Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Parishioner Committed Suicide

My mind has been reeling from it. Yet, the reality is that it happens. It happens in the news; it happens in our cities; it happens in small towns; it happens in churches.

I went again to see what the Scriptures say, because as a Christian, the Bible is my starting point. Always. This is what I found: It happens in the Bible. In Scripture, we find six instances in which someone takes his own life (it’s always a man) and one instance in which a man has his servant kill him:
  • Abimelech - Judges 9:52-54 – Has his servant kill him to save his reputation.
  • Samson - Judges 16:25-30 – Kills himself to take out a bunch of enemies with him.
  • Saul - 1 Samuel 31:4 – Falls on his sword at the end of a losing battle. 
  • Saul's armor-bearer - 1 Samuel 31:5 – Common practice for the slave to die with his master.
  • Ahithophel - 2 Samuel 17:23 – Hanged himself in shame.
  • Zimri - 1 Kings 16:15-20 – Burned his house down around him—his days were already numbered.
  • Judas - Matthew 27:3-5 – Maybe he hanged himself; maybe he didn’t--Acts 1:18,19 says that he fell and “burst open.” So, he either killed himself by hanging…or he tripped and fell…and made a mess of things.

So, let’s do a recount: five sure instances of suicide, one instance of a man demanding to be killed by his servant, and one instance—Judas—whose manner of death is up for debate.

To find suicide in the Bible is not terribly surprising. The act of taking one’s life in order to preserve reputation, to avoid a ‘worse’ kind of death…or an even worse life—this has been a part of cultures for thousands of years. The very surprising thing, perhaps, is that the Scriptures records the suicides but makes no moral judgment whatsoever. In none of these passages does the writer add, “…and he was a horrible, evil man for taking his own life.” No moral judgments anywhere. Interesting....

So, why do so many people think that suicide somehow indicates that a person has committed some unpardonable, unforgivable sin?

The idea comes from the indirect teachings of Scripture, from the connotations we find there regarding life. The Bible is very clear that we are created; we don’t exist by chance. We are created with a purpose; our lives are not meaningless. Most importantly, we are loved by God; to take our lives is to ignore the love of God who created us and gave us purpose. Also, life is a gift from God. If God gives us life, who are we to quit ourselves of life?

The very clear value that the Bible places on human life and the demonization of Judas have contributed to the notion that suicide is somehow unforgivable. I feel sorry for Judas—he was just a guy…and he made some bad choices. He recognized his errors—tried to give the money back, was truly remorseful…and then went out and either fell and died, or hung himself and died. Then, the stories started and the traditions grew up…and Judas has been painted as an evil, rotting-in-hell sort of fellow. I think many will be surprised to find Judas waiting for us in heaven—I think he repented and I believe God’s grace envelops even him.

A parishioner committed suicide.

Psychiatry and psychology seem to suggest that people who take their own lives 1) are not in their right mind at the time of doing so or 2) are physically ill/chemically imbalanced. If someone is mentally unstable or chemically unbalanced, can they really and truly be held accountable for their actions? Would our loving and gracious God really and truly hold them accountable for something that they would never do if they were in their right mind, if they were physically well? I’m leaning towards ‘no’ on that one.

A parishioner committed suicide.

What now? I believe that our God is graciously forgiving. I believe God understands the complexity of the situation far, far better than any of us. I know that God is there, in the person’s mind, seeing the person’s heart…and even if the person did not sense God’s presence, God is there with open arms, hurting and grieving with the person…and in a cry of anguish, sweeps up the soul as it leaves the body, hugging it tightly, weeping once again as He did at Lazarus’ tomb.

The Scriptures suggest that we leave judgment to God. Our task is to learn from the situations around us. Our task is to love the family that is left behind. Our task is to do all we can to keep anyone else from seeking such a permanent solution to a short-term problem, to be listening and loving all along the way.

In the end, “For God so loved the world”…you, me, and the parishioner who committed suicide.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Resurrection – the Defining Moment of the Christian Faith

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8, NIV)

What gives the Christian faith its raison d’être? What made the Christian faith what it is? Where does the Church—the gathered people of God—get its reason for existence?

Imagine with me for a moment what would have happened if the two Marys and Salome had gone early that morning to anoint the body…and the body was still there. What would have happened then? They would have dutifully applied the spices to the body, honoring in death the one who had so affected their lives. They would have gone home, experienced a time of mourning, and lived out their lives. The disciples…well, we know what Peter, James and John would have done—they would have gone fishing…and stayed fishing. Oh, they would have talked about the Nazarene who had so changed their lives, perhaps remembering some of the teaching and the more amazing moments.

