Archive for July 2013

Vacating

July 31, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   July 31, 2013

      Carol and I don’t often get away…at least far enough away. Not that I don’t enjoy being a pastor, or enjoy the people of my congregation. It’s really not their problem.

It’s me!

I am not good at unplugging. I find it very difficult to turn off the knob (old technology term) that is labeled “Thinking About What Needs To Be Done.”

It’s like the word association game. Hear a word and say the first word that comes to your mind. For me, however, it’s seeing an object and thinking about a meeting coming up, or a message to be preached. I smell popcorn and think about movies, which makes me think about the video series our small group will be using in the next month, which makes me think about the study guide questions I still need to repair.

Fruit reminds me of communion. Dinner rolls at a restaurant remind me of…communion. I drive along a river and it reminds me of the water restrictions we’re under back home, and whether the sprinklers are properly turned off. I pass a school and I think of the staff appreciation luncheon we do each year at Audubon School down the street from us on the teacher work day they have before the students come back.

See! I’m plugged! It is one thing that Carol is concerned about whenever I retire. Can I really unplug?

In our culture where we are almost always connected by technology (Except on Union Boulevard around Lexington about two miles from our house. Why is it I can get phone reception in Antarctica, but not right here in the midst of civilized technology?), everything seems either urgent or known. If it is known that means it is expected to be put on the fast track to solved. If it is urgent it needs to be accomplished…now!

I get into that mindset of accomplishing tasks, doing the weekly jobs again, and then when a day off comes I’m still checking emails and thinking about the week ahead.

Why is it that we find it hard to vacate? Okay, I’ll use that other word…”rest!” It may say something about our reluctance to slow down and listen. We’re not a very good listening culture. We listen to music…as we’re working. We listen to the radio…as we’re driving. We listen to our kids…as we’re working on our laptop. We listen to the problems of others…as we’re texting someone else about our own problems.

Listening is an undervalued asset. Slowing down is seen as not getting us anyplace.

Perhaps I will try to “vacate” each day this coming month…not for the day, but for a few moments, an evening walk, or just in a quiet place by myself.

It won’t be early in the morning. With a day of tasks ahead it would be a recipe for defeat. Early evening works best for who I am.

I’ll let you know how it goes. For today Carol and I are going to vacate to about five different places that we need to get to.

Uh-oh, that didn’t sound restful, did it?

Not Over Yet!

July 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 27, 2013

 

                                             

 

Americans are notorious for judging the outcome before the verdict is in. Thank God the patriots of our nation’s birthing days didn’t read the predicted outcome of becoming disagreeable with the British.

I chuckled at the number of people in attendance at Game Six of the NBA finals between Miami and San Antonio. How many people headed towards the parking lots to get a jump of the traffic, because they judged that the Heat were dead in the water? They not only missed the incredible end of the game, but they also were absent from seeing Ray Allen’s incredible shot. I guess my chuckle was more about the number of people trying to get back into the arena after word spread that the Heat had risen from the dead. How silly they looked on the banging on the doors?

Of course, most people who were alive during the  Dewey-Truman presidential election remember most of the nation going to bed on election night believing that Tarry Truman had been defeated. The Chicago Tribune headline that next morning was “Dewey Defeats Truman!” After newspaper deadlines had hit, however, Truman made the historic comeback and grabbed the election.

Our tendency to determine the outcome has stood out in my mind as I’ve watched recent events in the news and also read more and more comments from people who say the church is on it’s last legs.

It seems that critics of faith have written the communities of Christian faith off. the church is viewed as irrelevant, archaic, gay-bashing, and narrow-minded. Venom seems to be spewed more and more towards the very people who seek to live by the principles of 1 Corinthians 13.

Westboro Baptist is how more and more people characterize the church. The church that hands out cups of cold water, takes care of the widows, and provides fellowship for the lonely is rendered not newsworthy.

But, of course, the Bible consistently communicates the principle that following God is not a road that is void of suffering and persecution. Love will be resisted. Proclaiming hope will be discounted.

