Archive for September 2012

Endorsing Candidates and the Baptist Church

September 29, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     September 28, 2012

I ran for political office about twenty years ago.

Well…it was the local school board…but it was an election, there was tension (since a certain faction the community didn’t like the Superintendent and didn’t want to approve a bond millage), I was elected, and served for five years (One year appointed to fill an unexpired term, and then elected to a four year term).

What I never did, however, was bring my school board candidacy into the pulpit, or into my pastoral ministry. That was a dividing line that I was not willing to cross. I didn’t pass out campaign signs to my congregation to stick into their front yard grass. I was their pastor. I was one of the community’s elected officials.

Somewhere along the line Baptists got mixed up, and started endorsing candidates for political office. But, you see, the separation of church and state is a basic principle, a foundational benchmark, of Baptists. Roger Williams established the “Providence Plantation” in 1636 because of religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In essence, the state and the church and linked together, and Williams settled a place where people could come and worship freely, according to their tradition and beliefs. He established the “First Baptist Church” in America, located in Providence.

When we come to election time…especially a presidential election…both conservatives and liberals of the church seem to blur the line on endorsing candidates. Many will focus on the religious convictions, or lack of, in the candidates, framing it in issues such as justice, or health care, or the use of the Bible, or prayer to help it look more spiritual.

Once in a while I’ll come to our church about this time of year and find a sign planted in the public strip of land between the city sidewalk and the street. It’s public property so we get signs there all the time for roofing companies, cleaning services, and aerating lawns. The problem is that people think we’re endorsing the candidate. I’ve thought about putting this on our marquee sign just a few feet from the political signs: “If there are political signs here, we didn’t put them there!” Or “Don’t vote for any candidate who put a sign along our property!”

As long as I pastor, the only candidate our church will endorse is Jesus. The church should always trumpet the causes of justice, fairness, compassion, mercy, peace, and reconciliation.

What we fail to realize is that there is a different Kingdom that the church is endorsing. It’s the Kingdom of God. Our investment is ultimately not in a certain political plan or presidential proposal, bur rather in the Kingdom that transcends time, and election districts.

When I hear of Baptists churches having voter registration tables I can envision Roger Williams rolling over in his grave.

Oh, and going back to when I ran for school board! I received one campaign donation…from the local plumber’s union. The man who fixed the urinals at church when they broke thought I’d make a good addition to the school board. That’s it! I guess you could say it was the Baptist version of Watergate…except it was precipitated by a flushing problem!

Church Hoarders

September 24, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             September 25, 2012


The church is over-flowing with people of grace. Because of that churches have a hard time throwing anything away. It may have been donated, or it may be a part of someone’s comfort zone. If I went into closets of our church right now I guarantee you I could find Sunday School curriculum that was written when Moby Dick was a minnow, music from when Elvis was singing Gospel, and cleaning tools so worn that they might be confused with giant toothbrushes (Not that I’ve seen many giant toothbrushes!).

Forget Extreme Hoarders! There should be a TV series called “Church Hoarders.” It would be compelling, and tense. There might be a scene in even episode where the Church Council has to grapple with Jesus’ statement to the rich ruler, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” I can imagine the agony of letting go of the accumulation of years of “stuff.” Grief counseling might have to accompany the intervention.

Perhaps part of a church’s problem with hoarding is the fear that cleaning out will just be an excuse for trashier trash to move in. It’s that statement of Jesus about an evil spirit coming back to a house after it has been cleaned and bringing seven other spirits more wicked than itself (Matthew 14:43-45).

Keep the clutter we have now, because we at least know it’s been here a while, and used to have a purpose.

I opened up a closet at church recently and had a computer fall out that was made by Methuselah! It had outlived it’s usefulness, but seven spiders had moved in.

Of course, churches also get cast-offs. If it doesn’t sell at a garage sale, it may end up in the donated box at church. Churches get used coloring books, cassette tapes made by The Imperials, half-eaten boxes of donuts, and King Arthur silverware.

Some Gospel people reword Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11 about coming to him, all who are heavy-burdened as an excuse to clean out the garage and lay the results at the feet of Jesus.

