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Simple Rules For Success in Life… 06/19/2012

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I was going through some old notes today from a lecture that I went to over 10 years ago, back in my Chiropractic office days. (It seems like a different lifetime) These words had a great impact on me back then (They must have, I actually wrote all of this down by hand) They are definitely missing a little of the theological emphasis that I might add now, but I thought they might be of benefit to you as they were for me. I wish I would have written down where these notes were taken and who I was listening to so that I could give them credit, but I am sure at the time I was confident that I would never forget:)

“Simple Rules for Success in Life…”

Be on time… Don’t get sick and don’t get hurt… No alcohol and no drugs allowed… When you encounter risk, don’t resort to old behavior… See your role on the team and in groups… Always ask the question, “What does this mean to me?”… Have fun…The best jailer in the universe is within my own mind… Be willing to take on and accomplish big ideas and tasks… Be open to coaching… Be willing to play at 100%… Nature is not capable of programing for failure… Solid foundations are built on God… My purpose is the reason for which I exist… Money should be the effect of my actions not the cause… When I am driven by purpose, there will sometimes be pain and there will sometimes be pleasure, but there will always be purpose… Life without purpose is mediocrity… If I find myself walking in circles, chances are that my compasses are pointing in different directions… If I want to stop going in circles, I must remove contradiction from my life.

I will never be perfect, I must strive for excellence… As I let go of perfection and embrace excellence, I let go of frustration… Do I have 20 years of experience or do I have one year of experience 20 times… In order to set my compass heading, I must write down a philosophy and a purpose… Prosperity comes from struggle and effort… I’m going to be very prosperous… The only thing I can control is my reaction to reality and for everything else, I am going to go out and have my experience anyway… Taking a walk in the mountains is good for my Spirit… Always follow through with what you say you’re going to do, (Even if it means tying a rubber band around your ankle and jumping from a crane)

Faith and trust is knowing that when you fall backwards, you will always be caught if you surround yourself with those who love you… When faced with a wall, there is always a way to the top, if I look hard enough and take my time… I get just as much satisfaction out of encouraging someone to the top of their wall as I do reaching the top of mine… If along the way I should slip and lose my hold, there will always be someone there to make sure I don’t fall too far… The last 10% is both the most challenging and the most rewarding… The barrier for achieving that last 10% in anything is always in my mind.

Nobody owns my life… No one has a mortgage on my life… Whenever principle is compromised there will be loss of life… No matter how tired I am, I am capable of doing and learning even more… There is a direct link between confidence and success… I need to set my standards… Obstacles are things you see when you lose sight of your vision… If you don’t write things down, they don’t exist… Procrastination = veiled anger and resentment… Planning brings the future into the present… Leaders never survey… What are my speed bumps to a velocity life… Intention without action is delusion… Am I a climber, a camper, or a quitter.

Our thoughts determine our response to life… We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are… I will never let anyone tell me it can’t be done, because I am doing it… You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take… Being extraordinary in the ordinary things of everyday life makes a person stand out… I will do it and improve on it… People sometimes achieve their greatest successes after their greatest failure… The most difficult times in my life have been the ones I have given myself…

Life is a gift – open it… a joy – share it… a pleasure – have some… a ball – catch it… a joke – laugh… a game – play it… an experience – live it… an offer – accept it… a dream – make it come true… Although each of us are uniquely different, we are all the same… Get in the game… Family is more important than work… Tell one person you love them each day… In supporting others dreams, we reach our own… Tell you friends you appreciate them, you never know what it may mean to them… If we stick to our principles, there is a solution for every adversity… Whoever decides not to support you, just say “next”…Angels can show up at any time dressed in disguise… Hug your Mom… There are no such things as coincidences…

Things we have no control over are not our fault… Spend time with your spouse, they love you… Each of us needs to be wealthy to win the war… F.E.A. R. False evidence appearing real… If someone doesn’t see your “Field of Dreams,” that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it means they can’t see it… If you build it, they will come… Is this Heaven?   Yes… Get in the game… The secret to success is showing up, and if you want to be a really roaring success, just show up dressed and ready to play!

Where there is no vision, the people perish… Knowing the destination is half the journey… Strive for excellence in everything you do… Too many settle for mediocrity because that is what everyone else is doing… Begin first with a vision!

