Prayer for United Methodist Clergy in Transition

It’s July 1, the start of a new conference year, and for many, the beginning of a new ministry. Here is my prayer as we begin this journey in the midst of a pandemic.

O God, thank you for being with each & every one of us at all times!

I am especially struck by the challenge that our FIRST IMPRESSIONS will be as pastors wearing face masks, maintaining physical distance, & forgoing handshakes. That’s not really the impression we want to give; but we also want to “do no harm” & to “love our neighbor.” God, give us extra grace & favor & understanding & wisdom!

We certainly need wisdom. We entered this pandemic in different locations with different people in churches we knew. Now, we go to lead & care for people in places we don’t know. God, lead us & guide us for such a time as this! 

We don’t know exactly how all of this will play out, but we do know & trust that you will be with us! We pray that in the process we will make your name great! Amen. 

My Stroke Recovery

It’s been a couple of years since I wrote about the stroke I had on September 19, 2017, so I thought it was time to share an update on how my recovery is going.

At the time of my post (Jan. 2018), we had recently learned I had some “residual AVM” (arteriovenous malformation, or tangled vessels, that I was apparently born with). A few weeks later, I underwent the Gamma Knife radiosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh; Dr. Lunsford is the authority on the procedure. The treatment can take up to three years in order to be effective. We did an MRI six months afterward, which revealed that it was indeed working. And, the last one (June 2019) showed no remaining signs of the AVM. However, Dr. Lunsford wants to give it the full three years, so we will check again in about a year, or so. I hope to be cleared, at that point!

In terms of therapy, I was discharged from Physical Therapy in the spring of 2018, and I was fully discharged from Occupational Therapy about a year later. I continue to go to Drayer Physical Therapy Institute a couple of times per week to do those exercises I can’t easily do at home.

At this point, I am focusing on fine-tuning (my walk, and the use of my right arm and hand) and building strength. In some ways, this may always be a core focus.

It’s worth noting that one of my favorite new pieces of exercise equipment is the Bodyblade, which I have been using for a year and a half. It’s a popular piece of exercise equipment, but it was originally developed by a physical therapist. I started using it at Drayer, then bought one to use at home. It’s great for building strength and also for improving balance, which has always been an interest of mine. In fact, to increase the level of difficulty, I stand on a two-inch foam pad.

One of the biggest developments has been in the area of driving. I wasn’t in a particular hurry to start driving again, but I slowly got behind the while in the fall of 2018, about a year after the stroke. I have continued to improve and become more comfortable. In fact, on our recent trip to visit family in Tennessee, I drove nearly 18 hours, out of 23 hours total. That was a big deal!

The other development I’m excited and hopeful about is the MusicGlove from Flint Rehab, a device that could me regain the use of my hand. I have been using it for a few months, and while it’s the hardest thing I have done, I am hopeful that it will be effective. I know it will take some time!

At this stage in my recovery, I know that growth and development will be slow-going. But, I also believe I can continue to see improvements with God’s help, and as long as I’m willing to stick with it!

During my recovery, I have also been committed to returning to living out God’s call on my life in ministry. I’m grateful for the support of the Centre Grove United Methodist Church, who has been on this unexpected journey with me. In hindsight, I’m grateful I was able to do as much as I did as early as I did.

Of course, I must say how grateful I am for everyone else who has supported me on this journey. I’m grateful for my wife, Joleen, and for my kids, Ethan and Sarah. And, I’m grateful to God for my life, and I am convinced that apart from him, I can do nothing! (cf. John 15.5). Thanks be to God!

The Power of Full Engagement

I actually read this book in 2016. It was one of the books I chose to read during my short-term sabbatical.

My One Word for 2016 was Energize. I chose the word because I wanted to improve my own physical and spiritual energy levels, and I also wanted to energize others such as the church.

As it turned out, I happened to read this book about a year before my stroke. Regaining energy has been one of my greatest challenges, so it seems like a good time to review.

