Archive for November 2013

Story Continued

November 29, 2013


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”  (John 1:1-2)


The story of the Christ-child isn’t a beginning. It is a continuation of the God-story. Perhaps it’s more like a new chapter in the book that has had many chapters preceded it. The Gospel of John puts Jesus “in his place!” At the beginning!

The birth narrative is a new development in the story that has been developed.

How about you? When you look at your faith journey can you see how the journey has taken a few turns in it? Perhaps you envisioned yourself in a certain occupation, or marrying a specific person, and having an exact number of kids in mind? Some of your hopes may have been realized, but there have been some others that have taken you on a number of detoured routes.

Is your faith journey a “story continued” or a story stagnated?

What is hard for many of us to realize is that God walks closely with us in the certain events, as well as the unexpected route changes. Jonah wasn’t expecting a big fish, but the Hebrew people weren’t expecting a parted sea either…as they stood on the bank of fear.

God knows our story. What we see as a change he simply sees as a continuation. The birth of Jesus is a new chapter in a book saturated with love.

Fear or Faith-Based Ministry

November 22, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 21, 2013



    In the group of pastoral colleagues that I meet with for a half-day each month I am always made to think by observations, personal statements, as well as humorous statements. Yesterday was our gathering for November and one of my dear colleagues, Mike Oldham, made a statement about ministries- both pastoral and congregational- that are fear-based, others that are fame-based, and a smaller percentage that are faith-based.

Although it was Mike’s thought it go me thinking about it more as the day went along.  “Fear-based ministry” develops out of a mindset of loss, perhaps even resigned to defeat. It is the church that operates out of a fear of losing people. In the marketplace it reminds me of businesses in communities where Walmart has announced they are coming to town. Over the past couple of decades there has been a number of businesses who just automatically throw in the towel over that developing situation. It’s resigned defeat. Many churches have a similar mindset. The basis for ministry originates out of a fear that people will leave and go somewhere else. In this time it seems that the church is having an identity crisis. We’re often not sure who we are, or what we’re about. The result is that we are often fearful of what we might become.

Pastors fear that being truthful will alienate them from their congregations. Alienate is a nice word for “getting fired.”

Congregations fear that they will grow older and not have younger generations to keep the ministry of the church alive. Sometimes they hire a youth pastor because they think that will solve the problem. Hiring a youth pastor does not solve the problem of fearing the loss of younger people.

A few congregations fear the loss of their pastor. (I stress “few!”) If the pastor leaves for another church, or gets disgusted with the people of the church who don’t bow to him, the congregation is afraid that the “pastor void” will cause chaos. Better to have a pastor who orders people around than not have a pastor that result in disorder. Bottom line! There are a few pastors who might be named Rev. Donald Trump!

Some congregations fear progress! It throws the whole familiar system out of whack. Better to keep things steady and the same than to change. Change creates fear. The motto of such a church is simple: “Fear change!”

It is hard, but so scriptural, for the church to be faith-based. Faith is feared many times. Even though Jesus mentions having faith…a whole lot…we fear it. Stepping out in faith is putting yourself out there. Most of us don’t like to put ourselves out there. We like to stay put.

The faith-based church does not mean it is huge in size. Being faith-based, in fact, has nothing to do with size. Size sometimes suffocates faith that otherwise would emerge. Faith-based is a little too fluid for most people. I mean, what will people think if we follow the leading of the Spirit half-way through a budget year and initiate a new ministry to the poor and disenfranchised?

Let’s be honest! We talk about faith, but we live by fear. It took faith for the Hebrew people to step into the mud path of the Red Sea, but it was fear that made them long for the glory days of slavery back in Egypt. It took faith for Peter to step out of the boat, but fear brought him back to his senses about the laws of nature.

It’s a constant struggle for the people of God to live by faith. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. The bottle of snake oil would be right behind their back.

Each day I seek to be faithful…and each day I fall short.

But thanks be to God, he hasn’t given up on me yet!

Christmas In July

November 19, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W                                                        November 20, 2013



It seems that stores are putting out Christmas decorations and gift ideas earlier and earlier each year. Or…that is, holiday decorations.

December 25 means big business…months before it happens.

I’m not opposed to that, and yet, I’m not fully supportive either. It seems that the longer the pre-Christmas promotions go the less meaning the occasion has. Fewer people each year are familiar with Advent, but knowledgeable about X-Box.

And then December 26 hits and people rush the stores to buy half-price bed sheets and boxes of Christmas cards that they will store in their basements until next year, but then forget where they put them.

I know…I know, I sound like a bah-humbug kind of whiner. It’s just that when I open a new box of chocolate-covered cherries I’m excited, but by the third week of eating them the excitement has worn off as the pounds have attached to.

I’m just not ready to buy a Christmas tree (artificial that it may be) in October. I’m not even ready for Christmas on Black Friday. I’m still in the “thankful mind-set.” Getting a new flat screen at 4 AM at Walmart is not even on my radar at that point.

This year my son turns 30 on Thanksgiving Day. I can’t even think about Christmas when I’m trying to grasp that my son is 30!

Getting Through It

November 14, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    November 14, 2013



      I’ve discovered that life is filled with “getting through it” moments! People talk about getting through it in a variety of ways. Getting through final exams week…getting through potty-training…getting through the coming month of work overload…the list is endless!

