Tag Archives: church

Just a Little More Time

Several years ago on a Sunday afternoon, after the worship service was over at the United Methodist church I served, I walked across the road to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. The two churches shared a long history going back to colonial days in America. The church I served had been founded as a congregation of the Church of England in 1762. During the height of the Revolutionary War, the congregation broke from the Church of England and joined with the fledgling Methodist movement. In 1784 it was one of the original churches in the newly formed denomination called the Methodist Episcopal Church. Here whites and blacks would gather weekly for worship, although the African American slaves would not be allowed to come inside; they would have to listen in on the service from outside. From what I understand, after the Civil War, land was granted for the newly freed slaves to build their own church, which became part of the AMEZ denomination.

I walked over there that day to meet their new pastor. Most of the congregation knew me already because I had preached there, and their previous pastor had preached at our church. That was the first time one of their pastors had preached in the church that some of their ancestors were not even allowed to enter for worship. We had also worshiped and fellowshiped together during holy week before.

When I walked in around 20 after noon, I was greeted and welcomed by one of their faithful attendants. Their new pastor was in the midst of prayer. After he finished praying, someone told him who I was, the pastor of the UM church across the road. Later in the service, now about 1:00 o’clock, he sent word via one of the attendants to ask me if I would like to speak to the congregation. Initially I said: “No, that’s okay. I know you all have been here a long time already.” The gracious attendant said, “Pastor, that really doesn’t matter, ’cause we don’t put a time limit on the Lord here.”

United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon had a similar experience when he preached at an African American church. After the service, he asked the pastor why they take so long to worship. The pastor said they need a good two hours each week to counteract the lies of the world that tells his people they are nothing all week with the message that they are royalty as God’s very own people, bought with the precious redemption price of God’s very own Son. He said it takes that long “get their heads straight” (book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, p. 73). In light of the demise of Christendom in America, and the fact that the church can no longer rely on the culture, if it ever could or should have, to help inculcate a Christian ethos, Willimon says he suspects “that more of us pastors will need more time to get our congregations’ heads straight.”

Indeed, one has to wonder how an hour on Sunday, sometimes  only once every four to six weeks for an increasing number of attendees, can counteract the effects of secular bombardment through popular culture, media, entertainment, and public education, which is often subtly if not openly hostile to Christianity. We really need to give God more time to work with us, to transform our hearts, and renew our minds.

Romans 12:1-2 says:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In worship we are called to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God placing our lives in God’s hands to be transformed into a masterpiece of divine workmanship. To give God more of ourselves, we must also give him more of our time, to work with us. When we offer God more of ourselves, we receive more and more of him as we are conformed more and more into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).

If we are going to be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) we can’t allow our schedules to be so full that we have very little time left to offer ourselves fully to God. The one who gives us eternal life through Jesus Christ, asks for a little more of our time, for our good and his glory. To quote Chairman of the Board, perhaps God is saying to his bride, the church, “give me just a little more time, and our love will surely grow.”


Bearing Burdens without Being Crushed

Do you ever feel overwhelmed? You might be thinking I might as well ask if you ever get out of bed in the morning. Of course, all of us at times get overwhelmed! Hopefully, not every time you get out of bed, but some of us do go through those seasons in life.

Life, like grapes, comes in bunches, and it sometimes, perhaps, feels more like “the grapes of wrath” than a relaxing glass of wine, or for us non-drinkers a refreshing gulp of grape juice. Things can pile up in a hurry right next to a huge pile of angst, worry, and frustration. Sometimes the worries of the day at hand get compounded by worry over the demands of the days ahead; some days can leave us feeling perturbed, perplexed, and even powerless, wondering why life has to be so hard. Maybe, it’s supposed to be to remind us that the weight of the world is too much for us to bear; that there are some things that we just can’t bear alone.weight_of_the_world


Feeling overwhelmed reminds us that we are human, we are very finite creatures with limited strength and ability, and we need help, from God and neighbors. The first thing I do when I feel overwhelmed is turn to God in prayer. Often I immediately feel the burdens lifted, knowing that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” Psalm 46:1 (ESV).

Burdens come in many different shapes and sizes, different for different people depending on one’s circumstances and vocation, but with commonalities to us all. The privilege of being a husband and a father of five, as I am, comes with wonderful blessings, more than I deserve, but it also comes with the weight of responsibility. That weight alone, well …, it can weigh on you to the point of strain. Then I am also a son, the only child, of a wonderful woman, now an elderly widow and physically quite feeble, who relies on me. And, of course, I am a pastor and a preacher, with all of the joy that comes with it, there is still the weight of significant responsibility, first of all before God, and to the people to and with whom I am in ministry. By God’s grace, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says, I have tried to fulfill my ministry responsibilities with the goal of standing approved before God, knowing and experiencing the fact that this means being rejected by the world and the worldly within the church.

