Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

Moses and Joshua Renewal

March 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      March 30, 2015

                                       

If I typed the letters “M” and “J” on this page many of you who are reading this would instantly think of Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. It’s the end of March…March Madness…basketball frenzy time…Spartans in the Final Four (My excitement is showing!).

But since I’m a pastor who has “been through it” more times than I can count “MJ” also has another meaning for me…especially since we just went through a Renewal Weekend at our church.

“MJ” is short for “Moses and Joshua.” If the church is to experience renewal it needs to be a “Moses and Joshua Renewal.” Moses was in the final part of his journey. Joshua was in the first half of his. For that time in the history of the Israelites…from wandering in the desert to crossing into the Promised Land…it took both men to bring the people along in the journey. It took the elder and the younger walking together to figure things out.

I firmly believe that renewal amongst the people of God is a multi-generational event. Back in the 1980’s a multitude of churches bought into the idea that growth was tied to attracting people who look like you. Racially, economic class, theological beliefs, and such! The last twenty years has resulted in a new twist on the church growth idea: churches growing because they are focused on one or two generations. Elders worship with elders. Youngers worship with youngers.

Here’s the thing! Moses needed Joshua’s energy, strength, and courage; and Joshua needed Moses’ wisdom, experience, and depth.

Some might raise the point that the generation that exited Egypt, wandered in the desert, tested the patience of God, and questioned their leadership had to pass away before the Promised Land could be reached. That’s spot on, but think about those years of wandering. How often did those of Moses’ generation share their experiences, their mistakes, their “If I could do it over again” moments? There is a recent song by the group “Mercy Me” entitled “Dear Younger Me.” It tells of someone sharing with a younger version of the desire to talk about past errors in order to help prevent the younger person from doing the same.

Church renewal is everyone on the journey together, not just those you like or don’t get on your nerves. What would have happened if Joshua would have decided that Moses was too archaic and traditional to stay with him, so he departed “to start a new ministry?” What would have happened if Moses would have decided he wanted to put down roots in the desert and told Joshua if he wanted to go any further that was his choice? Leave him out of it!

One thing that needs to be understood: Leaders are called to lead. Seldom are leaders called to leave.

Leaving is a contemporary version of satisfying the self. It’s the statement that our culture has bought into that says “It’s all about me!”, but simply clothes in a spiritual sweater.

What would happen if the people of God committed themselves to Moses and Joshua renewal?

Another MJ moment!

Petty Peeves In The Audience of God

March 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 March 25, 2015

                                         

Yesterday was a pretty amazing day for this guy! Our third grandchild was born in the mid-afternoon. Carol and I were both able to hold her in our arms about an hour later. Our oldest daughter did well through the whole labor and delivery experience, and the other two grandkids spent the night with us. We’re blessed, we’re blessed, we’re blessed!

I’ve noticed, however, that people react different ways in different situations…especially when it comes to “church stuff.”

I speak as a pastor of 36 years, so I’ve seen a lot of things although I haven’t seen it all. A recent question that has made me ponder as my head lays on the pillow is what are those things that Christ-followers are concerned with that God couldn’t care any less about?

Put in a less eloquent way, what the things that we spend so much of our time backing about and bickering about that aren’t even on God’s radar?

The birth scene of our newest grandchild makes for a good, although let me stress…a fictitious example! What if the four grandparents present at that grand occasion starting bickering about who got to hold the baby more; or what if one of the grandmothers starting getting all upset because the new grandchild didn’t have on an outfit that she had bought for her? What if one of the grandfathers started complaining that the birthing room was on the east side of the hospital instead of the west; or the creamer for the free coffee was a generic brand?

Do you read what I’m getting at? The birth…this new life…is what is important, but the focus would have been shifted to some side show issue that would make good fodder for “The Real Housewives.”

The story of the Hebrew people being freed from Egyptian bondage has always intrigued me. God rescues his people. They are headed towards their promised land. What did God care about at that point? To save his people and fulfill his promise that they would reach the land across the Jordan. On the other hand, what were the issues that occupied the top of the people’s agenda? We need food…we’re tired of manna…we want meat…we’ve got too much meat…we need water…we long for the golden days of slavery.

The fact that God has saved them from bondage and from the Egyptians is no longer high on the list of discussion topics.

I wonder…have we really changed much since then? What are the issues that church people are willing to go to fisticuffs over that yawns about?