Thus my first statement. We practice grace so much that we’ll take anything from anyone…and keep it!

Soda-free Fast Week

September 13, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    September 13, 2012

I’m on “hump day” of a week without soda pop. Someone said that it is all downhill from here. It may be, and the dream I’m having at the end of that downhill is sliding into a frosty A&W mug of root beer.

Not that I’m thinking that much about pop, but I’m waiting until Sunday to call my dad because when he answers the phone I always say, “Hey Pops!” Before Sunday my mind might wander after I greet him.

Thankfully the Broncos don’t play until Monday night, because if I hear that term “Orange Crush” one more time I’m going to sugar up!

Perhaps the problem is word association. This morning’s mist reminded me of Sierra Mist. Dr. Phil gets reworded to another “Dr. P.”

Deacons= “Diet ____”

Cream of Wheat= Cream Soda.

R.C. Sproul= RC Cola

I can’t get the song out of my mind: “It’s the real thing! It’s the way that we live…”

Four days in! Give me a high-five and a Nehi!

Why am I fasting from soda drinks? For one, it’s probably better for me…although an ice-cold Pepsi after a good work-out just seems to put all the stars and planets in order. Since this is football season, and I’m coaching middle school, I come home from practice on the verge of dehydration. With some cautionary advice from my wife and youngest daughter, I’ve tried to hydrate when I get home with glasses of water instead of a Grape Crush…or two! So my fast is partially because of the hot weather and the need to get fluids in me.

I’m not fasting from pop because I’ve made a deal with God. Seven days without pop means seven baptisms; or a week without pop will result in spiritual strength that will be astounding. That sounds too much like the televangelist who would ask for $1,000 seed and seemed to insinuate that there would be a $10,000 miracle return.

No, I’m fasting just because I sensed the need. I’ve admired a friend of mine, Mike Oldham, who has changed his eating habits…no, better yet, his daily approach to living…and is in a much better place physically. His discipline speaks to me, even though he doesn’t trumpet it, or be a poster child for some organization that is willing to take part of the credit.

So I decided to do it! It will not cause me to be sin-free this week, or eliminate some of the financial bills that need to be paid, but it will help me to know that one thing in my life doesn’t have control over me.

Perhaps next week I’ll feel led to fast from TV, or red meat, or long sermons.

Maybe I can even work some fasts in about eating oatmeal in the morning, abstaining from salads with light dressings, and staying away from the clearance rack at Target.

But for now I’ll stay with the soda, or…I mean stay away from the soda!

And that’s no Mr. Pibb, I mean fib!

Between The “Want To” and The “Did”

September 11, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      September 10, 2012

In a recent Time magazine article (September 17, 2012), Doctor Oz shared some insights that he has discovered about people who want to change a certain behavior or lifestyle tendency and actually doing it! He says that when he hears the words “I know I should…” bright red flags go up.

Without getting to deep in the psychology of change, the five steps to getting unstuck are mentioned as “Pre-contemplation”; “Contemplation”; “Preparation”; “Action”; and “Maintenance”.

But Dr. Oz makes this statement in the article that needs to be trumpeted:

Throughout time, religion has been about not just worship but also life lessons, self-improvement and redemption, with earthly accountability to the community and congregation to help keep us in line…Alcoholics Anonymous was launched in the 1930’s with a 12-step model based on the same idea.”

In other words getting from the “want to” to the “did” requires a transforming decision, and a group to hold you to it.

We call it conversion, but we also need people to have on-going conversation with about the shift in life focus. Conversion is radical enough! To repent and turn to see that you are completely alone in the next step of the journey too often results in “I know I should have” hit-the-wall moments.

Many believers try to go it alone.

It’s an unwise decision! Proverbs would probably label it as a decision made by a fool.

Adam wasn’t made to go it alone, and neither are we. (Let me clarify! That is not a reason for a single person to say “I need to go out and find a spouse!”)

Being a part of a church should offer a level of accountability. Mega-churches do many things well, but I fear the lack of accountability that many of their attenders are drawn to. To be fair, small churches have issues as well. Many times small churches have “ownership issues.” “This church has been in our family for five generations, and, dog gone it, I’m not going to just let Jesus come in and take over Lordship!”

