Monday, December 15, 2014

Favorite Christmas Carols: "Go Tell it on the Mountain"

Yesterday was my first time to experience the annual Christmas Cantata at Main Street. WOW. It was amazing--the orchestra, the huge choir, the children, the piano and organ duets...  And the congregational singing was pretty awesome as well. 

While the Cantata was going on at 8:30, we still had the Jubilee contemporary service over in the chapel. I continued my series on "Favorite Christmas Carols" with a message on "Go Tell it on the Mountain." If you don't normally attend Jubilee, you won't get to hear this one--so here it is if you'd like to read it!

Imagine you’re an African slave in America, around the time of the Civil War
-          You’re working out in the cotton fields
-          The sun is beating down on you
-          Biting horseflies are buzzing around
-          Your fingers are bleeding, your back is aching
-          You’ve been up since sun-up and you’ll be out there ‘til sundown.

You’re oppressed. Your life is awful.

But then while you’re out there working, somebody starts up a song – a spiritual song.
-          It might be a song that tells a Bible story, like “Go Down Moses”
-          It might be a song that looks forward to heaven, like “I’ve got a crown up in the Kingdom – ain’t-a that good news”
-          It might be a song that has a Christian meaning, but also has a coded message about how to escape from slavery:

o    “The Gospel Train” – a reference to the Underground Railroad
o   “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” – also about the Underground Railroad
o    “Steal Away” – describes how to sneak off at night
o   “Wade in the Water” – tells you to use creeks and rivers to hide your scent from bloodhounds
o   “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd” – a reference to the Big Dipper in the sky, which points north – this song contains detailed directions on how to escape and head north

So you’re out there working and the song starts up. And you join in singing. And your back still hurts, and you’re fingers are still bleeding, but your spirit is lifted, because there’s hope. You know that your precious Lord Jesus is gonna set you free. If not in this life, then certainly in the next.

And that hope gives you just enough strength to get through another day.

The song we’re talking about today, “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” comes from that tradition. It’s one of the African-American spirituals that were sung in the fields by people who were longing for freedom.

Do you know that we Christ followers have the greatest source of freedom there is?

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
                                                John 8:36

Years ago I sat in a maximum security prison. I was there with a prison ministry, sitting in a circle with a small group made up of both inmates and volunteers from the outside. I looked across the circle at one of the inmates. He could have been a murderer, an armed robber, a rapist – I don’t know. What I do know is that he had given his life to Jesus Christ. And I heard him say, “People walking the streets are free on the outside – but I’m free on the inside.

Jesus Christ is the greatest source of freedom there is. And yet all around us people living as slaves:

-          Slaves to loneliness
-          Slaves to despair
-          Slaves to boredom
-          Slaves to a dead marriage – or an abusive marriage
-          Slaves to addiction
-          Slaves to confusion, or loss of direction

 All around us – your friends – your neighbors – your family members – are living as slaves. As former slaves ourselves who have found freedom in Jesus, our job is to “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”  Just like the slaves in the fields sang the spirituals to help other slaves find freedom, we have to help the slaves around us find freedom in Jesus

Take a look at Matthew 28:16-20This takes place after the resurrection.  Jesus has lived, taught, helped people, done miracles, died on the cross, risen from the dead. And then in this passage we have his final instructions to his followers. 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

You know what blows me away here?  There is still uncertainty among the disciples! “They worshipped him, but some doubted.” There’s the risen Jesus standing there right in front of them, and some of them are still not sure! In fact, the word “some” is actually not in the original Greek. So this might say, “they worshipped, but doubted.”

So we have these disciples who are worshipping AND wavering. I don’t know about you, but I find some comfort in that.  The call of Jesus does not come to perfect people who have it all together. It comes to weak, shaky, frightened people who worship – but also waver. People like me – maybe people like you.

Look at what Jesus says to followers like us:
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Stop there for a second: 
            How much authority has been given to Jesus?          
                                    -Some authority?  
                                    - A little bit of authority?   (ALL)

All authority where?  (in heaven and on earth)
            –That’s pretty much the whole universe.

