Archive for January 2013

The Functioning Church of Dysfunctional People

January 31, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  January 31, 2013

The church is a very unique people. It is not confined to a building, although most people still usually identify it as a building. It is not defined by its preaching, although proclamation is at the core of who it is. It conveys grace and forgiveness, and yet urges ongoing transformation.

The church also has an unsettling tension about it, for it seeks to minister to people who are dysfunctional in a variety of ways, but it needs functional people to keep it focused, effective, and missional. In other words, the church is about helping people get it together, and yet it requires people who have it together to keep it healthy.

It is true that we are all dysfunctional in some way. “Falling short” is a nice way of saying dysfunctional. My dysfunction might be one easily diagnosed, or it may very well be one that I keep hidden to myself. The dysfunction might be in fractured families or recovering addicts, but it could also be in my tendency to lust after money, sex, and power; or the bitterness in my spirit towards someone who has wronged me. All of us are dysfunctional in some way.

The church, however, is the only group of people besides AA that intentionally invites dysfunctional people to come and find healing, hope, peace, and purpose. And yet, if there are not “healed people” who are functioning well as a part of the church the result can be like a lifeboat whose passengers are all rowing in different directions. There is a lot of splashing going on, but no movement. There is a lot of “wanting” evident, but also increasing frustration.

It reminds me of the early church situation In Jerusalem where a certain group of widows were being excluded in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1-7). The first church adjusted and put seven men in place to make sure the function of providing for the women was taken care of. It presented itself as a possible major fracture in the church, based on a group’s culture, and the church restructured to make sure people in need were included.

People whose lives are in turmoil need a church that has people who have battled through the turmoil. And yet the church can not be so “all that”, as they say, that it conveys a sense of arrogance. It can’t convey messages like diet businesses do where they show the before and after pictures of its clients. Broken people need healing, but they will always be under construction.

Like I said, the church is a very unique people.

Trading Pulpits

January 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           January 24, 2013


Last Sunday was the seventh year in a row that the pastors of the five neighborhood churches in our area traded pulpits. A Mennonite can become a Lutheran, a Presbyterian can experience being a Baptist, and a Methodist can be anyone of the aforementioned. We change preaching venues on a Sunday in mid-January to early February…and go at it.

The congregations love it. In fact, most of the members of each congregation look forward to it. When the Lutheran pastor came to our church a few years ago and delivered an eight minute message I had people the next Sunday asking when he could come back. I enjoy speaking in different churches because there are plenty of jokes I can tell about being a Baptist pastor. I’ve got a lot of bizarre stories as well, because “truth is stranger than fiction.” Being a Baptist pastor for almost 34 years now I can attest to the truth of that statement.

The value of trading pulpits for one is that as pastors, we visibly display our belief in, and commitment to, a church that has many shapes, sizes, emphases, colors, and looks, but one Lord, one Savior, and one Spirit.

The other value is a growing sense that other churches aren’t the enemy. Or even the competition. Just as I say that it takes the church and the school to partner together in creating a healthy community, I also believe that it takes our churches linking together in proclamation and ministry to be light in the midst of darkness.

There are many things that Dan Holt, Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, and I can spend our time disagreeing on, but what we are united about is that Christ means Hope and Life and Truth. Of our eight pastors serving in the five congregations I am probably the most conservative theologically, but we don’t belabor our differences. We respect and value each other. To often value gets attributed only to people who resemble us.

Last Sunday I spoke in the Methodist church. I told them early on that the good news was that if I screwed anything up not to worry, Pastor Larry would be back next week. I had a good time delivering the word of the Lord. I’m almost afraid to say this, but they were perhaps even a little more receptive to what I was saying than my own congregation, because I was a new voice to them. Sometimes the familiar voice is respected and honored, but not necessarily heard with as much attention.

When our neighborhood pastors meet again the first Wednesday in February we will talk about how it went. There will be a heightened sense of connectedness with one another because we trusted each other, and our congregations trusted us to provide someone who would be faithful in bringing the Word of the Lord to them.

It was good!

Dirty Windshields

January 18, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      JANUARY 18, 2013

I was following an oversized SUV down the road the other day. A red light brought a halt to our drive for a few moments, and I noticed the back windshield was displaying the accumulated results of our recent period of cold, snow, and ice. It was caked over…like a double-layer kind of cake! In fact, it was so plastered with mud, slush, and ice that there was no way the driver could see anything behind him if he looked straight back.

