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John D. Pierce | Blog


Stuff people hand to the preacher

By John Pierce

Regular churchgoers know the traditions well: when to stand, when to sit, when to bow one’s head in a prayerful manner to check the time when the third point of the sermon seems a bit extended.

Then there are practices known only, or mostly, to ministers. Until now.

One of those is that some churchgoers like to hand stuff to the preacher at the end of the service with the simple words, “I thought you would like to read this.”

These unexpected gifts are always received graciously and often read — while filing away sermon notes the next morning or a bit later when the cleaners find the folded paper in a suit pocket.

Some are mimeographed copies of old sermons that have been given to every preacher the giver has heard during the last half-century or so. Others are well-clipped magazine or newspaper articles, prayers, poems or devotional thoughts — or even a well-worn joke or two.

On a recent Sunday two older members of the church where I’m pinch-preaching handed such items to me. One was a nice poem reminding readers to thank God in times good and bad.

The other was a sermon preached 68 years ago — with insight and courage. The man who handed it to me had heard it firsthand and carried the printed excerpts with him.

The stated subject was sexuality, not a topic many preachers addressed in the ’40s, or decades thereafter, I’d guess. But, more so, it was a call for men in uniform to treat women with respect.

Chaplain Frederick W. Brink, preaching in the Ninth Marines Memorial Chapel on Aug. 25, 1945, noted the likelihood that many of his listeners would be headed to Japan. He warned them not to consider the women there to be “chattel” or a “commodity.”

“To us who are Americans, and especially to us who call ourselves Christians, every girl, every woman, regardless of her nationality, is a sacred personality,” said the chaplain. “…We have no right to think in terms of them on any other than the highest level.”

The one who shared this many-times-copied sermon of old said the message resonated with him that day because of his high regard for his mother, his sisters and his girlfriend back home who would become his wife for more than six decades. And its words only increased in value, he said, when he became the father to two daughters.

I appreciate Murry Alford saving this good word that inspired him long ago — and for passing it along.


Fresh eyes, bright mind lead to discovery

By John Pierce

Each April many parents participate in “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” — often called “Take Your Kids to Work Day.” A story published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Saturday may warrant an expansion of that once-a-year idea.

Christian Devlin, a 16-year-old junior at the McCallie School, recently received an official patent for his “Neuronal Protection System,” a device designed to help surgeons ease the damage of blood clots in stroke victims.

The idea arose from a suggestion the then-middle school student made in 2008, after watching his father, Dr. Tom Devlin, perform a surgical procedure to remove a blot clot from a stroke patient at Chattanooga’s Erlanger hospital. Observing such procedures was something the bright, curious student did often.

Dr. Devlin and another Erlanger physician, Dr. Blaise Baxter, who share the patent with Christian, helped develop the device that, as Christian told the newspaper, is “basically taking blood from somewhere else in your body and putting it where it needs it most.”

Time is of the essence for stroke patients and this device is designed to help surgeons in the race against the clock.

With funding, further development and successful testing, the new device could greatly impact the way doctors treat strokes as soon as 2015, the inventors said.

Few moms and dads can expect such remarkable results from taking a son or daughter to work. But this story has a broader lesson than a single medical discovery.

Learning is a two-way street. Parents, teachers and supervisors can often gain insight from those who bring curiosity, fresh eyes and open minds not already firmly shaped by how things ought to be done.

Here’s a link to the story.


Dan Ariail, longtime pastor to President Carter, dead at 75

By John Pierce, Baptists Today

PLAINS, Ga. — Dan Ariail, pastor emeritus of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, where thousands of visitors attend Sunday worship and Bible studies by President Jimmy Carter each year, died early this morning (Nov. 25) in hospice care in Albany, Ga. He was 75.

“Dr. Dan Ariail was a personal friend and a wonderful pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church for 23 years.” President Carter told Baptists Today news journal. “After ‘retirement,’ he remained a valued member of our congregation and set a perfect example of how a former pastor could work in complete harmony with his younger successor.”

A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Ariail was a graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as pastors of churches in Georgia and Kentucky, and as associate pastor of the First Baptist churches of Macon and Perry, Ga., before accepting the pastorate in Plains.

