Monday, November 5, 2018

"He Touched Me" (My Dad's Last Sermon)

This sermon was delivered on May 20, 2012 at First United Methodist Church in Stanley, North Carolina. 

By this time Dad was mostly unable to walk, so he sat in a wheelchair, and my mother turned the pages for him. 

This past Saturday, I read this sermon at Dad’s memorial service.

If you keep up with the timeline, you’ll notice that I added three paragraphs to this sermon. Nonetheless, we believe that this is what Dad might say if he could speak to us today:


Acts 3:1-10

The Scripture today is about a man who was touched by the power of Jesus.  He was a beggar who was lame from birth, and he was healed by the power of Jesus. 

There have been times when Jesus touched my life.

As a new born baby, I was not expected to live. My twin was the stronger of us, while I was weak, frail, even unable to suckle.  My death appeared so imminent that my parents delayed naming me.  To everyone’s surprise my twin died and I was the one who survived.  Yes, He touched me and let me live!

At age 13, during revival services at my home church, West End Gastonia, now Covenant, I felt God’s touch on my life during the moving sermons and even at meetings of the youth group. 

When I was in High school, I attended the Youth Assembly at Lake Junaluska.  I was touched by Jesus while walking from Shackford Hall to the cross.  I knew that God was in my life and that I was His.

In February 1947, when I was nineteen years old, I went to The Christian Workers School at Main Street Methodist Church in Gastonia.  Mrs. E. H. Ould led a class designed especially for youth. During this school I was asked to read the scripture at the worship assembly for the evening.  Mabel Davis, a fellow church member from West End Church said, “Jack, you looked just like a preacher up there reading the scriptures.” Upon hearing this I felt elated, warmly proud and deeply grateful.  He touched me again.

Later that year, the Western North Carolina Conference sponsored a three-day convocation in Salisbury for young men interested in entering the ministry.  

Reverend Higgins, our pastor at West End, graciously took me to Salisbury. Throughout the conference we heard lectures on what it means to be called to the Methodist Ministry.  Upon my return to Gastonia, at approximately 7:00pm on Sunday evening I attended a special Love Feast Service at West End Church. This was a time when those present would testify about the meaning of Christ in their lives. 

Our Sanctuary was designed after the Akron Plan, which meant the pews were arranged in a semi-circle.  The service was already in progress when I arrived.  So, I slipped in quietly and took a seat on the back pew.  People all around me were testifying regarding the meaning of Christ in their lives.  After awhile, I could take it no longer.  I stood up in my place and I said, “If I continue to feel like I do tonight, I will study for the Methodist Ministry.”

Reverend Higgins stood up and with tears streaming down his cheeks, said, “Jack, we have been praying for this night.”   God didn’t just touch me—he grabbed hold of me and claimed me as his.  

These were high points in my life where I felt God’s presence and knew he was there. You have had these too.  Remember?

God has been with me in the low times, as well.   

Once, about 1962 or 3, I began to feel like a failure.  I wanted to be a perfect husband, father, and minister.  But I was none of these.  I was impatient with my child, I felt I was going nowhere as a minister.  The system was oppressing me.  I thought I couldn’t serve unless I could climb the appointment ladder.  

At 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, I put on my clothes and went to the church.  I fell on my knees at the altar and offered my life to God. And as I prayed, He touched me!  He showed me meaning and purpose in what I was doing.  He showed me that I was not in competition with anyone.

You can reach this level of trust with God.  Let God touch you and you will know that He is good.  He will give meaning to your life.

One of the biggest challenges to my faith was being diagnosed with cancer in 1987. I was not prepared for what could have been the end of my professional career, the end of my personal relationships, and the end of my journey with God.

But God is dependable.  God is aware. God knows me better than I know myself.
He touched me, and healed me, and let me continue to serve.

Then in 2016—two years ago: I was in the hospital, and I was diagnosed with pancreatitis. There is no treatment, and at my age it was considered terminal. I was sent to Beacon Place Hospice Home to live out the rest of my days. But He touched me. After two weeks I got better, and they made me leave! 