As we seek justice for all we must also keep that picture of people at the Heat-Spurs game to gave up hope within our minds. Followers of Jesus know that it’s not over yet, even when dark clouds encompass us.

Good Friday looked grim, but…

Can you hear a stone being moved?

Not That Complicated

July 25, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    July 25, 2013

 

                                      

 

     Today marked the last day of our congregation’s day camp, which we call Summer Daze. Summer Daze began about eight years ago as a way to encourage kids to read during the school’s summer vacation. It actually began as a result of conversations with the Shirley Stevens, the principal of Longfellow School down the street from our church. Longfellow, which unfortunately closed about four years ago, did not have funding for a summer reading program, so our church stepped into the gap in the creation of Summer Daze.

This year’s theme was a take-off (no pun intended) on “Star Wars.” During the week we talked about some Biblical themes that deal with light and darkness, chosen people, and heroes of the Christian faith.

Today I explained the simple gospel message to the kids. It wasn’t complicated, and they understood it. I realized that as a pastor for thirty-four years that I quite often have made the gospel complicated. I’m prone to put in “What if’s”.

I realize that life is often complicated. It’s filled with crises, misunderstandings, obstacles, and setbacks. But the gospel is rather simple and straightforward.

Each of us is sinful and falls short .

      God still loves us despite our failures.

       He gave his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to atone for our sin.

      If we believe in Jesus God promises life, and life eternal.

 

We can lengthen out the theology with more clarification…and amplification…but it still really comes down to that summary. It’s really a life and death story, or, better yet, a death to life story.

And the interesting thing is that when I look back on it, today’s sharing of the simple gospel was made possible because a school couldn’t provide a reading program.

Amazing!

The Squat of Faith

July 24, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 23, 2013

 

 

      Carol and I took our daughter, Kecia, and grandkids Jesse and Reagan to the hot springs pool in Glenwood Springs, Colorado recently. We had a great time, marveling at the beauty of the mountains as we drove to and from.

At the pool Jesse was  splashing around under the watchful eye of his Grammie. Reagan, on the other hand, was having a test of faith with her mom on the side of the pool. She was wrestling with what level of trust to place upon the one who gave birth to her.

“Go ahead, Reagan! Jump! I’ll catch you.”

     “I want you to come closer, Mommy!”

     “I’ll catch you. Just take a step.”

      Like me the first time I jumped off the high dive at the pool, Reagan peered over the edge of the pool with heightened doubt and apprehension. It was that moment, that we all have felt in some way, where the tipping point has not quite been reached that will take us from stationary to stepping into the unsure.

I felt that a few years ago when Kecia and my son-in-law, Kevin, convinced me to ride a crazy man’s roller coaster at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. Top Thrill Dragster was thirteen seconds of insane faith. When they put bleachers beside an amusement park ride it is a bad sign for someone who isn’t quite convinced that the tipping point is worth the risk.

“It’s okay, Reagan! I’ll catch you.”

Reagan looked skeptical of her mother’s catching power, but she started to take the step…but bailed out.

More encouragement, more promises. She started to take the step again, but then at the last moment she went to a squat. Squatting brought her closer to her mom’s hands. She reached out with her own hands, touched the hands in waiting, and then stepped.

A squat of faith. Not quite the same fear factor that a step of faith requires, bit still a moving from dry to wet.

Sometimes steps have to be preceded by squats. For Reagan an hour of faith squats was required before a step of faith happened.

I had to leave the pool for a while, but when I came back the squats had disappeared and the leaps of faith had begun. Sometime in my absence the step of faith had been jumped over.

In church life there are the initiators, those who present an idea or leap into a new direction. Most churches have a few, if that many, people who would be classified in that group. Then there are the early adopters. Those people who take the step after someone else has initiated the idea. The third group is perhaps the largest group. They are the late adopters. They are the ones who need to squat before they step. Getting closer to the outstretched hands is imperative for them before they can take the leap.