Accountability, a band of brothers, someone to walk the road with me, is a vital part of getting from “want to” to “did.” The days of The Marlboro Man are in the past. Cigarettes kill, and spending too much time with a herd of cattle may only convert someone to being a vegan, not a surrendered follower of Jesus.

It’s interesting that the early Jesus-followers clustered together in groups and called themselves the “Body of Christ.” The Body-healthy moved together, took action, supported each other in phenomenal ways. It does something to you when you realize that some of those gathered in your group might not make it to the next Sunday. Crosses for Christians became a common theme.

We’ll walk together all the way from the ‘want to’ to the ‘did’!

Such accountability without a doubt enabled Paul to say “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)


Driving Miss Lizi

September 8, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 8, 2012


Several years ago there was a movie entitled Driving Miss Daisy about an elderly Jewish lady and her black chauffeur in the South, starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. It was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry.

I lived a variation of that film the past two days. It was called Driving Miss Lizi, and it was a story about a dad and his youngest daughter driving to Albuquerque and back for his daughter’s job interview and looking for an apartment.

Unlike the original Driving Miss Daisy play, this one probably won’t win any awards or be featured in the previews of upcoming movies, but it will be remembered by at least one of the main characters- me!

It included the basic details: quick bite at Arby’s in Raton, New Mexico (2 Beef and Cheddars for $5!); gas up in Bernadillo, New Mexico (I drive a hybrid! I can go a long way! My car and hold it longer than my bladder!); stay at a Senior Citizen hotel in Albuquerque (I swear there was a convention going on!); Lizi complaining about snoring; finding a Starbucks.

But what I’ll remember about the journey was the conversations, the seeking of my input about apartment possibilities, the laughter, the singing or humming along to the music on XM radio.

I’ll remember the glimpses of her mom that came out- the fears and worries, how she drives, her grace.

Sharing a journey with your child is a precious time. You wouldn’t necessarily think of driving to Albuquerque and back in a 26 hour window as precious, but it was.

Sometimes we allow our lives to get in the way with our relationships.

Too often sharing in the moment becomes secondary to the moment. For instance, how many NFL fans will become oblivious to the world and everyone else this Sunday as they sit in front of the TV? Playing video games becomes more important than who it is you are playing with. Getting the yard raked becomes more important than teaching a six year old daughter how to rake. Writing a sermon becomes more important than the people it will be preached to.

I’ve been reading through the Gospels in the past two weeks. Whereas the disciples of Jesus were usually task-oriented, Jesus had a nice mix of taking care of Kingdom work and caring for Kingdom people. He seemed to always have time for a conversation, a discussion, a walk.

I recognize that I am more like the disciples than Jesus. This evening I will probably mow the lawn because… The urgency of it will somehow center itself in my mind as the day goes on. I am task-oriented in a profession that requires work to get done, but also people to be cared for. Finding the balance is often like finding the accurate point on the weigh scale that is the balance point.

It occurs to me that driving Miss Lizi became an exceptional time because we were together in a car mostly on cruise control. Airport terminals are much more stressful…unless you fly into Huntington, West Virginia, complete with white rocking chairs.

We were in a shared, uninterrupted space. In fact, perhaps the most meaningful times I’ve had with family and friends this summer have involved driving: Going with Carol and Lizi to Telluride; driving with Carol to Vail; and driving on-road and off with the group of young guys I lead to a remote camping spot so off the beaten path that even wild animals can’t find it.

In another month or so I’ll make another trip with Lizi and Carol to the same city in New Mexico. This time, however, Carol and I will return without her.

There will be tears…and Carol won’t let me stop at Long John Silver’s!

Praying Long

September 5, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                September 5, 2012


Old friends of ours from our early days in Michigan are in the midst of a very difficult journey. Dan Paternoster was hit by a car as he was cycling to his veterinarian clinic about a week ago. Dan was one of the men who help Carol and me move from Davison to Lansing, Michigan back in September of 1980, where I started my position as associate pastor of Lansing First Baptist Church. I remember him and Chuck Walls lugging our couch and furniture on to the U-Haul truck. It was the beginning of four great years as a “green pastor” learning what ministry really is, as opposed to what they had said in seminary.

