives are like that driveway.  There are things in life that, like the grass or weeds, are seeking to take over.  If left unchecked, they slowly creep, inch by inch, into our lives.  And all of a sudden, we discover we have unwanted things in our lives that have made themselves at home.

In theological terms, we might call those things sins.  In psychological terms, we might call them unhealthy practices or habits.  It really does not matter what terms we are most comfortable with.  The problem is that we have become too comfortable with these things that are taking control of our lives.  We have given up control to something else.  And it order to regain control, sometimes we have to take the edger and cut them back.

Complicating that is time.  The longer we have neglected these areas of our lives, the more firmly rooted these sins/habits have become.  It becomes more and more difficult to get rid of them.  But in order to regain our lives and reestablish our boundaries, we sometimes have to do radical surgery.  It may be unpleasant (as edging is–lots of dust and dirt), but the results are worthwhile.

Then, if we continue to maintain the edges, it is much easier to remain in control.  The grass stays put and the driveway/sidewalk retains its desired contours.

As a Christian, I see the Holy Spirit as the edger.  We don’t have to do all the dirty work ourselves.  We just have to allow the edger to do its task.   We allow God to take control and go along for the ride.

There is an anonymous rhyme, sometimes attributed to the author Charles Reade:

We sow a thought and reap an act;
We sow an act and reap a habit;
We sow a habit and reap a character;
We sow a character and reap a destiny.

It is really a commentary on Proverbs 23:7  “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (KJV).

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Shots Fired

“Shots fired.”  Two words paralyzed a city this week.  While shots are fired almost on a daily basis in the Huntsville area, the location of this threat was different.  The 911 call came from Redstone Arsenal, the sprawling government reservation that includes the Marshall Space Flight Center, an army post, and a host of defense contractors.  40,000 people work daily on the Arsenal.  And almost everyone in the Huntsville area who does not work there has friends or relatives that do.

The lockdown affected everyone there, but the rest of the metro area held their collective breaths as we awaited word about what was going on.  The television reporters set up outside the closed gates and the usual fare of programming was suspended for about three hours until the “all clear” was sounded.

It turned out to be a false alarm and no shots were ever verified.  Weapons were never found on anyone whose job was not providing security to the facility.  But with all the terrorism in the world these days, there were many nervous people in north Alabama.  All of a sudden it was no longer “those folks over there”, it was “us here”.  It became real in a hurry.

And it brings up the question of what makes us safe these days.  In the past we relied on police or the fact that we lived in places far from population centers.  But that does not protect us any more.  There was an arrest recently in Huntsville of a person who was collaborating with Isis (allegedly).  Big city, small town, urban, rural, it does not matter any more.

So where do we go for safety?  There were many this week who posted they were praying for people on the Arsenal. Does that do any good?  I believe it does.  I believe that prayer is not the last resort but the first line of defense.  There is a verse that comes to mind, Psalm 20:7  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

We live in a metropolitan area that is known for its weapon development.  But the biggest and best firepower cannot ultimately protect us from all danger.  Our house has an alarm system that we arm every night, but that cannot protect us from all danger.  We live in a relatively safe neighborhood and have neighborhood watch programs, but that is not a complete guarantee of safety.

Ultimately, there is no way we can avoid all danger and trouble.  We are susceptible to all kinds of attacks.  So how can we live and enjoy our lives in such a world?

The answer is God.  We place our lives in God’s hands.  Another verse from the book of Psalms (31:15) says, “My times are in your hands deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.”

That does not mean that evil will not attack us.  That does not mean that we will be exempt from depression or sickness or economic downturns.  That means that even though we may have to face “shots fired” situations, we can trust in God.  We place our lives and our families in God’s hands and know that, even if the worst happens, God will enable us to overcome and not be defeated.  It is not a magic talisman that causes bullets to bounce off us.  It is source of calm in the midst of the storm.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b)

I can live with that.  Can you?

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It’s a Different World Now

I was going to a Christian college when I got the question.  A friend who was doing a project was talking to me while I played music on the campus radio station.  She asked, “Why didn’t you try drugs when you were in high school?”

I answered truthfully, “Because I lived in a small town and I had no idea where to get them.”

She said, “That’s the wrong answer.  You are supposed to say, ‘Because I am a Christian and I have Jesus in my heart and I don’t need drugs.'”

I said, “That is true, but my first answer was also true.”

I don’t think she used my response in the project she was doing.

But the truth is, in the mid-1960’s, in small town Minnesota, I knew no one who was using drugs.  We had a couple of heavy drinkers in my class, and everyone knew who they were.  But marijuana?  No way.  Anything stronger?  Are you kidding?

It’s a different world now.  Even in the smallest town, even in the most remote corner of the country, no matter where you live, there are opportunities to get into more trouble than most adults are aware of.

Next week, my wife, Deborah, is going to be involved in a program with the FBI on the dangers of opioids.  Who ever heard of opioids fifty years ago?  But the movie “Chasing the Dragon” shows how dangerous and prevalent this problem is.  Our kids and grandkids have to deal with things that are much more serious than most of us ever had to deal with.

One of the answers, as my college friend said, is to have a strong spiritual foundation.  If we have a close relationship with the Creator of the Universe, we will be less likely to need to experiment with mind and mood altering substances.  If we can communicate with our families about our anxieties, we will be less likely to need to drown our despair with numbing chemicals.  Having a support system of Christian friends from a church or youth group means you will be less likely fall into a pit of despair.

But that is only one part of the defense.  Another is to be educated, to know what the dangers are.  Parents and others need to know the danger signs.  Friends need to be aware of changes in attitude or behavior.  We all need to be each other’s support system.

That is why programs like these are important.  It is important to be forewarned and forearmed.  We need to take responsibility for our friends and family.