My granddaughter taught me that squatting is okay. It’s like the sixteen year old driving the family car with her dad in the passenger seat…in an empty school parking lot when there isn’t a car within sight. It’s the phase she needs to go through to get comfortable with the challenge ahead.

Ultimately, the step has to be taken, but Reagan reminded me that some things don’t need to be rushed into.

Now watch! I’ll say that and she will end up being a ski jumper! Come to think of it, they kind of get into a squat position before they launch!

Scary!

Camp Building

July 22, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     July 21, 2013

 

 

     Yesterday about a dozen of our kids, young people, and three adults came back from a week at church camp. In worship today there were several testimonies from the campers about their experience. There was a heightened level of energy and excitement in worship. The energy may have been fueled by the sharing of how camp had impacted lives, or it was the result of lives that had been impacted…or perhaps it was because the Spirit seemed close and moving in our midst…or all three.

This was the first year in the last five that I didn’t go to be camp pastor at the middle school camp, but I have always felt that the church- not just mine- doesn’t do enough in building upon the spiritual excitement of camp in the weeks that kids come back home. Perhaps that’s because the campers are away…an hour away. Sometimes we miss the momentum because it didn’t occur in the church building or the community. On the other side, kids come back from camp on spiritual highs, emotionally charged and wondering what is the next thing to take place. They encounter parents who have gone to work each day during the past week as usual, people who have gone about their routines and responsibilities.

Sometimes the first few days after camp are disappointing for those returning home. That’s why camp is such a great experience! It’s twenty-four hours a day of relationship-building, making new friends, campfires, and getting messy with shaving cream and Cheetos. The campers have been taken out of their usual surroundings and, in essence, they start building a new home with a new family of their peers under the watchful eye of their counselor. My guess is that almost all of the students who were at the middle school and high school camps last week have already been on Facebook with most of their camp friends, sharing pictures, “I miss you” comments, and counting down the number of days until camp next summer.

The church would do well to build on what many of the campers now see as the greatest week of their lives. The church would do well to challenge them at this point in their faith and commitment. If that happens it will help young people looking for a purpose to find purpose. If it doesn’t…if that building on camp doesn’t happen…they will continue to count down the days until next summer, and about 360 days will be lost in their growing season.

“From Bad To Worse To Incredible”

July 18, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.

     Have you ever had one of those weeks?

You know what I’m talking about! You’re fixing dinner and the oven goes berserk, smoking the baked chicken in the process! Or you’re cooking hamburgers on the gas grill outside and five minutes into the flipping the propane runs out…and you’ve got dinner guests coming!

Or, you forget something back at the house so you turn the car around and head back. But after getting what you forgot you return to the drive and discover that you locked it…with the keys still in the ignition…and the batteries on the garage door opener just died…so you can’t get back inside the house…or into the garage that has the hidden spare keys!

Ever had one of those days?

Or you cut yourself shaving and the blood is flowing out, so you hurriedly reach for the bandage, but in the process tip over your morning coffee cup that is sitting beside your cell phone…that has conveniently soaked up a good amount of the coffee! Do you stop the bleeding first, or clean up the coffee while grieving for the loss of your cell phone?

So…it’s been one of those weeks!

We’ve had the plumber here at church to fix a toilet…only to discover that we also needed a sewer and drainage company to come and “snake” the line. He had to go almost to Kansas before he got to the clog. It became like a cab fare. Every foot further the line went the fare rose higher.

Each one of us has those kind of days or even weeks. We raise our hands and exclaim “What’s next?”…and then the toilet overflows.

You could call them “Jonah weeks.” Just think of it! God calls Jonah to go to the one place he has no desire whatsoever to go to. Nineveh! It was like telling a Broncos fan to go and make peace with the Raiders…like Ronald McDonald having lunch at Burger King.

So Jonah does everything he can to avoid the call. He goes in the opposite direction…and things go from bad to worse. First there’s a massive storm to the point that the ship is about to break up.

