30 years ago, tonight…

30 years ago, tonight…

At 9:00 pm, 30 years ago, tonight, we were lowering the gate to the entrance of Champs Sporting Goods, at the Fashion Square Mall, in Orlando, where I worked (primarily selling athletic shoes – selling shoes has always been my back-up profession, in case ministry doesn’t work out).  As I was checking off the list of my “closing” duties – before I could leave – a cute, young college student, named Kelly McFarlane, walked up to the store window, meeting me to go on our first date.

She was really cute.

We left the Fashion Square parking lot and started our date about 9:30 pm.  Nowadays, I’m thinking of heading to bed by about 9:30 pm!  We stopped at Wendy’s to get her something to eat.  I had a cup of coffee, because I’d been out until about 5:00 am the night before.  Now I wake up, some days, around 5:00 am!

We went dancing, at an Orlando nightclub called Rosie O’Grady’s, where she somehow managed to sneak both of us in (YES! – SHE sneaked us in) – we were only 19 years old!  We talked, and laughed, and danced.  She claims I even sang to her while we danced.

On the way back to her dorm room, at the University of Central Florida, we stopped at a 24-hour restaurant, called Wags, for pie and coffee (we would spend a lot more late nights at Wags “studying” over the next three years).  I finally dropped her off sometime around 3:00 am, give or take.  I could mention kissing her goodnight, but I’ll save that for another time.

The next morning, I told my dad that I was going to marry Kelly McFarlane.  He laughed.  But, three and a half years later, on August 18, 1990, Kelly McFarlane became Kelly McFarlane Rains.

Thirty years later, I’m still very thankful for that first date.  Little did we know, thirty years ago, what the future held for us….

  • College graduations, and then graduate school for me – twice!
  • A wedding
  • Numerous jobs
  • Ministry
  • Homes in eight different cities
  • Two children
  • So many holidays, so many new traditions, and so many memories
  • Friends and family – including some that are no longer with us
  • Good times and hard times, poor times and less poor times, times of health and times of sickness
  • Lots of arguments and lots of making up
  • empty nesting
  • and, so much love

So, tonight, as I write this at nearly 10:00 pm (yawn), thirty years ago seems like such a long time.  I’m not the night owl that I used to be.  I’m not a lot of things I used to be – good and bad.  In fact, it is hard to imagine now how that guy thirty years ago turned into this guy, and how she has loved both, and a few versions in between.

I guessed she’s changed too.  But, she is still the one who captured my heart thirty years ago, the one who holds it now, and the one I plan to spend the next thirty years with – making many more memories, and sharing a lot more love.

Happy First Date Anniversary, Kelly McFarlane Rains!  I love you!





The home, pictured above, is the setting of two of my favorite movies – “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride, II.”  It is the movie-home of the fictional Banks family, where George and Nina Banks lovingly raised their three children – including late night one-on-one basketball games in the driveway and the site of an elaborate wedding for their daughter Annie.  It’s more than a house.  It’s a home – in every sense of the word.

I’ve lived in two of my parent’s houses, a fraternity house, student housing, numerous apartments, and numerous houses.  A few have been home.  There are also a few places that I’ve never technically been a resident, but have also become home to me.

Through the years, as a United Methodist pastor, I’ve moved a few times, living in numerous church-owned parsonages.  Typically, these are not communities, neighborhoods, or houses I have chosen.  As a United Methodist pastor, my family has been sent to the ministries I’ve been assigned, to live in the parsonages that have been provided.  Thankfully, I can honestly say that we have been fortunate to live in nice houses in nice communities.

Shortly after arriving in each new town, my wife will ask me, “Are we home, yet?’, meaning, “does this place feel like home, yet?”  Some places have.  Some places haven’t.

I think all of us long for home.  For some of us, it is a longing for a place that once was home, filled with nostalgia and memories for what used to be, and possibly a place we can still return to for holidays and to be with family.  For some of us, it is a home that does not yet exist – perhaps future hopes for family, creating new memories, and putting down roots.  For some, it is a dream house, in a certain location, and a certain size and architecture.  For some of us, home is less about a place and physical structure, and more about the people we share our lives with, wherever we go.

Either way, there seems to be something in all of us that longs for home – not just a house – a home.

The word “home” implies family, safety, acceptance, tradition, comfort, belonging, welcome, memories, and, most of all, love.

Some of us are fortunate to have lived in such homes.  Some are not.

Some homes are not safe or loving.  Some people are displaced from their homes.  Some people seem to live as perpetual wanderers, moving from place to place to place – perpetually unsettled.

Whatever homes we have in this life – good or bad, ideal or less than ideal – all of our earthly homes are only temporary.  Most us, grow up and leave our homes.  Our children grow up, and leave the nest.  Many of us will eventually move to a retirement or nursing home.  Many of us live in numerous dwellings and locales in this life, some of which become homes, and some just temporary residences.

The truth is, in this world, really, we’re all nomads, wandering from year to year, from place to place.  But, eventually, we’ll all be home.