Blessings

Moving Outside The Friendly Confines 06/14/2012

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Upon my return home from License to Preach School, I was all ready to be appointed to a church. If memory serves correctly, I harassed our poor District Superintendent on a regular basis over the next couple of months and each time I was given the answer that he was looking for just the right place for me, and as soon as something was available he would let me know. One month led into two and then two into three, I was beginning to wonder if maybe there wouldn’t ever be an appointment available for me. But, I kept the faith, knowing that I would be talking to the DS at our church’s Annual Charge Conference and perhaps he would have good news for me then.

“No Jim, there just isn’t anything available, you will need to be patient!!”

Hmmm, patience wasn’t something that I did all that well, but then again, I guess he really didn’t give me any other choice.

Another month went by and then another. The fall was rapidly turning toward winter and Thanksgiving was just around the corner. By that time I had resigned myself to the unpleasant idea that perhaps I had already received an answer, “Thanks, but no thanks Jim!” I just kept thinking, “All of that work and I guess they figured that I must not have been cut out to be a pastor after all.”

Suddenly, out of the clear blue, everything changed, the phone rang and it was the long-awaited call from my District Superintendent. “Jim, would you be available to fill in at Ogilville UMC for a couple of weeks? The pastor will be on vacation and I thought this might be a good opportunity for you!”

“Would I be available?” Are you kidding me? I would have canceled a trip to Hawaii for that opportunity. (Well, maybe not Hawaii, but you get the idea… 🙂

This was my first opportunity to preach outside of the friendly confines of my home church and it was also an opportunity to explore other responsibilities of ministry such as my first hospital visit. (I can’t believe how much I have learned since then)

I really had a great time during those two weeks. The people of Ogilville were very kind to me and I was especially pleased that they didn’t choose to throw anything at me. What I didn’t know at that time was that my preaching days were just beginning. God’s call on my life was starting to take shape and the early days of preparation were about over.

I Have To Go Back To School? 06/06/2012

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Now that I was officially a Certified Candidate, I was eligible to attend the Indiana Area Local Pastor’s License School. Trinity blessed me by paying my tuition in full and Pastor Ron loaned me his laptop computer. I was all set to go learn everything I ever needed to know to be a pastor……. Well, perhaps that is a bit of an overstatement.  At least upon completion, I would be able to give Communion and Baptize, if I were ever to be appointed to a church.

Now, first of all, let me say that the two weeks  at License to Preach School were two of the most enjoyable weeks that I have ever spent. In many ways it was like being in a sanctuary nestled away from the world, filled with worship twice each day, wonderful food, excellent teachers, and insightful material. Although I learned a great deal and remember many things about my time in attendance, there are three things in particular which I will never forget.

The first was the invaluable knowledge that there are four times in our encounters with parishioners and churches that we simply aren’t’ allowed to mess up. Those times can be summed up in the words; Match, Hatch, Patch and Dispatch.

The first, “Match,” is the extremely emotional time surrounding weddings. All I have to do is to remember one occurrence at my daughter Terri’s wedding and I know for certain that the mother of the bride can hold a grudge for a looong time!

You may have guessed that “Hatch” is anything to do with the birth of a child or the baptism. There are many times when we as pastors will be readily forgiven for our trespasses. A mistake relating to the birth of a child or baptism is not one of them.

“Patch” relates to the significance placed on our responsibility to be with those who are sick, or in the hospital. I know from personal experience how much it means to the family to have the pastor there in those times.

The final time is “Dispatch,” and as you may have figured, this is at the funeral and around the time of death. I remember attending a funeral where the pastor called the deceased the wrong name, multiple times during the funeral service (the family still talks about that) I attended a funeral where I was sure that the preacher was going to do an altar call right at the casket. (The family still talks about that one as well)

(Remind me later to tell you my two favorite funeral stories, both are true, I know, because they both happened to me, and trust me, you can’t make these things up)

The second thing I remember about License to Preach School was the “Poker Chip” analogy. It was explained to us that when we go to a new church appointment, we are “figuratively” given a handful of poker chips. You receive more poker chips when you are perceived as doing the right things by your congregation, such as caring for the sick, preaching good sermons, loving the people… And you lose poker chips when you mess up, such as during Match, Hatch, Patch and Dispatch. Of course it is possible to lose all of your poker chips at one time if in your first week of a new appointment, you decide to fire the long-term janitor of the church (who you observed never touched a broom or a vacuum,) but unfortunately was also the brother of the Pastor Parish Chair. As long as you have poker chips in your hand, you can do ministry in that setting. When your poker chips are gone….. so are you!