Dan and his wife Nancy went on the mission field with Sudan Interior Mission in the country of Niger, following in the footsteps of his parents who served with SIM. After returning to the states he and his family settled in a small community east of Lansing where they serve the people in numerous ways. He has been a steady and strong follower of Jesus.

The recovery process for Dan will be long…and long. No one is saying how long, but the end is not in sight yet. I notice on Facebook that there are a multitude of postings to let Nancy know that people are praying.

Recent times have given us several examples of situations and people that will require long-term recovery. There is a group here in Colorado Springs that I’ve become associated with called the Waldo Canyon Long Term Recovery Group. It is going to take a long time to recover from the devastating fire that we actually watched from where we live, even though it was about ten miles away.

Dan’s recovery will be trying and painful, without a doubt punctuated by quitting points. It will take much prayer.

It will take praying long.

I think of the Biblical character of Simeon, In Luke 2 it says, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:25b-26)

Simeon was into praying long. As long as it took!

In our culture of instant access of knowledge, answers, and solutions, praying long seems like a bad cough that we can’t shake. It’s not seen as a good thing, but rather an interrupter. Our thinking too often is “if it doesn’t happen fast it must not be of God.”

Our Creator not only created instant, but he also created the desert. Deserts are long, and dry, and demand perseverance. An “instant” demands only a momentary commitment.

There will be numerous people praying with Dan, and for Dan, supporting Nancy. Praying long sometimes separates the superficial from the faithful, the weeds from the wheat.

Lord, may Dan and Nancy know that this day has been one more step. May the step be firm and faith-filled, and may the encouraging whisper of your voice be within their hearing!”

Springing Hope

September 4, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 4, 2012

Carol and I went to see “Hope Springs” last night. I saw a couple of aunts and uncles from my past in it. It was amusing…and too close to home! It made me ask the uncomfortable question “Is that us?”

If you haven’t seen the movie it is about a couple who have been married for 31 years. They have become…predictable…and emotionally distant even though they live in the same house. It’s the residue of time and routine that have swallowed up their love. The love is there, but it takes an incredible amount of guided effort to rediscover it.

Enough of the plot. I chuckled a lot during the film because I saw people that have been a part of my journey and upraising, but also I saw myself.

There are weeks that come and go as unsurprising as a farm tractor cultivating a corn field row by row. A surprise might be brussel sprouts at dinner, or, this year, a cool day in the summer.

But…I have to say this…there is also some comfort in the predictability. It is comforting to know that some things don’t change. Carol tells me that my color selection in what I’m wearing is not good. She also knows that Saturday nights are usually restricted times as I struggle with finishing up the Sunday sermon. I know that she enjoys playing “Spades” on-line. A pause in a phone conversation with her is a hint that she is in the midst of a tight game. She knows that I snore and has the freedom to kick me in the middle of the night. Bruises on my body are not a sign of spousal abuse, but rather a night of deep sleep and kicks with more effort behind them. One of us often ends up in the middle bedroom because of restlessness, snoring, intestinal issues, back pain, or trying to finish a book before sleep enters the picture. I am moved by how she engages and cares for kids. She is thrilled by former players that I’ve coached who come up to me in a store, or on the street, and initiate a conversation.

There is a routine in our lives that is good, even as we search for new opportunities. This summer we took a two day vacation. I know…I know…two days…ooo, big spender! But it was a great two days. We went to Vail and just relaxed, walked, explored, rested, ate, slept. Two days was too short, but it was good!

And then it was back to our routine.

We have a good life, a blessed life! It is filled with random moments of the touch of God, the soothing of our souls.

It’s things like our grand-daughter, Reagan, chasing our frazzled cat, Princess Malibu, around the house like a greased watermelon that is never quiet in the grasp. It’s taking Carol with me whenever I have clothes to buy, or never questioning the hint of going with her because dress shirts are on sale at Dilliards’s. It’s being comfortable with the fact that “if it’s cooked on the grill” it’s my job, and if it’s cooked in the oven it’s her domain. It’s helping her step down from the terraced garden in our backyard. It’s telling her what is going on in a ball game because her eyesight is not good.