Interestingly, I listed all of the following quotes before the stroke.

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to improve time management. While we certainly need to leverage where we can, I agree with the authors, who say, “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”

Without the right quantity, quality, focus and force of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake.

It makes sense, then, to maximize our energy, not just time management. 

The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time we have.

This matters, because energy impacts everything we do.

Performance, health, and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.

We all have the same amount of time each day, but we don’t all have the same level of energy.

The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become.

From the beginning of my spiritual journey as a devoted follower of Jesus, I’ve tried to start my days with God knowing that’s where my energy and strength come from. Since the stroke a year and a half ago, that is even more important.

In addition to spending time with God, I also try to maximize energy by eating (fairly) well, getting good sleep, and exercising (or therapy, these days).

What do you do to replenish your energy?

State of the Blog 2019

A photo of the blog from the SWS Guest House in Seoul, Korea, Feb. 2008.

Writing has long been part of my life. I’ve kept a journal for 30 years (see 5 Benefits of Journaling). And, now I’ve written on the blog half that time, compiling more than 1,200 posts (including some by Joleen).

I’ve blogged long enough to know that we go through seasons. I’ve written similar posts in 2008 and 2010 (Why We Blog and Where Do We Go From Here?). But the blog has always been a good way to communicate, as well as process learnings we might not otherwise think about or remember.

The blog began as a way to post notes from sermons (2004) for both Joleen and me, then we added events such as seminars and D.Min. classes shortly afterward. When we began our journey toward adoption in 2007, the blog became a space to share updates and details.

We were late to the Facebook party, partly because of the blog. I joined in 2015; Joleen joined after my stroke in order to update friends and family members.

Since then, we’ve tended to post on Facebook rather than write blog posts. So, we haven’t been as active on the blog in the last two to three years. Of course, the stroke a year and a half ago certainly didn’t help.

But I’m looking forward to doing a bit more writing on the blog in the next season for things like books, leadership, and spiritual reflection, and perhaps more on my stroke recovery and what I’m learning in the process.

I hope it will be helpful for others. But I know it will be helpful for me. As always, thanks for reading!

I’m an Advocate for Exercise!

Exercise may not be the most important thing. In fact, I love what the Apostle Paul says …

While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come.

— 1 Timothy 4.8 (CEB)

Physical training is good, but it’s not nearly as important as spiritual training, which has value beyond this life. 

With that in mind, exercise has played an important role in my life. I’ve always been active. I ran a lot as a kid. I started working out with weights as a youth. Over the years, I’ve tried to be consistent (not always). Thankfully, though, I was pretty consistent in the years before my stroke in 2017.

My exercise routines have changed over time as I’ve discovered new and better ways to exercise. My primary equipment during the years before the stroke were simple pieces of equipment, which ironically, were designed by physical therapists.

I started using a stability ball after reading an article that appeared in the short-lived NFL Magazine. A stability ball is sometimes called an exercise ball or a Swiss ball. I settled on calling it a stability ball because my focus was on improving stability. I thought I was using the ball to help prepare for later years in life. I had no idea how quickly it would pay off.

A short time later, I switched my strength training workouts from free weights to resistance bands after reading an article before one of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl trips a few years ago. The article shared a little about Brady’s exercise strategy, which may be why he’s still able to play at a high level into his 40s.

Exercise prepared me and also helped me experience a stronger recovery.

Since the stroke, my exercise routine, or therapy, has been planned mostly by physical and occupational therapists. But as I improve and get further away from formal therapy, it’ll be up to me to take what I’ve learned and incorporate it into my exercise routine, which will always be a work in progress.

During therapy, I’ve added some tools to the tool belt. My favorite addition is the Bodyblade, which was also developed by a physical therapist.

So, I encourage you to start where you are (with your doctor’s approval, of course). Think long term. Begin with the end in mind. And, do your best. I believe it’s important. That’s why I’m an advocate for exercise.

