Influenced By:

The Transforming “I Will”

On a clear, cool Fall Sunday morning a young family makes their way to the altar of a local United Methodist Church.  They had been attending the services for three months.   After conversations with the pastor, and prayerful consideration, they made the decision to become members of the congregation.  As they approached the chancel rail of the church the pastor met them with a smile.  He asked them to face the congregation as he introduced them.  Then he asked them to re-affirm their commitment to Christ by remembering their baptism, and promising to be loyal to the the United Methodist Church by doing all in their power to strengthen its ministries. [UMH, page 37-38]  After their re-affirmation of commitment to Christ and the church, they were asked the traditional question that is asked of all who join United Methodist congregations.  “As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?”  (UMH, page 38)  Their response was the same response every United Methodist has given as they began their discipleship journey.  “I will.” 

Each time a new member makes that commitment in our congregations, we as United Methodists, are challenged to renew our commitment and join their voices with a resounding, “I will.” 

It all begins with the promise:  “…will you faithfully participate in ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?”  Your response of “I will” is the first step in an incredible Wesleyan journey to fulfill the core purpose of your congregation.  How can each person faithfully fulfill their church’s mission of making and growing disciples of Jesus Christ?  They begin in prayer, and continue by being present in study, worship and fellowship.  They celebrate their giftedness from God by being faithful financial disciples.  They become the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the world, and proclaim the word of God both spoken and lived out in a world that hungers for the love of God.

Conversations about stewardship and giving are viewed by some in the church as taboo.  If giving is mentioned only once or twice a year in a congregation, there is often an admonition that “all we ever do is talk about money” at church. Giving is often viewed as “too personal” to be discussed at length in the church.  By making stewardship and giving a forbidden subject Christians give money a mysterious power outside the bounds of theology.     In essence it is given god-like tendencies.  The truth is that stewardship is more about spiritual growth than financial strength or weakness.  It is time that modern Christians celebrate their role as financial disciples of Jesus.

The celebration of financial disciples begins by establishing a healthy theology of stewardship or giving.  Everything we have comes from God, and living out that giftedness in the world is vital to responsible discipleship.   Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke were both a truth and a challenge.  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Luke 12:34, New International Version]  The treasure that a Christian posesses is a gift from God to be activated in love from the heart.  The theology of giving is best lived out in the church in three ways.  First, as an act of worship.  Both the Old and New Testaments talked about the offering of our gifts in the context of worship.  Most of those vignettes were in the temple, and were clearly acts of corporate worship.  Secondly,  giving is an expression of faith.  Not only does the Christian recognize the generosity of God in the bountiful gifts they receive, but also in the giving of those gifts they faithfully fulfill God’s purpose in the world.  Finally, stewardship and generosity are a spiritual discipline.  It is easy for modern Christians to have a serious disconnect between faith and money.  A healthy theology of giving helps us remember that our stewardship is about spiritual growth.  William Sloane Coffin began a stewardship sermon at Riverside Church in New York City with the following introduction:  “I have not come today to raise money for the church, I am here to remind you who you are.”  Stewardship and giving are not transactional.  Giving should be transformational for the church, for the world, and most of all of the faithful financial disciple of Jesus.  “I Will”,  these two simple words in response to God’s call in our lives can transform our lives, our church, and our world for Christ.

Article written by Rick Owen.

Rick has over 35 years of experience working with churches and non-profit boards. His passion for visioning, strategic ministry planning, functional- and gift-oriented board structures, leadership development, and the creation of cultures of innovation are refreshing in the world of churches and institutions. He is an experienced teacher, preacher and presenter in a variety of settings. He has served as a minister in churches from 15 members to 4,500 members; he has taught philosophy, ethics, Old Testament and New Testament on the college level, and currently works with leaders, boards and pastors as a strategic ministry coach. He has served on a number of church-related and community boards, and is committed to the vision of empowering people to live out their vision and purpose.

Categories: Church, Church At Chelsea Park, Faith Journey, Influenced By:, Leadership, Stewardship | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wesley’s Sermon: “The Use of Money”

SummaryWesley uses this sermon to outline the proper use of earning, possessions and wealth with a very articulate statement: “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  He uses this as an opportunity to insist that we are not owners of our assets, but stewards.


  1. There will be an accounting of our management of resources.
  2. Money can be bad, but it can also be good.  It can become the eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.
  3. It is one of our highest concerns to know how to use this valuable gift.