So understand that what Jesus is about to tell us to do is grounded in his authority as Lord.
A lot of you know what it means to be under authority.  If you’re in the military, you have to follow the orders of somebody in authority. If you have a job, unless you own your own business, there is somebody who has some authority over you. If you’re a student your teachers have authority
I think we Christ-followers need to get a tighter grip on what it means to be under authority. The commands of Jesus are not suggestions! 

And here is the last command Jesus has given to us:
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Let there be no question in our minds:  Jesus commands us to GO. 

In the Christmas story, what did the Shepherds do? As soon as they saw the baby Jesus, what did they do?

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child
            --Luke 2:16-17

Jesus is just a baby, and they’ve only just seen him, and already they’re obeying the command to GO.

Jesus commands us to GO.

Let me show you something: 

            You can’t spell “Gospel” without “Go”

            You can’t spell “Good News” without “Go”

            You can’t spell “God” without “Go”

There’s no question that Jesus wants us to go.  The question is HOW?

I’ll be the first to admit that we Christ-followers have come up with some pretty strange ways to try and lead people to Christ.

Do you remember this guy?

His name is Rollen Stewart, and if you watched any football back in the 70’s and 80’s, you probably saw this fellow in the end zone jumping up and down, wearing a T-shirt that said “John 3:16” trying to get people’s attention.

            -I have no idea how many people he led to Christ, but I do know that he’s in jail today, because he kind of went crazy and took a hotel housekeeper hostage, and he’s serving a life sentence for kidnapping.

And then, there are the street preachers and sign-wavers.

My son encountered one of these guys when he was in college. David walked up to the guy and said, “Can I see your Bible?”  He turned to Matthew 7 and read, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Mt. 7:1). David handed the Bible back and said, “Have you seen this?” The preacher replied, “Well, I’ve been perfected in the Lord, so I can judge other people.” David said, “Really? You never sin?” The guy’s response: “I’m not gonna listen to you ‘cause you’re a pervert!”

(I’ve known David for a long time, and I promise you he’s not a pervert.)

And then there’s this book that a friend of mine showed me, called Soul Winning Made Easy. This is from the chapter entitled, “How to Press for the Decision:”

“. . . press him to make a decision . . . one way or the other.

…silently start your countdown . . . 5-4-3-2-1. That's it. You wait no longer. Lay your hand on his shoulder . . . and with a semi-commanding voice say . . . "Bow your head with me."

Note: Do not look at him when you say this. He won't act if you do. Instead, bow your head first…Out of the corner of your eye you will see him look at you with wonder. Then, as his resistance crumbles, his head will come down in jerks…”
                        --Soul Winning Made Easy, pp. 78-79

I’m really glad nobody tried that on me, ‘cause I’m pretty sure I’d be a heathen right now.

OK seriously: How do we obey Jesus’ command to go? 

I’m gonna give you one simple word, and it’s something every person in this room can do. A lot of you have done it. Some of you have done it, and you’ve seen somebody’s life change. All because you did this one simple thing:


A church growth expert named Win Arn did a survey of almost 10,000 Christians. He found that
  • 2% first came to church because of an  -- advertisement
  • 6% came because a  -- pastor invited them
  • 6% came because of an organized --evangelism campaign
  • 86% came because -- friend or family member invited them.

Christmas is a great time to invite people to church! And we at Main Street have created a tool to help you do that. As you leave the service today, the greeters will be handing you what we call “Invite Cards.” On one side, these cards have information about our upcoming Christmas Eve services. On the other side, there’s info about our regular services. These are not for you. These are for you to give to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers as you INVITE them to church!

Jesus commands us to GO. Go in his name -- and INVITE.

*If you'd like some of our "Invite Cards," just stop by the church office. Or give us a call and we'll send you some by mail.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The couple in the picture are my son David and his wife Lauren. 

The pictures they're holding are ultrasounds of their baby. 

Their baby. My grandchild. 

You have no idea how strange it feels to say that. I'm going to be a grandfather. I knew this day would come eventually, but I never dreamed it would be so soon. 

