Friday, December 25, 2015


I have just completed reading a book entitled “Strangers No More: Memoirs by Lucy S. Herring” (Carlton Press, 1983).  I’m not sure how the book found its way into my library—perhaps it was a book my daughter contributed when we moved into our shared Florida home recently. The book was signed by the author: “Think big! Your thoughts will determine your destiny, Lucy Herring, February, 1983.”

Lucy Herring was an African-American educator who had an interesting life and who made a significant impact on the education of the African-American community. While I expect that few will be aware of her and her legacy, I found a couple of especially significant connections with my own pilgrimage.  The first connection was that she served early in her career as an educational coordinator in Harnett County, North Carolina. While her service was many years prior to my teaching years at Campbell University (in fact, I had been at Campbell for three years and had been in Nashville five years by 1983 when this book was published), Campbell is in Harnett County and is only a few miles from Lillington, where Ms. Herring worked. Her work was foundational in opening doors of opportunity for African-American students; and I had some very fine students at Campbell, who were evidence that doors of opportunity have been opened by people like Lucy Herring.

The most significant connection, however, was a stage-of-life connection that Ms. Herring faced at the time of her retirement. While I cannot apply her statement about retirement totally to my own experience (see page 166 for Lucy Herring’s list), she did inspire me with some perspectives that are helpful to those who are retiring or have retired. Here are my adaptions of Lucy Herring’s experience that retirees have to deal with in the significant transition from employment to retirement.

1.     Serving in a new role of second parent—that of a grandparent.
2.     Living in new accommodations.
3.     Living in a culturally mixed community.
4.     Being far removed from the kind of church of which you have been a member.
5.     Having to find new service providers to assist you.
6.     Having to make new friends (especially when your recall is declining).
7.     Living in a new city with a vastly different climate from the one to which you have been acclimated.

Lucy Herring captured a lot of the challenges that I have been facing in the last six months. Her spirit in addressing these issues have inspired me and challenged me to view these days as a new venture that requires readjustments, patience, supportive family and friends, and trust in God that all is working together for good.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


(Hymn Tune: Gabriel's "Higher Ground")

The church is strongest when we see
Its members all have bowed the knee
And raised to God the fervent prayer
That all the earth God’s love may share.
Like rushing wind and roaring fire,
God's Spirit will the church inspire
To kneel in prayer this very hour
And ask for wonder-working power.

The church is richest when it gives--
When in commitment truly lives
A spirit of humility
That fears sin more than poverty.
Like rushing wind and roaring fire, 
God's Spirit will the church inspire
To freely give this very hour
Releasing wonder-working power.

The church is greatest when it works
In hidden places where sin lurks,
In distant lands where ign'rance reigns,
Midst urban hovels' desperate pains.
Like rushing wind and roaring fire,
God's Spirit will the church inspire
To dedicate this very hour
Its hands for wonder-working power.

The church is happiest when it sings,
When voices praise, when clarion rings
Above the pandemonium 
The joyful song of God's dear Son.
Like rushing wind and roaring fire, 
God's Spirit will the church inspire
To advocate this very hour
Good news of wonder-working power.

Let wonder-working power rest
On each of us, and with our best
We'll pray, we'll give, we'll work, we'll sing
'Til all the world declares You King.
Like rushing wind and roaring fire, 
Your Spirit will the church inspire
To venture forth this very hour
And live in wonder-working power.

 © Copyright 1995 Michael Fink
 Used by permission

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


(I found this letter in an old office file. It was written by Merle Craigmiles, a member of the first church I served as pastor. I found it so touching that I wanted to share it with you. It uniquely starts with a “P.S.” and addresses the question that I borrowed as the title of this post.)

P.S. This is full of mistakes and scratched up pretty bad, but I didn’t have the time or patience to rewrite it. I know if I laid it aside to redo it, you would never get it.

Dear Mike,

Your sermon Sunday morning reminded me of something I wrote more than thirty years ago (about 1942). At that time we were living in Huntington, West Virginia. I was a member of Temple Baptist Church. We always spoke of the church building as the Temple. My hometown was just about fifty miles away, Portsmouth, Ohio. So many times, instead of going to church, we would go home. I didn’t consider myself a very faithful church member.

On one of these trips home we went visiting out in the country one Sunday evening. It was summer; she had chairs out on the lawn. When she invited us in, we said, “Let’s just sit out here.” In a few minutes a church bell started ringing. The sound of that church bell did something to me. I had a real homesick feeling to be back in church. When I explained to my friend how I felt, she said, “Let’s go. We have a good preacher. We have as good singers as you would find in any church.”

