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Be Perfect

Be perfect,

just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

— Christ Jesus, Matthew 5:48

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “but when there is nothing left to take away.”

You might recognize de Saint-Exupery as the author of The Little Prince. Or not; it’s ostensibly a children’s book. But in France he’s considered a World War II hero who lost his life during an aerial reconnaissance mission on July 31, 1944. His is a fascinating story of an even more fascinating person.

Minimalists will swoon at his line, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

That concept is seen in designs by people like Steve Jobs and his cohorts Hartmut Esslinger and Jony Ive. They were influenced by Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from the Bauhaus movement. (One of my personal favorites in this pantheon is Dieter Rams, but that’s another story for another time.)

Back to perfect. Or, back towards perfection.

“Are you going on to perfection?” is the second of our denomination’s  historic questions asked of ordination candidates by a Bishop.

It’s generally understood that the correct answer is along the lines of “With the help of God, yes,” or “Yes, by the grace of God.”

I remember the moment it was asked of me. Even as my voice gave the expected answer, a soundtrack was playing in the back of mind and ripping its way through my heart.

“We’ve still got a long way to go,” were the lyrics. “We’ve all got a long way to go!” If you’re not humming that tune right now, don’t feel bad. It’s a fairly obscure track from an early album by Alice Cooper.

And right in the middle of everything is Christ Jesus himself. He’s saying, Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Let’s start right there tomorrow, with Alice and Antione, and above all others, Christ Jesus.





Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery


See you back here tomorrow!

Frightening Weather Forecast

The Rev. John Vidakovich is a friend “closer than a brother” with whom I’ve weathered many a storm over the years.

If you’re a United Methodist Christian, you’re probably aware that our Church is moving into a Cat 5 Storm Season.

“What’s that mean, Joe?” Glad you asked; here’s a fairly detailed answer —

Winds at or greater than 155 mph cause catastrophic damage to property, humans, and animals (read: you should be nowhere near this storm!).

Complete or almost-complete destruction of mobile homes, frame homes, apartments, and shopping centers should be expected, and nearly all trees in the area will be snapped or uprooted.

Power outages can last for weeks and possibly months.

Long-term water shortages should be expected as well, and most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. []

— Lots to unpack in there, and I want to get back to this.

But let’s do that in the context of what Johnny Vee wrote recently has graciously given me permission to share with you here —

You Said You Would (A Reflection for the Baptized)

“You said you would,” said the little voice in the back seat as we passed the ice cream parlor.
A reminder of a promise made.
A charge to keep.
“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?”
You said you would.
“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
You said you would.
“Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?”
You said you would.

— We said we would.

And a whole lot people heard us.

And so did God.


Face to Face with Christ Jesus

Jesus met them and greeted them, says Matthew 28:9.

What do you think his greeting was?

Before Our Bishop Said It

“That which you seek has been granted.”

If that’s not familiar, back up to yesterday here. (As always, it’s a quick catch-up.)

Long before Bishop Beard addressed that group, it’s recorded in our Big Book that Christ Jesus said,

 Ask and it will be given to you;

seek and you will find;

knock and the door will be opened to you.

And then — get this — then our Lord promised,

Everyone who asks receives;

one who seeks finds;

and to the one who knocks,

the door will be opened.

Isn’t it interesting that those promises from Matthew 7:7&8 have no Expiration Date?

Apply as needed.


Our Bishop Said It

Bishop Frank J. Beard said it.


Yesterday at Annual Conference.

And we all heard him.

It happened in Peoria, IL. I’m part of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church, and in an afternoon clergy event our newest and soon-to-be-ordained Elders had just been voted into our ranks.

They were ushered in and directed to stand up front.

After our thunderous applause had subsided, and after we’d sat down from our standing ovation welcome, our Bishop told them,

“That which you seek

has been granted.”

What a great line! What an affirmation!

And what a reminder and a recognition of the time, energy, resources, and effort that brought them to that moment. Let’s get back together right there tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a Pop Quiz:

  1. What are you seeking today?
  2. What are you doing today to move toward that goal?


Learning to Trust

The Rev. Dr. Warren Lathem was just Wally when I knew him. He’s a former District Superintendent in The United Methodist Church and is active in an exciting ministry in Venezuala. 

This is from an ongoing series of his, reflecting on his life and ministry. It’s too good not to share with you here, and I thank him for the opportunity — 

Learning to trust in God’s provision

While a student at Asbury University in Central Kentucky, I served a church in Eastern Kentucky, 65 miles from the school where we lived.

So every Sunday morning we would drive the 65 miles to the church. I had to make sure I saved enough gasoline in my car to make the trip because I was often out of money by the end of the week.

They paid me $50 a week, in cash, after each Sunday morning service.

The Mountain Parkway was the fastest way to get to the church. The alternative was the old two lane curvy road from Winchester to West Bend. The Parkway was a toll road in those days and the toll to get to my church was $0.35. I often had to drive the old road because I did not have the $0.35 for the toll.

There was one service station relatively close to the church. So after the service, with my $50.00 in cash salary I would go to that station to buy enough gasoline to get home after the Sunday night service.

The owner of the service station was the son of a woman in our church. I led his father to Jesus while he was on his deathbed.

But the son was a reprobate. He drank heavily, was abusive to his wife and kids, fathered other children while married and just generally led a life of dissipation. I tried to witness to him every opportunity I found.

Occasionally, the person who was supposed to pay me after church would be absent and I would not get paid until Wednesday.

The first time that happened was a Sunday I had to avoid the toll road and arrived at church with my car on empty. The owner of the service station had told me earlier if I ever needed to, I could put my gas “on account.” In those days we had no credit cards and business owners would often extend credit to their customers.

So I drove to the service station and when the owner came out, I asked for “$5.00 worth, please.” I intended to ask him to charge the gas. But after he pumped the fuel and before I could say anything, he said,”Preacher, this one is on us. Go ahead.” I was shocked, but extremely grateful. He had never said that before.

The next week when I went by after the worship service, he did not make the same generous gift, but that was ok since I had money.

However, the next time I did not get paid and I needed gas, I went to his station intending to buy it “on account.” Again before I could ask him to charge it, he said, “Preacher, you go ahead. This one is on us.”

For three years I tried to reach him with the gospel. I failed. But also for three years, if I had no money he never failed to say, “Preacher, this one is on us.” If I had money, he never gave me any gas.

How did he know? I never had a chance to ask him to charge it.

God was teaching me some wonderful life lessons. The first one was simply to trust him for necessary provision. This lesson has been repeated many times in my life.

The second lesson was God could use even the hardest reprobate in the community to provide for his children. I just needed to trust him and not be surprised when God poured out blessings through the most unlikely source.