I've heard many grandparents go on and on about how much they love their grandchildren. How much fun they are. I've heard this line more than once: "Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your kids." 

What kind of granddad will I be? I hope I'll be the kind that the grand kids want to see ... not because I give them dollar bills ... but because they laugh and have fun and feel loved unconditionally whenever they're around me. 

I want to be the kind of grandfather that my father and my father-in-law have been to my kids. 

May is going to be a big month. Not only is the baby coming, but Lauren's sister Lindsay is getting married (hopefully not on the same day!).

Congratulations to James and Carolanne Donaldson (Lauren's parents) who, if all goes well, will become grandparents and see their other child married in the same month. Congratulations to my wife Lorie, who is excited as all get out. Congratulations to David and Lauren who are about to embark on the most exciting adventure of their lives. 

And congratulations to that baby, who's going to have the best parents a kid ever had!

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Extravagant Welcome

To the people of Main Street United Methodist Church:


Lorie and I have been here one week. I haven't even preached yet. And we already feel at home.

You've welcomed us in so many ways: calls, emails, visits ... invitations to become Facebook friends. And the food. Oh my goodness. Lorie and I have not cooked a single meal since we've been here!

I'm so looking forward to my first service with you on Sunday. I'll be preaching on my all-time favorite Bible passage--Luke 15:11-24

Among other things, it's a story of  extravagant welcome.

And that's what I've received from you.

The post below contains links to various pages on this blog that will show you some of the things I'm passionate about and help you get to know me better. And if you've got 10 minutes to watch a very silly, very crazy video that my son and his wife made about me, click here.

Once again: THANK YOU.  I'm can't wait to see what God is gonna do as we follow Jesus together!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

It's Here--Moving Day!

Today they're loading up the moving van in Asheville. Tomorrow they'll unload it in Kernersville.

And then after that, Lorie and I will begin the process of unpacking and settling in.

So it might be a while before I post again.

If you're new to this blog please surf around and get to know me a little better. Especially if you're a member of Main Street UMC in Kernersville. 

If you'd like to read about my mission trip to Africa last fall, go here and keep clicking on "Newer Post" down at the bottom. 

If you'd like to see some pictures and reflections from Hawaii, (I traveled a lot last year!) click here

If you'd like to read the most popular post on this blog (according to the stats page), click here. Then, click on the label at the bottom of the see all the posts on this topic.

And if you are a member of Main Street UMC, please know that I'm so excited to be joining your family -- and I'm really looking forward to meeting you in person!

See you soon! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top Five Tuesday--Top Five Things I Will Miss About Living in Asheville

The movers are packing our breakables today. Tomorrow they'll load the truck, and as of tomorrow night, I will no longer be a resident of Asheville. 

Here are the top five things I'm going to miss about the city I've called home for eight years:

5. The Vibe -- Have you seen the show "Portlandia" that pokes fun at hipster culture? That's Asheville. 

Once my church was handing out meals to homeless people downtown. My son and I offered some food to a young couple with stringy hair and grungy clothes . They laughed and said, "We're not homeless. We're just hanging out." 

It's so much fun to go downtown in the evening and see the street performers. You'll see people playing hammered dulcimer, fiddle, celtic harp and flute, banjo, guitar, etc. Once I saw two guys who had set up a piano and a full drum set on a sidewalk. They were playing jazz and blues. And then there are the "statues" -- the tin woman, the stone guitar player, the guy who looks like he's running to work but stands perfectly still -- if you put money in their buckets, they move. Cool. 

And don't forget the Drum Circle. 

Hundreds of people sitting in a circle playing African drums and congas to a common beat. And people (from all walks of life) in the middle dancing. 

The T-shirts and bumper stickers say, "Keep Asheville Weird." It is weird, and that's one of the things I'm going to miss. 

4. The Restaurants -- Asheville is packed with unique, locally-owned, chef-operated, farm-to-table restaurants, e.g. Chestnut, Salsa's, Zamba, the Local Joint ... and my favorite (which is also President Obama's favorite): 12 Bones Smokehouse. Oh my goodness. Is there anywhere else on earth that serves Blueberry Chipotle ribs? 

