Archive for August 2013

Judging By the Content of Their Character

August 29, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       AUGUST 29, 2013

 

 

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. When I hear that speech I get goosebumps. Perhaps it is the preaching style of an African-American pastor, or the echoes of the thousands listening to him who are urging him on, but it is compelling whatever the reason.

Towards the end of that speech King makes this statement as a part of his vision.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

     This week four freshmen football players from William Paterson University in New Jersey- three black and one white- made the news for their honesty. They entered into a convenience store to purchase a few items like batteries and what not. The lights were on, the door was unlocked, but there was not a store employee to be found. The four young men found the items they were looking for and put their money on the counter. They even figured out how much the tax would be on the items they were buying and included that in the purchase. The scene was caught on the security cameras.

The four football players were guests on NBC’s Today Show, and were applauded for their honesty.

It seems that it also brings back that sentence from Martin Luther King’s speech, that four “children” would be judged by their character and not by the color of there skin. To have the four from two races that fifty years ago were separated by a multitude of prejudices be together, and make decisions based on strong character is a testimony that is often absent.

In the midst of a self-centered culture it is refreshing to see the rise of character, the relationships of people based on life, and not race. Perhaps we have climbed a mountain in the journey to see each person as a person!

What To Preach When No One Is Looking

August 27, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       August 27, 2013

I’ve been preaching through Leviticus the past three years…I mean, three months. Three more weeks and I’ll be transitioning to Jesus. That is, I’ll be focusing on themes that come out of the gospels.

Leviticus has been a challenge, and yet, it has been rewarding to see the threads connecting the Old Covenant with the New Covenant.

Preaching is a privilege, and yet it is also a challenge. To be able to speak the truth in an age when truth is defined by a multitude of sources in a multitude of ways is a privilege…and a challenge.

Knowing that some of the listeners want it said in the shortest amount of time possible, while others want a whole loaf of spiritual bread to fill their souls for the week…is a challenge!

A greater question…that I wrestle with is… what does my life preach when no one is looking, and no one is listening? What echoes from my heart to God?

A couple of weeks ago I was attending the Global Leadership Summit local simulcast of the event that was happening at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois. After one of the breaks the next session started with a man playing an incredible instrument called an “earth harp.” The strings of the harp connected from the standing bridge on the stage to the balcony about 250 feet away. You could see the strings around the stage area because of the lighting, but then they just sort of disappeared into the air.

What song does my life preach when I have an audience of One, when the music of my soul rises up to the Unseen?

It is far easier to preach from a text than to live the text. Preachers can fool congregations. It happens every week.

But only the foolhardy think they can preach to the Lord in ways that are put-on and pontificating fluff.

It’s why I’ve always been impressed with the Book of Psalms. David was totally authentic in his writing and composing. His heart seeks revenge, justice, peace, comfort, cleansing, answers to torment. He shouts praises and thanksgiving. He cries out for rescue, deliverance, healing, restoration. David preached what he was living.

What does my life preach? My resume would have to include some things like bitterness, hate, envy, whining, apathy, and a few other of their close relatives. It also preaches joy, laughter, love, hope, and grace, but I wonder how much pepper mixes in with the salt?

Sometimes I’m afraid my life preaches nothing to the Magnificent One, and volumes to the congregation. My focus can easily drift to developing the written manuscript and bypass the Creator.

Perhaps this Sunday I’ll have my life preach volumes to, and focus on, the God of heavens and earth; and then on Sunday morning I’ll preach in silence to the congregation.

Taking Lunch to the Teachers

August 22, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          August 22, 2013

                                      “Taking Lunch To The Teachers”

       For the past five years our congregation has taken lunch to the staff of Audubon School, the elementary school a half mile down the street from us, on the staff work day right before students return from summer vacation. We take lunch to them and we eat lunch with them.

We used to take lunch to a couple of other grade schools close by…but they closed.  We trust it wasn’t because we brought them lunch! Actually, it was a sign of the changing population base in our community..more seniors, less kids.

The reasons we take lunch to the staff are multiple. We want them to know that they are appreciated. We’re entrusting our children to them. If there was a scale that measured parental gripes versus “thank you’s” it would probably be tilted. You can make the determination which way you think it would lean. Providing lunch is an easy way…so easy…to just say thank you.

We take lunch to them because we want them to know that we’re in a partnership with them…that it takes a community to raise a child. Churches are a part of that, and schools are a part of that. In fact, although there are other participants in the raising of a child- namely parents- the two major players outside the family are the church and the school. Our church has worked hard at being a support for the school. It has now come to the point where the school has asked how they can help us. Last December the school choir came one morning and sang for our seniors’ group, and then we all had a pizza and salad lunch together. (Not much salad was eaten!)