Footnote: I give thanks to God, who is giving me this opportunity to make a comeback. I acknowledge God’s help before and after the stroke.

Disciples of Jesus Need God’s Word

As followers of Jesus we are disciplesstudents, learners, apprentices. That’s who we are. As disciples, God’s Word is essential for us.

The Bible has long played a vital role in my life. But since the stroke, it seems to be even more important. Here are some verses that have impacted me lately …

God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.

Psalm 46.1 (CEB)

The Lord is righteous in all his ways, faithful in all his deeds.

Psalm 145.17 (CEB)

Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.

Mark 14.38 (CEB)

We can open the Bible or use devotional books to guide us. I also love using the YouVersion Bible App, which has many reading plans or devotionals, as well as many other great features, including many versions and translations.

What has God been speaking to you lately?

A Prayer for General Conference 2019

Delegates from around the world for the United Methodist Church’s General Conference will meet in a special session to address the church’s position related to human sexuality, particularly disagreements about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

This is my prayer as delegates convene February 23-26, 2019.

O God, thank you for all you are doing in and through your Church, including the United Methodist Church!

Throughout the life of the Church, questions have arisen that have threatened the unity of your people. We see it in the Bible (e.g., Acts 15), and we’ve seen it in the centuries since. Sometimes the Church has handled it well; other times, not so much.

This particular battle has been brewing for decades and there seems to be no easy way forward. Thank you for those who have helped the church prepare for this time of “holy conferencing.”

We pray for safety as delegates from around the world gather in St. Louis.

We pray for wisdom, discernment, and courage as members of General Conference determine the best way forward. Guard them from distractions. Help the conference to take action that honors you and moves the church forward.

We pray that you will be glorified not just in the decisions that are made but also in the way those decisions are made. Be present in the discussion and debate. Give the Bishops wisdom as they preside over difficult and challenging conversations.

We pray for the United Methodist Church following this conference. Give each of us—local churches, members, pastors, district superintendents, Bishops, etc.—peace, patience, wisdom, courage, and compassion as we respond to action taken by General Conference.

As we go forward, may we focus on our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Help us bear fruit for your kingdom!

We pray, in this atmosphere of political division, that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another. We pray as Jesus prayed, that “(we) will be one” (John 17.21, CEB).

O God, we put our hope in Jesus, who told us, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15.5, NLT) and, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26, ESV).

Thank you for what you are going to do this week and beyond, for your glory and honor!


A Prayer From the Psalms

Last summer (2017), I participated in a community prayer for Brody, a 6 year-old from Centre Grove. I decided to draft a prayer completely from the Psalms. I trust this prayer be will helpful for all who experience trials!

Psalm 27.7-9
7 Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—have mercy on me and answer me! 8 Come, my heart says, seek God’s face. Lord, I do seek your face! 9 Please don’t hide it from me! Don’t push your servant aside angrily—you have been my help!

Psalm 22.1-2
1 My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? Why are you so far from saving me—so far from my anguished groans? 2 My God, I cry out during the day, but you don’t answer; even at nighttime I don’t stop.

Psalm 13.1-6
1 How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? 5 But I have trusted in your faithful love. My heart will rejoice in your salvation. 6 Yes, I will sing to the Lord because he has been good to me.

Psalm 31.2-3
2 Listen closely to me! Deliver me quickly; be a rock that protects me; be a strong fortress that saves me! 3 You are definitely my rock and my fortress. Guide me and lead me for the sake of your good name!

Psalm 61.1-4
1 God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! 2 When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am 3 because you have been my refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. 4 Please let me live in your tent forever! Please let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings!

Psalm 70.1
Hurry, God, to deliver me; hurry, Lord, to help me!

Psalm 86.3
Have mercy on me, Lord, because I cry out to you all day long.

Psalm 91.2
I say to the Lord, “You are my refuge, my stronghold! You are my God—the one I trust!”

Psalm 42.11
Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God.