Been there. Done that. I’m more conscientious of the outward appearance of my car than I am of the clothes I’m wearing. I don’t pretend to understand it. It must go back to my Kentucky roots with the old Ford truck my grandfather drove. Perhaps there was less dirt back in the 50’s, but it never seemed to be soiled at all. The only evidence of use was some bits of hay in the bed let over from taking a bale to the cattle.

But the back windshield of this SUV also had two words written into the grime.

“Clean me!”

When someone can see the words in the dirt you know the car wash is needed. Call it “automotive confession!” There needs to be a cleansing.

The amazing thing is that the build-up of debris usually takes a good amount of time, but a run through the car wash returns the shine in just a few moments.

Yesterday the first part of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey aired. He admitted to doping during his cycling career, which included seven consecutive Tour de France victories between 1999 and 2005. Back in those days we all cheered for Lance to win. He had come through testicular cancer. He had battled back. It was a story made for the movies, a “feel good” moment! We didn’t want to believe it when there were accusations about him. Most of us shook it off as poor European losers jealous of the American.

There was a film forming on the back windshield of the story, but we mistook it for cloudy conditions or the glare of the sun in our eyes.

I obviously don’t know Lance Armstrong, but I wonder about carrying the sin around for so many years. How did he cope? How was he able to continually deny any wrongdoing? Did it become easier to live the lie? Did layer get caked upon layer to where it just became easier not to notice?

My hope is that the confession, the cleansing, will allow him to begin a new life. I’m sure he will be the butt of many jokes, ridicule, and cruel remarks. Denial of wrongdoing for so long has that as a one of it’s repercussions, but perhaps he will no longer be afraid to look out of his back windshield.

We live in a culture that, if you will, is eager to see the dirt on someone in front of us while, at the same time, pretending to be blind to what it sticking to our backs.

The amazing thing about the Gospel is grace. Grace asks “can I help you clean up the mess?” Grace knows that none of us are dirt-resistant. Grace is not okay with sin, and yet knows that each one of us has to deal with sin.

I grieve for Lance Armstrong, but I grieve even more for those who can’t see their own back windshields.

Kobe Leading

January 16, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               January 16, 2013


I am a fan of Kobe Bryant for selfish reasons. He is on my Fantasy Basketball team roster. He gets me points! I cheer for him because he helps me accomplish a purpose. Other than that I have, more often than not, rooted against him. For me, the Lakers are basketball’s equivalent of the baseball Yankees. Yankee fans are passionate, and non-Yankee fans are often passionate in their dislike of pinstripes.

Back to Kobe, though!

Kobe has always seemed to enjoy success, leading the Lakers to five NBA titles , and being a member of the 2008 and 2012  Olympic gold-medal winning USA basketball teams. Success has come as naturally as his shooting stroke.

But this season is different! This season the Lakers have struggled to find team chemistry, defense, and, most importantly, wins. On January 16 they sit at 17-22, and that includes a current two game winning streak.

Many basketball analysts, however, have taken notice how Kobe has become a better leader this season in the midst of adversity. Granted this is not a unanimous opinion, but there are many people who only equate leadership with success, victories, and good numbers.

A different kind of leadership often needs to be a part of “pit experiences.” Jesus took three leader disciples to the top of a mountain one time, and it was unanimous in their desire to stay there, but Jesus took them right back down to where the people- the common folk- were (Matthew 17:1-23). Everyone wants to be on top, but more is learned, and required, of those in the valley.

There are few books written, or articles composed, dealing with leading people in the midst of a mudslide…when it seems that things are slipping away and it is hard to get a hold.

Part of leadership is knowing that you are an anchor anchored to the rock. That is, people look to you when hope seems to be disappearing, and when troubles seem to be increasing. Part of leadership is having an anchor that holds, that stays committed and focused when others have been blinded to either the truth, the problems, or the possibilities.

“Kobe leading” as January hits mid-month is about encouraging defensive intensity, getting on teammates whose rowing speed is not with the flow of the team, and staying focused. He has had situations in the past even when the Lakers were on top of the mountain where he resorted to selfish motives and teammate bashing.

As a pastor I’ve had Sundays where it seems that I am on the mountaintop and other weeks where Death Valley would be a climb to a higher spot. But one of the many things I’ve learned over the years, and usually learned it the hard way, is that the pastor-leader is who the church looks to for hope, strength, a solid foundation, and a life that is not in chaos. It is not that pastors do not have problems and crises, but a pastor whose life is in constant turmoil is the leader that the congregation can not anchor itself to.