When we went inside the church, the first thing I noticed was a plaque on the wall that read:
     If every member of this church
     Was a member just like me,
     What kind of church
     Would this church be?

The preacher’s sermon was good. I enjoyed the singing so much; also the fellowship of the friendly people. But the verse I read on that plaque stayed with me.

I would sit in the Temple at Huntington, West Virginia and have a mental picture of what the church would look like if all the members were like me.

One day I went home from church and wrote this down. I called it:

Something to Think About

Then I thought of the Heavenly Father
as He looks down from His throne on High,
and I wondered what He thought
of Christians such as I.

I thought of the sorrow ‘twould give Him
I thought of the anguish, the pain
He would feel He had sent Christ Jesus
To die on Calvary, in vain.

Then I thought of the joy ‘twould give Him
If we were all like the faithful few;
Now friends, think this over,
What kind of Christian are you?

                     Merle Craigmiles  

Thursday, September 3, 2015


The following passage from Eric Metaxas’ massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer shows how Bonhoeffer’s obedience to God was forward-oriented and zealous and free. At the age of 72, I find much to contemplate in Bonhoeffer’s reflections.

“In recent years we have become increasingly familiar with the thought of death. We surprise ourselves by the calmness with which we hear of the death of one of our contemporaries. We cannot hate it as we used to for we have discovered some good in it, and have almost come to terms with it. Fundamentally we feel that we really belong to death already, and that every new day is a miracle. It would probably not be true to say that we welcome death (although we all know that weariness which we ought to avoid like the plague), we are too inquisitive for that—or, to put it more seriously, we should like to see something more of the meaning of our life’s broken fragments. . . . We still love life, but I do not think that death can take us by surprise now. After what we have been through during the war, we hardly dare admit that we should like death to come to us, not accidentally and suddenly through some trivial cause, but in the fullness of life and with everything at stake. It is we ourselves, and not outward circumstances, who make death what it can be: a death freely and voluntarily accepted.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Good Samaritan Test

I recently posted about a boy we discovered while driving through our new neighborhood. The boy had been locked in an animal cage by his brother and left by the road across the street from their house. We set him free, but we didn’t get the full story. Yesterday the boy from the cage and one of his friends came by after school to visit our grandson. Soon both of the mothers of the visiting boys came by for a visit as well. We finally got the full story, and it turns out that things weren’t as they appeared.

The boy and his brother actually had been collaborating in an experiment to see how people would react to a child locked in a cage on the side of a road. (Sounds similar to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t it?) While we were told that the older brother had locked his brother in the cage and left him beside the road, actually the boys had collaborated in the stunt. The younger boy got in the cage, and the older boy hid across the street and watched to see what would happen.

When their mother learned that the new neighbors (us) had been drawn into this stunt and thought that it was a real dispute between the brothers, she was embarrassed. She knew that the stunt was real enough to allow people to misjudge her family life. On the other hand, the mom seemed proud of the boy’s “test” of their neighbors. She talked in particular about an older man who walked right by and hardly gave the caged child a notice.

Obviously we passed “the test” because we stopped and set the boy “free.” The test was a “charade,” but it was realistic enough to make us think that the situation was one of real need.

“Tricks” like this probably don’t advance people’s willingness to take a risk and offer help to people in need. On the other hand, is it not better to offer help even if the situation is a hoax than to turn aside and leave a true victim lying by the road in need of help?

Our society often is short in addressing obvious needs because we have a hard time assessing genuine needs. We faced this dilemma frequently in the benevolence ministry of our church in Jefferson City, TN. We met on Tuesday mornings and generally had 3-5 interviews with people who had asked for assistance from the church. They needed help with paying utility bills, buying food, getting transportation to a doctor’s office, or some similar kind of need. We found a few hucksters along the way, and we marked them off the list of those whom we had helped who seemed to have genuine needs. We may have judged unfairly occasionally, but we still provided well over $20,000 of assistance each year.