Jesus said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”  

No matter what our earthly dwellings may have been, or will be, our ultimate dream home is already prepared for us.  Some of us will see it sooner than others.  We will be safe there.  We will be welcome there.  We will be loved there.


“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  (Psalm 23:6)

Foreknowing, Causing, Allowing…

Foreknowing, Causing, Allowing…

In my Lenten small group, this morning, we were debating if God allows tragedy, causes tragedy, or both.  Though the word wasn’t used this morning, God’s foreknowledge also comes into play.  If God knows everything, then God knows what is going to happen in advance.  If God knows a tragic event will occur, does that mean God caused it?  Is foreknowledge the same as causality?

Undeniably, God has caused bad things to happen.  The ten plagues unleashed on Egypt during the Exodus would fit that category.  But, does that mean that causes ALL plagues and maladies?

Undeniably, God allows bad things to happen.  Every moment of every day, evil is at work around the world – war, crime, injustice, etc…  God allows that.  But, is allowing the same as causing?

Where is the place of free will and choice in this debate?  How much choice does God allow?

I, for one, believe in free will.  I believe that God gives us the gift and responsibility of choice.  We can choose to love him, serve him, and honor him.  Or, we can choose to be selfish, and do unspeakable evil.  And, of course, there are a wide range of choices, good and bad, in between. I believe that every human is capable of choosing remarkable good and unspeakable evil.

I also believe that God is intimately at work in his created world – blessing, sustaining influencing, hearing and answering our prayers, and, more often than not, redeeming for good the many, many things that have gone wrong.

Can God control the events of this world, like a chess player moving the pieces on a chess board?  Yes, of course.  God is God, which means God can do whatever God wants to do.  But, it seems to me that God has imposed self-limitations upon himself, in order that we have the freedom to choose.  We aren’t chess pieces.  We move ourselves.  We choose.

After all, love is a choice.  Relationship is a choice.  Obedience, really, is a choice.

I’ve heard it said, “Why did God allow…?  Why didn’t God stop…?”  When tragic things occur, such questions are inevitable.  “God, why don’t you intervene when you know something terrible is going to happen and people are going to suffer?”

But, my question is, if we believe that God gives us choice, and that we are responsible for our choices, and if we can connect someone’s choice to the tragedy-in-question, where would we draw the line?  What choices do we think God should allow?  What choices do we think God should stop?

Should God stop the drunk driver from running into someone innocent?  Should God stop me from adjusting my car AC, or changing radio stations, if that potentially distracts me and leads to the same kind of accident, and the same result?  Should God stop me from driving if I’m ever sleepy, irritated, distracted, in a hurry, etc.?  Should God stop me from riding in cars, at all, if I might be a potential distraction for the driver?  Should God just keep me locked up in my house – safe and sound – where I can’t be a danger to anyone but myself?

Where’s the line?

Do we believe that God is ultimately the cause and responsible party for every tragedy?  Or, is tragedy a reality of living in a fallen world where people make unfortunate choices?

I, for one, don’t blame God for the ill that happens in this world, or specifically in my life.  But, I do look to God to comfort my pain, strengthen my weakness, redeem my failings, and restore what get’s broken.

I do wonder, sometimes, why God doesn’t move a little faster.  Why does he take so long to answer my prayers, to give me direction, and to fix my problems?  But, those are questions for another blog.

Embracing the Grey

Embracing the Grey

I had a very random conversation with a complete stranger, yesterday. He said that the hot issue many counselors/therapists/psychotherapists are dealing with, lately, is how to help their clients deal with friends and family, with whom they have differing political views.  His point was that, in our current political climate, friends and family are being ripped apart by opposing loyalties and ideologies.  People are increasingly afraid to open their mouth, and state their opinions, for fear of other’s reactions and potentially being ostracized.

Differences of opinions – even within families – is nothing new.  But, tearing families and friends apart?

What’s wrong with us?

I listened to a speaker last night, who said many wise things, and much that I agreed with.  But, there were HUGE holes in his arguments.  And, he unfairly villainized his opposition.  As much as I liked and agreed with the speaker, the voice in my head kept screaming, “YEAH!  BUT…  WHAT ABOUT…..?”

Even my denomination is currently polarized around the issue of homosexuality; opposing sides condemning the other.  Many are fighting and praying to find a middle-way.  And, many fear that no middle-way will be found, and that we, like so many friends and families, will also be ripped apart.

It is just so easy to paint everyone with the absurdly broad brushes of black or white, right or wrong, saint or sinner, good or bad.  And, it is so inaccurate and so unfair.  Why must my opposition be evil, ignorant, and immoral?  Is it possible that both could be partially right, and partially wrong?  Is it possible that neither could be right?  Is it possible that both could be right, depending on your perspective and agenda?

Can’t we see that the truth – the TRUTH – is often somewhere in the middle?