As a pastor and preacher, a naturally introverted one at that, I have felt the weight of the normal duties of the calling, hurting with the hurt, binding the wounds of the wounded, sharing the burdens of the weary in prayer and counseling, warning the wayward. Then there is also the extra burden of concern over the incalculable number of potential ways someone may be offended, including at some of the most raw and sensitive times of life. And, of course, there’s the pressure to produce professions of faith and increase attendance and support for the church, even though the only thing we can do is sow the word and water it, not change hearts so that it can grow, because only God can give the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

That being said, in terms of preaching and teaching, and writing as far as that goes, I do not do it to make people comfortable with sin; I do it to make people uncomfortable with sin so they will flee from it to find comfort in the forgiving and life-transforming loving arms of God the Father through Jesus Christ. I know this won’t land me a show with Oprah; it won’t even win me applause among the majority of the leadership in my own denomination. If ministries were measured by the number of “likes” on social media mine would be an abysmal failure, but we are to seek the glory that comes from God, not the applause of peers in particular, or people in general (John 5:44). Standing on the word of God leaves one stepping on a lot of toes, as they say.

All of these things, not to mention my own sin and brokenness, weigh on me. At times it has been gut-wrenching, sometimes neck-knotting, other times spine-crushing, sometimes all of the above at the same time, overwhelming to say the least. But when I am overwhelmed, I turn to God, who is my refuge and strength (Psalm 61).

It’s not that God takes the demands and responsibilities away, but He does at times take away the extra burden of fear and anxiety that make our rightful responsibilities too heavy. Sometimes God to takes these away; but God does even more, He also gives us strength and help, which at times enables us to continue even with the fear and anxiety. In reality, without Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5); with Him, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13).

In the spring of 2012 I was trying to finish up my last semester of Divinity school, while pastoring a church. My wife was suffering terribly from depression, which required hospitalization. She had battled depression off and on for many years; we had been through a couple of very dark episodes before. I had exams and papers, pastoral responsibilities, at the time three children to console and take care of, and a move to plan for, including moving my mother, all with a wife who was very, very ill.

Regrettably, much of what we were going through was due to my own neglect, and even resentment, of my wife’s illness. Because of busyness and some stubbornness  I hadn’t done a very good job of helping her with her burdens, which brought me an extra burden of guilt. Just a couple of months after, Christi, was hospitalized we made a move to another church half way across the state. In the meantime I had to move my mother a number of times before finally securing her a place to live near us. The church I was appointed to was in the midst of a major crisis of its own, financially and otherwise, as many churches are now a days, and my denomination was and still is coming apart at the seams. In the midst of these circumstances I believe God called me to take a public and clear stand on controversial issues in a denomination that seems to be able to bear a lot of things but the truth.

Only by the grace of God have I not been crushed under the pressure (2 Corinthians 4:7-18). God’s grace has been sufficient, but quite often it has come through the hands and feet and words of comfort and confidence of God’s people, sometimes from remote and unexpected places. I could not have made it without the prayers and help of neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ.

God just doesn’t work directly in us; often God’s help and strength come from a neighbor and fellow follower of Jesus in the body of Christ. By the Holy Spirit God works in one person not only for the blessing of that individual but to bring aid, strength, and help to others. That’s the beauty of the body, the head of which is Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it build itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). We certainly need God but God chooses to work through others, so we also need each other. We need to help each other; and also to be helped by each other.

Lent leading up to Easter reminds us that there are some burdens too heavy to bear, some too heavy to bear at all. Our most threatening burden, the burden of sin with its legal demands, debt, and debilitating effects were lifted from us at Calvary, high up on the cross of Christ Jesus. The one who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4) will also work in us so that we too can “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

About Me: From the Cradle …

I was born in Winston-Salem, NC, raised in Stokes County in a little rural community called Pinnacle pert near the foot of the Sauratown Mountains.  My parents, of whom I am their only child, owned and operated a small country store on a long country road through the tobacco fields between the towns of King and Pilot Mountain.

sauratown mountain

By the time I was in kindergarten my parent’s business began to wane.  From around 1959 to 1979, my father ran a grocery/convenience store on wheels, a 50’s something model full-sized Chevrolet school bus stripped of its seats and furnished with fully stocked shelves and a cash register where the right front passenger bench used to be.  It was a light blue bus with a white top and “Wall’s Rolling Grocery” painted in red down both sides. With the addition of larger chain stores expanding into nearby towns, resulting in shrinking profit margins for my parents, the rolling grocery bus came to a final stop, but not before leaving many fond memories for countless customers, neighbors, family, and friends.