Ultimately, we cannot prevent anyone else from making a bad decision.  But the more we can offer positive options, the better.  Even kids who grow up in loving, supportive homes with spiritual foundations can make wrong choices. And even kids who grow up with no positive support can avoid danger.  But the chances of kids growing up healthy and happy and free from problems are greater when they have loving and supportive families and friends.

It’s a different world now, and it is getting more and more dangerous and scary.  It doesn’t matter where you live or what material blessings you enjoy.  What makes a bigger difference is that we love and pray and support our kids and grandkids and others in our lives.

I think part of the answer to my friend’s question was also that my parents prayed for me daily.  And when you can’t do anything else, you can still pray.  It might just be the key that unlocks a well-balanced and mature adult.


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The Death of a Child

I have officiated at countless funerals over the years.  None is easy, but some are more difficult than others.  One of the most difficult situations involves children or young adults.  While we can adjust more easily to the death of a person who has completed a fairly full life, it is much more difficult to deal with the death of someone who has just begun life and had so much more life ahead.

News reports every day contain stories of tragic deaths.  One that has consumed many in the Huntsville, Alabama, area, may not have made the news in other areas of the country.  It was the death of a young woman who was part of a youth mission trip heading to the African nation of Botswana.  The bus carrying several team members was involved in a traffic accident a few miles from the Atlanta airport.

Some people involved in the accident walked away with only bumps and bruises. Others were hospitalized, but are expected to survive.  One 17-year-old girl, Sarah Harmening, died in the crash.   And it was just announced that the bus driver will be charged with homicide in the death.

But that still does not answer the question many may be asking.  “Where was God in all this?”  “Why did God allow a beautiful young woman on her way to share the gospel with people in Africa to die so prematurely?”

That is one of those questions for which no good answer exists.  Any flippant answer risks trivializing the tragedy of the situation.

It reminds me of one of my favorite stories on the subject.  Theologically, I am practically on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, the former chaplain of Yale University and pastor of Riverside Church in New York City but in this I agree with him. While Coffin was the pastor at Riverside Church, his son died in a traffic accident.

This caused his father deep grief.  One of his parishioners, in an attempt to comfort the grieving pastor, made the comment to the effect that the death was just “God’s will”.

Coffin rejected this assertion vehemently.  He explained later in words I can only approximate from memory.

“No it was NOT God’s will.  It was not God’s will that my son drink too much and get behind the wheel of an automobile.  It was not God’s will that he speed down the Henry Hudson Parkway.  And it was not God’s will that his car should leave the highway and plunge into the Hudson River.

“But I know one thing for certain.  When my son breathed his last breath on earth God was there.  And when he died, God was the first to grieve.  For God understands what it means to lose a son.”

I quote that from memory of reading it a long time ago and may have mangled it somewhat.  But I trust that I maintained the essence of the story.

So the death of Sarah Harmening was NOT God’s will.  God did not cause the crash that took her life.  The laws of science keep the world under control, and when an accident happens, the results are somewhat dictated by those laws.

What we can be sure of, and what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that this death caused God to grieve like a divine parent.  What I know is that God wrapped Sarah in a blanket of love and that she is not suffering.  Her family and friends and community are suffering.  Yet God is here.  God was there at the scene of the accident.  And God’s love will enable all of us to go on.

That does not bring her back.  That does not make the situation any less tragic.  But that does give us comfort and strength to continue on in the face of tragic situations.  And that may be the only answer that suffices.

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In Memorium

Earlier this week the North Alabama Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church met here in Huntsville.  I attended every year from 1983 to 2011, the year I retired.  Since then, I have only sporadically attended and only for a brief time.  One meeting I try not to miss is the Memorial Service, where the pastors and spouses who have died in the past year are honored.  In the early days, most of the names meant nothing to me.  They were only names on paper.  They were not real persons to me.

But over the years, the names became more and more familiar.  These were people I had known and worked with and prayed with.  These were people I had sat around tables with and eaten and laughed and sometimes cried with.  The service became more meaningful to me.  I watched sadly as many of the conference attendees used the time to get a head start in the lunch line.

Recent changes have made the service more meaningful and the attendance has improved.  This is good.  Here are people who have given their lives in service to Christ and the church.  As the Rev. Sherry Harris, this year’s preacher, noted, they sometimes sacrificed family time, or vacation time, or personal time to meet the needs of their flock. They willingly upheld the responsibility they had undertaken.  For their sacrifice, is it too much to ask us to take an hour to remember them?

I hope not.  I hope that services that honor pastors and pastoral families who have served the Lord in relative obscurity become important to us.  Political and business leaders have overflow crowds in their honor.  But should not the person who gives years of dedicated service to small or medium-sized congregations be equally remembered?

Over the years of my ministry, I have officiated at more funerals than I can remember.  What I do remember is that when a young person dies, great crowds attend.  It is so unusual.  When a middle age person dies, it is also rather well attended.  But when an older person passes, it is sometimes hard to find people who are not relatives in the service.

From time to time, there is a wonderful exception to this rule.  I remember one in which a 90+-year-old man was being remembered and the church could not hold the crowd.  They were not his contemporaries, as few of them were still alive.  They were friends he had made over the years from the community and younger people he had worked with in other situations.  It was a sad, but yet joyous event.

Heroes are not always recognized in their lifetime.  Sometimes they are recognized by the number of people whose lives they have touched.  Sometimes the significance of a pastor’s ministry is not measured by their salary or their numbers of congregants, or the prestige of their church.  Sometimes the significance of a pastor lies in the people whose lives were touched by their ministry.

I still treasure the words of a ninth grader as I left a church after being its youth pastor for a year.  “If you had not come here when you did, I don’t think I would still be part of this church.”  I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done unto me.”


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