Archive for January 2016

But Jacob Lied!

January 31, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           January 31, 2016

                                       

Henry came through the front door with his brief case and the usual end-of-the-day exhaustion.

“Sara, I’m home!”

He heard some stirring in the kitchen, the banging of some pots and pans…which was never a good sign…and then the movement of feet heading his way. Sara entered the hallway with heavy feet and a frown from ear to ear.

“Henry, you’re going to have to have a heart-to-heart with your son. I can’t believe what he did today.”

“What did Tommy do?” asked Henry, his tiredness level suddenly reaching a new depth.

“He cheated on his math test at school today, and then blatantly lied about it to his teacher.”

“What? That’s not like Tommy! Math isn’t his strong suit, but he would never cheat and lie about it.”

“Well, he has started a new trend then! Mrs. Matthews noticed him looking at the paper of the girl he sits in the seat beside him, and his test paper was number for number the same as hers.”

Henry was still trying to comprehend his own flesh-and-blood doing such a thing. Tommy wasn’t the best student, but his fourth grade report card was a mixture of “A’s” and “B’s”. How could this be? There had to be some kind of misunderstanding going on here. He called for Tommy, who had been confined to quarters since he got home from school. A few seconds later the soft steps of socks on carpet came down the stairs, and a boy with a puppy dog face slinked into the room.

“Tommy, is it true what your mom just told me? Did you cheat on your math test today and then lie about it?”

“Yes, Dad,” he whispered.

“I’m in shock. What would ever give you the idea to do such a thing?” Henry was trying to keep it together, but his mind was racing ahead to what the punishment should be…grounding until Tommy turned eighteen…no TV for a year…send him away to military boarding school…the options were limitless.

“It was in the Bible.”

“What did you say?”

“I read it in the Bible.”

“Cheating on math tests is in the Bible?”

“Not math tests, but it’s in there. I was reading about Jacob last night, and how he cheated his brother out of his birthright, and then he lied to his father. It’s right there.”

“What?” Henry asked with a high level of disbelief.

“Don’t you remember? His mom had him put some hairy stuff on his arms and his dad touched them, asked him if he was really Jacob, and he said yes. And then he got his father’s blessing!”

Henry could feel the words rising up within him. He tried to hold back, but he couldn’t stop them from emerging from his lips. “That’s different!”

A moment of uncomfortable silence ensued. Tommy looked confused and his dad suddenly was feeling uncomfortable about this conversation.

“I don’t understand. How was what Jacob did different from what I did?”

“It was a different time and place…and…ahhh…people didn’t know any better…and his brother deserved it…and…ahhh…it’s just how it was and things are different now.”

Henry recognized that there was an “No Outlet” sign on this path he had taken. Quite honestly, he didn’t understand the “Jacob Blessing” story either, and he knew he had cornered by his son’s confusion. It was time to own up to it!

“Tommy, here’s the truth! I don’t fully understand that story in the Bible. I can’t say it was right for Jacob to cheat and lie back then, and it’s wrong for you to cheat and lie today. All I know is that it’s not the right thing for you to do, and I think deep down you probably know that as well.”

Tommy looked at the carpet for a few moments and said, “Yes…I kind of knew it wasn’t the right thing to do.”

“That’s good to hear, because I’m pretty sure, most of the time, you can figure out what the right thing to do is.”

“You’re right, Dad!”

“And even though Jacob cheated and lied and received his father’s blessing, his actions had some consequences later on.”

They looked at one another for a moment and Henry then took a step towards his son and placed his hand on his shoulder. “I doubt that Mrs. Matthews is going to give you a pass on this one just because you know the story of Jacob, but I’m going to show you some grace. In regards to Mrs. Matthews I want you to go to her tomorrow morning and apologize for what you did. Tell her you know it wasn’t right and you want to make things right from now on.”

“Okay!” He put his arms around his dad’s mid-section and hugged him and said, “Thanks, Dad!”