“Hey, Peter, remember when he went in the temple with that whip of chords he made?! Man, people were flying every which way! Fur, money and people were jumping and bouncing everywhere! Ha,ha….”

They may have even tried to share with others what Jesus had said…but it would sound a bit hollow now. Because not only had they heard the good wisdom and the call to good works, but they had also heard promises of ‘resurrection’ and ‘return.’ In the end, they’d go back to the nets, days or nights on the Sea of Galilee…and they would have died old men and women, happy for the days they had with the Master, but somehow disappointed it had all be so short lived….

Paul would have continued his studies, risen through the ranks of the Pharisees, sat on the Sanhedrin. He might even have made ‘high priest’ at some point of his life. His life may have stayed very centered in Judea. No journeys to Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Spain….

Nothing would have been written. No Gospels, no letters to churches, no letters to community leaders. Just imagine, we would never have read or heard words such as….

Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest….

Cast all your cares on God for he cares for you….

Love is patience, kind, long-suffering….

If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive you….

Our Father, who art in heaven….

For God so loved the world….

These three remain—faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love….

None of these words would have been penned, none of them heard by the world. Jesus in the end would have been another good man, wise teacher, even miracle worker…just one of the many littered throughout history.

But something tipped the balance, something changed everything….

“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!

This changed everything! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, because he came back to life, because the tomb did not contain him, history was forever changed.

His disciples courageously scattered throughout the known world to tell the story of the One who had changed their lives…and every generation since, disciples have done the same. His words and his actions were remembered and carefully recorded. His life engaged and inspired generation after generation to carry his message of God’s Good News to all corners of the earth. His faith…his trust, his confidence, his belief in God as a loving Father changed everything for the 1st Century…and for every century after. The hope now in a life beyond death moved and moves men and women, young people and old, to embrace the faith of Jesus. The love that he taught us—a new, self-sacrificing, honoring love for God, neighbor and self—changed the world and changed us. Because of the resurrection, the life of Jesus was preserved, recorded, proclaimed…because of the resurrection, the people of this Jesus—the Church—gathered and found support in their unity…and they preserved and lived out the faith, the hope, the love they encountered in Jesus of Nazareth.

The Church today, the Christian today, finds her raison d’être in the moment, the event, the act of resurrection. As a 'resurrection people,' we now gather every Sunday (“…early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise….”) to remember and celebrate the faith, the hope, the love that we find in Jesus...the One who died on our behalf, who conquered death, who rose from the grave to offer ALL the Good News of God, relationship with God, the gift of eternal life with God, a place in the amazing, purpose-filled family of God. The resurrection…changes everything.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Friendly Church

Ask anyone in almost any church, and they’ll confirm it—“yes, we’re a friendly church!” Ask almost anyone who has visited those same churches, and they’ll deny it—“nice enough, but not very friendly….”  What is going on here? How can the church members themselves think they’re friendly while visitors think otherwise?

On the church members’ side of things, well, many of them have history together a plenty.  In fact, it’s quite likely—especially in smaller congregations—for those members to have been together the night before or sometime during the week before arriving on Sunday morning. In other words, besides attending the same church, they are friends outside of church. A simple wave, a smile, or a knowing look shared across the sanctuary carries a lot of meaning, a lot of history, a lot of feelings. Ask these folks if they are part of a friendly congregation, and they’ll respond with a resounding “YES” because they are friends and their greetings on Sunday morning convey a lot more than a mere “Hi, how are you?”

This is where the visitors are left out.  They don’t have the history with everyone there. They don’t have the connection. They don’t have all those ties that link them in and together with everyone else.

Shortly after our first child, Jesse, was born, we were living in the North Georgia mountains. We were also looking for a home church (this is before we went into ministry.) One Sunday morning we visited a church we had passed a number of times—they seemed from the outside to be a ‘happenin’ sort of place, so we decided to visit. The sign out front even proclaimed that they were “the Friendly Church.” When we walked in, folks at first turned and stared a bit. Then, a few came over and greeted us. During the announcements, they mentioned an upcoming softball game, and the fellow giving the announcement informed everyone that “if you want to play on one of the teams, see Daddy after church.” Who is ‘Daddy’? We were left out cold—no connection, so we didn't know who was talking or who his father was. Then, baby Jesse got fussy, so my wife saw another young mother and asked her, “Where can I go nurse my baby?” The response was, “Oh, we don’t have a place like that at this church….”  What? What does that mean? My wife went out to the car to nurse Jesse…crawled into the back seat where there would be more room, forgot the ‘child locks’ were activated on the back doors…and got trapped.  When I went to check on her 10 min. later, she was in tears…and we drove away and never went back.