I’m biased, I know, but I think a couple of things that he is intimately concerned about include the word “Great” in their label…”The Great Commandment”…”The Great Commission.”

One involves how we treat one another and the other involves the words of hope that we carry in our hearts about salvation now and forever.

I think God is concerned about how we treat one another, or mistreat one another…or how we allow others to mistreat others. He’s concerned over our tendency sometimes to avoid being the hands and feet of Jesus.

I think he’s concerned about the loss of being storytellers of faith…telling others about our love stories with Christ, the difference he has made in how we live and love. I think he’s concerned with how infrequently we “go into”, and how much we stay put.

What is important to God seldom seems to involve a meeting where minutes are recorded, or a vote is taken that leads to winners and losers.

But now I run the risk of including my personal petty peeves and trampling over the purpose of the past few hundred words. We must always keep asking the question of our ministries and our lives. What is really important, and what keeps me from seeing what is important.

As I held my new granddaughter in my arms yesterday I wasn’t thinking about how high the price of the latte was that I had just purchased in the hospital espresso cafe’! All I was thinking about was how blessed I am! Holding a baby who is just entering into her second hour of life tends to make you react like that!

Stripping Away The Build Up

March 24, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               March 24, 2015

                                     

     The high school where I coach basketball had the wood floor in the gym stripped down and refinished last summer. About twelve years of wax was taken off in the process, and then it was refinished. The result was amazing! It was as if a totally new floor was awaiting us. The brightness and shine of the new floor was so intense that I thought we might even be able to practice without turning the overhead lights on.

I think about that as our congregation is heading towards a Renewal Weekend of special events and worship gatherings in a few days. As a person of faith I recognize that- forgive the expression- there can sometimes be a build up of wax that takes us to a place of spiritual dullness and apathy. The relationship loss it’s specialness, the sacredness of the divine and human walking together. We lose sight of our blessed state, the incredible love story of grace and redemption.

At that point there needs to be a stripping away of what ails us. The Spirit needs to be allowed to do a work that may involve pain and hard discovery. Repentance enters through the front and back doors of our soul. Confession tears away the denial. There is a cringing of what we know is difficult to hear.

But then after the stripping away of appearances there comes the process of restoring and being renewed. We become amazed at the cleanness that we assumed was always there. We are amazed by the fact that we hadn’t come to this point sooner. Why had we been so reluctant? Why the delay? What blessings did we already miss?

Different people come to the point of restoration and renewal in different ways. There isn’t a guidebook to follow…seven easy steps to getting your glow back! It is slower for some, quicker for others, but at the end of it there is a sense of clarity and assuredness. Perhaps it is the peace of the Spirit, the closeness of the Father, the journey with the Son.

And we walk with new hope and purpose, like a child whose heart has been broken but then healed whole again.

Renewing the Dead

March 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      March 23, 2015

                                      

There is a TV series that a lot of people are wild about entitled The Walking Dead. (Full Disclosure: I’ve never watched it) My understanding of the show is that people get turned into zombies or several dead-like humans. I’m sure there is a lot of tension, at least one bad dude who hasn’t turned into a zombie yet, love twists, and complicated situations.

Some weeks in ministry I feel like the walking dead. Spirit is on life support, prayers are a whisper, situations at church take my breath away, and when I wake up in the morning I can’t wait to go back to bed that night.

Our church is having a “Renewal Weekend” in a few days. It’s an event that came out of a Sunday school class! Some are amazed by that because the pastor didn’t initiate it or get the idea for it from attending a seminar. But…yes, several people in that class felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to bring it to me to see what I thought and I said “Go for it!”

It’s interesting that the closer the renewal weekend is the more predicaments I seem to be dealing with in church.

So here’s the bottom line! I’m so…so…so ready to be renewed! The team that has planned it has emphasized that this is an event that I will be able to “take in”, not lead or be involved in the preparation for. I’ve had about three meetings over lunch with some of the planners, but next weekend I will be soaking up, not dishing out.

Here’s a hard thing for people to hear! Sometimes pastors have nothing in the tank. They are in danger of being one of the walking dead, trying to find life and “a new word from the Lord.” People don’t like to hear that, but it’s the reality. Jesus went off by himself quite often. Sometimes we don’t know exactly why. We know that he would go off to pray, but not necessarily the reasons for the timing of it. Perhaps he was getting ticked off by his disciples and needed a break from them, or wanted to get away from the noise, or the endless cry for miracles to be performed and healing in people’s lives accomplished. All we know what he would suddenly cast out the daily itinerary as quickly as a demon and head to the high country.

