Archive for December 2014

We Don’t Know!

December 30, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    December 30, 2014

                                                     

        Nothing quite causes unrest and frustration more than three words: We don’t know!

People who are looking for the answer or final solution find it hard to truly hear those words. You can blame it on the times we live in…and the devices of our time.

For example, I can look at a device wrapped around my wrist and instantly discover how many calories I’ve burned off during my workout.

I can look at the side of a box to find out how many grams of sugar are in the bowl of cereal I’m munching on.

I can go to the Channel Guide on my TV to find out what is playing at 9:00 tonight on the Sci Fi Channel.

I can go on-line to see the balance in my checking account.

But there are some things in life that have a grayness to them, that aren’t instant answers. Those three words…”We don’t know!”, cause eyebrows to be raised and fears to be heightened. They are three words that have become like a foreign language to our culture.

“We must know! We have to know!”

I recently was sitting with a family in a hospital waiting room waiting to hear from the surgeon about the difficult procedure the loved one had undergone. As we waited the text messages kept bombarding family members.

       “How did it go?”

       “Is he in recovery?”

       “What did they find out?”

       “How long will he be there?”

The spouse patiently responded to each one “We don’t know!” The waiting for word and the pressure from those who weren’t there to know was raising her own level of concern. Patience quite often takes a detour around hospital waiting rooms.

Last week my wife and I were inquiring about the purchase of a hot new product that we were looking to buy. The store was out of them. I found myself getting a little agitated when the salesperson’s respond to when they would get some more in was “We don’t know! Maybe next week…maybe a couple of weeks!”

The answer wasn’t immediate…and so I was up against a brick wall. The bricks did not feel good against my desire to move forward.

I often get spiritual questions that I can’t answer. The questioner looks at my response of “I don’t know!” and is taken back. I’m a pastor. I’m suppose to know.

But I have no idea how God created angels, or what kind of fish it was that swallowed Jonah? Why do good things happen to bad people…and bad things happen to good people? Why does one person get cured of cancer, and another die a slow painful death?

Life is filled with questions that I am clueless about answering.

Most of my day is spent in “the immediate.” That is, I can immediately know without wondering. It’s the moments of wondering that are uncomfortable, and yet they are also the moments that are usually tinted with the presence of God.

 

The Unsettledness of Settling

December 29, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                    December 29, 2014

                                           

Growing up in a southern family living in the Appalachia I was “wised up” by many aunts and uncles about things I was not aware of. Many of those things became suspect in their truth years later. For instance, anything that one of my aunts felt I was not yet old enough for they would attach a Surgeon General’s warning to it: It will stunt your growth! I’m sorry that I did not make a list of all the things that had “growth stunt hormones” as part of their chemical make-up.

My mom was big on “settling.” That meant I needed to let dinner “settle a little bit” before I ran like a wild six year old around the backyard. Settling was like a punishment for a young boy…worse than having to do homework! I would rather have read about Dick, Jane, Sally, and Puff than settle. It never occurred to us in those days that reading and settling could be done at the same time. I could have been multi-tasking before we even knew what it was!

“Settling” was a brief time period where we evidently needed to let the mashed potatoes head to one part of our stomach, green beans to another, and the meat loaf to another. It was like a time of “sorting out” for the food creatures in my tum-tum, like they were in a logjam at one of the intestinal curves. Knowing how much Velveeta Cheese we were consuming in our Kentucky-recipe casseroles there was a better than even chance of that happening!

I’ve never been a good settler. My Aunt Irene would look at my fidgeting body and ask me, “Well…Billy Dean, do you have ants in your pants?” And then she would chuckle, and her chuckle in some odd way had a calming effect on “the ants.”

I remember those days like they were yesterday. They were good days…days when a kid felt fully alive and carefree, when an afternoon was going to be punctuated at some point with a sugar cookie that was carefully “lifted” from the cookie jar when no adults were in the room.

As I age a little less gracefully than fine wine I find myself thinking about the past perhaps even more than the future. I suppose it is an aged form of settling. I sit and remember and am thankful. I sip coffee and think of the aroma of Maxwell House that was always percolating in my parent’s kitchen in the morning.

I settle into a time of writing and get pictures of my dad, sitting at the kitchen table, preparing the Sunday School lesson he was to teach, the carefulness of detail, the importance of imparting scriptural truth to a class of moms and dads that needed some insights to help them travel through another week.

Settling has new meaning for me!

My six year old grandson is a the reincarnation of his granddad. He often has ants in his pants…and the ants have mutated into a more hyper form since I was six. I find myself starting to say to him, “Jesse, let’s settle down a little bit!”

And then I bite my lip, and here the chuckle in my head of my Aunt Irene!

 

Receiving The Gift

December 23, 2014

 

“ For God so loved the world that he gave…”

We know what the rest of the verse says. It talks to Jesus and his mission and purpose.

But the mission had to be ignited with God’s attitude of giving. He gave and gave and gave.

