Archive for December 2012

Willie the Baptismal Whale (part 2)

December 27, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  December 26, 2012


The pastor had to do a little pushing and pulling to get the inflatable properly positioned. It was a snug fit. Inflatable whales are a little wider than Baptist church baptisteries. Finally it was in place with the tail out the backside of the one entrance tank. Perhaps it was built that way to eliminate escapees who began to doubt at the last moment…or if the water heater wasn’t working!

The pastor went home…hopeful that Sunday morning he would not be deflated by having dry baptisms.

He arrived early on Sunday to inspect, pray, and pour. It was a long walk from the kitchen to the baptistery, but that’s where he had to go to fill bucket after bucket with hot water. Willie’s “belly” slowly started to fill up. The tail flopped back and forth like a fin out of control.

It took twenty trips with the five gallon pail to get Willie to the brim. The pastor’s upper back and arms were aching and he secretly was longing to be a Methodist. Sprinkling is a lot easier than total immersion.

That was another fear that kept creeping into his mind. Would Zach fit? He had visions of “partial immersion.” What if Zach’s muscular body couldn’t go all the way under all at once? Was it okay to baptize his upper body and then his lower body immediately after? Did that qualify? He thought back to his adjunct preaching professor in seminary who was a Presbyterian pastor. Baptist seminary students usually want to know that they have all the right answers…and that others don’t. Discussion with their professor about the validity of any baptism that involved less than five hundred gallons was a point of debate.

The wise mentor from a different tradition looked at his inquiring students and asked them a question in response to their question: “Is it the amount of water that is important or the condition of the heart?”

Silence like Pharisees before Jesus.

Zach’s heart condition had been washed clean. A sense of peace fell upon the pastor’s spirit. Sometimes his faith got lost in the fret about the details.

Thirty minutes before the worship gathering was to begin the pastor checked the water level. Willie was holding. The water was still to the top of his sides. He hoped that the temperature would hold just as well. Toes turning blue were not on his bucket list!

The sanctuary began to fill with people, familiar faces and unfamiliar. Baptisms brought the body of believers, as well as others who perhaps wanted to see if it would happen. Zach’s guests included a former high school teacher who prayed for Zach frequently, worrying about his life’s direction and consequences. There was also his boss who had taken Zach under his wing, and treated him like a son. In fact, there were a number of people sitting in different pews throughout the sanctuary that has a hand in guiding him to this point.

Little Bethany also had her guests, aunts and uncles, neighbors and playmates. Her stomach was starting to turn flips in anticipation. Truth be known, she was anxious about the water temperature. She had been telling herself all night “Don’t squeal! Don’t squeal!”She didn’t want an ice-cold whale to cause her to scream.

When the pastor touched down into the pool, however, the temperature was just a little cooler than bath water. He gave the thumbs up to Bethany and her mom and dad who were standing behind her. She stepped down, and accepted the help from the pastor as her right foot stepped over Willie’s inflated head.

Her mom and dad joined her. The increase in weight on the bottom of the pool caused the air to shift to the tail end, and Willie’s back flipper came to attention. Her dad led Bethany through the affirming words of her faith. The pastor stepped to the side and Bethany’s dad, a hair over six foot three himself, dipped his daughter low. She submerged and emerged with not even a gasp, let alone a squeal. All that the congregation could see was a little girl with a big grin that circled around the gap created by her two missing front teeth.

The congregation applauded. Aunts cried. Mom embraced her daughter.

Parents and child stepped back out of Willie and carefully went back up the steps. Zach was next. He came down the steps looking bigger than he actually was. He smiled at the pastor, who moved towards Willie’s tail to give him a little more room. He wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but he was going to make it work…even if it meant to a snug fit in between Willie’s sides for Zach.

The pastor looked out and caught sight of some of Zach’s family. Several were already tearing up. They knew his journey. They knew that there had been more doubters in his life than believers. Some of the doubters, oddly enough, still hoped for failure. The need to be right was greater than the hope to see transformation.

The pastor stood on Zach’s right side.

Zach, who would have thought that you would have a Jonah moment this morning?”

A chorus of “amens” sounded in different parts of the sanctuary. Zach’s facial expression widened with raised eyebrows and a smile that stretched his cheeks as wide as they could go. The pastor led the new believer in words of profession and identification with Jesus.