This will be the first Sunday since mid-October that I will not have the responsibility of delivering a word from the Lord…almost six months.

That tells of another pastoral dilemma! Pastors have a high degree of thinking “It has to be me” in the pulpit on Sundays. Although they mean well, I have people tell me that when I’m not speaking on Sunday morning attendance falls. Pastors take on that burden of being present…all the time…24/7…morning, noon, and night.

We think it’s what we should do, but even tires need to be rotated once in a while!

Trust me! This is not meant to be a whine-and-cheese blog entry. I take responsibility for not taking care of my spiritual health. I love my congregation, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that they love me. It would in some ways be easier if I was despised. The love keeps you going, but sometimes love needs to say “Take a break!”

That break will be this weekend! Amen!

Pastoring Kids and Adults At The Same Time

March 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           March 16, 2015

        

Our church seems to have a new challenge each week. One week it’s trying to put enough buckets in classrooms to catch the drips coming from the ceiling, which, by the way, is underneath the new roof installed less than two years ago. Two weeks ago it was a financial crisis after a heavy snow Sunday left the offering plate starving for attention.

We’ve had a leaky baptistry, dark dangerous parking lots, a copier on hospice care, burst pipes, a clogged sewer line, dysfunctional families, families dealing with cancer…healed and terminal, inconsistent volunteers, and “confidential meetings.”

Welcome to the church that isn’t small, but not quite medium-sized. We’re kind of like my pants size. I’m not quite 34, but almost swim in a size 36…and try to find size 35? When I do the style looks like something Austin Powers would wear in one of his movies!

One of of the main challenges I have as a pastor these days is pastoring kids…and adults at the same time. Our church includes families of different sizes and configurations, faith backgrounds and no faith backgrounds, single parent families, blended families, shared families, and multi-generational families. We have families that are in and out…and in…and out. I’m reminded of the Benedictine Sisters at a retreat center outside of the city. They are together each and every day, and, as a result, have a certain rhythm to their community life. Establishing rhythm in today’s church is about as easy as figuring out the federal tax forms.

So often as a pastor I identify with Moses trying to lead a bunch of people who keep remembering the golden years of Egyptian slavery.

The longer I pastor the more confident I am in the fact that I don’t know very much. I become more and more sure that I’m halfway between clueless and understanding with the needle ready to flip to either side on a moment’s notice.

I don’t know much, but it makes me consider what the standards are that I must base my pastoring on.

1) Everyone has value! I don’t have to agree with someone’s position or even their actions, but I must see each person as being one of God’s created. The Body of Christ is made up of numerous parts and personalities. A nose smells things differently than an eye…yes, I know an eye does not smell, but neither does a nose see. One should compliment the other, not be in competition or conflict with the other.

  2) Everyone is on a journey! Some of us just move faster than others. Some of us get distracted along the way by family situations, faith crises, the silence of God, the hyperness of life, and the differences in value systems. It’s like being on a road trip and coming upon traffic that is backed up. Suddenly our pace and our itinerary get altered and we get frustrated. I’ve been known to talk in unkind ways to the cars in front of me that are in the same situation as I am. The thing is we’re all going the same direction, just not at the speed I’m used to. Faith journeys are like that. We want to go at our own pace that is not controlled by others.

3) Happiness is not the goal of the church! Sharing the good news, teaching people about the Christian life, and coming alongside people in their walk with the Lord…those are the goals. We substitute happiness for the joy of the Lord. I admit that I get tired of dealing with issues that people have, and when that happens I have a tendency to yield to what will bring happiness in the short term at the expense of joy for the long journey.

4) Disciple, Coach, Mentor! Recognizing that people are at different places in their faith, as a pastor I must remember that some people are to be discipled. That means there needs to be more supervision and direction, more teaching and structure. Disciples are in the making regardless of age, but most of the children in church are in the disciple phase. The foundational beliefs are still being established in their lives. A good percentage of adults are in the coaching phase. That means they need to be instructed and guided as they are walking with the Lord. There is still uncertainty that needs to be addressed, confusion that needs direction. Finally, there are some adults in the faith community who need a mentor, someone that they can go to for clarification as to how to proceed, or someone to share their frustrations and victories with. A mentor is someone who walks alongside. To put it in a different venue, a disciple sits in the front seat and is told how to drive a car as the driver demonstrates; a coach sits in the front passenger seat and directs the person as he is driving the car…in an empty parking lot, and then a street with minimal traffic, and finally a highway with heavy traffic; and a mentor sits in the back seat and watches as the driver handles the driving. Pastoring is changing hats according to who it is I’m talking to.