From there I went to Blumenthal Nursing and Rehabilitation. Again, it was thought that I might live out my days in that facility. But after two months of hard work, the doctors released me to live at home. He touched me again! I lived at home for two and a half years, with the assistance of my wife and some wonderful caregivers. I was able to be with my wife, to spend time with family, and to receive visitors at home. I had some wonderful moments of laughter, joy, and love.

But my body continued to wear out. And so, on October 22, 2018, He touched me for the last time on this earth. I was at home. I was at peace. I was in the presence of my dear wife, Claudette, with whom I have spent the last 65 years. And Jesus came into my room, and took me by the hand and said, “Jack, your work on earth is done.” 

He touched me. 

When I was serving Ward Street United Methodist Church in High Point, we had a Lay Witness Mission which began the day I brought my baby daughter home from the hospital.  One of my members intentionally avoided the events of the weekend, but for some reason he came with his wife to the evaluation session. As we talked about the witnesses and what they had shared with us, Virgil publicly said, “I want what they have.”  I said, “Virgil, if you mean a close relationship to God in Christ, we’ll just go upstairs to the altar for a service of dedication right now.”  He said, “That’s what I want.”  Everyone present went upstairs to the sanctuary together and Virgil dedicated his life to God.

Some of you here today might be like Virgil.  You’ve been on the outside looking in at people who’ve been touched by God.  

You don’t have to stay there. You can be touched by the master and get into the mainstream of Christian living.

I don’t have any monopoly on being touched by God. Virgil doesn’t have a monopoly on being touched by God. 

You can experience the presence of a God who loves you, who heals you, who wants to be in relationship with you forever. 

He touched me. Let him touch you. AMEN.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Email Tribute

This is an email I received shortly after my father passed away. I was deeply moved by these words. Notice what comes after the words "most importantly."

Reverend Kayler was an exceptional pastor and a true friend to all persons he encountered.

Some twenty five years ago, your father came to our church as interim pastor.  At the time the church was in the midst of a difficult and painful crisis. As a young man straight out of undergraduate school, I had somehow been appointed to the church's PPRC Committee and had to help sort out the mess we had inherited.

Throughout our difficult period of transition your father offered tremendous wisdom, experience, counsel and (most importantly) love.  I dare say that had it not been for your father the church might well have split and fallen apart at the seams - but thanks to "Preacher Jack" as we liked to call him, the church persevered, held together, and continued the work of Christ and his Church for the people of our community.

I must confess that your father was quite the mentor to me (a twenty four year old kid who thought he knew it all).  Your father was the first pastor to ask me - "Son - have you considered seminary?"  While I have never had the courage to take that leap the interest he took in me and my future still resonates today.

On behalf of my family (and the many good people whom your father served) please accept our deepest condolences. While we mourn with you we also rejoice in the knowledge that your father has left the Church Expectant and has entered into the Church Triumphant.

Men like your father were one of a kind and I dare say that his love and ministries shall never be forgotten.

This is Claude again: 
I invite you to join me in reflecting on a question. This is for you and me both: 

After I pass, when someone writes an email about me, what will it say? What will they remember about me? 

Will they remember me as one who LOVED? 

Because you know what? That's really The Most Important Thing. I may never be rich, famous, powerful, influential ... but in the end there is only one thing that matters. 

God please empower me to be a person who LOVES. By your grace working in me, let that be what folks remember when my work on earth is done. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018


*NOTE: After you read this, I hope you'll take a few minutes and watch Dad's Memorial Video!

Dad's memorial service is this Saturday at 1 pm at Guilford College UMC in Greensboro. 

While preparing for the service, this thought has struck me over and over ... 

I am blessed. 

I'm blessed that we had Dad a good long time.  He was 91. He got to see all three of his children married. He had lots of time with his grandchildren. He got to meet his first great grandchild (see above). 

I'm blessed that Dad and I had a great relationship. No regrets.  That could easily have gone a different way. I was a rebellious teenager, and in those days, we did not get along. Which reminds me ...

I'm blessed that God used Dad, the Scandinavian Caravan, and some of the people who will be speaking at his memorial to lead me to Christ. Where would I be today if that hadn't happened? 