The final thing I remember about License to Preach School was how lonely I got during those two weeks. I had never been away from home that long, and even though I was having a good time, I missed Karen and the kids. So when I found out that many of my classmates  families were coming up on Sunday afternoon for a visit, I called Karen to see if she and the kids wanted to come up and spend some time with me.

Unfortunately, she said that she was sorry, but they would all be in Illinois for  her Mom’s 75th birthday party and she didn’t think that it would be possible for them to make it back in time…. long silence on the phone…. “Are you sure??” I asked dejectedly …..”Well, we are planning on driving back from Illinois that day”.….more long silence….. “That is really way out of our way”..…  more long silence…  “And we don’t have any idea how to get up to where you are staying”…. more long silence… “It’s already going to take us six hours”… more long silence……..… “But Karen,” I said, “all the other kids parents are gonna be here!!!!!”  Guess who all arrived Sunday afternoon right after lunch? 🙂

So, with License to Preach School complete, I was eligible (eligible being the operative word) to be appointed to a church. Another step complete, but countless miles left to go.

Blessings

PS: I am leaving for Annual Conference, and I don’t know if I will have any time to post for the next few days, but never fear, the next installments of my journey will be forthcoming as soon as possible:)

Certified or Certifiable 06/05/2012

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The next step in the process was to become a “Certified Candidate.” This represented a whole different level of commitment as I was seeking to discern my call. One of the requirements of a Certified Candidate was to have a complete psychological evaluation. (Ok, I know, I am already ahead of you on this one, you are thinking how did he possibly pass that?) Indiana is actually very proud of their psychological screening process. Apparently, Jim Jones, (the cult leader who is best known for drinking Kool-Aid) was at one time seeking to become a United Methodist pastor in Indiana. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for the rest of us) he failed the psychological evaluation. (Somehow that doesn’t surprise me)

In reality, the evaluation was a remarkable experience.  I am not sure how many different ways they could ask me if I had ever contemplated suicide or if I had ever heard strange voices in my head telling me to do things, (I think they meant other than Karen) but my answers must have been considered “normal” enough that I slid by.

With the psychological evaluation complete, that left two more obstacles to becoming a Certified Candidate, the first was to be voted on by the Charge Conference of my home church (Trinity), and the second was to be approved by the District Board of Ordained Ministry.

The Charge Conference was a very uplifting and affirming time. My church family had many kind and warm things to say about me, but there was still the matter of the vote. As the ballots were being distributed, I couldn’t take the stress, so I wandered to the back of the sanctuary and began talking with my son, Ben. Our conversation, which probably consisted of the goings-on in the most recent installment of his video game, was very helpful in taking my mind away from the vote and counting process.

Once again, the Holy Spirit was watching out for me. Apparently, while our District Superintendent was tallying the votes, he was separating them out, placing one vote on the right side of the podium and one vote on the left side. From what I understand, he continued this process of sorting throughout the entire counting process, which would have given me and anyone else paying attention the impression that the vote was extremely close. (Thank goodness I wasn’t paying attention or I might have died right there on the spot) When he was through counting he said that there were 30 votes cast, 15 were YES and…… the other 15 were…….. YES as well, the vote was unanimous. (My heart started beating again)

Now it was time to meet with the District Board of Ordained Ministry. These folks work very hard and give a great deal of personal time to meet with and interview part-time and student local pastors. They seek to offer support and to help hold us all accountable in ministry. This was to be my first of what would be many interviews with the District Board. Honestly, I don’t remember much about that particular interview except that they had a major discussion of liberal vs. conservative theology right in the middle of my interview, during which I was pretty much just a spectator, until the District Superintendent reigned them in and got them back to focusing on my interview.

When I left that meeting, I was a “Certified Candidate,” now the clock was ticking. By Discipline, I only had 12 years from that date to reach ordination. (Looks like I will make it with 3 years to spare!)

The next step….Local Pastors License to Preach School

Blessings

I’m Not Worthy!!! 06/04/2012

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Things seemed to settle down after the first day, well except for Rev. Rosa Harris coming into Vacation Bible School with her big booming voice asking, “Where is that Jim Higdon, I want to talk to him!!” (Apparently she was pleased with my decision) Life began to settle into a new pattern of study and reflection. I started meeting with Pastor Ron every week, working our way first through the book “The Christian Minister” followed by the big purple book “Ministry Inquiry Process.” I began to journal and read and study the Bible each day. Pastor Ron also gave me the devotional book “A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants,” which was a wonderful source of help and inspiration.