  1. Without paying more than its worth; or at the expense of life or health
  2. Without harming our minds
    1. Lying, cheating, practices that are not in good consciences.
  3.  We must never harm others.
  4. Not gain more by harming our neighbor’s bodies.
  5. There are unscrupulous medicine “professionals” and it is clear that they are doing to others what they do not want done in return.
  6. These ways of gaining money comes at a high price.
  7. Cautions and restrictions
    1. Gain all you can by honest industry and diligence
    2. Make the most of your time
    3. Work with all your might.
    4. Do your work as well as possible and in a timely manner.
  8. Use common sense.


  1. Don’t throw your precious gains into the sea
  2. Don’t waste it on desires of the flesh.
  3. Don’t waste on desires of the eye such as fine clothing, houses, paintings, decorations gardens.
  4. Don’t spend to gain the admiration or praise of others.
  5. When we cater to these desires, they only increase.
  6. Don’t buy your kids everything and the best of everything.
  7. Don’t leave the kids money to squander.  Don’t set traps.
  8. Leave your money to the child that knows the value of money.


  1. Don’t stop with gaining and saving all you can.  You must give all you can.
  2. The sole ownership of everything rest with God.
  3. Provide for your basic needs; provide for your family; give the rest to the needy.
  4. How should you spend upon yourself?
    1. Am I acting according to my character?
    2. Am I giving this money in obedience to God’s word?
    3. Can I offer up this action as a sacrifice to God?
    4. Do I believe that I will receive a reward for this work at the resurrection?
  5. If your conscience says that this pleases God then you have no doubt that it is right and good.
  6. In your living and dying, waste nothing on sin or foolishness for yourself or your children.
  7. We cannot be wise or faithful stewards without managing the Lord’s goods in this way.

Lead a life worthy of the dignity of your calling.

Categories: Church, Common Everyday Stuff, Faith Journey, Influenced By:, John Wesley, Leadership, Quote | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Influenced by Judy Berry

This past week, I have been preparing my sermon for Sunday.  The title is “Seeing the Call” and this preparation has caused me to think back to my own call into the ministry and Judy Berry keeps coming to my mind.  I am one who believes that God uses many different people to confirm and to help you see you call.  God certainly used Judy in my life.

Judy is the mother of two of the young men who were in my youth group at Avondale.  She and her husband Ron adopted me into their family and it was if I was a genuine Berry.  I am the God-Father of one of their grandchildren and her son is the God-Father of Noah.

While we were attempting to start a contemporary service, our band would go to their farm and practice.  Judy seems to be an early riser as I am and we were out by the pool drinking coffee.  Sitting there just chatting about life in general and all of a sudden, she asked, “When are you going to get off your rump and do what God is calling you to do?”  It caught me so off-guard that I don’t remember what I said, if anything.  But it did make me think and it got me off my rump.

It was truly that one conversation that pushed me over the edge.  I had been thinking about the ministry and tinkering with the ministry, but had not given it my whole commitment.  It took God using Judy Berry to get me to that next level and I will never forget it.

Thank you Judy for your and your families friendship, guidance, love and making me feel like a part of your family.  But most of all, thanks for calling me on the carpet.  I will never forget it!

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Influenced by: My Mom

Mom and Noah. One of my favorite pictures

I have wanted to write this blog for a while now, but I just didn’t know what all I wanted to put into it because my mom has been such an influence in my life.  Here are some of the things my mom taught me:

  1. Work Hard: I can remember her working so hard to support us.  I never did without anything that I needed although I often did without some things that I wanted.  I remember her working two jobs and I remember going to a lumber company in Brandon so she could do their books on Saturday’s. I would sit in the car and listen to the radio while she worked and could watch me out the large glass windows.  She did whatever it took to provide for me and I hold that very dear to my heart.
  2. There is nothing that I can’t do if I put my mind to it:  It’s just a matter if I am wiling to work for it and give it my all.  I have found myself working with Governors, Senators, Congressmen, Legislators, and an Entertainer of the Year. I have been places a lot of people never get to go and do things that so many never have the opportunity to do.  Because my mom believed in me and taught me to believe in myself.  Not in an arrogant way (she would take me down a couple of notches if I got arrogant) but in a motivating way.
  3. Take Up For and Help Out Those In Need: One of the great traditions Mom and I had was we would always adopt a family for Christmas.  Mom may have been working two or three jobs but we always found a family less fortunate than ourselves and would help them have a good Christmas.  One year, we adopted this family and I took the food and gifts to them.  I remember that I was working at Treasury Drugs and used some of my money to put in the pot to buy them food and gifts.  I also wanted to go and take it to them by myself.  I will never forget pulling up to the run down trailer and being met by a woman who started to cry when we began unloading my car.  I will never forget the words the lady said to me, “I don’t know who you are but I’m giving you a hug.” and she just held on to me for the longest time.  This is one of my fondest memories.
  4. She taught me that every man puts on his pants one leg at a time: She always would tell me that I was going to meet people who were richer, poorer, smarter, well-known, powerful, etc but to always remember that they are a person just like you.  No matter what kind of car they drive, they still put their pants on one leg at a time.  She taught me to respect everyone, no matter their status in life as they were a person just like me.
  5. Love Your Child: I don’t know that I realized the extent of her love for me until I had a son.  There is something so special, a bond that I have never experienced in any other way between me and Noah.  I have an understanding now of her love for me and I also think that it is a smaller comparison to the love that God has for each of us.  A willingness to sacrifice; a desire to see your child succeed; and tremendous devotion of time, energy and love throughout their lives.

I love you mom and I thank you for all the things you taught me.  I’m the man I am now because of you.

Categories: Influenced By: | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Influenced by: Tom Bell

Tom Bell is my boss and so much more.  Day’s before I was supposed to begin work as a pastor in his district, my mom had a devastating car accident.  Tom called me every day and prayed with me over the phone.  Since that day, I don’t think a day has gone by that he has not lifted me up during his prayer time.

I have worked for many bosses throughout my careers and Tom is one of those people who truly cares about the people that he supervises.  That is not to say that he doesn’t expect the best from you as he does, he is not afraid of sitting pastors down and speak his mind about their work.  Yet he is also the first one to come to the defense of his pastors.

I have so enjoyed working with him and think the world of him. God has certainly used him to grow the Kingdom through his leadership.  Tom, I appreciate your leadership, your mentorship and your friendship.  You are a gentleman among gentlemen.

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Influenced By: Riley Burton

Riley Burton was the first pastor that I was able to relate to person to person.  He was not this robed figure that I only saw when he entered the pulpit, but he was more of a friend.  Someone who was wise and yet accessable.  He was easy to talk with and related well to a teenager who thought he never everything about everything.

Riley was brave enough/dumb enough or maybe he just cared enough to take us on mission trips and showed us people who were living in ways that we could never imagined.  I will never forget the mission trips to the Choctaw Indian Reservations and these are some of my best memories.  I remember him being bold enough to tell us that there was nothing we could do that would embarrass him and our determination to prove him wrong.  Yet, he still stuck with us and loved us.

He taught me that a pastor was a real person and sometimes the best way to share the love of Christ was in being the hands and feet of Jesus.  He even went as far as taking us to Jamaica on a mission trip to repair the floor in a Methodist Church.

He was one of the first ones that I approached when I was discerning my call to the ministry and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God used Riley Burton to influence my life.  Thank you Riley for being a true servant of God.  You were a great teacher and I miss you.

Categories: Faith Journey, Influenced By:, John Personal | 1 Comment

Influenced by: “Brother Ted” Giordano

The Cross at Camp Wesley Pines

In 1985, I was attending my last Senior High Camp at Camp Wesley Pines.  It was a bitter-sweet time.  I loved camp so much and my time as a camper was coming to an end.  It was on the sacred grounds of CWP that I gave my life to Christ.  I had been in church my whole life, but it was at a Senior High Retreat that I met Christ for the first time. It was here that our relationship started.

As camp was ending, I was approached by Brother Ted.  He knew me outside of the gates of camp as he was the pastor for my grandmother’s church in Pelahatchie, Mississippi.  He approached me and asked me if I would be interested in being a counselor for his Elementary Camp which began the next week.  I asked him if he really thought that I was ready for such a responsiblity and he assured me that he thought that I was.  So, I agreed.  I worried all throughout the weekend and into the next week.  However, we accomplished the camp and it was awesome.  This lit a fire for me and the camping ministry.  It was that pivotal point in my spiritual journey when one goes from being a person who just receives and now I was giving back.  It was here that I truly began to experience what Jesus has called all Christians to do and that’s go into the world and make disciples.  (so many underestimate the strength of a great camping program on someones spiritual journey).  It was this camp that I began a lifelong passion for camping ministry.  One that still continues today.  The summer of 2010 will be my 49th week of working/directing a summer camp.