We also want them to know that we are praying for them. I tell the staff that each year at the luncheon. I told them that I am fully aware of the separation of church and state. If they want to share a prayer concern with us, no student names, we will pray for them. At the luncheon one of the staff people told me of a student with a serious health issue. We prayed for the student…once again, no names were shared…but there’s a good chance that God is familiar with the child!

We take lunch to them because we want to reinforce the commitment to be there for them. “The Lunchroom Ladies” are usually the first ones to notice a student in need. They know that they can have the school secretary call us and request a winter coat for a first grader, or a pair of jeans for a young girl, or a pair of shoes. When the school social worker has a family in need of food we stock them up.

It has taken a few years, but the school staff sees us as their allies, not a threat. The result is a better community, a community that knows that we will help.

Having Patience in a Christian Bookstore

August 21, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 21, 2013

I find it interesting that the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is preceded by the acts of the sinful nature. It’s not until Paul deals out words like jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition, and envy that he finally gets around to talking about the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, …patience! I realize that the Word of God is inspired, and so there must be a reason why God had him write it in that order.

Perhaps it’s to help us identify difficult people…and then tell us to lighten up. Put a smile on!

Last week I had a couple of items I needed to get at a local Christian bookstore.

Translation! “God had a couple of ways he wanted me to grow in the spiritual fruit of patience…so he made it imperative that I go to the Christian bookstore.”

      As I avoided being trampled by a herd of smart-shopping women (Actually, just three!) because I mistakenly had entered into the aisle that was featuring half-price “get well soon” cards…that, unfortunately, were on the other side of me and the women were heading in that direction, I prayed for the protection of the Lord. His protection came in the form of a rack of Jesus t-shirts that I squeezed under until the feminine trio passed me by.

After the rumble had subsided I made my escape to go look for one of items that necessitated my journey to the store in the first place- communion cups! It was then that I realized how behind the times I am. At first glance I thought I was standing in front of a Christian coffee displays on K-cups for my Keurig. Then I realized it was the new “C-cups!” A taste of grape juice in the little plastic cup with a chewy tasteless wafer on top. It was the Christian fellowship version to popping the top on a can of Pepsi! Convenient, quick…probably cuts out a needless five minutes of wasted worship service time waiting for the bread and the cup to be passed out. Think of how much shorter Jesus’ last supper could have taken. In the midst of all the C-cup boxes…crammed into the back of the rack like an uninvited guest, I found a box of communion cups…the old kind, no bread attached.

I grabbed the box and started heading towards the front. I had forgotten what the other item I was suppose to get even was. On my way to the front a mom and her daughter were arguing about which cross necklace to purchase.

As often happens in stores, there was only one cashier at the check-out registers. Another employee was putting a name in gold letters on the front of a new Bible. Being fifth in line was my plight. I stood there trying to think of the Biblical significance of the number five…came up with nothing! By that time I was fourth.

Five minutes later I had moved up to second in the rankings with five trailing me. it was at that point that it occurred to the young guy with five facial hairs (There was the number five!) to call for another check-out person. It seemed as if a woman ascended from the ceiling to the next register over. The last two women in line sprinted to the front as if they were running the race to win the prize.

Patience, my son! Patience! Smile!

The woman in front of me had about fifty trinkets that had to be scanned individually. Numbers three through five gradually disappeared from my line like the morning mist. If the rapture is determined by whose last in line I’m toast!

The young cashier had no clue of my exercise in patience. He asked me the question, “How are you today?”

      Smile!!!! “Fine!”

      “Did you find everything you needed?”

      “And some things I didn’t need!”

      He looked at me confused…but he got over it!

“Do you still carry the Left Behind series?”

      “Yes, we do! Would you like to look for them?”

      No…no…no, I wouldn’t want to lose my place in line.”

      Further confusion in my wake as I exited the store with a smile on my face.

To The Newly Ordained

August 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         August 19, 2013

     My son! I hope you don’t mind that I call you that, even though we aren’t blood relatives. But I feel, in many ways, you are my son. Lord knows I’m old enough to be your dad!

I thank God for your obedience to the call. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for you. I can remember there were a number of times in the past three years where you were discouraged, tired, ready to lay things aside for a while. Going to seminary full-time, being a father and a husband, being involved in various ministry initiatives at church…your plate runneth over!

And now your name is preceded with the title “Reverend.”

I know it doesn’t change who you are. Humbleness is a part of your DNA. If someone refers to you as “Reverend” you will probably look behind you to see who they are talking to. The titled doesn’t change you. You are who God has transformed you into. That happened a long time before you got an official title.