SO many things went wrong during that church visit, but the biggest thing is that the congregation was not friendly.

Here’s a big part of the problem, a big part of the disconnect that leads a congregation to think they’re friendly when they’re not: 

Folks have confused ‘good manners’ with ‘being friendly.’

Good manners call us to say “hi,” to shake hands, even to exchange pleasantries. When I’m in a meeting and someone is there who I don’t particularly like or get along with, my good Southern upbringing requires me to greet that person, acknowledge their existence and presence—it’s just good manners.  Good manners on a Sunday morning is about the same—we recognize the presence of the person who is visiting, we shake hands, we offer a bulletin, we smile, we nod our heads, we greet them during the ‘greeting time.’  This is good manners, perhaps even kindness…but this is not really being ‘friendly.’

Juan Manuel, a lay person in his congregation, embodied both good manners and friendliness. When we visited his church that first Sunday morning, we found the majority of the folks to have very good manners (if churches could at least do this, it would a step in the right direction…and so you know, turning and staring is NOT good manners.) A number of folks smiled at us, came and shook our hands. But it just took ONE person to be friendly in order for our whole perception of the morning to be shaped forever. After the service, Juan Manuel pursued the conversation that began before service—he continued to ask us about ourselves, our work, our history, our lives…and introduced us to his family, his wife and children.  Then, as we were leaving, he said, “Do you like coffee?” I responded that I did, and then he said, “I’ll call you this week and invite you over for some good Honduran coffee.”

Well, I've heard those casual promises plenty before—folks being ‘friendly.’ I expected nothing of it, so I was surprised when Juan Manuel called me Tuesday evening and invited us to his house for coffee. Here’s the difference—Juan Manuel wanted to befriend us, he wanted us to become his actual friends, and all of his actions were, therefore, ‘friendly.’ He moved beyond the safe world of ‘good manners’ with the intention of actually becoming our friends. We went for coffee…and Juan Manuel and his wife, Claudia, have been our friends for the last four years.

What an idea—attempting to truly befriend the folks who visit our churches?! If we want to have ‘friendly churches,’ we will have to determine to seek friendship, to strive to invite others not only into the sanctuary but into our lives. Can you imagine the difference if we would see every visitor who walks through our doors as a potential friend with whom we may share our lives in the days to come?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Herrin Update - December 2014

Dear Family, Friends, and Partners in Ministry,

Wow! God is good…and life moves along here on the “Edge.” We hope that 2014 has been a good year for you and that 2015 will be even better! We can't believe another year has passed so quickly...and what a year of change!  It’s time for us to catch up with you on life, so let’s do it!

Many of you may recall that Jon returned to pastoral ministry (part-time) in January of this year, basically filling the pulpit for the First UMC of Rio Grande City.  In June of this year, Jon resigned from his full-time position at South Texas College in order receive a full-time appointment as pastor at the FUMC of Rio Grande City!!  He is SO happy to be back in ministry, but it was a bit of a struggle to get back into it.  It had been NINE YEARS since we left Coosa UMC in the North Georgia Mountains to go serve God in missions, first in Venezuela and then in Mexico. Now, Jon is loving parish ministry once again...and that's where we plan to stay!


Rio Grande City is about 50 miles from our home in McAllen. The church has two Sunday services—one in Spanish (9am) and one in English (11am)—and enjoys a community-wide Bible-study time on Wednesday evenings (beginning in January 2015). Please pray that God will continue to strengthen the congregation and guide us as we serve here.

In addition, Jon has begun serving in campus ministry at the small, South Texas College campus here in Rio Grande City.  He is available for counseling two days a week, and he will be presenting seminars for students and staff twice a month beginning in February. The seminars will address practical, spiritual, relational issues that will give the students tools and skills for dealing with the difficulties of border life.

Jeanne continues to teach ESL for South Texas College where she is able to help immigrants and visitors learn English.  She has had students from Mexico, Cuba, Japan and Korea in the last few months…so she is touching FOUR countries without even leaving ours!  Besides teaching the ESL courses, she has started a book club with seven of the women, and she is enjoying reading with them and strengthening their cultural understanding through discussions.

The J.A.M (Jesse, Andrew and Megan)!
They tied the knot! They jumped the broom! They're MARRIED!  On Friday, December 19th at 4:30 pm at the Union Church in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, Jesse and Edgar were married!!  We are so happy for them.  It has been a long journey, but they do seem made for each other...and they have the world before them. Megan was one of Jesse's bridesmaids, and Andrew served as one of Edgar's groomsmen.  Jeanne and I...well, we decided just to be 'parents of the bride!'  