Psalm 34.1-3, 18-19
1 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be in my mouth. 2 I praise the Lord—let the suffering listen and rejoice. 3 Magnify the Lord with me! Together let us lift his name up high! … 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed. 19 The righteous have many problems, but the Lord delivers them from every one.

Psalm 138.8
Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord! Don’t let go of what your hands have made.

Psalm 121.1-2
1 I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 27.14
Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!


“Wild Goose Chase”

On summer vacation, I read Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. Batterson is one of my favorite writers and I love this book!

The title for the book comes from the name Celtic Christians have for the Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose. It denotes adventure. Batterson makes clear, “nothing is more unnerving or disorienting than passionately pursuing God” (2).

The book addresses “six cages,” or ways we cage the Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose …

  • the cage of responsibility
  • the cage of routine
  • the cage of assumptions
  • the cage of guilt
  • the cage of failure
  • the cage of fear

Here are some of my favorite quotes in each section …


We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Christ followers ought to be the most passionate people on the planet. Pursuing God-ordained passions isn’t optional. It is an essential part of chasing the Wild Goose. And the adventure begins the moment we start pursuing a God-ordained passion. (17)

Batterson encourages us to pray.

Start praying. Prayer makes us spiritually fertile. And the more we pray the more passionate we become. Our convictions grow stronger, and our dreams grow bigger. (26)

Prayer is necessary, but don’t use it as cop-out. At some point, prayer must lead to action.

Pray about everything. Then pray some more. But at some point, you need to quit praying and start acting.” (28)

Batterson notes the early church was action oriented.

When Christianity turns into a noun, it becomes a turnoff. Christianity was always intended to be a verb. And, more specifically, an action verb. The title of the book of Acts says it all, doesn’t it? It’s not the book of Ideas or Theories or Words. It’s the book of Acts. If the twenty-first-century church said less and did more, maybe we would have the same kind of impact the first-century church did. (29)


When we get into the routine of life …

… the sacred becomes routine. And we not only forfeit spiritual adventure but we also start losing the joy of our salvation. Chasing the Wild Goose is the way to get it back. That means coming out of the cage of the routine. We need to change our routine, take some risks, and try new things. And if we do, we will find ourselves coming alive again. (44)

Batterson offers a great reminder about the importance of Sabbath. He notes, “The word Sabbath means ‘to catch one’s breath'” (54).

It’s counterintuitive, but the way you speed up is by slowing down. A Wild Goose chase isn’t a mad dash. It’s more of a triathlon. And pacing yourself for the journey is the key. (55)


… We make far too many assumptions about what is and what is not possible in the physical universe. We do the same thing spiritually. And those assumptions become eight-foot ceilings that limit our lives. (75)

It can happen to all of us. Batterson says, “We stop gazing at the stars and start staring at the ceiling” (77).

As I reviewed the book again, this is one of the statements that especially struck me …

Faith is not logical. But it isn’t illogical either. Faith is theological. It doesn’t ignore reality; it just adds God into the equation. (79)


Guilt can be good or bed.

When we sin, guilt is a healthy and holy reflex. Thank God for the conviction of the Holy Spirit that drives us to repentance. (95)

There’s good news. God’s grace is available to us.

The moment we confess our sin to God, our sin is forgiven and forgotten. But for most of us, it is far easier to accept God’s forgiveness than it is to forgive ourselves. (95)

Batterson describes the role of the enemy.

Scripture says Satan ‘prowls around like a roaring lion.’ Satan is also the accuser of the brothers. … He wants to remind you of your greatest failures over and over again. Why? Because if you focus all your energy on past failures, you’ll have no energy left to dream kingdom dreams or pursue kingdom purposes. (97-98)

But it’s all about God’s grace.

The grace of God is the difference between drowning in guilt and swimming in gratitude. (115)


It’s so important we handle failure well.

Failure handled improperly can be devastating, but failure handled properly is the best thing that can happen to us. Failure teaches us our most valuable lessons. It keeps us from taking the credit or taking for granted later successes. (118)

Batterson describes “closed doors” as “divine detours” (122). And they can “actually turn into the best things that can happen to us” (123).