What if the Holy God who created us didn’t want to give? What if he was content to sit on his throne and exclusively receive? Most of the false gods that people have worshiped through the ages are like that. Sacrifices were offered to appease the gods. People were terrified about the possibility of making the gods angry.

The One and Only true God, however, could not help himself. He gave. He gave his Son. And he continues to give. His”grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) His peace “transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) 

    “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

God was not a one-time giver. His gifts are on-going and life-changing.

So what do we do in return? What can we give God? Romans 12:1-2 summarizes it.

    “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) 

Give God this day, and then give him the next day…and then the next. Worshiping him involves that capturing and giving of each day, each moment, to be used for the glory of God.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Hope-Praying, Peace-Living

December 23, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                           December 23, 2014

                                                

     Two days from Christmas and there’s an empty feeling within me. I’ve had my share of fudge, chips, and Christmas cookies…so it isn’t my tummy that is empty. The emptiness is tied tightly to the events and conversations of our world these past few months. It feels like a tearing apart of lives, communities, and relationships.

Two days ago a professional football player stomped on the ankle of an opponent who was lying on the ground. In the news conference afterwards when he was asked about it he denied any wrong-doing.

Film doesn’t lie!

But this isn’t about the brutality and abuses of the National Football League…although that could be a long list even after being checked twice! That picture is a visual for what is going on in our world these days.

A scorn for the person who is down…or the person who is helping the downtrodden…like the ninety year old man who has been arrested a couple of times in a Florida city for feeding the homeless.

A disregard for someone in a different uniform. The hostility of ISIS towards anyone who doesn’t convert to their understanding and practice of Islam. Slaughtering the men and boys of a village and posting the film on the internet.

Denying wrongdoing. A Florida State quarterback, who has a golden arm, had charges dismissed this week by the university. In reading the news reports the situation seemed to be handled a little suspiciously by the school, and the quarterback has denied any wrongdoing. Odd that it has taken almost two years to get to this point…or, should I say, two football seasons later.

In other words, what seems to be important to our culture is not having people around who make us feel uncomfortable, stepping on those who disagree with us, and football championship trophies…and the millions that got with it.

Perhaps I’ll narrow-minded in my view. After all I was raised in southern Ohio, but I’m troubled by the strange priorities, avoidance of responsibility, and the exaltation of athletic talent.

What can I do about it? Live my life with compassion, mercy, and selflessness.

Be hope-praying and peace-living.

Pray for the hopeless and pray against hopelessness! Pray with hope, even when things look like they are being ripped asunder.

Live with peace and in peace. Be a person of peace even the hate-filled seem to be winning. Commit to peace for the journey, not just for a moment, and yet know that the journey consists of many, many moments, each a step towards a better tomorrow.

Hope and peace are two of the greatest gifts from our heavenly Father, and yet they are often put back on the shelf like flawed products that have no appeal.

Lord, help me as I strive today to be a pray-er of hope and an example of peace! Amen!

The Lost Keys

December 19, 2014

 

(A story of an insignificant boy doing the significant)

The king was rushing. His day was full of appointments and appearances and he always seemed to be about fifteen minutes behind schedule. His executive assistant, Rudy, had the schedule memorized and frequently pointed at his watch as he got the king’s attention.

They were leaving a brief visit at a hospital dedicated for military veterans…a part of the schedule that Rudy saw no point in…when the king accidentally dropped his keys our of his coat pocket. They were important keys. A key to the royal palace, a key for the royal vault which contained many important documents, a signet key that the king used to put his approval on treaties and proclamations, and a key to the royal chapel where the king often went to be alone.

They spilled out of his pocket and unto the street and laid there as the king’s car sped off.

A young boy named Tommy saw the keys falling and tried to get the attention of the king, but Rudy pushed him back.

“The king doesn’t have time for little boys. He has much more important places to go and people to see,” said Rudy. And then they were off. Tommy picked up the keys and stuffed them safely into his pocket.

The king proceeded with his day of important proceedings. When he arrived back at the royal palace just before dinner he stepped out of the vehicle and walked with Rudy to the massive front doors. He reached into his coat pocket to fish out his keys and his hand felt nothing but the bottom of his pocket.

“Where did my keys go, Rudy?”

“I don’t know, your majesty! They aren’t in the pocket you usually carry them in?”

“Not there!” The king searched his other pockets, but found nothing. “Blast it all!” he shouted, and then knocked on the door. His doorman, James, opened the door, looking bewildered at the fact that his king was standing outside.

That evening there was much discussion and frustration experienced by the king and his assistant as they tried to figure out where he had left his keys.

“Confound it, Rudy! It wouldn’t surprise me if that fox, Mr. Raines, picked them out of my pocket when I was speaking to the House of Lords. He lives to make my life miserable. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s using the royal vault key to steal important documents.”

“Your majesty, I’m sure that, despite your differences with him over the years, that Mr. Raines would not resort to such tactics.”

“Well, blast it, Rudy, where would they be then?”