When Mary left home, Lorie and I made a commitment to try two new Asheville restaurants every month. That was three years ago, and we still haven't gotten to all of them. 

3. The Scenery -- When I drive to work or run errands, I'm looking at mountains that other people have to go on vacation to see. And they look  different everyday -- sometimes misty, sometimes sunny, sometimes green, sometimes bare -- but always beautiful.

And then there's the Blue Ridge Parkway. I'm on it just about everyday. People come from all over the country to drive this famous roadway. I use it as a shortcut to get to the other side of town. And I never get tired of it. 

2. The Air -- Believe me, it feels different up here. It's fresher, it's cooler, it's less humid, there's always a breeze -- mountain air is just better. 

Recently I was walking with a friend downtown in the middle of a hot (for here) summer day. A wonderful breeze blew past us and filled our lungs with sweet, fresh air. I said, "Man, that feels good!"

And my friend, knowing I'm moving to the Piedmont, said, "Don't get used to it." 

1. Covenant Community Church -- I'm truly excited about becoming the pastor of Main Street UMC in Kernersville. But I will dearly miss the unique, mission-focused, casual/contemporary church I'm leaving behind. 

And most of all, I will miss the people. 

Covenant folks are passionate about reaching out. They have a servant heart. They work hard to make a difference in the world. They're open to new things. 

And they're fun to be around. 

In eight years at Covenant I've never heard the 7 last words of the church: "We've never done it that way before." If ever there was a church that is uniquely positioned to reach New Generations, Covenant is it. 

I love you, Covenant. And I will miss you.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Throwback MONDAY ('Cause I'll be MOVING Thursday)

I will not have time to do this on Thursday, so here it is today.

In honor of our move this week to our new house in Kernersville--some pictures from our first house in Charlotte. 

It was built twenty-four years ago.

Lorie and I were still in our 20s, and David was 9 months old. I had just been appointed to the "Southwest Mecklenburg Mission" -- what would later become Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. 

The house was a "starter" home, in one of the new subdivisions that were rapidly springing up in that section of Mecklenburg County. It was on Indian Hills Lane. Don't know where that name came from. The whole neighborhood was flat as a pancake, and I never saw any Indians. 

Lorie and I chose the style of the house from a selection of three or four pre-planned designs. Then we got to watch it go up. Almost every day we drove out from our apartment in the city to see the progress. 

We lived in that house for ten years. Lots of memories. 

Every now and then I look at the house on Google Earth. It blows my mind to see the trees in the yard. When I planted them they were tiny little things. Now they almost hide the house. I imagine the people who live there are now enjoying the  the shade from the trees I planted long ago.

There's a spiritual lesson in there somewhere. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Slow Work of God

I'm trying to stay positive, but this moving thing is getting to me. I don't like transition periods.

So when I read this quote this morning as part of my devotions, it spoke volumes to me: 

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. Yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability -- and that it may take a very long time.
                                          -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (emphasis added) 

 OK, God, I hear you. Message received. 

Now back to packing boxes, address changes, canceling services, tracking down people I've borrowed things from, etc. etc. etc. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday--Ordination

They say when you steal from one person it's plagiarism. When you steal from more than one person it's research. 

Tuesday I committed plagiarism by stealing from Talbot Davis. Today I'm doing "research" by stealing from practically the whole social media universe by participating in "Throwback Thursday." 

This year at Annual Conference I had a friend being ordained so I attended the Ordination Service on Saturday night. And my heart was strangely warmed as my thoughts turned to my own ordination, twenty-two years ago in 1992:

The handsome fellow on the right, who I'm starting to look more and more like as I get older, is my dad, the Rev. Jack Kayler, who's still alive and kicking at 87 years old! 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Five Tuesday--Top Five Things I Loved about Annual Conference

Stealing a page from my dear friend Talbot Davis, I'm beginning a new feature today called "Top Five Tuesday."

If you're a United Methodist, you know about Annual Conference. It's a yearly meeting of all the UM pastors in a given region, plus one lay representative for each pastor. I'm a member of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, and we always meet sometime in June, at beautiful Lake Junaluska, for our annual meeting. 

