Archive for December 2015

Inspired By…

December 30, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 29, 2015

                                            

Inspiration is a special gift underestimated. It is able to cause greatness that has been content to remain hidden to rise to the surface. It causes the paint on the artist’s palette to be moved to the brush and then the canvas to create a masterpiece of beauty.

Inspiration comes in the words of a coach whose heart expresses himself in tear-driven words to a team that doesn’t quite believe in itself. It awakens the potential and puts to bed the doubts.

Inspiration comes from a teacher who says with a sense of certainty to the underachieving student “You can do it!” The student goes forward with a confidence that she has never experienced before simply because the teacher believes in her.

Inspiration is looked for, but never bought. It appears in odd places, as well as frequented auditoriums and gyms.

The thing is…for many of us…the path we take in our life is influenced by someone else’s inspiration. I had a history teacher in high school whose purpose, it seemed, was to make American History as dull and uninteresting as possible. I dreaded the class. In my first year of college, however, I had a history professor for one class who suddenly made U.S. History rise from the deadness in my mind. It was thought-provoking and interesting, and that one professor caused me to change my major area of study to being a History major. Inspiration comes in unexpected places.

The man who was Associate Pastor at my home church in Ironton, Ohio inspired me to be excited about the possibilities of ministry. Jerry Heslinga was a God-send to a tired soul. I was struggling through seminary and he became the ointment for a doubting student. He inspired me to keep going.

Bill Trent was my high school track coach who inspired me to run…and run…and run. Coach Trent was a rough, football-minded kind of guy, who believed that a person rarely rose to the level of their potential, so he pushed us. If we lost a track meet we would practice right after it was over. He taught us that we had the potential to achieve was seemed unachievable. He inspired me to break the school record in the mile run…which would last for one season before Cecil Morrison, an average kid who became an incredible runner, broke it.

Inspired. How many people can you say inspired you to do something or be something? How many people complete their phrase “Inspired by…” with your name?

The Problem With A Pastor’s Library

December 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 December 28, 2015

                                   

Retirement for a pastor means a lot of things…some good and some bad. One of the bad things is that I have to move everything out of my office at church and bring it home.

That’s where the problem starts!

My personal library is in excess of a thousand books. The bookshelves in my study at home were packed out…before I brought books from the office! Now the floor of my study is featuring towers. It looks like multiple games of “Book Jenga” are being played! How high can I build the tower, and now can I take out that copy of Church Dogmatics; Volume 1.1 located two-thirds of the way down the tower without toppling the whole thing? Challenges and problem-solving!

My wife Carol’s frequently asked question is not “Is this all you’ve got?” Flip to the opposite side of that question and you would be accurate.

“You aren’t going to keep all these books are you?”

“Ahhh…no,” I  say weakly and without conviction.

I feel like a pastor whose cat has just had a litter of kittens, and now I must find good homes for Pannenberg, Barth, and Kung. The problem is that there are very few people who are interested in Latourette’s two-volume A History of Christianity. It resembles a Saint Bernard in size and effort. I have even less potential homes for Torbet’s A History of The Baptists. there are an abundance of people who wonder about Baptists, but very few who are interested in them.

I accomplished a little bit of clearance Saturday night when I removed four books from one of the towers…and snuck them to the basement…just in case I need one of them.

The mindset of a book addict is like that. I may not have even dusted a book for three decades and yet I still think we might use it next week. That’s how my brain works.

So now my home study is being considered for an episode of Extreme Hoarders. As I stand by in obvious mental and emotional anguish Rudolf Bultmann’s Jesus Christ and Mythology is carted out. Leonard Sweet’s books are in the process of being carefully removed when I scream “Can’t you leave me at least one?”

Pathetic!

I am, however, getting better. I moved all of my Chicken Soup… books out last week. They are hiding behind the stack of jigsaw puzzle boxes in the basement…just in case I might need them!

Last Sunday…Kinda’

December 28, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  December 27, 2015

                                       

Today was kind of my last Sunday at Highland Park Baptist Church, the congregation I have pastored for the past sixteen and a half years. I say kinda’ my last Sunday because I return on January 17 to speak and then Carol and I will be the main targets at a reception that afternoon.

Today ended with the congregation gathered around us for a time of prayer. It was “reserved emotional!” I say reserved emotional because the dear saints know that there is another Sunday three weeks later that will probably include the opening of the floodgates.