At that moment there was a slight knocking that they heard. They heard the footsteps of James slowly walking across the great marble entryway to the front doors and thought nothing of it. Rudy offered a couple of other possible places where the king might have absent-mindedly put down his keys and left them, but the king was sure that neither of them was a plausible answer.

James came to the room entrance and said, “Excuse me, your majesty, but we have a strange visitor who must see you. It’s a matter that I believe you will be most agreeable in hearing about.”

“Well, bring the man in, James!”

“It isn’t a man, sire. It is a young boy.”

“James, the king has much more important things to deal with than an audience with a young boy,” protested Rudy.

“I believe you will want to make an exception this time, sir.”

The king motioned to James to bring the boy in. A moment later the young boy who had picked up the king’s dropped key chain slowly walked into the room and bowed to one knee.

“You again!” shouted Rudy. I thought I told you that the king didn’t have time for young children.

“Yes, sir! But I thought the king might like to have his keys back.” The boy brought the keys from his pocket and dangled them in front of him.

“Good heavens, Rudy! Our problem has been solved,” said the king with delight. “Where did you find them, lad?”

“You dropped them outside of the Veteran’s Hospital. I tried to get your attention, but you were in too much of a rush…going to see important people and give important speeches.”

The king looked at the boy, smiled, and said, “My boy, it sounds like the most important task that was accomplished today wasn’t done by any of us, but by you.”

“Thank you, your highness! I never would have thought that a young boy like me would be able to do anything for a royal person like you.”

 

 

 

Seeing Kansas

December 16, 2014

 

A few years ago I was on the top of Pike’s Peak on a clear, beautiful, sunny day. Someone said “You can see Kansas from here!”

My sarcastic nature made me think “Why would you want to see Kansas?” But my next thought was that I wasn’t quite know if we could see Kansas or not. I mean Kansas is a long ways off from Colorado Springs. And, secondly, how do you know where Kansas begins and Colorado ends. There isn’t a definitive line that marks it or a river that you have to cross to get to it…at least on the western side!

So I stood there wondering “Is that really Kansas or not?”

There are certain situations in life…certain sightings, if you will…that we are unsure how to classify. Is the birth of our fourth child…that we hadn’t planned on having…a blessing or an ill-timed additional obligation?

Is the lay-off notice I received the first step of a blessing that will lead me to another profession that I’m passionate about?

Are all the little kids in church an added responsibility and burden that diminishes our energies or the beginning part of a promised future for a congregation?

Was the raising of Jesus by Joseph and Mary seen as being a blessing? I’m sure that Mary could look back at her son and see how she was blessed, but was it seen as being a blessing as they were in the midst of it?

Seeing Kansas is hard from such a distance.

Most of us replay our lives and we ask “What if” questions. We ponder how we might have done things differently. Seldom do we think that maybe we did exactly what God called us to do, and to be exactly where God called us to be.

When we look back we can see the trail that our life made. In our prayerful meditations we can received comfort and encouragement about those times when our path was in sync with the plan of God. We can also painfully recall where we took our own way away from his plan…the effect of it upon us and others, the grief it brought…and rejoice in the fact that God never stopped loving us.

Some of us are in the midst of situations that we are having a hard time seeing there being a blessing involved in it.

But be encouraged! Kansas is out there and the blessings of God will become clearer and clearer as you keep faithfully traveling on.

Nine Girl Scouts Dancing

December 15, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                         December 15, 2014

                                             

There are many pictures of Christmas that cross our minds or are caught by our eyes. Holly and mistletoe…egg nog and fruitcake…the mall Santa and front-yard inflatables. We use a number of things to convey the messages of hope, peace, love, and joy. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the proper perspective of things. My daily email box is full of on-line offers for everything from doormats to designer jeans. I’ve never had so many emails from Omaha Steaks!

A few days ago I was driving by the grocery store and I saw a sight that brought joy to my soul. In front of the store was one of the red buckets for The Salvation Army. I could hear the bell being rung.

But then in front of the bucket were nine Girl Scouts dancing round and round in a circle, laughing…enjoying…experiencing a sense of delight as they manned the bucket for a couple of hours. It was a picture of Christmas being lived out. Dancing with joy because of the season’s reason, while performing acts of charity.

Joy in child-like giggles.

Collecting coins and dollar bills to help the impoverished gain a step in the uncertainness of daily living.

Joy-filled charity. A picture of the blessed being a blessing.

Christmas is many things. On the day the girl scouts danced a “grandparently” couple at church lit the advent candle and shared how this past year had included many challenges but many, many more blessings. A dear lady who loves God and people brought me gingerbread cookies shaped like moosely-looking reindeer. In receiving we sought to give, and invited an African-American gentleman from church to join us for lunch.

Joy and delight…giving and receiving…being blessed and being the blessing…all of those are descriptions of Christmas that convey images, actions, feelings, and pictures.

God only knows how much delight those nine girl scouts brought to the customers coming and going from the supermarket, but I know that sparked a flame within my soul that warmed my heart.