See the title as simply a confirmation of those who have journeyed alongside you these past years that you are called…you have a special calling that has been placed upon your life.

Sometimes the calling will weigh heavily upon you. As you stand at a pulpit you will see the faces of people who need a word of hope for their lives, a word of encouragement. And yet, there will be other times when you stand at a pulpit there needs to be a “hard word” said. You must always seek to led by the Spirit of God. the temptation to throttle a congregation will be strong some weeks, as well as the tempting to be soft. Seek to lead the people of God closer to a holy fellowship with God. Don’t get carried away by personal agenda and political referendums. Stay Word-focused!

My son, as you enter a hospital room, or meet with someone who is about to enter into surgery, or gather with a family of a deceased loved one, understand that you are a representative of Christ. In fact, you are more than that. To those who are grieving you are the presence of Jesus. Without making you think that you are a Savior, you are in those moments Jesus to them. They are looking to you for a “word from the Lord”, a prayer for healing, comfort in the most trying times.

I know in your eyes you are “small” (Your word!), but to the family of a person who is about to have open-heart surgery you are a rock. Rocks are seen as being planted, strong…something that can have tough things, like the hard questions of life, brought to and there on’t be a shying away.

Be steady! People are sometimes fickle. They get attracted to the latest and greatest, but when the road gets rough, when the weariness of life leaves them gasping,  they look for that pastor who is steady and a servant. Seek to move the people of God ahead. The faster you expect them to move the gentler you must be.

People will follow the leader, even with some grumbling, if they are sure that the leader loves them and desires the best for them.

My son, always be teachable, no matter your age! Seek wise mentors who are not only close at hand, but also far away. And, hear this…seek mentors who are teachable. If you accept the guidance from someone who no longer seeks the wisdom of others, two people are about to take a plunge.

Finally, your family comes before the people of God. There have been many great pastors who have lost their families. That, my friend, is not God’s design for this whole calling of being a pastor. You must be wise in your spirit. Sometimes the people of God can overwhelm you with demands and responsibilities at the expense of your role as a father and spouse. Keep a balance. Discern what is really crucial and what can wait. Your daughter’s school production is more important than a meeting of the Finance Committee. Protect your family time while letting the people of God know you care.

There are so many other things I could write to you, but some of them are best learned on your own. Always know that I’m praying for you, and will be there for you no matter if you’re on a peak or trudging through a valley.

You are called! Fight the good fight!

65 Years of Journeying

August 13, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 13, 2013

     Today is the 65th wedding anniversary of my mom and dad. Not many people can say they’ve been married to the same person for 65 years. It’s one of those things that people respond to with wide-open eyes of unbelief and ask “How long did you say???”

My mom and dad “lasted” this long because…because…here it comes…they loved each other and love each other deeply.

The problem is that few people today know what ingredients go into a recipe for love. It’s not always the warm fuzzies that people think it tastes like.

Let me tell you what I believe has gone into my parents’ marriage.

The Salt of Shared Pain- I remember hearing conversations of loss. When words left their sting on my mom, my dad would be the listening ear, the agent of comfort. As they went through the difficulties of losing parents and siblings to death they cried on one another’s shoulders. Pain can often be lonely business. It can cause us to retreat into a place of isolation, but Mom and Dad walked through it together.

The Cinnamon of Intimacy- My parents did not shy away from embracing or kissing one another in front of their three kids. One of the things I remember my mom saying to my dad quite often was “Kiss me, Slobber Lips! I can swim!” I crack up when I think about that still. They conveyed through their hugs and words that they loved pne another. It seems that this usually happened right after dinner, which takes in the next ingredient.

The Sauce of Servanthood- I don’t remember that dinner was the responsibility of just one of them. Although my mom did most of the cooking, Dad would be involved in setting the table, or washing the dishes (unless it fell to one of the kids). When we had mashed potatoes he always got the assignment. Whenever we had liver and onions, not one of our favorites, he was tasked with the cooking. If it was fried chicken or cooking a pot of garden fresh green beans, it was Mom’s turn to shine. The smooch after dinner was almost like a kiss of appreciation and partnership. They had finished the day of work and home duties together.

The Cream of Commitment- Like cream in a soup that filters through the whole batch, my parents committed to one another…for better or for worse…for richer, or, for most of the time…poorer…in sickness and in health (That is the everyday journey right now!). I had never heard of the word divorce until my Uncle George got married. And then when he got remarried to someone else I didn’t understand it, because Mom and Dad were always together. It didn’t matter when the income was barely able, if possible, to meet the bills. It just meant a couple of more meals of beans. I can’t even picture one of my parents not being there, because they have been…for sixty-five years!