“I love you, son!”

“Love you too, Dad!”

Encouraging Encouragement

January 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         January 28, 2016

                            

A  parent of one of our basketball players paid our coaching staff a great compliment last night. He didn’t say it trying to get more game time minutes for his daughter, or because there was a lull in the conversation. He simply walked up to us as our practice was about to start and told us how much he appreciated the three of us as coaches.

Then he went on to say that his level of respect for us had risen even more as he has watched the actions and antics of some of the other coaches we’ve encountered this season. In other words, in his eyes we look even better as he has watched coaches of other teams relate to their players.

We thanked him for his words of encouragement. Although my Junior Varsity girls’ team has been successful in the final outcome of our games most of the time this season, it has been a challenging season in other ways. For example, having fifteen players on the team means the cutting up of the playing time in ways that communicate that each of them is valued. That’s a challenge because it breaks down to less than eleven minutes of playing time for each player, if they all play equally.

His words were timely and uplifting.

Each of us as coaches look forward to coming to practice each day, and spending time with our players. We seek to teach, explain, evaluate, analyze, improve player skills and game understanding…and encourage. This season our high school has been dealing with the death of a student known by everyone. In the midst of practice our varsity coach several times has gone to the side with a couple of girls who are struggling with the loss…dealing with the grief. It’s encouraging to have someone listen willingly to your sorrow.

This dad, whose daughter was impacted by the death, understood the extra role that we have coaches have taken on this season. Not counselors, but rather listeners of pain and confusion…and his words, once again encouraged us.

All of us desire encouragement, but encouraging encouragement is a concept that seldom occurs to us. It comes out in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the Christ-followers in Thessalonica and instructed them with the words “Therefore encourage each and build each other up…”, and then he finishes the sentence with the clarifier “…just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Encouragement gets noticed and remembered.

I would like to have met a man named Barnabas, who appears in the Book of Acts. Acts 4:36 tells us that his real name was Joseph, and that he was a Levite from Cyprus, but the apostles referred to him as Barnabas. It was his nickname, kind of like Smiley or Buck. His nickname meant “son of encouragement.”  When the apostles, and others, were with him they saw that being encouraging was what defined him. Add he traveled around with the Apostle Paul I’m sure his encouraging words were often the difference between Paul throwing in the towel or persevering.

Encouraging encouragement. The words of a parent made me ponder how I might build some young people up today with just a few brief conversations on what they are doing well.

Trends and Leadings

January 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 27, 2016

                                       

Sunday evening, around 7:00, Carol and I entered the Target store a mile from where we live. We went there to find a certain item, but left with five…none of which qualified to be the one item we were looking for. As we entered the store, squarely in the middle of the aisle was an enormous rack of Denver Broncos t-shirts. Less than three hours after the team’s AFC title game victory Target latched on to a fan frenzy. I doubt that Target stores in the other 31 NFL cities had Broncos shirts front and center on Sunday. Lord knows Boston didn’t!

Target identified a trend…”Bronco-mania”…and made it a part of their store identity, at least for a few weeks. Most assuredly, they will sell hundreds of shirts to people who are drawn to orange and blue color combinations like bugs to a zapper!

Trends are a part of our culture. Remember bell bottom jeans? Remember eight-track tapes? Those of us who are old enough…bought into those trends. Many of us, although we begrudgingly admit it now, had “pet rocks!” Every Sunday morning when I open the newspaper there is a thick pile of advertisements that trumpet what the trends are.

People look for trends and follow. I’m sitting in a Starbucks right now writing this. When I think of coffee I now think of Starbucks, because I’m a “coffee snob.” I walk right past the  Folger’s in the supermarket, even though it is much cheaper, and head for the Pike Place. Folger’s is an antiquated trend from my parents’ day.

In essence, trends come and go like the wind. Trends lead us, but also mis-lead us.

How often has the church bought into a trend? Although most churches have bought into the trend of brewing better coffee, I’m not really talking about dark roast, lattes’, and decaf now.