Jesse is a 7th Grade teacher of language arts, social students and United Nations at the Colegio Ingles in San Pedro (part of the Monterrey metro area) and Edgar is a high school art and home-economics teacher at the Colegio San Patricio in San Pedro. They both work together in their church with the children's program. We rejoice in their union...and look forward to the unfolding of their lives together. Pray for them as they embark on this journey together.

And, Megan GRADUATED!!!  She is now a 'graduate nurse' and has accepted a position in the Emergency Department at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, one of the leading healthcare providers in South Texas.  She begins her new job on January 15th.  We are SOOO happy for her--for her completion of the program and for her going after and landing the job of her dreams.  Pray that she will be able to bring healing of body and soul to those she serves.


Finally, Andrew is doing very well in school. He is the final semester of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at his school.  He remains active in the National Honor Society chapter and other organizations at BETA High School. He has begun the process of applying to universities, and has already been accepted in four and has been offered significant merit scholarships by two of his top choices. He will graduate in June of this coming year...and he will take off to find his way in this world. Pray for him that he makes a good choice in the college selection process, and pray that he finds good people to be with at the college of his choice.


…And that’s all the news from the Herrins!

If you would like, you can continue to support our ministry through The Mission Society.  Your gifts will allow us to purchase Bibles and provide resources for the STC Campus Ministry and for community ministries.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter…our Blogs.  And, do drop us a note—mail or e-mail!  We always enjoy hearing from you…and we’ll always respond to your notes.

We hope you all enjoyed a Merry Christmas and that 2015 will be a Happy New Year!  We thank you for your prayers, encouragement and your friendship through the years. 

With great thanksgiving….

     Jesse, Megan and Andrew (The J.A.M.!)

The Herrins serving through the Rio Texas Conference of the UMC and with The Mission Society.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday - 2014

Good Friday…. Darkness covers the land. Despair covers the disciples. We see the walk to Golgotha, that place of death, of crucifixion. We see Jesus and others whipped, beaten…and finally nailed to rough wooden beams. They are lifted, exposed to the crowds…jeered at, laughed, wept for. Jesus...King of the Jews? Son of God? He asks His Father to forgive them…offers some words of consolation to those around…and breathes His last. It is finished. …Or is it?

Viernes Santo... La oscuridad cubre la tierra. Desesperación cubre a los discípulos. Vemos el camino al Gólgota, el lugar de la muerte, de la crucifixión. Vemos a Jesús y otros azotado, golpeado... y finalmente clavados a las vigas de madera duros. Ellos se levantan, expuestos a las multitudes... burlas, risas, lágrimas. ¿Jesús, rey de los judíos? ¿Hijo de Dios? Pide a su padre a perdonarlos... ofrece algunas palabras de consuelo a quienes lo rodean... y respira su última.  Se acabó. ¿O no?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Herrin Update - February 2014

Dear Family, Friends, and Partners in Ministry,

Wow! God is good…and life moves along here on the “Edge.” We hope that 2013 was a good year for you and that 2014 will be even better! After a while, it’s time for us to catch up with you on life, so let’s do it!

After a season away, Jon is back in the ministry!  In September 2013, Jon realized that it was time…time to once again be about the call that God had placed on him, time to step back into the life that the Church prepared him for and ordained him to.  In December, the District Superintendent of the Rio Grande Conference (the Spanish-language conference) called Jon in and asked him to assume duties as the pastor of the First UMC of Rio Grande City, a church that had lost their pastor two months before. Of course, Jon jumped at the opportunity, and the congregation is very pleased to have the Herrins on board.


Rio Grande City is about 50 miles from our home in McAllen. Jon continues to work full-time at South Texas College and serves Rio First as a part-time pastor. The church as two Sunday services—one in Spanish (9am) and one in English (11am)—and sponsors a mission (La Capilla de la Fe) on the east side of the town that enjoys a worship and Bible-study time on Thursday evenings. Please pray that God will continue to strengthen the congregation and guide us as we serve there.

Jeanne continues to teach ESL for South Texas College where she is able to help immigrants and visitors learn English.  She has had students from Mexico, Cuba, Japan and Korea in the last few months…so she is touching FOUR countries without even leaving ours!