Let’s see if we can all of you under!”

I’m good with that!”

The words were said, and the young dad was dipped. The pastor swished him around a little bit in Willie’s belly just to make sure; and then he was up…drenched…chuckling…triumphant.

The pastor embraced him. The congregation applauded.

As if in approval, Willie’s tail waved for a moment.



Willie the Baptismal Whale (part 1)

December 24, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          December 23, 2012

The water dripped out of the bottom of the baptistery. It was not a good sign! The renovation of the pool had been completed, but a testing of it a few weeks earlier had shown that it was leaking. The experienced, but aging pool man had come and reworked it. He was sure it was as sound as a steel horse trough!

Little Bethany and solidly-built Zach were ready to be the first two tip-and-dipped below the water’s surface.

Bethany, just a bit under reaching her tenth year of life and missing her front two teeth, was excited to proclaim that she knew Jesus. Her older brother, Josh, had been baptized in the frigid waters of the leaking baptistery, even though the depth was kept at just under a foot. Cold is cold, however, and when Josh’s father dipped him under all the congregation heard was a chilled whimper rising up from the walls above the water. Bethany was sure that her experience would be… warmer! Her shyness showed as she would lean against her mom as the pastor talked to her about what baptism meant; but, inwardly, her excitement could have enabled her to jump across a flowing river.

Zach was a football player turned husband and dad. He had gone through some dessert experiences, but had come to know Jesus in a personal way. It’s not that he understood everything, but he knew a few months ago that his life had come to a “fork in the road”. It was a decision point, and he chose to be a follower of the way of Jesus. His wife and kids were excited to see his life slowly but gradually change.

But on Saturday night the water was continuing to drip out of the tank. It seemed like God was giving this Baptist church an object lesson of some kind. Was there some unresolved sin that was keeping this Baptist church from performing baptisms? Or was it simply the error of a pool guy who hadn’t had much experience doing baptisteries? There was Ezekiel’s dry bones, the ram caught in the thicket for Abraham, Jeremiah buying a field as a sign. Could the dry baptistery be a sign of the absence of the Lord’s blessing on this church? People didn’t want to think about it in that way, but the thought tumbled around in many people’s minds.

The pastor sent out a plea on Saturday night to see if anyone had an inflatable pool that might be used.

When the conventional doesn’t work go with the unconventional. Just get it done! Don’t be deterred!

Within a few minutes of his email plea he had a call from one of attenders about a wading pool he had at his house. He would load it in the back of his truck and be right over. The pastor breathed a sign of relief. A short time later, however, his relieved spirit was trumped again as he discovered that his friend’s wading pool was made of sturdy, inflexible plastic and it was too wide for the baptistery.

Lord, why?”

Being December inflatable wading pools were not an item that stores stocked. The pastor had already thought of that route, and had received a few strange looks from hurried store employees trying to find Tonka Trucks and Barbie Doll accessories. One store employee when asked about wading pools looked around trying to find out where the hidden camera was filming the conversation.

The pastor’s email clicked with another message. Another family from the congregation had an inflatable pool that could be used. Baptism was going to happen!

An hour later Keith carried it into the sanctuary in a Sears shopping bag, not because it was brand new and recently purchased, but rather to keep it bundled together so it didn’t sprout into eighty different directions.

It should fit fine!” Keith said. “The only thing is this…it’s Willie the Whale!”

Willie the Whale?”

Yes, when it’s inflated it becomes Willie the Whale…complete with tail…or fin…of whatever a whale has at his back end!”

Baptism in a whale?”

Actually, it is almost like the belly of a whale since the pool part is the inside of Willie.”

A few minutes later after his cheeks had grown weary from blowing into the inflatable, the pastor gazed upon Willie the Baptismal Whale…complete with tail. He carried it to the baptistery and dropped it in.

Perfect! Thank you, Jesus! A modern version of the story of Jonah would happen Sunday morning!


Christmas Silence

December 19, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                December 19, 2012

My guess is that the most popular Christmas carol is “Silent Night”. Traditionally, it is the song that we end our Christmas Eve Candlelight with. The congregation is standing, each person with their candle glowing. A stillness settles over the congregation as the music begins:

Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright!”