Bad things happen to good people. You will experience some shipwrecks and snakebites along the way. But when you give Jesus complete editorial control over your life, he begins writing His-story through your life. (126)


Fear can keep us from doing what God wants.

Most of us are far too tentative when it comes to the will of God. We let our fears dictate our decisions. We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we make no decision. And we fail to realize that indecision is a decision. And it is our indecision, not our bad decisions, that keeps us in the cage. (144)

Too often we think it should get easier as we go along.

I think we’ve made a false assumption about the will of God. We subconsciously think it should get easier the longer we follow Christ. … spiritual growth prepares us for more dangerous missions. As we grow, God gives us more difficult things to do. (150)

God calls us to action!

… selfish ambition is bad. But godly ambition is good. I’ve never met anyone who was overly ambitious for the things of God. We need to dream God-sized dreams … they’re the only things that will drive us to our knees and keep us living in absolute dependence upon God the way we were designed to. (160)

Great book! My hope and prayer is that we will rediscover what it means follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I pray it will become an adventure as we chase the Wild Goose!

My Stroke

I suffered a stroke on September 19 around 10:00 p.m.

It happened very quickly. I was pretty calm, but I didn’t know what was going to happen. At the time, I was frustrated I wasn’t able to tell my family, including my kids who had gotten out of bed, that I loved them, possibly for the last time. In fact, I delayed the ambulance trying to get the words out but couldn’t. I was very disappointed!

Thankfully, Joleen was able to call 911 and get help. Moments later, I remember waiting in the ambulance in front of the house but don’t remember anything after that. I was life-flighted to Altoona and then onto Pittsburgh where I spent the next 15 days at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.

I don’t remember the first few days at the hospital, but I gradually became more aware. It was a pretty surreal experience. The nights seemed especially long; I described them being three times as long as the days. I sometimes wondered where Joleen was because I didn’t see her for so long, or so it seemed.

Doctors suspected a brain bleed, but it wasn’t until a second angiogram revealed the cause of the brain bleed, an AVM (arteriovenous malformation). I underwent surgery on September 29, a craniotomy, which went well. The surgeon described the brain bleed as “severe”; he later said it was the size of a lemon.

A few days later, I was transferred to HealthSouth (Altoona) for therapy and spent 25 days in occupational, physical, and speech therapy. I would have stayed longer to make the most of my inpatient therapy, but that was as long as our insurance would allow. I appreciated my time at HealthSouth. I enjoyed visiting there six weeks after I was discharged for a routine appointment with the rehab doctor. I got to see my three therapists. It was especially rewarding to walk in without a wheelchair or a cane!

From early on, I discovered I was “fiercely independent” (a phrase used by a speech therapist at HealthSouth). I quickly learned to dress myself, including socks and shoes, and open my own food, all with one hand.

With the stroke I lost the use of my right side and my communication. Thankfully, my communication has come back pretty well (I was recently discharged from speech therapy), and my right side continues to get stronger. I continue to go to Drayer Physical Therapy for occupational therapy and physical therapy three days a week.

The toughest part is the daily battle. There’s no time to settle. There are always new accomplishments to achieve. This is how it’s going to be for a while!

I’m so grateful to God and the many people who have helped with my recovery, including surgeons, doctors, nurses, and therapists at Presbyterian Hospital (Pittsburgh), HealthSouth (Altoona), as well as the physical and occupational therapists at Drayer (Clearfield) and a speech therapist Penn Highlands (Clearfield). I’m especially grateful for my family, friends, and the prayers of God’s people!

Well, we wish that was the end of the story. However, a routine follow-up angiogram revealed some “residual AVM.” Hopefully, this will be addressed in the next few weeks with different procedures.

If you’d like to follow the journey, visit my Facebook timeline. We continue to put our trust in God’s hands!