The days flowed into weeks, and the weeks flowed into months as I worked methodically through the candidacy process. I progressed from being an “Inquiring Candidate” to an “Exploring Candidate.”  I finished the big purple book and graduated to the even bigger, blue, three ringed binder called “Candidacy Guidebook.” Pastor Ron and I discussed scripture, theology, polity and a thousand other subjects. A year had now passed and it was time for the next major step and decision point. It was now time to “declare” my candidacy.

In our United Methodist system, your home church must send you into ministry. You can’t become a pastor in a United Methodist Church unless your home congregation recognizes your gifts, graces and fruits and is willing to recommend you for ministry. The first significant part of this process is meeting with and seeking the approval of the church Pastor Parish Relations Committee.

Pastor Ron set the meeting for a Sunday after church and the only people who knew what the meeting was to be about was Pastor Ron and the Chairman of the committee. I have to admit that the morning of the meeting I was physically Ill from worry. (I know, I know, O ye of little faith)

I remember just before the worship service started, sitting up in the choir looking out over the congregation, I remember thinking that I could simply just go tell Karen that I didn’t feel well, and we could leave, the meeting would be postponed (forever) and I could just go back to the way things were before. I remember watching as the Chairman came into the sanctuary holding a thick manila folder. “What did he have in that folder?”  I thought.  I began thinking of every character flaw I have ever had, (and there are a lot) I thought about my sins of omission and commission, I was beginning to think that this meeting was nothing more than a set-up and if I had any sense I would leave now and never return. A feeling of panic swept over me, I wanted out and I wanted out now. Tears began to flow down my cheeks and I began to pray for God to deliver me from this situation. Suddenly, God blessed me with a calm resolution, a feeling of strength and a sense that everything was going to be fine. I decided that no matter what happened, I was going to go to the meeting and simply let go and let God.

From the very beginning of the PPR meeting, I felt nothing but the warm embrace of my church family and the love and pride which they shared with me. I was shocked at how emotional I felt. It was all that I could do to read my “Statement of Call” to the committee members. Afterwards, Pastor Ron told me that this would be a long emotional journey, and not to be surprised when strong emotions would surface at unexpected times. (He was right)

I left the meeting that day with the love and approval of the PPR committee, another step down and countless more left to go.

Blessings

“Are You Gonna Join A Monastery?” 06/03/2012

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On Saturday when I returned home from Annual Conference, everything seemed the same,  no earth shaking repercussions from  my experience at the Ordination Service, no opening of the sky, no dove descending, the house was pretty much as I left it and I remember thinking that perhaps no one noticed that my life was forever changed.

Sunday morning we went to church and there was no mention of my Annual Conference encounter with God, (I certainly wasn’t going to say anything) and for a moment, I began to feel like perhaps my life was returning to normal. (Normal is good right?)

Monday morning when I arrived at my office, there was a message on the answering machine from a patient who had heard that I was going to become a minister (How did they hear that?) Then the phone rang and it was another patient who heard that I was closing my office, joining a monastery and becoming a priest. (Karen might have had a problem with that) The phone continued to ring all morning with questions about what was happening (Thank goodness I didn’t have to answer the phone) I even had a call from someone wanting to talk to me about a spiritual problem that they were having. (I was definitely not ready for that)

Just before lunch an old family friend stopped by the office to find out if what he had heard about me was true. So I asked what he had heard and he told me that he heard that I was going to become a minister. “Where did you hear that?” I asked him and he said that he was watching the TV broadcast of one of our sister UM churches and that they made the announcement during the Sunday morning worship service. Apparently every UMC in our area had made that announcement on Sunday morning. (Well, except my church)

I guess God knew me too well. God knew that I needed a push and I needed people to hold me accountable. (I still need that) I knew from the first day that the journey was going to be long, and I still had no idea where I was going, but if the journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step… I guess I was on the way.

Blessings

The Altar Call 06/02/2012

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After sharing with Karen that I sensed God was calling me into ministry, the following Monday morning, when I returned to my office, there was an email from The Methodist Theological School of Ohio waiting for me. The response from the school was very detailed and affirming, but also very clear, that the first step was to go and talk to my pastor about it. (Wow, what a great idea, why didn’t I think of that?)  After a lengthy conversation with Pastor Ron, he invited me to attend Annual Conference, which was only a week away, as his guest. He thought that it would be a good opportunity for me to see firsthand what I was getting myself into. He was especially excited for me to attend the Ordination Service with him on Friday night in the Indiana University Auditorium.