The J.A.M!
What?  Who is that fellow in the picture of our family above?  Oh…you didn’t hear??  “SHE SAID YES!!”—that was the headline on Facebook when our daughter, Jesse Elizabeth, got engaged to Edgar Rodriquez Tiburcio.  Yes, on Saturday, Dec. 14, we were all able to be in Monterrey, Mexico, for ‘el pedido de mano’—the ‘asking for the hand (as in marriage).’  Jesse was clueless that it was going to happen, so it was a joyful moment when all of Edgar’s family, all of Jesse and Edgar’s friends, and all of our family showed up for this occasion.  Jesse and Edgar met in high school in 2008…and have been best-friends since.  Both of them will be graduating from college this year…and their plans are to live and work in Monterrey, Mexico—closer to us than San Marcos, TX!


 Jesse and Edgar…happy couple!

 We are so happy for these two amazing people.  Edgar is a worker in the church in Monterrey…a good student and a hard-working young man.  Jesse, of course, is a bright, capable, hard-working young lady.  The two of them together will be a formidable force.  We look forward to their wedding in Monterrey in December 2014!

Megan continues her studies in the Nursing Program at South Texas College.  She is in her THIRD of four semesters and will be graduating in December 2014 with her Associates Degree in Nursing.  She plans to move to Houston, TX, or Corpus Christi, TX, to both work and finish her BSN degree. Oh…and she was able to save her money from work over the last year and purchase a car!  Go, Megan!
Finally, Andrew is doing very well in school. He is in the second semester of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at his school.  He is one of the top five students in the junior class…and he is beginning to look at universities to see where he wants to study computer programming and/or mathematics—his two great interests. In a few weeks, he and his class will be sponsoring a “For the Kids” event to raise money and awareness for children’s cancer issues. Part of his donation will be his hair—to ‘Locks of Love.’ He continues to make us so proud through his spirit of giving and his willingness to help others.


…And that’s all the news from the Herrins! We have some out-of-country mission opportunities this summer, and we ask that you pray that those might unfold and work out as God wills. Pray for us, too, as our children grow and spread their wings—though we are so happy for them, we know that letting go will be hard.

Jon continues to write—check out his thoughts and ponderings on our blog: Life on the Edge.

Follow us on Facebook…Twitter…our Blogs.  And, do drop us a note—mail or e-mail!  We always enjoy hearing from you…and we’ll always respond to your notes.

We hope you all enjoyed a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year—whether it was a time of travels, work, or rest…or a combination!  We thank you for your prayers and your friendship through the years. 

With great thanksgiving….

     Jesse, Megan and Andrew (The J.A.M.!)


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Clear Expectations

In preparation to serve in Venezuela, The Mission Society sent us to Mission Training International (MTI) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  One of the best things they gave us at MTI was a long (and entertaining!) session on what to expect as far as phases of inculturalization—they told us about the roller-coaster of feelings that would hit us over the first year of service.  At first, all would be new and novel and joyful—“Wow! Tastes great! What fun!”  Then, we’d start comparing and criticizing everything—“Ugh…too sweet. I just want a hamburger! Not the way we do back home!”  Finally, we’d find a balance in which we recognized that our host country and the US were simply different with their own strengths and weaknesses…and we could live in both.  Knowing what to expect helped us to move forward with confidence…and saved us from packing our bags in phase two and heading back to the US!

Just as MTI prepared us by making expectations clear, God has done the same—

          He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
             and what does the LORD require of you
          but to do justice, and to love kindness,
             and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

Do justice.  Do what’s right, be about ‘right-ness’…or righteousness.  Often, we easily latch onto to big issues like education, immigration or human-relations issues.  While we want to see justice there, our focus there often distracts us from doing right by our own families—spouse, children, parents, siblings.  We may march on Washington…and neglect to fulfill our promises to our children.  God expects us to do what’s right.

Love kindness.  Our world could sure use a little more of this!  What a different world if we were kind in our interactions.  Yes, easy enough in the check-out line at Kroger or H.E.B. to smile at the cashier and wish him or her a nice day.  But, what about kindness on the highways…letting someone in the long line of traffic?  What about kindness at work…letting a co-worker take a more ‘interesting’ project this time around? And, again, what about kindness to those closest to us? A kind word or act may just change the course of the day for someone….

Walk humbly with your God.  Some folks just park—they accept Christ and they think the journey’s done.  Others are on the fast track to spiritual maturity or of church growth.  God calls us to join Him on a walk…a slow journey.  A walk goes places…but allows for conversation, observation…relationship. 
Of course, the first two can’t happen unless the last one is in place.  Try as we might, we can’t do right and be kind unless we’re walking with God.  But, once we walk with Him, we find that we want to do what’s right, and we want to be kind…because that is what He wants.

What does God expect of us?  This is a good place to start—do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with Him.  If we begin here, we’ll find our lives and lives of those around us transformed.