Usually I hate it. 

The long days, the boring reports, the same old perfunctory business that could be done some other way ... the time away from my church and the work I need to get done ... usually I drag myself to Annual Conference with a sour attitude. 

But this year was different. I had a much better attitude. Probably because I'm between churches and right now, Annual Conference is my church family. Or maybe because I'm officially on vacation and I didn't feel the pressure to get back to the office and get work done. Or maybe because I was so happy to get away from the boxes

And this year I loved it. Here are the top five reasons why: 

1. Lake Junaluska -- I've been coming here since I was a child. And so have my kids. I was ordained here. My son was married here. We have a house here. 

This place is so full of memories and meaning for me. Yeah, the auditorium's too small, and the facilities are antiquated, and parking's a problem--but I still love the place. 

2. Better reporting (of great things happening) -- Gone are the days when people would stand up and read long reports. Now the reports are short, snappy--and with effective use of video, very exciting! 

And you know what? There are great things happening in our annual conference. New churches. New life for old churches. Missional outreach to the poor and homeless. Lives changed in Africa. Great stuff. My writing is not doing it justice. So watch some of the videos here. 

3. Social Media -- Mike Rich, our conference webmaster, did a great job of keeping the AC2014 website up to date. Summaries of the day, transcripts of sermons ... and live streaming of every session. 

4. Great Worship -- This may have had to do with my attitude, but I was really moved and refreshed by this year's worship services. The opening communion service skillfully blended traditional hymns played on a huge organ with contemporary choruses led by a praise team. The Lake Junaluska Singers blew us away at the closing service. And Bishop Goodpaster was on fire as he preached on Extravagant Generosity!

5. Connecting with Friends -- It means more and more to me as I get older. So many great people--some of whom I just met--some of whom I've known since I was a kid. 

And one of those, of course, was my dear friend Sam, who reached a major milestone in his life at this year's Annual Conference. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Dream Come True

I met Sam Om (real name Om Sam-El) in 1991. We were both starting new churches in Charlotte and we decided to partner together. Every so often our churches would get together and share a meal. His folks would bring delicious home-cooked Cambodian dishes, and we would bring our store-bought American stuff, and we would eat together and share the joy of cross-cultural Christian fellowship. 

If you've seen the movie "The Killing Fields," you've seen Sam's story. He escaped the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and spent several months living in a squalid refugee camp on the Thai border. He was filled with anger and hate towards his people and his home country. One day he heard that if you become a Christian you stand a better chance of becoming a UN refugee and being relocated to the United States. So he told his mother and sister to go to the missionaries and become Christians. He wanted nothing to do with it, but he did want to get out of Southeast Asia. 

Sam's mother and sister came back to their hut with a Bible. Sam took the Bible and used the pages to roll cigarettes. He smoked about half the Bible until one day he read a verse that stopped him cold. Sam would say later that when the hate in his heart met the love in this verse it was like an explosion. 

The verse? "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but receive everlasting life." 

One thing led to another and Sam became a Christian (for real, not by convenience), and he made it to the US. But he still wanted nothing to do with Cambodia. And yet he kept hearing a voice that said, "But what about your people?" Eventually his heart was changed and he became a pastor to reach Cambodians with the gospel of Christ. 

Sam was ordained in the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA). When I met him in '91 he was "on loan" to First UMC in Charlotte where he started the Cambodian Mission Church. We became fast friends. And by the end of the decade, he had taken me on a mission trip to Cambodia. That's where I got the teaching-pastors-overseas bug. 

Sam's ultimate goal from the day I met him was to return to his home country as a missionary. He became convinced that the best way to do that was through the General Board of Missions (GBGM) of the Untied Methodist Church. Thus began an arduous journey--earning a Masters degree, passing the UM Board of Ministry exams, becoming an ordained elder ... and then the long candidacy process of the GBGM. In the midst of all that, Sam had serious heart surgery that might have derailed his dream. 

But earlier this year I got an email with the good news: Sam, his wife Syvanny, and their daughter Caroline, are going to Cambodia! 