A church with multiple generations, all dependent on one another…all occupying the same boat…is a challenge. It reminds me of the disciples that Jesus led. They were challenging! The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus pulled his hair out, but I wonder if that was an option he considered.

And yet, that group of men ended up changing the world!

The Bonding of Silence

March 12, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 12, 2015

                                         

     A number of years ago Becky Pippert, author of the book Out of the Salt Shaker, spoke at a youth convention in Michigan. About seven hundred high school students were gathered in an auditorium to hear her messages during the two and a half days. As Pippert got to the weekend, however, she developed a solid case of laryngitis. She spoke in a voice softer than Marlon Brando’s in The Godfather. A strange thing happened! Seven hundred teenagers became quiet, straining to hear every word that Pippert spoke. Someone with a loud voice would not have gotten the crowd’s attention like she did. The challenges of her affliction caused her audience to listen.

It is an understatement to say that our world is noisy. It is so noisy that people have developed the habit of not being able to listen. Multi-tasking is a nice term we use to excuse the practice of granting someone half of our attention.

But silence can be a bonding instrument. Sometimes the silence of God can bring people together. 1 Kings 19 has the story of the prophet Elijah hiding in a cave. The story is interesting as it described a great and powerful wind tearing the mountain apart, and then an earthquake shaking the land, and then a fire happening. After each of these dramatic…dare I say loud and attention-seeking events…the scripture says that the Lord was not in any of those events, but then came a gentle whisper, and when Elijah heard it and pulled his cloak over his face and stood at the entrance of the cave.

In quiet moments he heard!

I tend more and more to believe that the church makes a lot of noise, but is hearing impaired. Silence disturbs us…invades our comfort zones…seeps into our troubled souls. It is silence, however, that draws the people of God together to listen.

In the viewing room of the deceased as family and friends gather to remember.

In the midst of holding a piece of bread and a small cup of communion wine.

In the holding of a newborn.

In the soft prayer of a child.

In the holding of hands of the gathered saints.

In the silence that follows the sharing of tragic news.

We use the phrase “silence is golden!” Silence is also revealing! Like a voice-impaired youth convention speaker, the lack of a fluent tongue often amplifies the words of the Spirit.

Waiting For Three

March 9, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         March 9, 2015

                                               

“You didn’t take any of your cough medicine yet, did you?” asked Carol, my wife.

“Yes…it’s 9:30. Why do you ask?” I had been to see my physician last week with a respiratory condition. The “happy medicine” was my compensation for housing a cold and ear infection. The “happy medicine” has codeine in it and makes rabbits appear on the ceiling in the middle of the night.

“Kecia could be going to the hospital tonight. She was having contractions pretty frequently.”

Our oldest daughter is about to deliver number three. “If she goes into labor you need to go and say with Jesse and Reagan.” (Numbers #1 and #2)

“Oh!” Profound comeback!

We’ve been waiting for Mystery Child #3 for a while. Kecia doesn’t complain much about carrying a watermelon in her tummy, but you can tell that she is at that point where there is no comfortable position. Waiting for #3 has rearranged schedules, reordered priorities, remodeled the home. #1 and #2 went to Big Sibling Class last week. They learned what it means to be a Big Brother and Big Sister. It was a refresher course for Jesse. Reagan, however, got new schooling. It hasn’t hit her yet that she will be sharing the spotlight in the coming…years. When she was two she blurted out to me one night as we were having a treat at the ice cream yogurt shop, “No, Granddad! You’re Snow White! I’m the princess!” 

Waiting for number three is a time of the family being redefined.

And we wait! As 1 Thessalonians 5 talks about the coming of the Lord will be like labor pains on a pregnant woman, they come unexpected and everything changes.

We’re not good at waiting these days. A pregnancy is a good thing for a family to go through because it lets us know that the world does not revolve around our agendas and “honey-do” lists. In this case, it revolves around someone we can’t even see yet, someone we haven’t even shared a meal with…the unseen that changes everything.

Tonight might be a short night of sleep. I’ll be tempted to take a nip of the “Baptist whiskey”, my cough medicine, but I’ll try to abstain. I may hack myself awake all night, but I’ll be ready…as I wait.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 113 other followers