As I watched the endless political debates of 2016, both Republican and Democrat, I constantly thought “There’s got to be more to the story.  The other side can’t be THAT wrong; THAT evil; THAT short-sided.  The solutions can’t be THAT obvious.”  Are either the Democrats or the Republicans right about everything?  Of course not.  Neither party can even find agreement even within their own ranks.  But, neither are 100% wrong, either!

Why must we villainize each other?  Don’t people matter more than points of view?  Can’t we disagree, and still find ways to respect one another, and even work together for solutions that just might be wiser and richer from considering broader points of view?

Grey is not a watered down version of black, nor is it a dirtier version of white.  Grey is a legitimate color.  In fact, it comes in many shades.

I’m embracing the grey.

You are What You Love…

You are What You Love…

I started a new book yesterday, You are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K.A. Smith.

I am what I love?

I certainly love my wife, kids, and family.

I love my friends.

I love to travel, ride my motorcycle, read books, grow bonsai trees.

I love to collect things – odd things – and to search for them.

I love Guatemala – particularly a small village called Chontala, and my friends who live there.

I try to love myself – in a healthy way, of course.  Some days that’s easier than others.

I love God.

Smith writes, “…’you are what you love’ is synonymous with saying ‘you are what you worship.'”  He then quotes Martin Luther, who said, “Whatever you heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.”

Ouch.  I’m fully aware of how God feels about loving worshipping other gods.

If I’m honest…

I love praise and affirmation.

I love success, accomplishment, and accolades.

I love receiving the admiration of others.

I love food – it’s my drug of choice.

I love indulging in self-interest.

I love comfort.

I love money, and what can be done or acquired with money.

I love hiding from people – I am an introvert.

I love patting myself on the back.

Are these gods to me, too?  Do I cling to them?  Do I worship them?  I know the answer.

There’s absolutely no question that I love God.  The problem for me -and most of us humans – is all of these pesky lesser gods that vie for my constant attention and devotion, and worship.  They seduce me into believing they can make me happy; that they can make fulfill my needs; that they can ease my pain.  Of course, those are empty promises.  I KNOW that.  But, in the heat of the moment, they win my time and talents.  They take my financial offerings.  They receive my devotion.  They have my love and my heart…and that’s the problem.

I’ve only read about 38 pages of Smith’s book, so far, so I can’t tell you, for sure, where he is heading with all of this.  But, I know.

Obviously, my first love must be God.  He demands no less, and is worthy of nothing less.

I know.  I really do.  Now I have to deal with these pesky, lesser gods in my life…

What do you love?


Doing the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons…

Doing the Right Things for the Wrong Reasons…

I’ve been thinking a lot about motives lately – my motives, specifically.

Sometimes, I do things because I’m paid to do them.  It’s my job.

Sometimes, I do things because I have to – like paying taxes

Sometimes (too often), I do things out of selfish desires.

Sometimes, I act on impulse.

Sometimes, I do things to earn the approval of others – or to avoid their criticism or disapproval.  If I am going to be honest, I do this a lot.  A lot.

We all do, I suspect, to one degree or another.  We want people to like us.  We crave validation.  It doesn’t feel good to know someone is disappointed in you.

But, I fear, especially for pastors, this can be a slippery and dangerous slope.  It is for me.  Rather than doing what is right and good for the intrinsically right and good reasons, it is easy to slip into doing whatever it takes to make and keep people happy, and to avoid upsetting anyone.  As a pastor, it is easy to slip into being a people-pleaser.

It’s easy to do the right things for the wrong motives.  Not evil motives.  Just not the right motives.

I’ve told many prospective pastors that the hardest thing about ministry, for me, is always knowing that someone is unhappy with me.  That is just reality.  No matter how hard a pastor tries, someone will always feel let down.  Pastors are only human.  We can’t be in two places at once.  We can’t give everyone equal attention.  We can’t make everyone happy.  We aren’t omniscient.  We can’t fix everything.  We only have so much to give before running out of steam.  We make mistakes.  I make a lot of mistakes.

After all, many of us even struggle, from time to time, with feeling let down by God.   If God can’t escape our disappointment, how can any of us expect to be spared from it?

A counselor once told me, “Vance.  You have to confess and repent your idolatrous desire for human approval.”  He was right.  I am painfully aware that too much of what I do is divided between earning human approval and avoiding their criticism.  I know that I have God’s love and approval, unconditionally.  But, that’s never enough.  Why, is this particular idol so hard to cast down?

So, let’s get back to motives.  I think Jesus would say that everything we do should be motivated by love.  He certainly didn’t make everyone happy.  He only seemed to care about his Father’s approval, who said, “This is my son, whom I love.”  But, he loved.  He loved God and he loved people.  He loved the broken, the outcast, the sick, the sinner, the demon-possessed, the confused, the doubtful, the rich and the poor.  His greatest act of love, of course, was the cross.

Here’s a fact – if I love you, I will gladly do anything I can for you.  If I don’t love you, I may still do it, but for entirely different motives.  I would much rather be motivated by love.

Love is the only motivation that matters.  Maybe someday my motives will be purer than they are today.

What motivates you?