Sam's official title is Director of Educational Resource Development for the Methodist Mission in Cambodia. That's a fancy title, and I'm not sure what all it means, but the bottom line is this: Yesterday at Annual Conference, Sam was officially commissioned. 

A 23-year dream is coming true. 

Sam is going to Cambodia! 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Boxes, Boxes, Everywhere

Ah, moving. 

I grew up in the home of a United Methodist Pastor, and then I became one. So I've got this moving thing down pat. 

Actually, I've been quite fortunate when it comes to United Methodist moving. When I was a kid we lived in the small town of Norwood, NC. I could walk to school, walk to town, hang out at the soda shop, ride bikes to my friends' houses. It was a great place to be a young boy. 

Then in my teenage years we lived in Greensboro. Lots to do there. Concerts--I saw Elton John, Chicago, ELO, Ted Nugent, and Queen at the Greensboro Coliseum. I went to a big high school and took courses you couldn't get in a small town. I acted in plays. I sang Handel's Messiah in War Memorial Auditorium with 200 voices and a full orchestra. I took my dates to restaurants and movie theaters--we had plenty to choose from. It was a great place to be a young man. 

When I became a pastor myself, my first appointment was in Charlotte. We ended up living there for eleven years. 

Then I went to the tiny town of Tyro in Davidson County. A great place to raise two kids in elementary and middle school. And we stayed there for six years. 

And then to my current appointment in beautiful Asheville, where my son met his wife, and my kids graduated from one of the best high schools in the state. It was here that Lorie and I became empty nesters, and found that we had more time to enjoy all the cool things to do in this awesome place! 

It was here that I got to serve one of the best churches in the Western NC Conference. A truly unique and unusual church. 

And we got to stay in Asheville for eight years!

So I'm blessed. In 25 years of pastoral ministry, this is only the third time I've had to move.

I'm also blessed that I'm married to the most organized person on the face of the planet. Do you see the color coded stickers in the upper right-hand side of the boxes? Each color represents a room in the new house. Lorie's got it all mapped out.

Every morning Lorie gives me a detailed to-do list of what I need to sort/pack/give away. Some husbands might balk at that, but I like the fact that I don't have to think about it. 

I love to read, but man those books are heavy!
I have to admit that I'm starting to get worried, though. Will we get it all done? Will we be ready when the moving truck arrives on July 1? Lorie has 32 grant applications due that day. Thirty-two! And my office is still a total wreck. Books, files, CDs and DVDs scattered everywhere disorganized, and still a fair amount of paperwork and expense reports and stuff I have to take care of before I leave. 

So I better get back to work...

NOTE: The liquor boxes in these pictures are NOT MINE! A very nice church member, protecting my pastoral identity, went to the ABC store and got them for me :)

So Close...

Roan Mountain. I've always wanted to see it. To hike the famous Cloudland Trail. To look out at the awesome view from Roan High Bluff. To see the rhododendrons in bloom. 

On Saturday Lorie and I decided to take a break from packing and head up to Roan Mountain. We drove east to Marion and then north towards the Tennessee border. It was a perfect day--not a cloud in the sky. 

Finally we were driving up Highway 261 -- the twisty mountain road that would put us on Roan Mountain. Lorie noticed that the car started to slow down. No problem, she thought. It's just the steep mountain grade. 

Finally we were looking at Roan Mountain. It was right in front of us. One, maybe two miles away. 

And then the car stopped completely. 

And so the rest of our day looked something like this...

So, I still haven't been to Roan Mountain! Although I've seen it from below. From where the car broke down we could actually see people hiking the Cloudland Trail. 

But you know, we still had an awful lot to be thankful for...

1- A safe place to stop: It just so happened that when the car lost power we were right beside one of the few turnoffs on that narrow mountain road. 

2- A picnic lunch: We had plenty of food, and we even had a picnic blanket to spread out on the ground in the shade. 

3- AAA: We've been members for 28 years, and we've used them often. Despite the remote location, they found us and sent help. 