I'm blessed that Dad and I shared the same profession. Even in his later years, we always had something to talk about. Not that we only talked about work. But pastoral ministry is such a unique life. To have that in common was special. 

I'm blessed to be part of the United Methodist family. The "Connexion," as John Wesley called it. The very day Dad died, a representative from the conference was at our doorstep with a check. The fellow pastors, the church members, the staff that Dad and I have worked with ... so many have come around us with love and support. 

I'm blessed to live at Lake Junaluska, which I like to call the "Methodist Holy Land." I'm surrounded by Methodist preachers who worked alongside my Dad and in some cases, watched me grow up. That's comforting at a time like this. 

I'm blessed to have a mother who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to take care of Dad in the almost ten years since he lost the ability to walk without assistance.

I'm blessed to have a brother and sister who I love, who married people that I love, who passionately live out the values that Dad instilled in us. 

I'm blessed to have nieces and nephews who are active in their churches and excelling in school, sports, and the arts. 

I'm blessed to have two adult children in whom Dad's influence continues to bear fruit. 

I'm blessed to have a wife who loved Dad as much as I did. 

I'm blessed to have a 3-year-old grandson who is so cute that people literally stop his parents in public to comment on it. And a newborn grandson who many people say looks like me. And a daughter-in-law who deeply loves, and is deeply loved by, our entire family. 

I am blessed. Way more than I deserve. 

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Jack Kayler: June 2, 1927 - October 22, 2018

Boy, do I miss him. 

My father, the Rev. Jack Kayler, passed away yesterday after a long struggle that began more than ten years ago. For more years that I can remember, he suffered intense pain in his back and legs, and so in 2009 he had a ten-hour back surgery to relieve the pain. That surgery left him unable to walk without assistance. 

Despite that, he continued to be as active as he possibly could--attending church, teaching Sunday School, giving pastoral care over the phone, participating in family events--even preaching on occasion, by sitting on a stool behind the pulpit. 

As the years went by, his abilities diminished slowly. He was diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration, a condition related to Parkinson's Disease. Two years ago he was hospitalized with pneumonia, then diagnosed with pancreatitis. The hospital doctor told us that there was no treatment, and Dad went to Beacon Place Hospice Home. 

He was there two weeks--and he got better. 

So they sent him to Blumenthal Nursing Home. He was there two months--and got better! 

And so for the last two years, Dad has lived at home with assistance from in-home caregivers (some of the most wonderful people on earth!). I'm so glad he was able to do that. Huge kudos to my Mom for insisting on that and doing what it took to make it happen. She has struggled through all of this as well. 

Even in these last two years, there were wonderful moments when the real Dad showed up. His humor. His energy. His love for family. His love for food. 

He loved to eat. Boy, could he eat. 

Once we were having dinner together, and Lorie had made this delicious berry cobbler. She fixed Dad a huge serving, topped with vanilla ice cream. It was gone in seconds. 

Lorie said, "Dad would you like some more cobbler?" He smiled and said, "Is my bowl empty?" 

Lorie: "Do you want ice cream?" 

Dad: "How else am I supposed to eat it?"  

As Dad dug in, enjoying every bite, Mom was amazed at his energy and clarity. She said, "Jack, do you realize you almost died three times?" 

And Dad looked at her with a twinkle in his eye and said, "You have the darndest luck!" 

Dad left quite a legacy. A son who went into the ministry (after years of resisting the call). Another son who is known throughout the state as a hard-working, honest businessman. A daughter who became a nurse, earned her PhD, and is now a professor at UNCG. 

And then there are the men and women who have gone into full-time Christian service under Dad's influence. 

This is a picture of Dad and me in 1992. We're standing in front of the chapel at Lake Junaluska, waiting to process into Stuart Auditorium, where Dad would assist in my ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. 

There are two more pictures exactly like this one hanging in Dad's study: One is of John Franklin Howard, now the Senior Pastor of Central UMC in Asheboro. The other is of Gene Richardson, who is now deceased. 

What a legacy. 

At least eight men and women who have gone into full-time Christian service under Dad's influence. Possibly more. Four of these will be speaking at his memorial service. Five if you count me. 