I took notice of several today. Marla Booth was finishing elementary school when I arrived. Now she is married to an awesome man named Austin who I love deeply, and is the mother of two beautiful little girls. Marla has a heart for people and has become more and more passionate about children in underprivileged countries around the world.

Greg and Jordan Davis came to our church several years ago after a brain tumor had been discovered. Greg and I already knew each other from basketball officiating and Timberview Middle School. When he had a couple of seizures and then the tumor was discovered I showed up at the hospital just to check in with him and to ask permission to say a prayer. A few weeks later I entered the sanctuary on a Sunday morning to see their family present for worship. We’ve walked together ever since…through the anxiety of MRI’s…and unexpected seizures…and having to share the news with their daughter that the cancer had returned. Our journeys have been tear-filled and laughter-laced.

Rex and Ann Davis were present today. Rex is 95 and Ann 93. Their days of good health have recently gone by the wayside, but they come to church when they are able. Today Rex took up the offering with the sole purpose of squeezing my finger as I stood in the front row. He is a man of God whose journey has also had a trail of tragedy as part of it. About four years ago I had the funeral of their son, Ed, who was killed in a motorcycle accident trying to avoid a deer on a two-lane mountain road. I’ve considered Rex to be my “Colorado Dad!” Her models what a servant of Christ should be. Recently, he also has had some battles with cancer that have left him a shell of who he was…and I love him deeply!

Chris Oldham was there today! A few years ago she married my area minister after being a part of our church for years and years. She and Mike often are worshiping in other congregations around the state on Sunday, and she followed Mike to be more involved in First Baptist of Colorado Springs, but she has always been an encourager for me. She got me involved in the summer camping program, not to give me something else to do, but to give me some quite moments in the midst of a camp week. Sounds crazy, right? But it has actually been exactly that!

Courtney Gage Ramsey was there. I did the wedding ceremony for her and Steve a few years ago. Now they live a couple of hours away with their three year old son. Her parents, Jack and Ellen, mean so much to me, and I was delighted she came this morning.

And then there was my son, David, who surprised us and came this morning! That was awesome…and I’m getting a little teary-eyed as I sip my decaf and type this. David’s life does not mesh easily with church life. He works as a restaurant chef, and moves in different circles. One of the things I look forward to as I enter retirement is more time with Dave…like this Tuesday night when we go to the Air Force basketball game together. Today was the first time in…years that all three of my children were in a Sunday worship service together. The Christmas Eve when Lizi “Skype’d” in and watched on a front row laptop…doesn’t count.

It was a day of gladness and sadness! A day of moving forward while treasuring what has been.

Simple Gifts That Run Deep

December 23, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            December 23, 2015

                                        

Each Christmas for the past…I don’t know…fifteen years Carol and I have said that we aren’t going to buy Christmas gifts for one another…and we do! Each Christmas I search for something special that I think she would enjoy. She has a bit of her mom in her; her mom who would give gift suggestions to her children such as a new spatula…or a used paperback mystery from the public library cast-off pile.

Each Christmas I try to be sneaky and hide a few present that I’ve purchased for Carol. Unfortunately, my memory of where I hid them is not spot on. I’m still missing something I bought for her three Christmases ago. It’s hiding someplace in the house. I don’t even remember what it was I got for her, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t edible.

Each Christmas our trash cans get filled with wrapping paper and packaging contents. Grandkids commence to dancing with toy boxes, while our grown-up children discover twenty dollar bills in wrapped empty boxes of Triscuits and Cheerios.

But the gifts that mean the most at Christmas never come with a price tag. The best gifts aren’t secured during an early morning dash on Black Friday with a crowd of crazed consumers. The gifts that run deep within us are those moments when a hug is shared, a story is told, and a family prayer is said.

For me the simple gifts that run deep will include the discovery of Christmas by our nine-month old granddaughter. As her older brother and sister jump around in hyper-giddiness she will watch and begin to get a sense that Christmas is a special time.

A simple gift for me will be to see a young family with a two-week old daughter, plus her older brother and sister, light the advent candle during the Christmas Eve service. A little while later, after carols have been sung and scriptures read, a simple gift will be the singing by candlelight of “Silent Night” by the gathered worshipers. It is a few moments of calm and peace that hush the chatter in my soul.

A simple gift will be the voice of my 87 year old father that I will ring up on Christmas Day. It gently nudges the sadness within me that comes from being several states away. I will be blessed by his chuckles as he shares the recent stories of happenings in his senior living complex. Any relationship is a simple gift. A visit with my dad is like a drink of the deep water from my Papaw Helton’s well- renewing and quenching.