Perhaps it is the offer at a change of pace that makes the carol so appealing. Christmas is amplified with noise it seems. I was in Walmart the other day and had several toys talking to me as I passed them in the aisles. Seriously! The sound of a monster truck accelerating made me exit a toy truck and cars aisle quickly. In the next aisle a stuffed puppy started panting at me.

Christmas noise. Christmas echoes echoing echoes. Christmas jazz rock.

And so “Silent Night” seems so soothing and comforting. I don’t want to dramatize it too much, but it seems that the birthplace of Jesus…off to the side…out of the banter and bustling…was more about the lack of noise. Perhaps there was some livestock standing around, but what I mean is that no one thought it important enough to make noise over.

In fact, most of the Christmas story characters had journeys that included silence. For shepherds it  was important to have quiet so their hearing could be attuned to any predators lurking close to their herd of sheep. The silence helped them hear any uneasiness in their flock.

The wise men from the East had spent a long period of time traveling in the quiet of wilderness and through valleys. In the Luke account it mentions that after Elizabeth found out she was pregnant she went into seclusion for five months (Luke 1:24). Obviously her husband, Zechariah, wasn’t making any noise!

Silence in the incarnational event punctuated the point that God was doing something incredible.

I’ll be visiting my parents back in Ohio the week after Christmas. My mom is at that point in her life where silence is the norm. She has trouble verbalizing what she is thinking and so there are long periods of uncomfortable quiet, because I’m expecting that the next words are going to come. It’s a hard adjustment seeing your mom, who always talked to you…and even more than you got to say…suddenly be silent. I, however, will always opt for a silent mom over a noisy supermarket, a quite moment sitting by her bed over screaming consumers at the mall.

They say that silence is golden. If that’s true why don’t more people just keep quiet?

Silent night, holy night!”

The Chauffeur and The Three Wise Ladies

December 13, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    December 12, 2012


The four-door Civic, affectionately known as “The Spaceship” because of it’s design, pulled up in front of the smiling saint’s house. The first passenger pick-up was peaking out the window in her front door, and, after recognizing the car, she opened the door sporting a smile as wide as the Mississippi River. The volunteer driver helped her into the backseat and the godly saint thanked him profusely.

The ice spots on the asphalt made pulling the “Spaceship” away from the curb a slow take-off, but finally the Civic headed on down the road to the next pick-up location. The smiling saint was delighted to be on a day trip to a celebration in the big city an hour’s drive away. Her life had been marked by triumphs and tragedies, rough roads and glorious adventures, but her faith in Jesus was a constant. “Jesus never fails” echoed in her soul. The callouses on her knees were a sign of where she spent a lot of her time. Today she was going to a celebration related to a young family she had prayed for many, many times.

The compact car pulled into the alleyway and stopped behind the flower lady’s home. She was ready, and slowly made her way down her back steps with her walking cane supporting her. She was beaming and dressed for the Senior Prom…if there was such a thing! The driver helped her navigate the last few steps around patches of snow and ice and made sure she settled safely in the front passenger seat. There was a little fumbling to get the seat belt attached, but weathered trembling hands finally found the connection and she breathed a sign of relief. She was a radiant 83 year old who was ready for an adventure. Her growing up days on the eastern Colorado plains had instilled values of patience, gentleness, and peace-loving into her spirit. She believed in a God who was always loving and kind and a provided whether the crops came in or not.

The smiling saint and the flower lady conversed with hellos and laughter, and squeals of delight that could be mistaken for not-quite-teenage girls.

The chauffeur eased on down the alley and onto the street and headed to the third stop a few miles away. A few minutes later “the Spaceship” pulled into the driveway of well-maintained older home. An African-American woman finely dressed stepped out the front door. The driver got out of the car, walked to her, and hugged her with a “Hello Mom!” greeting. She was not his birth mother, but had instead only arrived for his decade in the fifties. Wisdom for the beginning of his later part of life…and she had a lot of wisdom. She knew of a time when blacks and whites couldn’t ride in the same car together, and no Caucasian male would ever have been opening a car door for her. She knew what separation looked like, and it gave her a resolve to be the proclaimer of a Gospel that brings together, not drives apart.

Mom crawled into the back seat across from the smiling saint and greeted her spiritual sisters with vigor and excitement.