Dad wrote a book!  You can download it on Amazon.
His sister Jane helped him do this, and she asked several of us to write our own remembrances of Dad to be included in the book. Here's a portion of mine: 

Some of my earliest memories of Dad are of watching him minister at Cokesbury Methodist Church in Charlotte. I can still see him standing behind the pulpit in his black robe. I hear his deep voice booming through the sanctuary. His delivery was authoritative and animated. Sometimes he would speak so loud his face would turn red; at other times his volume would drop to just above a whisper. I was in awe. That’s my daddy!

One time Dad came to visit my preschool class during Vacation Bible School. When he entered the room, the teacher and all the other kids were so excited. The preacher had come! After he talked with the other kids he knelt down and called me over to him. We horsed around—he tickled me, and I pretended to squirt him with shaving cream. All the other kids laughed and giggled with glee. I was so proud, because their preacher was my daddy.

The summer before eighth grade I went to Boy Scout camp for a week. I had a bad case of homesickness. I would go off in the woods by myself and cry. In the middle of the week, there was a Parents’ Night, in which the parents came and shared a meal with us boys. I pulled my dad aside and told him how homesick I was. I started to cry. And I’ll never forget what happened next: Dad started to cry, too! He went to the scout leaders and demanded to know why I was so unhappy. Dad said he was willing to take me home, but he also wisely suggested that I would feel better about myself later if I stayed and finished the week. I bit my lip and decided to stick it out. 

The next evening around dinner time, I was blown away when my dad showed up at camp carrying a sleeping bag. He had come to be there so I wouldn’t be homesick! And he was so cool about it. Rather than let on why he was really there, he announced that the scoutmaster “needed some help.” He stayed in the scoutmaster’s tent, not mine, and he didn’t hover over me, but his presence in the camp gave me the strength I needed to finish the week. Dad’s act of compassion touches me deeply to this day.

In high school I moved into my “rebellious preacher’s kid” phase. Dad and I didn’t always get along during those days. I remember us having some pretty intense “discussions.” But I also remember him coming to school to take up for me when I got in trouble with the attendance office. I remember Dad sacrificing time (and perhaps his dignity!) to take me to events that he probably didn’t enjoy, such as an Elton John concert or a midnight showing of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” And I remember Dad meeting with school officials to make sure they dealt with a serious incident: a kid on my bus route had assaulted me while I was letting students off the bus.

By the time I left for college I got over my rebellion and made a strong commitment to the Christian faith. I was beginning to feel a call to the ministry, and Dad (as you can imagine) supported and nurtured that call. It was an awesome thing to travel with Dad and Mom on the Scandinavian Caravan. My wife Lorie and I met at the interview, and we fell in love on this trip. It was also a great opportunity to minister alongside my Dad. Back at home, Dad gave me plenty of opportunities to preach at his church. 

I’ll never forget a funny incident from those days. We were living in Boger City. There was a Harris-Teeter right across the street from our house. If we were only picking up a few things, we would usually just walk over. One day Dad was driving home from the hospital, and he stopped at the Harris-Teeter for some milk. He then absent-mindedly walked home with the milk, leaving his car in the store parking lot. The next morning we all awoke to Dad running into the house yelling, “Call the sheriff! Somebody’s stolen my car!” My sister, who worked at the Harris-Teeter, woke up and said, “Dad, nobody stole your car. It’s sitting in the parking lot of the Harris-Teeter where you left it yesterday!” 

During my senior year of college I started applying to seminaries. As a Carolina student, I really didn’t want to go to divinity school at Duke. Dad, of course, didn’t want me to go anywhere else. He kept pushing me to apply to Duke—I didn’t want to—so I finally said, “Dad, I’ll make a bet with you. If Duke can beat Carolina in the ACC Tournament, I’ll apply to Duke.” This was before Duke’s emergence as a national powerhouse—and Michael Jordan was still at Carolina. Dad wasn’t going for it: “No, I’m not taking that bet! That’s not fair!” I was surprised by his lack of confidence in his team. Usually he backs them no matter what! As it turned out, Duke’s young team featuring Johnny Dawkins and Jay Bilas pulled off an upset—and I am now a graduate of Duke Divinity School.