Finally, the last simple gift of Christmas Day will be when I lay my head down on the pillow that night and know…because I know…that I have been blessed.

The Deaths of Two

December 22, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 21, 2015

                                           

This past week has been a time of death. That may sound morbid and dark, but it is the reality of the blessing of lives lived and dreams unfinished.

One death was of our church’s former pastor, a man who impacted many lives and dealt with a number of health difficulties, although the seeds for his death may have come as a result of an accident a few months ago. Regardless, death came… and took… and left confusion behind. Grandchildren were left wondering. Friends recalled shared events, conversations had, camping trips taken.

There was sadness, and yet understanding.

The second death was of a sixteen year old young man. It was most unexpected and hard to accept. Death does not discriminate between ages. Although it mostly accompanies the elderly to the next life, sometimes it chooses a different partner that takes the breath away from those left behind.

Death seems to be especially hard at Christmas time, and, unfortunately, more frequent. Our own family views Christmas a little differently now since my father-in-law passed away on Christmas Day nine years ago. In the midst of our kids and grandkids and son-in-laws there is still a whisper of loss as we remember Christmases past.

The family of the sixteen year old are being supported by numerous friends and family as they walk through this, but there are deep wounds inside them that will take lifetimes to heal. Death is like that. It comes and stays. Even when we try to shove it into the attics of our memories it knocks on the ceilings of our hearts to remind us that something…or someone is missing.

The walk through the valley that is overshadowed by death (Psalm 23:4) takes on new meaning as people struggle on.

Our hope is in the last part of Psalm 23:4. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.” 

Although very few of us are comfortable with death, we can take comfort in knowing who walks with us.

Bellying Up To God

December 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  December 15, 2015

                                         

The group of senior folk sat around tables, enjoying the warmth of the room and fellowship. The study of the scripture passage had included a high amount of discussion and viewpoints. The cookies had long ago disappeared and coffee cups were empty. It was time to share prayer concerns…who was having a tough time, who was under the weather, who was on their way to full recovery.

A gentle ninety-something lady softly asked if she could take a minute to share a concern. Everyone knew that a heartache was about to be expressed. It was the day after fourteen people had been gunned down in San Bernardino, California…and less than a week since the shootings of three people in Colorado Springs.

There was a silence that fell upon the group. She began.

“I’m so upset by what is happening in our world. What is going on? It seems that there’s a mass shooting about every day…and I think we need to do something about it.”

“What are you thinking?” asked the group leader.

“I think we need to belly up to God! We need to get down on our knees and cry out to him.”

Twenty heads around the tables nodded. “Belly up to God”, the phrase seemed bold and urgent. Tragedy has a way of bringing courage bubbling to the surface. It resonated in the troubled wrinkled faces of each of the people.

There was a moment of pause and then the group went to prayer, praying with a sense of closeness to the throne of grace, praying with confused minds but trusting spirits. The confusion wasn’t with the One, but with the hostility that had seemed to come and take residence in the actions of people towards others that they didn’t even know.

The group bellied up to God in divine belief. The prayer time ended and they hugged and encouraged one another as they exited.

“Why” still echoed through them, but they believed that the answers could only be understood through the Almighty. Some questions would never be answered satisfactorily, but they knew He had heard their hearts.

Peace of Mind or Pieces of Our Mind

December 14, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  December 14, 2015

                                 

There’s a difference between “peace of mind” and “giving someone a piece of your mind.” The first can come to a person as a gift from God. The second comes from a person who isn’t afraid to hold back their rage and discontent.

The shepherds received peace of mind. King Herod wanted to express a piece of his mind to the exited Magi. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, but was subjected to pieces of the minds of Pharisees and religious leaders.

In our churches today there is a growing urgency to surrender our agendas, conflicts, and unrest, and allow the peace of God to embrace the people of God.

Peace of God? Piece of someone’s mind? Peace that surpasses all understanding?

When someone chooses to give a piece of their mind the Body of Christ needs to identify it for what it is…someone’s personal agenda…someone’s pet peeve…someone’s perceived truth derived from rumor…someone’s bitterness manifested.

When the peace of God is evident a calmness descends upon the journeyers. There is an assuredness that God is guiding and creating a way that will one day is evident.

When someone gives a piece of their mind there are usually pieces that need to be picked up afterwards. When there is peace of mind the awesomeness of God begins to be realized.