“This is no nice! To celebrate this occasion, and to ride to the big city with you all.”

“God is so good!” declared the smiling saint. “When I grew up Daddy would get all dressed up once a week, and that was to go to church. My brothers and I would take one bath a week, and it was on Saturday night. We’d get all spic-and-span for Sunday church.”

“A bath once a week?” quizzed the driver.

“There was so many of us, and we had to draw the water from the well, we just couldn’t do it more often. Summer though…summer was a different story, because we’d go down to the creek about a half-mile away and splash away like trout in paradise!”

The flower lady chimed in. “People worked hard on our farms, and the farms around us. Nobody took anything for granted. We trusted in God to get us through the hard times. My guess is that most people today would look at how we lived and would shake their heads in pity. They would probably think we were poor and deprived, but you know something? We always thought we were richly blessed. We never looked at life as being without. We looked at what we had. We had each other. There is nothing better than knowing that you are loved.”

“And there’s a a lot of people today who don’t know that,” added Mom. “We’d get a Virginia ham once a year at Christmas. Do you know what ham does?”

“Gives you gas?” asked no one in particular.

“No, honey! It gathers a family together around the dinner table. Let me tell you! My mother would put that ham on the dinner table on Christmas Day and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.”

“Sweet potatoes with that?” asked the smiling saint.

“Sister, we had sweet potatoes, and we always had sweet potato pie later on. My father was like a kid in a candy store when that sweet potato pie was about to be introduced.”

“Dinner conversation was the evening entertainment,” said the flower lady nodding her head in deep reflection.

“Now it seems like people can’t let go of their cell phones long enough to follow the conversation. Why is what your friend is texting from the mall more important than what your mama is telling you seated right next to you?” Mom was having a hard time with the disconnect.

“That’s why this is so good,” offered the smiling saint. “To just be together for a while, and to know that we have a a common bond through our Lord.”

The driver just drove and breathed in the warmth, the laughter,
and the wisdom. His life had just gotten richer…and no money was involved. The three wise ladies imparted gifts to him that they didn’t even realize.

Enjoying, Minus The Worship

December 10, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 December 9, 2012


Last week our seniors’ Bible study group at church, cleverly named “The Ageless Wonders”, had an interesting discussion on the tendency that we have to worship something or someone in place of God. We investigated the idea that God gets moved, or shoved, off the throne and replaced by activities, possessions, people…even customs and traditions. Each one of us has something in our lives that has the potential to be worshiped.

One of the group members asked the great question, “Does that mean that we can’t enjoy something?”

My response was that God desires for each one of us to enjoy life, and the events and activities of life. I stopped short of defining what the line is between enjoyment and worship. I believe that there is no clear line, and I also think that we fluctuate like a weigh scale in where we are. Some days we may be heavy into the worship of the latest American Idol and light on attention to our God. The next day might present a different verdict.

Some Christian groups in the past, and perhaps the present, seem to want people to not enjoy life. It’s almost like anything that doesn’t have the name Jesus in it is bad. Let me tell you! I bought a box of chocolate-covered cherries tonight at the store and I’m going to enjoy them. I’m not going to feel bad for keeping the name of Jesus out of it when I eat one of them tonight. I may put one on a saucer and place it beside the Christmas tree for Jesus…but I doubt it! I’m going to enjoy it, without worshiping it.

We have a multitude of obsessed people walking around today. Obsessed is worship distorted. Obsessed is believing that God hates abortion so the person goes and bombs an abortion clinic. Obsessed is being so passionate about your baseball team that you and another obsessed fan pummel a fan of the opposing team in the parking lot after the game for no reason other than the fact he’s wearing a hat of the other team.

Could it be that there are a number of people who enjoy God, but obsessively worship something else? Could it be that the channels have been flipped for a lot of us?

I enjoy basketball- coach it, officiate it, watch it, love it! But I worship God. If there is a hospital emergency that needs my pastoral attention on the night of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship I will be at the hospital. (Although I admit that DVR’s make it easier to be spiritual at the right times these days!)

This Christmas I’m going to enjoy my grand-kids, and my kids, and Carol’s homemade Chex mix, and eggnog, and Christmas carols…but with all my heart I will seek to restrict my worship to anything else but my Savior and my Lord.