4- Friends to share the adventure: We were with our friends Josh and Nicole Ray and their small children Shelby and Jackson. These kinds of mishaps are easier to deal with when you're hanging out with people whose company you enjoy. 

5- A flat bed tow truck (and a really nice driver): The driver got there in record time. He shared our picnic while waiting for the battery to recharge. Then  he followed us into Spruce Pine to see if we could make it to the garage. As it turned out, the car died again at the bottom of the twisty mountain road, so he loaded it up on the truck and four of us (including the two kids) were able to ride in the car on the truck. Had it been a traditional pull-behind tow truck, we four would have been stranded. 

6- Spruce Pine: Once the car was unloaded at the garage, we walked into the charming little town of Spruce Pine. And since Nicole used to work there, she had insider's knowledge of where things are--a coffee shop, an outdoor adventure store, furniture stores, and best of all, a park where the kids could play. We entertained ourselves for hours. 

7- Friends to rescue us: Keith and Cynthia Kohatsu, and their children Aaron, Hannah, and Eli, are some of the best neighbors we've ever had. They put their Saturday afternoon plans on hold so that Keith could drive up to Spruce Pine in their mini-van and bring the six of us home. (And then, as if that wasn't enough neighborliness, they had Lorie and me over for dinner the next night!)

8- Cell phones: How did we ever live without them? What would we have done if we'd had no way to call AAA, call Keith, etc.? Or if there were no way for them to call us back?

9- A gorgeous day: Thunderstorms appear suddenly in the mountains. Imagine if we'd had to do all that standing around and walking in a torrential downpour. 

10- A sense of humor: Rather than go negative, we all found things to laugh about. And we kept reminding each other: "Some day this is going to make a great story!" 

All things considered, it turned out to be a pretty great day!

Friday, May 23, 2014

River Baptism

One of the things I've enjoyed about Covenant Community is doing outdoor baptisms. 

A lot of people don't realize that we United Methodists actually do baptize by immersion. It's not just for Baptists anymore. We probably still do most of our baptisms by sprinkling or pouring, but we will baptize by immersion if a person requests it.

At Covenant, a lot of people request it. So many that once or twice a year we do an outdoor baptism. This past Saturday we baptized a lot of the young people who were confirmed as church members the next day. 

We did the baptism in the Swannanoa River, behind the ABCCM Veterans' Restoration Quarters. AND BOY WAS IT COLD! The temperature on Saturday morning was in the 40s, and by the time of the baptism it had only risen to the low 50s. 

I'm sure glad Kevin Olrich, our director of Student Ministries, was there to assist me. First, I needed him to take my by the hand and drag me out into the freezing water. I don't think I could have forced myself to go out there! Then, I needed his help immersing people in the swift current. (The river had been swollen by the recent heavy rains.)

Despite the cold, it was a great day, and I'm really glad I got to be a part of it. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014


As of July 1, I will no longer be the pastor of Covenant Community Church. 

As I write that sentence, I am filled with emotion. Different emotions, all of them powerful. 

I'm excited about my new appointment to Main Street United Methodist Church in Kernersville, NC

But I'm also grieving as I prepare to leave one of the most wonderful churches I've ever had the privilege to serve. 

I'm extremely happy to be moving back to the Piedmont Triad area (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point) where my parents, Lorie's mother, my sister and her family, and our daughter Mary all live. 

But I'm sad to be leaving these beautiful mountains where I've spent many hours hiking, biking, and drinking in the wonder of God's creation. 

I informed the congregation of Covenant of this change through a detailed letter that explains how and why it came about. The letter also gives some information about our United Methodist appointment system. You can read it here.  

My last Sunday to preach at Covenant will be June 1. My first Sunday to preach at Main Street will be July 13. In between I'll be spending a week at the Davidson Clergy Center getting myself renewed, refreshed, and re-tooled. I'll also be attending the annual meeting of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  

And in between those two things, I'll be packing and moving and trying to sell my house. 

One thing I must say--the people of Covenant have been WONDERFUL through all of this. Very positive, and very supportive. One more example of what a great church this is. 

I will miss you, Covenant.