Bro. Ted also gave me my first opportunity to be a youth director at Pelahatchie UMC.  It was a great experience.  Ted was one of the first people that I sought out to mentor me as I was struggling with my call to the ministry.  A friend, confidant, mentor and pastor.

Thanks Brother Ted for believing in me and seeing what I didn’t and allowing me the opportunity to serve God through that camp.

Categories: Camp Wesley Pines, Influenced By:, John Personal, Leadership | Leave a comment

Influenced By: Mr. and Mrs. Sarrett

When I was a teenager, I was extremely blessed to have a group of friends who did everything together.  Jay, Frog, Rusty, Derrick and I were inseparatable.  We could always be found at Pizza Hut during lunch, riding our bikes all over the neighborhood and searching for our next camping adventure.  Our favorite place to spend the night was at Jay’s house.    There are so many times that we would all end up piled up in the living room sleeping on the floors, couches or where ever we found.  Jay’s parents did all in their power to always include “the boys” in their family activities.

Mr. Sarrett or “Champ” worked for the newspaper and he was in charge of the delivery department.  Each year he would take his paperboys on a trip.  In 1985, he took them to the Worlds Fair in New Orleans and the next year to take a historical tour of Vicksburg.  Anytime  there was one of these trips, he invited “the boys” to go along and we took him up on the offer.  What great experiences I had with him.

There was hardly ever a wrestling match in Jackson that he didn’t load us up and take a car load to the coliseum.

When they would go on vacation, they would take both cars because of all the boys they would take with them.  It didn’t matter if it was the beach or where ever, we always were invited to go with them.  It was such a powerful lesson to love those who are your children’s friends.

Mrs. Sarrett still calls me each and every year on my birthday. I don’t think she has ever missed one.

Thanks for being such wonderful role models.

Categories: Friends, Influenced By:, John Personal | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Influenced by: Janelle McComb

I don’t remember a time in my life when the McComb’s were not a part.  Mrs. McComb had one of the most well-known best friends in the world.  She was one of Elvis’ closest friends and knew him from the time that he was a young boy dressed in overalls on the streets of Tupelo to visiting with him at Graceland the day before he died.  She was an incredible writer and wrote poems for many famous people and some of us not so famous.  She was a member of Mensa and perhaps one of the smartest people who I have ever known.  Yet, the Janelle that I knew and loved had grown into a grandmother figure for me.  She and her husband Roy were the ones we went to see or who came to visit on holidays.  They were always there for graduations and special events.  She was constantly calling the house 5 or 6 times/day and that was before area calling.  She was the one who taught me the most about what it means to be a friend. Here is what I learned from Mrs. McComb:

1.  Be Loyal: When she was a friend to someone, she was a friend and would go out of her way.  She protected her friendships and was deeply devastated when that protection was not returned.  If you’re friends with someone, in her book, that went well beyond acquaintance.  Friendship meant something to her and was not just a word.  You choose your friends wisely.

2.  Money Can’t Buy a Friend nor Pay for the Loss of One: This was a saying that she told me over and over and over.  I don’t think I got the full meaning of this until a close friend died.  Mr. Roy once shared a story about Elvis trying to give them a car. As they were leaving Graceland, he asked them which car they were going to take home and she answered, the one we drove here in.  He told her that she could have her choice of any of the cars in the driveway and he would give it to her.  Mr. Roy explained to me that she took Elvis by the arm, sat him down on the big white couch in the living room and told him, “Elvis, we’re your friends because of you, not what you can buy us.  You don’t need to give us gifts for us to love you.”  They drove home in their own car which they had begun the trip.  Probably one of the only times Elvis couldn’t give a car away.

3.  You Share What You Have: One of the first things that struck me about Mrs. McComb was her willingness to share what she had with her friends.  She never went anywhere and bought something without buying 2 of that something.  “One to keep and one to give away.”  There was never a time when she made a trek to Pearl that she didn’t have the car loaded down with “stuff” she was bringing.

In 2005, I had the honor of officiating her funeral.  There were flowers, cards, letters, and guest from all over the world and with all kinds of notoriety.  To me, the greatest gift was telling all those people about the Janelle that I knew and loved.  The one who influenced my life, not by the people she was friends with but by how she was a friend to me.  I miss her.