After divinity school, I was assigned to Charlotte, where Dad was already serving. It was great to be so near him in my first years of being a pastor. He gave me tons of advice. We made pastoral calls for each other when one of us was away. We sat together at preachers’ meetings. We attended events at each other’s churches. Once when I was really sick, Dad stepped in and conducted a very important funeral for me. The “patriarch” of one of my churches had died suddenly. Dad preached that funeral as if the man was a member of his own church. Later on, after I had started a church in Charlotte and Dad had retired, he served on my staff as “Minister of Visitation”—even though he was associate pastor at another church!
Starting a new church was stressful at times, and sometimes I would turn to Dad for counsel. I remember a piece of advice he gave me that I strive to follow to this day: “Try not to take yourself so seriously.” 
In 2000, Dad and I went on a mission trip to Cambodia. We traveled throughout that poverty-stricken, war-torn country visiting churches, encouraging pastors, and delivering gifts from churches in the US. Dad became a beloved father figure to all the members of our team. One team member nicknamed him “PBJ” for “Precious Brother Jack.” Once again, I was proud—and grateful for that significant time with my dad. 

In recent years, I have enjoyed having my dad as a guest preacher at the churches I’ve served. I’m always so proud when I introduce him. People love hearing him speak.

Something that amazes me to this day is Dad’s ability to remember names, faces, and what’s going on in people’s lives. When he talks to people he always asks about their particular situation: “How’s your mother doing? What about your brother who had surgery last month?” That’s a pastoral gift that I don’t have. 

My father is a very special man. When I grow up, I want to be just like him. 


Dad and his first great grandson. James was a little over one year old at the time. 

For his 90th birthday we gave Dad and James matching Duke shirts. Look at Dad's wonderful smile!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Headed Home!

My Wesley College students for the past two weeks.
Two weeks. Two college courses.

Exhausting, but exhilarating.  Challenging, but very, very satisfying.

Wesley College is a new endeavor of the United Methodist Church in Tanzania, East Africa. As the permanent faculty is not yet in place, I have been privileged to serve as a guest lecturer for the past two weeks. 

It's been a dream come true. 

First, I've always wanted to be a missionary. I just love the whole cross-cultural thing. I love to learn greetings in foreign languages and watch people smile when I try them out. I love to participate in cross-cultural worship. I love to build relationships with people who are different from me in so many ways, yet the same as me in the ways that really matter.

Second, I've always wanted to be a teacher. There is nothing like the joy of sharing a new fact, concept, or idea and watching the lights go on as people "get it." In my 36 years of ministry, first as a youth director, and then as a pastor, I've done lots and lots of teaching (including teaching pastors here in 2013). But this is the first time I've ever been a "real" teacher, designing courses, giving assignments, grading tests ... It's not as easy as it looks, believe me. I now have even more respect for professional teachers like my son, my daughter, and my sister. 

Now as I sit here in the Kilimanjaro airport waiting to board a flight for Amsterdam, I am filled with gratitude. I thank God for this opportunity. I thank Eric Soard and Bonface Wanyama of Wesley College for inviting me. I thank Bishop Paul Leeland, the cabinet, and the WNC Board of Ordained Ministry for granting me a sabbatical to do this. I could not have pulled it off otherwise. 

Next adventure: Cambodia, February 2019. Between now and then: A new grand-baby, a storytelling festival, a 100-mile bike ride, and lots of time with family. And housework. Which I enjoy. Seriously!

Monday, September 3, 2018

First Day of Class!

Wesley College is on the fourth floor of a new office building in downtown Mwanza. 

The fourth floor. 

108 steps. 

I climbed those steps today for the first time as a guest lecturer (yesterday I climbed them as a guest preacher), and with my computer and books on my back, it was quite a haul. I'll be doing this everyday for the next two weeks. Is it just me, or are African staircases steeper and longer than those in the US? 

The good news is, I should be in pretty good shape when I get back. Might even lose some weight!