The old saying, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” might be a way of applying the “Good Samaritan Test” in many situations. I’d rather be a fool for Christ’s sake in helping a few who might be exploiting the system so that many with genuine needs might be helped.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mike’s Seven Steps to a Stable Financial Future

1. Give away 10% of you total income each month. In the church, this 10% is called a “tithe”; but you can call it “contributions,” “gifts,” “donations,” or whatever you like. The reality is that giving sets in motion a plan for looking at your entire financial, social, and spiritual life. Most people “waste” 10% or more of their income already on frivolous, superficial, and unnecessary things. When you give away the first 10% of your income, you are better prepared to eliminate the superfluous expenditures and will more carefully utilize the 90% you have as operational funds.

2. Establish a small “splurge fund” as part of your budget. Pull out no more than 5% of your income at the beginning of each month and stash these funds in a coin purse. Use these funds in any way that you wish during the month; but when the splurge fund is depleted, cut off all unbudgeted expenditures for the remainder of the month.

3. Pay all of your ongoing and regular expenses at the time of purchase or immediately when billed. This is a hard rule for most people to follow, but it provides the initial discipline necessary to get your finances in order. Interest rates, late-payment penalties, and other extra charges take large portions out of your operating income and end up reducing your buying power. If you cannot pay these ongoing and regular expenses each month, you are living beyond your means. You will need to develop a budget that focuses on necessities and reduces your other expenses.

4. Pay down your debt as quickly as you can.  Every dollar that you borrow costs you that dollar plus the interest that you have to pay—and the interest costs are applied every single month until the debt is paid. Every dollar that you pay against your debts reduces your future interest payments and allows you to pay off your debts more quickly. Generally you should focus on paying off the debts with the highest interest rates first. Your goal should be DEBT FREE! Another way of eliminating debt is to focus on your smallest debts first. Pay extra each month on that small debt until you have eliminated that debt. After one debt is eliminated, take what you had been paying on the eliminated debt and add that amount as an extra payment on the next smallest debt. Continue to use the eliminated debt payments on remaining debts until you are debt free.

5.  If you can’t pay for it now, maybe you can’t afford it. Most of us have “things” that we feel like we must have or we can’t be happy. We have a difficult time separating our “needs” from our “wants.” It’s the “wants” that give us the most problems financially. You should never borrow or over-extend your budget for “wants.”

6. Borrow wisely and only when absolutely necessary. Most people will have to borrow to pay for large purchases like a home or a car, but everything else that you buy should be paid in full at the time of purchase. If you use a credit card, you should pay the full amount due every month. Interest rates on credit card debt are very high. If you can’t pay off your credit card balance each month, shred your credit cards (or removed them from your wallet or purse) and operate on a “cash only” plan. Your goal should be to pay-as-you-go for all your ordinary expenses.

7. Plan for the long-term. The biggest problem in most people’s financial planning is the failure to plan ahead. Major expenditures like buying a car or home or paying college tuition for your children require long-term consideration. Preparing for retirement is important as well. If you postpone planning for these kinds of expenses, you will have to go deeper in debt somewhere down the road. On the other hand, if you save money in a savings account, invest in stocks or mutual funds, or add to your retirement plan, you will be better prepared when major expenses come along. Even just a little bit put in savings or investments regularly over a long period of time will create a resource that will help you over the big humps in life and will sustain you in good times and bad.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bonhoeffer on the Bible

I have been slowly making my way through Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010). I was especially touched by a letter the conservative Bonhoeffer wrote to his theologically liberal brother-in-law in 1936.

“First of all I will confess quite simply—I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course, it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by talking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us alone with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Offertory Prayer

Oh God, our help in ages past and our hope for years to come, I voice today the gratitude of this congregation, which has been blessed by Your presence, challenged by Your Great Commission, and supported by Your daily guidance in good times and in bad.

While we often struggle and are anxious about today and tomorrow, we know in our hearts that You are with us, blessing us with bounty that most people in our world cannot begin to envision, yet always comforting us by Your presence in good times and in bad.

We ask again today the question raised by the hymn writer, “What can I give to Jesus who gave His life for me?” While we are about to give our tithes and our offerings, we are reminded by the hymn writer that these tithes and offerings are but symbols of greater gifts of ourselves: our hearts, our minds, our time—each and all are aspects of offerings. May we not just put coins and bills in the offering plate, but may we offer our hearts, our minds, and our time to You in deep devotion, because without these, our monetary contributions are more like a payoff than a sincere and dedicated gift. But the vision of our gifts is not just between You, our God, and each of us. It represents a vision of a sinful and needy world that needs Your presence and Your hope. May our gifts become a channel of hope for all who stand in need  of You and of the abundant life You offer all.

In Jesus’ names we pray. Amen.