The pastor-leader who has been a solid earns the respect and love of his people to the point that when he/she has a crises the congregation picks the pastor up and keeps him/her from harm. In essence, the congregation keeps the pastor standing up.

“Kobe leading” this season will development qualities in Kobe Bryant that he may never have needed or known about before. Leading from the bottom gives you a different perspective.

A few years ago the basketball team I was assistant coach for went 1-22. No one wants to be 1-22, but that team learned a lot about life that year. Life lessons of persevering when you just want to quit. I’ll remember the seniors on that team who hung in there, and the fact that they were, and are, great young people.

Puttering Along With The Sheep

January 8, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      January 8, 2013

One of the stories in the Bible that stands out as an incredible moment of connection between the Holy and a person is the Exodus 3 account of Moses encountering a burning bush. It is the distinctive call of God to the person he has prepared to lead his people.

But it took a bush to catch on fire for Moses to notice! It’s a bush that has an angel in it (Exodus 3:2)! Moses comes over to look for the bush isn’t burning up. He knows from his knowledge of nature that when a bush catches on fire it is quickly toasted!

It took a bush!

You see, Moses seems to have become content with the direction of his life. Growing up in Pharaoh’s palace was a distant memory. It’s as if he has lived two lives- one before he was s shepherd, and now the current one. He seems content to just putter along with the sheep. I can see him sitting on a hillside looking at the herd that belonged to his father-in-law (another Jethro! Go figure!), with a strand of straw sticking out of his mouth like Jethro from the old TV series called “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

The sheep needed some new grazing ground, so Moses puttered along with them to the next field over.

If God hadn’t lit that bush on fire Moses would have been a “career putterer.”

Zipporah: Moses, dear! What did you do today?

Moses: Well, let’s see, I puttered along behind the ewes over to the north 40; and then this afternoon I puttered back here with them.

Zipporah: That’s the same thing you did yesterday.

Moses: That’s the same thing I do everyday, dear!


For some of us God has to light a match to get us going. Some of us have to see something that doesn’t initially make any sense for God to get our attention. For others it is a journey that has us constantly in a state of spiritual discovery and awareness.

But let’s be honest! Many of us putter through life like a spiritual zombie putting one foot in front of the other and not having a clue as to what it happening.

“Puttering” is easier than pursuing!

I once heard that every episode of The Beverly Hillbillies was based on mis-communication or a lack of communication. Seems like walking in spiritual putter has the same plot.

New Year Stuck in the Same Place

January 1, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W. January 1, 2013

Airline carriers are teasers. Last night I sat on the plane that would take us back to Colorado Springs…except we were going to have to make a stop in Des Moines to refuel due to strong head winds. We sat on the plane, got settled, prepared for the safety instructions from the flight attendant, but right when hope raised her head the pilot came on to give us the news. Flight canceled! The new flight adjustments and delays would have meant that the flight crew would have been over their mandated flight hours limit. No go! It’s always a weird feeling to be sitting on a plane that you know you won’t be flying on.

Thus, New Year’s Eve was spent in the United’s customer service line. (Want to be around happy people? Stay away from any customer service line!)

I’ll be okay…probably! I’m scheduled to arrive New Year’s Day afternoon…probably…if things go okay…maybe! What occurs to me is how we react to plans that get changed or detoured? What happens when you set the course ahead and you blow a tire on a speed bump? What happens when your plan for life has to duck because of an unexpected illness, or a loss of job, or a traumatic experience? For example, what happens in the midst of all of the Newtown, Connecticut families that suddenly and cold heartedly had their lives thrown into a whirpool of grief and confusion? What happens to the whole community?

Everyone faces disruptions and tragedies differently…just like the reactions I witnessed from different people in the customer service line last night. Some went with the flow and blow. Others went ballistic! Others were just in shock. Still others looked for a solution that wasn’t there…until the next day. In every difficult situation those reactions…and more…will be encountered. And sometimes we just have to stay stuck for a while. Progressing may not be possible, like nothing has just happened.

Spiritually it seems that God sometimes says “Not Yet.” We must believe in his timing and ways. Our reactions to a “no” from God, or a “wait a while” from him, range from outrage to puzzle solving. We’re very much like Abraham, not in terms of faith, but in terms of trying to populate a generation through Hagar instead of Sarah. Abraham was just one part of the equation, but he thought he was the sum of all the parts.

Meanwhile, I got a food voucher from United and was able to get my Starbucks coffee free this morning. What a deal!

Happy New Year!