I suppose you could say that there is a rhythm in our routine, a sense of feeling so fortunate in the midst of all the ways we have been blessed.

I know that I am not James Bond, but I also want to be a little bit to the left of my dearly departed Uncle Milliard.

A little adventure while I stand watering the front yard.

Tonight I’m going to take my bride of thirty-three years for a walk.

Maybe we’ll even hold hands…as we’re in the crosswalk!

Pastor As Visitor

September 3, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    September 3, 2012

I finished the first week of a two week study leave yesterday. One of the weird things about being on a study leave is that I’m supposed to keep my distance from my congregation. My spiritual shepherds have told me that, and I’ve tried to adhere to it as much as I can, but it’s difficult. (Although I’m sitting in my office at church as I write this since it’s Labor Day and the building is quiet today.)

Yesterday I went to the early service of a large Presbyterian church here in town. One of the things I look to do on the few Sundays I’m not worshiping in my congregation is to worship in other churches, to be able to receive, as well as evaluate, from other pastors and bodies of believers. Since I pastor a small congregation I have to always keep in mind that mega-church life is not who we are, or who we will be. But in the midst of that realization that things in Jerusalem are different than things in Nazareth there are hints of the same story being written.

Ninety-five percent of small church pastors would probably tell you that they would like to pastor a mega-church. I think the percentage of mega-church pastors who would like to pastor a mega-church might be somewhat less than that. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…but cows on both sides leave dung!

I slipped into the next to last row…like a typical Baptist…and surveyed the congregation. The early service at this church was a mostly senior crowd- the kind that will stampede Village Inn for breakfast right after church. The choir was magnificent…a hundred strong! They were accompanied by a piano, bass guitar, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. During the service they led the congregation in the singing of four praise choruses and two hymns. On one of the praise choruses they managed to get the congregation to join in clapping in rhythm for almost twenty seconds before hands once again dropped and the choir left it alone.

It was a familiar scene.

The Senior Pastor did the children’s story. Being a senior crowd he had about a dozen kids up front for it out of the eight hundred or so present. Once again, it was a familiar scene. He had one young boy who was always on the verge of breaking out of the corral, ready to take center stage. The pastor, being a pretty perceptive guy, was always one step ahead of him. It taught me something. There are some children’s stories I do where it seems like I’ve got the rope on the steer, but am being dragged behind trying to get control.

One of the associate pastors read the gospel reading for the morning and in referring to Jesus going out into the desert for forty days misread Mark 1:13. He switched two words that gave it a much different meaning. “He (Jesus) was with the wild angels, and animals attended him.”

Since the scripture was being projected on the front walls people snickered a little bit at his mistake.

It was  a familiar scene. It brought back memories of when I was a seminary student on staff at a large Presbyterian church in the Chicago area. One Sunday I was assisting in the worship service and mixed up two things during the prayer time. “And we celebrate with Kathy Smith on the death of her mother!”

If you want to get people’s attention just majorly screw up!

The Senior Pastor had an excellent message talking about John the Baptist. The service was being streamed into a few retirement facilities around the area, plus, for some reason, a place in Minnesota. About two-thirds of the way through the message the cell phone of the eighty year old lady sitting three feet away from me started ringing in her purse. She reacted quickly, picking up her purse, unzipping it, sorting through a multitude of items inside until she found the cell phone. But instead of hitting mute, or turning it off, she proceeded to answer it and have a two minute conversation. After an uncomfortable two minutes- during which time I missed the pastor’s second sermon point- she finally said, “Well, Mabel, I’m in church…”

It was a familiar scene.

What I took away from the experience was a great message (what I heard) from the pastor, a well-crafted order of worship, a congregation that is serving the city in significant ways, and a time to reflect, renew, and receive.

Every church, small and large, has it’s warts and it’s beauty marks. Jesus doesn’t look for perfection in performance, but rather authenticity in our yearning for the presence of God.