The Vanilla of Spirituality- Some people see the word vanilla and they think it indicates blandness, dullness, but the ingredient of vanilla is precious. In lay terms it’s expensive! My parents marriage has been a dance with God. I’ve never known a time in my life when I didn’t go to church…except for about a year in college when Bedside Baptist gained a new member, and I was enjoying the Sunday morning messages delivered by Reverend Sheets. I was raised in church, but my parents modeled Christ-like behavior and lives. My dad’s meal-time grace was heart-felt. Mom’s involvement in choir and a women’s missionary circle were exercised expressions of her Christian walk. They sat in worship together Sunday morning and Sunday evening. I wanted to be a Methodist growing up because I knew their children were home watching Walt Disney while I was sitting in a church pew. Mom and Dad always sat together in church, side-by-side, unless they had a kid between them that needed to be “secured!”

The Sugar of Simplicity- Mom and Dad were not defined by their possessions, their home, the cars they drove. They seemed to like American-built cars back in the day, but that didn’t matter that much. Whatever they had they took extremely good care of it. Vacations were spent back on my grandparents’ farm in Oil Springs, Kentucky, and that usually meant helping Mamaw and Papaw Helton with some of the farm chores. Relaxing was sitting in one of the front porch swings watching the occasional cars drive past. That simplicity, however, was special. Watching The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night after getting home from church (still a little disgruntled about the Disney thing!), while eating popcorn…that was a picture of our family. That was special and meaningful.

The recipe has several other ingredients that have been put into he soup, but, I guess what I’m saying is that my parents’ 65 year marriage shouldn’t be the oddity. Is it wrong to think that it should be the norm?

Would the world be a little less chaotic and topsy-turvy if my mom and dad weren’t see as being unusual?

Fighting Against A Hardening of the Heart

August 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 5, 2013

      Next month I have the wonderful experience that happens each September called “Annual Physical.” I get poked and prodded…no more explanation needed! One of the tests I undergo is one where sensors are attached to different areas on my chest and the doctor is able to see whether or not my blood is circulating adequately. My dad has had heart problems, so the test is to make sure I’m not showing some of the same symptoms that he has dealt with. Hardening of the arteries is one of those things to look out for. Knowing my tendency to savor fried foods- fried shrimp, fried chicken, fried mushrooms, fried Twinkies- it’s one thing that my doctor, a devout Episcopalian (which has nothing to do with it, except we talk about our faith every time he’s poking me), has his parental eye on.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that spiritual condition we talk about, the  hardening of the heart. How does it happen? I can easily explain the physical hardening of the heart as being the result of my addiction to “all-you-can-eat fish fries”, but how does a spiritual hardening happen?

Paul warned the Ephesians about Gentiles that had this condition. He wrote that “they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:18)

      As a pastor I have a fear of my heart being hardened. It isn’t out of an absence of prayer, or people praying for me, or even a drop in dedication. My fear of a hardened heart comes as the result of life experiences. The picture that I have that best describes it is of a rock in the rapids of a river that has been become smooth over the course of time as the water continues to pummel it. At one time it had a different shape, but as the years passed the water had broken down its resistance.

The difference between a tender heart and a hardened heart is not as vast as it seems. Jesus had a tender heart, especially for those who were perceived as having minimal importance. His disciples fluctuated between mercy and insensitivity.

We are prone to reword hard heartedness into more acceptable terms like “being a strong leader” and “determined.” But really…it is what it is! Too many church squabbles, too many personality conflicts, too much war and too little peace. The rock gets smoother, and the smoother it gets the less able to help people change happens.

And before one knows it…there is no more desire, no more flame burning, no aching for God.

It could be the place where Solomon found himself at times as he penned Ecclesiastes. Hardened hearts begin to see things as meaningless. Making a difference gets replaced with making it to the next pay check. Purposeful living steps to the side so that apathy can slowly move in.

How does one fight this? By first recognizing that “the dark night of the soul” is always a possibility. Keep trusted friends close to you as you walk through it.

By being silent, seeking quite places and times. I treasure evening walks with my wife in the cooling off hours of a Colorado evening.

A friend of mine recently told me that he has a tendency to go into a shell when dark times come. For him the fighting against a hardened heart necessitates more intimate fellowship with a group of his brothers n the journey.

A third way is reading the struggles of those who have gone before us, in the Bible and saints through the ages, reading the life journeys that tell of valleys and mountaintops. We must be cautious of those who always seem to jump from one mountaintop to the next.

I know that God desires a tender heart, and I also know there is another kingdom that tempts me to be like that stone in the river.