Categories: Influenced By:, John Personal | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Influenced by: Lynn and Beverly Bullock

Beverly, Lynn and my "sister" Melanie. Around 1987

Lynn and Beverly played a huge role in my life as they did with many of us who had the blessing of growing up near them.  They could never have children of their own and so all the neighborhood kids became their children.  They were always there offering advice, and helping my single mom with an ADHD boy.  But what sticks out in my mind the most was the love that they have for each other.  In my eyes, theirs is a true love story and I had the “perfect” role models to show me how to love you’re spouse.  To this day, I cannot recall ever having seen them have a fight/disagreement/or a cross word.  As a matter of fact, if you ask Beverly if they would like to have dinner tonight, her response would be, “Let me talk to Lynn about it.”  and Lynn’s response would be the same “Let me talk to Beverly about it.”

Here are some of the things that Lynn and Beverly taught me about love:

  1. Communication is vital in a successful relationship.  They are always talking to one another.  They want to make sure they have a like mind on everything before it becomes “public”.
  2. They love being around each other.  A relationship works so much better when you’re friends with each other.  In my eyes, Beverly is Lynn’s best friend and Lynn is Beverly’s best friend.
  3. I once asked Lynn what the secret to their successful marriage was and he told me, “Beverly has Cystic Fibrosis and we don’t know how much time she has, so we want to use all of that time productively for our marriage.  Why would we give away an hour being mad at each other?”  Shouldn’t we all approach our marriage’s with the same attitude because in reality, we don’t know how much time any of us are given.
  4. Selflessness toward themselves.  It seems that all their energy goes into making the others life more enjoyable, fun, and comfortable. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Lynn and Beverly, you both are my heros and I want to thank you for the wonderful example you have given me and others.  I love you.

Categories: Influenced By:, John Personal | Tags: | Leave a comment

Influenced by: Will Dowling

When I first started thinking about people who have had an influence on my life, the first person who comes to my mind is Will Dowling.  Will was my youth director when I was in high school and he grew to be so much more than just a youth director, he became my friend.  I remember Will hanging out at my house and watching movies with us.  He would take us (when I talk about us, I usually mean me, Jay, Frog, Rusty, or Derrick) to wrestling matches and would even participate in our backyard matches.  He was the older brother that I never had.  When he decided to go to seminary, he didn’t feel that his calling of being our youth director was complete and so he would commute back to Pearl, Mississippi on the weekends.  He would then drive all the way back to Memphis on Sunday nights so he could be in class on Monday morning.

So, how did Will influence my life:

  1. He showed me that you should know what you believe and hold true to those beliefs no matter the cost.  He put this into action by only dating girls who held his same values.  He did it by being the same Will wherever he went.  He did it by allowing Christ to work through his life and I saw that in action.
  2. He showed me that friends hold friends accountable.  I viewed Will more as a friend than a youth director, but I also knew that he had certain expectations of me and my growth in Christianity.  He would be the first to tell me how proud he was of me, but also the first to tell me that I had fallen short (quickly followed up by how to make amends)
  3. He showed me that no matter how much time goes by, love never goes away.  He demonstrated this when he drove several hours in the middle of the night to be with me when my mom was in a car accident.  I will never forget that.
  4. He taught me that REAL MEN Pray.
  5. He also taught me how to disengage the emergency brake on a church bus.  (He did not do a good job with this one, but I have never forgotten.

    Never wear a hat like that on a youth trip because 25 years later, it will come back to bite you.

While there are so many people who I need to give credit for my answering the call to ministry, Will was the first one who listen and verified what God was doing in my life.  I still remember where I was when I told him (going over the levee in Flowood by Leala’s house).  Will brought a little bit of coolness to the thought of being a minister for a 17 year old.

Thanks will for all you’ve done in my life.  I love you.

Categories: Influenced By:, John Personal | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Influenced By…

As I have been recovering from my surgery, I’ve had a lot of time to play on the computer, make phone calls, watch TV and to think.  I don’t get much thinking time and so I have enjoyed this bit of the recovery.  One of the things that I have been giving a great deal of thought to is how quickly something can happen in this life and an opportunity to say something to someone else is taken away forever.  The passing of my friend Matt Miller has had some impact on this line of thinking for me.  So, I’m going to devote some blog time to the people who have had an influence on my life.

I hope this will be an opportunity for me to say thanks to them, to remind myself of their gifts, and possibly share their influence with someone else.

Categories: Influenced By:, John Personal | Leave a comment

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