Not a good scenario!

But Jonah obviously senses the storm has something to do with him. After a game of rock, paper, scissors, he is pronounced the loser and is then questioned about what is going on in his life.

Confession reveals the secret. Things are so bad that HE tells the ship’s crew to throw him overboard. What could be worse then that?

Getting “fished” is worse then that, and he spends three days squeezed into the belly of a fish. I hate close quarters, so I’m not sure if I could have kept my sanity for one hour, let along three days.

But then he gets spit up on a beach oddly enough a little ways from Nineveh. He ends up doing what God called him to do in the first place and the city of Nineveh is changed.

From bad to worse to incredible! It could be a movie, an inspirational story, a tale of transformation.

Unfortunately the book of Jonah doesn’t end there. Jonah has to write another chapter, and in the chapter that is written after the movie credits have rolled up the screen is of a man who gets angry at the compassion of God. His story was headed for Guideposts magazine, and then he had to go and do that!

What do you do with the bad to worse to incredible…to jealous?

Sometimes we seem to have a hard time living in the blessings of God, or the moving of the Spirit of God. We’ve seen the transformation, the deliverance, but we think we have to write another chapter that takes us back down the mountain.

If there was a Jonah sequel perhaps it ended better than the first one.

But that also tells me that we’re still writing our life script. We can choose to let God be God, or question his forgiveness and grace.

In thinking of this week and overflowing toilets I’m thinking “Ain’t no big thing!” Sadness is seeing a life that is getting flushed with the residue of bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness…a life that desires destruction instead of restoration.

Extended Grace

July 10, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 10, 2013

 

                                           “Extended Grace”

 

I met yesterday with a group of pastors that I journey with half a day once a month. It’s a intimate group of five. We begin each session with a time of reflective reading of scripture, reading through it three times, and noticing something that speaks to us in the text each time it is read.

Yesterday the text came from James 4:1-10. The text could justifiably be summed up with the words “Get your act together!” It’s a little on the lecture side…lecture, as in standing in the midst of the principal’s office and being told the deeds just committed will not be tolerated.

Frequent words used in the scripture include “don’t”, “do not”,  and “can’t”. 

But in the midst of the reading of the holy riot act, these words appear: “But he gives us more grace. (James 4:6a, NIV)

Our group noted that our tendency, which the text hints at, is to be selfish and self-centered. The foot washing act of service by Jesus in the Upper Room is uncomfortable for most of us if it is not planned ahead of time. If we know it’s coming we’re able to rev up our piousness enough to lower ourselves to our knees. But when that opportunity for surrender and humbleness comes unannounced the reception is often cooler than Saskatchewan in early December.

It seems from the text that our God knows of our tendency to yield to no one. He knows that we can talk the walk. We can even walk the walk with others, but walking the walk at the pace of others is another thing. A couple of weeks ago I was walking in an airport terminal and I came upon an elderly woman being pushed in a wheelchair by an attendant. The terminal hallway had narrowed. My first thought was to speed by, but then I thought “I’ve got four hours until my flight leaves.” So I strolled slowly behind them…but I was taken back by how many people rushed to get by the lady who could no longer rush. Perhaps some people were rushing to get to connecting flights, but, honestly, I’m sure most were rushing because the wheeled occupant was slowing down their self-absorption.

And the amazing and even perplexing thing about God is that he knows our selfish ways…and he gives us more grace!

I would think he would set a grace limit. We would! We would be willing to ride grace for a while, but pretty soon we’d put that pony back in the barn. Like a pair of shoes that don’t fit snuggly, we’re only willing to wear grace for so long.

But grace is a garment that God never discards. It becomes a representative feature of who he is, like whenever I see or smell a pipe I think of my Uncle Bernie.

Could it be that when we think of grace we automatically think of God? Of course, whether we think of it or not, God will continue to extend it. He doesn’t need our approval. He just would like us to accept it!