To make ends meet my dad started learning how to repair household appliances.  It wasn’t long before our store, which had our two bedroom apartment where we lived attached to the back, was surrounded by used appliances and parts, not to mention the remains of the three old buses that Dad had acquired over the years.  He made use of them by filling them with parts that he might need for his appliance repair and used appliance sales business, and whatever else he thought he might need some day.  So I grew up in an old country store in a used appliance wonderland that some might call a junk yard.

I was a painfully shy, anxiety-ridden, somewhat socially awkward kid who mumbled more than talked.  At the same time I also had a red-hot temper, honestly acquired from my father, with a generous dose of athleticism to go with my short, slender, but wiry frame.  When I wasn’t cutting wood or working in tobacco I played basketball, baseball, and football all at some point during my childhood.  I was decent at the later two, but definitely better at and more interested in hoops.  If not for my severe performance inhibiting anxiety and a streak of juvenile delinquency, I might have been able to play some college ball; nonetheless, it’s still a game that brings me much joy to this day.  I still have some skills even if not the stamina and the legs.

As an infant I was baptized in the local United Methodist church, just a mile up the road, Chestnut Grove UMC, by the pastor after whom I was named, Rev. Clifford Weller.  A couple of his grandchildren attended my elementary school, one in my class.  Early on I loved church and really sought the Lord.  Once, inspired by a “Little House on the Prairie” episode, I climbed to the top of a big hill near my house to get closer to God.  Inspired by the preaching of our evangelical Methodist preacher and Rev. Billy Graham, who I sometimes watched with my grandma Wall, who lived in the old white farm house next door, I publicly committed my life to Christ along with other confirmation students in my church when I was nine years old.

I remember struggling to really live out my faith after that, but by the time I was a teenager the struggle was gone.  Not because I had reached some kind of sinless Christian perfection, but because I had given into sin, and was really just going through the motions at church, which we attended faithfully together as a family before I went to college.

Before I finished Jr. High I had a trespassing charge on my record that could have easily been breaking and entering.  For that I got community service at the King public library.  Before I graduated from South Stokes High School I had a drinking problem that one time almost got me arrested, but instead just landed me an underage drinking charge which is on my record to this day, not to mention several other indiscretions of other varieties for which I did not get caught.  By the time I was in college the drinking got worse and the risky behavior escalated.  Only by the grace and mercy of God, did I not get killed or kill someone else, especially when I would drive when I was even too drunk to walk.  I’m also fortunate that I didn’t die of alcohol poisoning, which a few did die of during my time at East Carolina University.

During my freshman year there I did begin to experiment with drugs, and once even took a hit of acid.  That scared me enough to back away and stay away from the marijuana and other hard drugs , but my strong desire for strong drink remained, along with a small but ever increasing desire to really know God.

During this time while I was trying to find fulfillment in all the wrong things, I also was on a search of sorts for righteousness and the One from whom all blessings flow.  During deep discussions – as deep as you can get in smoke filled rooms with pyramids of empty beer cans and water bongs – when the topic of ultimate things and the purpose of life came up I found myself ineptly trying to defend the  Christian faith of my upbringing amidst harsh ridicule.

In one exchange with someone who was adamantly insisting that Christianity was just too stupid and silly for consideration, something welled up in me and I insisted that for some strange reason I believe it is true.  My friend was taken aback by the smile on my face and the gleam in my eyes as I strangely  (because I really wasn’t living for Him) spoke up for Christ.

During my time in college I did occasionally attend church, often with a hangover.  I went to several different churches, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and more.  I also attended a couple of Campus Crusade meetings.  Nothing seemed to stick, but the desire to know Truth remained and grew.

Over winter break in the midst of my sophomore year that found me drinking less and studying more – to greatly improved academic performance I might add – I was sitting on a five gallon bucket in the midst of the old appliances in front of my dad’s garage drinking beer with a long time friend who was expressing some serious skepticism regarding the Christian faith of his own upbringing.  Again something welled up within me, and I insisted that I really believed Christianity was true but I really didn’t know why.  Then and there I declared that I was going to found out.

A couple of months later, after a long night of lots of longnecks with some friends from back home, I got a knock on the door of the apartment where I lived in Greenville off of 10th street, just a few miles from the ECU campus.  It was a knock that would change the course of my life in incredible, painful, wonderful, and even miraculous ways.

More on that with the next post.  Stay tuned …