There is a danger for people to go through life “getting through it.” Life is rarely enjoyable and productive when it is saturated with just trying to get past things. Sometimes it is necessary, like when someone is going through a divorce and he is just trying to get to the next day.

As a pastor I’ve had those times where you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. You start memorizing verses from the book of Ecclesiastes. There is no joy in Mudville…and you’re the pastor…the one who is suppose to always have a happy face on.

You just want to get through it!

My toughest time in 34+ years as a pastor were the summer months before my oldest daughter got married. The church was in turmoil, people were jumping ship like it was the American Baptist Titanic, the “joy” of a pastor had changed one letter to the “job” of a pastor. Each Sunday I was just trying to get through it.

And I did…with the help of some great friends who stood alongside me and kept me propped up.

So…life does have the “getting through it” moments, but life is meant to be more than that.

And so you ask someone how their week is going and they respond “Just tryoing to get through it.” Wednesday is viewed as a time of achievement point because a person is over the hump in regards to the work week. That doesn’t really apply to pastors. I’m not sure what “hump day” is!

Following Jesus was always meant to be about green pastures and quiet waters as much as it is to be about perseverance and turning the other cheek.

And, as I led off with, there will always be “getting though it” events in our lives. Ask a student what his favorite thing about fifth grade is and he may very well answer “Getting through it!” What comes after fifth grade? Summer vacation. Ask a high school student what their favorite thing about biology is and you will rarely get an answer like “Dissecting animals.” Most students, if given a multiple choice, will choose “Finishing” as their answer.

I see parents who have a hard time enjoying this moment in their kids’ lives because they think it will be better in the next phase.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)  He was living the moment, because he didn’t know what tomorrow would hold for him.

Let me encourage you…to walk a day at a time, live in the moment, be present in this time, and know that the Lord will never leave you or forsake you. Don’t be content to just get through it.

Pool Hall Faith Conversations

November 12, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       November 12, 2013



      Last night about sixty people from six different churches from our community met on the second floor of a brewery restaurant to talk about faith questions. Pool tables adorned our meeting area, although we all withheld the urge to “break ‘em!”

We talked about four questions that dealt with our understandings of worship, how we experience Jesus, what would we do if we didn’t have church, and thoughts about the growing population of people who classify themselves as “nones”- people who have exited the church as a place to experience God.

Lutherans stood alongside Methodists, who stood next to Presbyterians, who rubbed elbows with Mennonites, who smiled at Baptists. Each question began with two of the pastors giving brief thoughts on it, and then the people went at it in smaller groups. Each new question was preceded with a reshuffling of the humanity present based on what kind of shoe they were wearing, where they lived, how they licked their ice cream cone…etc.

I stood with my Sprite next to a colleague with his wine and we talked about faith. No one got upset, or tried to make others “come over to the truth.” All of us realized that none of us have all the answers, and the one who thinks he has all the answers is the one to beware of.

We listened with our ears, disagreed without coming to blows, and pondered questions about our faith that we too often don’t think about.

There was a hint of “Baptist suspicion” in a few that I met. When I see some things that have been done by Baptists (Westboro Baptist), however, I understand the hesitancy. In one of my answers to a question I mentioned the need for the church to promote an environment where questions can be asked that don’t necessarily have answers. A young man came up to me afterwards and told me he was taken back by the comment. I asked why, and he said from his experience with a Baptist church in his past questions weren’t welcomed.

People hung around after the eighty-minute session had ended and continued talking. Carol and I left an hour later, glad we had been a part of it.

Although I have no intentions of exiting the American Baptist Churches, I do find it rewarding to enter into faith conversations with my brothers and sisters of other churches. I think it is more threatening to our faith journeys to discourage dialogue than it is to discuss our beliefs.

Many might disagree with me…but that’s okay! I have never promoted the idea that I have all of the answers.

59 and 1/2!

November 5, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       November 5, 2013


                                           “59…and 1/2”


Today I’m fifty-nine and a half years old!

No birthday cake is necessary…or half a cake… or a half-baked cake, for that matter!

I can officially take money out of my IRA today and not be taxed on it. I’m serious! Yesterday I would have had to pay a 10% penalty tax. Today I’m richer even though I have not intention of taking the money out of the IRA. After all, I’m getting…like 1/2 a percent interest! It makes me giddy just thinking about it. I can almost hear the pennies dripping into the fund like a slow leaking faucet.

I didn’t know it, but there is actually a web site called “”. Who would have “thunk it?”  I can get t-shirts and other items there to prove my “fifty-nine and a halfishness!”

On the negative side, my wife Carol is gone tonight, at a camp with a bunch of sixth graders. There goes the party for me I guess! I’m going to have to celebrate my milestone by myself.

I’ll probably go to bed early!

Have you ever come to one of those points that you can choose to go one direction or another? 59 and 1/2 is kind of like that. I can hobble off to feebleness or seek to make the last third of my life the best yet.

Since I’ve been blessed with pretty good health, I’m looking forward to this last third as the best. Sometimes people get to a point like this and question whether their life still has any purpose. Thankfully I’ve never doubted that my life has purpose. I’ve just questioned the setting for where the purpose is pursued. I pastor, I coach, I write, I laugh, I mentor, I listen. All of those are part of my purpose being realized.

So I’m going to forego the t-shirt proclaiming my milestone event, and just walk forward into God’s future.

I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like something a fifty-nine and a half year old would say.