At the end of the very beautiful Ordination Service, Bishop Woody White began what I thought seemed to be an altar call. It sounded like an altar call… why on earth would he be doing an altar call at Annual Conference… isn’t everyone here already supposed to be well past that point… isn’t this a waste of time…what is he doing this for… who would possibly come forward… this is about the most stupid thing I have…

Suddenly, it became very obvious to me what was happening. This wasn’t an altar call at all; he was inviting people to come forward who had been called into ministry.  I was stunned when he announced that “right here tonight, in this auditorium there are people among you whom God has called into ministry. If you feel God calling you into ministry I want you to come down now from your seats, come forward and we will pray with you about your decision.”

I was frozen in my seat. I didn’t know what to do. He was talking to me. I knew without any doubt that he was talking directly to me. I wanted to run, but I knew that I couldn’t run from God. I wanted to stand, but I was too afraid. “I’m not ready to tell anyone yet! I know that there are a lot of people here tonight who know me…. my daughter’s youth group is here…what will they think? It’s not time yet!” All of these and a thousand more thoughts rushed through my mind in an instant.

Tears welled up in my eyes… if I go forward then everyone will know what, so far, only Karen and Pastor Ron know… but if I stay in my seat, wouldn’t I be lying to God and to myself… what should I do?  What must I do?

Then, with a deep breath… the answer became clear, I knew what I had to do. I leaned over to Pastor Ron and asked, “Will you go with me?” He silently nodded and together we made the long, long walk to the front of the IU Auditorium. I really don’t remember much of what happened after that. What I do remember, however, is that it was in that moment that I made a covenant with God. I made a covenant to go wherever the Holy Spirit leads me, and to serve God for the rest of my life. Nine years from the anniversary of that night I will kneel before the Bishop and be ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. As Bishop White always said, God is good all the time…and all the time God is good…

Blessings

God Calling… 06/01/2012

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I have been thinking a great deal about our upcoming Annual Conference, and I have to admit I have been thinking even more about ordination. It has been nine years almost to the day that I first answered God’s call into ministry. I remember it so clearly as if it were only yesterday. I had just finished directing our church production of the children’s musical “Don’t Rock The Ark.” I am not sure if I had ever been a part of anything that I enjoyed more than my time spent working with everyone involved in the production.

After I had arrived home, I began to reflect upon the experience, I thought about the things in my life that gave me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction, and it was in that moment that I made the decision to follow, or perhaps “attempt” to follow where I felt God was leading me. The problem was, even if I had some remote idea of where God wanted me to go, I had absolutely NO idea how to get there.

Suddenly, I had the inspiration to get on the computer and to look online and see what I might have to do to become a pastor and to participate in this work all the time. After much searching, I found myself at the website for the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. After scouring the entire website and not really getting any of the answers I was searching for, I began to pour out my thoughts, hopes, dreams and questions to the email address intended for those who had any further questions about seminary.

When I had completed this epic email and was reviewing it for the one hundredth time, I heard a loud voice calling to me saying..… “What are you doing?”…….. It wasn’t God… it was my wife Karen. She wanted to know who I was sending an email to. What was I going to do? I wasn’t ready to share this with her… I wasn’t ready to share this with anyone… for heaven’s sake, I didn’t understand it myself, let alone try to explain it. So I did the only thing I could do, I minimized it so that she couldn’t see it.

“Who are you sending an email to?” she asked again. So, I looked at her and asked, “Would you really like to know?” She responded that she did and I slowly read the email to her. Then, I looked into her eyes and cautiously asked what she thought. She paused…hesitated for a moment… then said, “I think you should do it…I think you would be good at it…” Then she said the words that forever changed our lives, “When do WE start?

In that moment, the direction of our lives was altered forever. I had no idea what was to come. I had no idea where it would lead and I certainly didn’t have a clue what it would ultimately mean to follow God’s call on my life, but what I did know was that whatever God had planned for us we were in it together.

Next time I will share with you my first Annual Conference experience and what I thought (at the time) must have been the most stupid thing I had ever heard. What I didn’t know was that the joke was on me. (God does have a remarkable sense of humor.)

Blessings