Ariail’s 1996 book, The Carpenter’s Apprentice, written with Cheryl Heckler-Feltz, was a personal, spiritual biography of Carter whose church commitments have included teaching Sunday school throughout his adult life.

“As you can imagine everyone is so sad about Brother Dan’s passing,” said Sybil Carter, chair of the deacons at Maranatha Baptist Church. “He was like a father to us all.”

Ariail and his wife Nelle remained in the church and the tightknit Plains community after retirement in 2005. Even though he passed off the weekly preaching tasks and other ministerial duties at retirement, his continued pastoral presence and contributions to the congregation were greatly appreciated, church members said.

“An accomplished musician, Brother Dan composed many original tunes and their lyrics that were both delightful and inspirational,” said President Carter. “His legacy in our church will last for generations.”

The funeral is set for 11 am on Wednesday (Nov. 27) at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains.



By John Pierce

All-day planning on Monday was broken up with 10-mile bike ride — with the first nine miles free of rain. This photo by Larry Hovis was taken at the mid-point, not the end, fortunately.The Baptists Today/Nurturing Faith staff is spread from North Carolina to Montana with most members working in other capacities as well. So bringing everyone together is a big calendaring challenge.

But we pulled it off last week — and held our second annual planning retreat on Jekyll Island. The one last year at Lake Burton in Northeast Georgia had been so beneficial that we were eager to bring these busy, creative people back into face-to-face conversations with a singular focus on our shared mission.

We began with my sharing some perspective on the philosophy and values that drive our work. And my first point had to do with those very co-workers and the many other important persons who make our ministry possible.

Here are those points — in a more legible form than my scribbling with a blue marker at the retreat.

ONE: Recruit the best possible people — staff, contract workers, directors, donors, partners — to think, do and support the mission.

TWO: Produce the best possible resources (news journal, books, curricula and more) and plan innovative, inspiring programs — always insisting that everything be of high quality and effectiveness.

THREE: Treat all persons — customers, coworkers, authors and others — with respect.

FOUR: Collaborate with trusted, effective organizations whenever possible.

FIVE: Dream big; act decisively but responsibly; work hard; and pray it all works — seriously.

Well, that didn’t scare any of them away. In fact, I was speaking out of the experiences of our fine staff and the great supporters who enable our daily work. These are shared values.

Many good ideas were hatched; evaluations were most constructive; and the teambuilding needed to accomplish these expanding tasks was enhanced.

Time and distance require that our ongoing daily work be carried out with the wonderful tools of conference calls, emails and other technological ways of connecting.

At times, however, there is the need to turn off those devices, turn all attention in one direction and build the relationships that enable us to know, trust and appreciate one another more.

Sharing meals, laughter and informal conversations between planning sessions contributed much as well.

So thanks to Ben, Julie, Jackie, Tony, Bruce, Kim and Lex for investing your good gifts and time in the mission we share — and for setting aside a few days so that we might do it better.


Praising people within professions

By John Pierce

It not unusual to see or hear a promotion to honor a certain profession: teaching, law enforcement, nursing, etc. Indeed there are persons within those professions who deserve our gratitude.

Blanket recognitions, however, may be too encompassing. Persons rather than professions per se make the difference.

Some teachers engage students in the learning process in such ways that impact the rest of the students’ lives. Some police serve in fair and sacrificial ways to better their communities. Some nurses provide competent care in times of great need. 

Some don’t. And the principle applies to vocations of all kinds.

Surely some professions may be considered to be nobler than others in that they call for particular risks or unique commitments. But it takes a lot of different kinds of work to keep society moving well.

Within the wide range of vocational choices we encounter competent and committed persons whose good work enriches our lives in simple to remarkable ways. It’s not the job as much as the particular persons doing the work well.

My gratitude is high for those particular elementary teachers who pounded in grammar at an early age — for those nice people who crank up the ovens and coffee pots at Panera early each morning to make my work more productive — for the surgeon who put my shattered wrist back together this summer — for the… It’s an endless list.

Vocation doesn’t mean job. It means calling.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)

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