Each day at Wesley College begins at 8:30 am with student-led devotions for the entire college. This morning was a great time of worship even though I did not understand it all. But I sure do love the call-and-response singing, a capella harmonies, and vigorous hand clapping that I get to experience here!

At 9:00 I began the first class in my week-long course, "New Testament 1--the Gospels and Acts." We began with getting acquainted. It started off slowly, but as trust levels grew, the atmosphere lightened and we all began to enjoy ourselves. 

I started the teaching portion by doing a quick synopsis of the Story of the Bible. I think it's important to get a feel for the whole story so that you can understand the context of the Gospels and Acts. It's also important to see that everything leads up to, and is centered on, Christ. 

Then we talked about why it's important to understand the historical/cultural/linguistic background of the New Testament.  I demonstrated this by taking the class through Matthew 2:1-12 (the story of Herod and the Magi), and Luke 17:11-19 (the story of the ten lepers). These stories mean so much more when you have some background: Who is Herod? What was he famous for? Who are the Magi? Where did they come from? Why did Luke make sure to point out that the leper who came back to give thanks was a Samaritan? And why did Jesus call this man a "foreigner"?

I think it went well. The questions the students asked let me know that they were tracking with me and that they were learning important concepts. 

An exciting moment for me happened after we broke for lunch.  I dismissed the class and walked down the hall, and then as I walked back past the classroom, four of my students were standing around the whiteboard, talking to each other in rapid Swahili, and pointing to things I had written on the board. It was a pretty animated conversation.  I think part of what was going on was that the better English speakers were explaining the concepts to the ones who didn't quite understand everything I said. I think they were also just sharing their thoughts about what they had learned--processing it together. This was wonderful to see--it was like they were taking ownership of the class--making it their own. 

After lunch we talked about the world of the New Testament--the merging (colliding?) of Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures. Finally, at 3:30 it was time to stop.  A long, busy day. But necessary if we're going to cover all the material in one week. 

Another exciting moment: After I dismissed the class, they insisted on taking pictures! All together ... the class including Lorie ... one-by-one with me and Lorie ... selfies with me ... what fun! I was honored by their excitement and interest.  You can see one of the pictures on my Facebook page. 

And speaking of pictures--Why am I not posting any on this blog? It's an internet thing.  The connections are S-L-O-O-O-W. I can't seem to get the pictures from my phone to the computer in order to post them on the blog. I can post on Facebook from my phone, but I can't do blog posts on my phone. (Did you get that?)

I have plenty of pictures I'd love to show you. Maybe after I get home. 

If you've read this far, thanks for hanging in. As you probably know, this is the fulfillment of a dream for me. Thanks for your interest, and thanks for praying!

Another Kayler on Mission

My younger brother Dayton is a member of Pine Valley UMC in Wilmington, NC.  Last Sunday, they asked him to give a testimony about his experience serving with the Appalachia Service Project (ASP) this summer. I thought what he said was beautiful, and I asked him for permission to share it here:

After a 32 year absence, I went back to ASP. Some things have changed, but many things remain the same. I was reluctant to go….because I had been before, and I knew the hard work and heat that was ahead of me. Grace, my daughter, wanted to go. And I wanted her to go and experience ASP, to see what it’s all about. Even so, I was still hesitant about going….but decided that I would, just to be a helper, and watch over my daughter….because that’s what dads do.

ASP is Hard----but special. ASP is Hot---but refreshing. ASP is practical---but accomplishes the impossible.

The people we go to serve, end up serving us. They don’t have much….shoes, clothes, food, and beds are luxury items for many. Despite their circumstances, these folks are Gracious to us---strangers. They are giving and kind to us---strangers. They accept us and welcome us with Love----yet we are complete strangers to them. Does this remind you of anyone?

I wanted my daughter to go to ASP to learn about the importance of self-sacrifice and the importance of helping others in need. My hope was that she would see God. I believe my hope was fulfilled.

God is in those mountains, because He Lives inside of those folks----His Children. And that is what they give to us…. A Glimpse of God.

Your support allows our church to participate in ASP. Your support allows God to reveal  Himself through this ministry. We thank you for your prayers and financial support, without it…..this would not be possible.