For instance, we bought into the trend of convenience and started having worship services on Saturday night. I’ve got nothing against Saturday night services, but the idea behind them was to give people more choices in order to get them in church. Interestingly enough, despite more options worship attendance has dropped. That is, the typical church member attends less often than he/she did a few years ago. Making it convenient does not necessarily make it a driven need for a person’s life.

Disneyland is seen as being a place that kids become starry-eyed about. A lot of churches bought into that trend and tried to make their children’s ministry a Disneyland with Jesus. I’m sure that there has been some success in various places with that, but there has also been places where kids who come each and every week come out of that time in their life still fairly ignorant of the Bible. As their parents sought meaning in the worship gathering their kids were being entertained and slightly discipled in their age group gatherings.

I sound like a cynic! In some ways I am. From my cold perch it seems that the church has great confusion when it tries to distinguish between a leading of God and a trend of culture. When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray he could have been paraphrased with the words “Lead us not into the temptations of being trendy, and deliver us from evil.” Scripture talks quite often about someone being led by the Spirit. Leadings are not always events that lead to happiness either. Jesus was led to the cross by the leading of his Father. Ultimately, that pain became our gain.

I’m wondering if there are more leadings outside of the church rather than inside the church. Let me rephrase that! Could it be that God is leading his people outside the walls more than leading them to do something trendy inside the walls?

Mission has always been grounded in the leadings of the Lord. Programs, however, get joined at the hip with trends.

Perhaps this year…2016…could be a year that we pray for leadings…and stirrings…even a whisper!

Redeeming The Time

January 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 25, 2016

                                 

“…making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Time has a way of getting away from us. It seems so plentiful and then it suddenly is gone. I’m sure all of us have come to the end of a day and said words like, “Where did this day go?” or, with a sense of frustration, “I had all this time today and I got nothing done!”

I heard a message in worship this past Sunday morning about the grasp that “Chronos time” has on our lives. That is, the kind of time that drives our schedules…tasks to get completed by this afternoon, meetings to attend tonight, places to be early in the morning, a limited amount of time to drive from here to there. “Chronos time” is the calendar I now keep on my cell phone that tells me I have the car to take in for service at 10:00, a granddaughter to pick up at 12:00, and a basketball game to coach at 5:30.

That kind of time isn’t a bad thing. It just is! It becomes a detriment if it squeezes out that other kind of time known as “kairos.”

“Kairos time” isn’t determined by a clock. In fact, it is almost like time is standing still, a moment or a day when the numbers on my watch are inconsequential. It’s that “God moment” that rises to the top of all the events of this day and is remembered for years to come. “Kairos time” is a sunrise that illuminates the front of Pike’s Peak in a few glorious moments. It’s that scripture passage that your mind becomes focused on that burns a new understanding into your soul.

“Chronos time” will always be a major part of our lives. The world revolves around it. But “kairos time” gives us meaning and depth.

I’m in my twenty-sixth day of retirement. The pastor who gave Sunday’s message didn’t realize that it was extremely pertinent to where I am in this leg of my life journey. I realize that most of my life has been focused on schedules and details. This month is the beginning of a unique opportunity to redeem the time.

And yet, it can so easily slip away simply into a new version of “chronos time!” I could become a couch potato and watch episode after episode of “Criminal Minds.” I could hang out at Target (Why???), or play one of the multitude of Play Station 2 games that I have never played. (Yes, I said Play Station 2! I’ve had it for four years and turned the power on twice!)

You would think that being a pastor would mean that “kairos time” dominated my schedule, but it often evaded me as the daily duties invaded me.

This month I’m perhaps just a little more cognizant of the whisper of the Father in the slowing of the pace.

Redeem the time! Listen closely! Let special moments simmer!

A Friend Who Is Closer Than A Brother

January 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         January 24, 2016

    “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Last weekend I was blessed by…friends! One of my best friends, David Volitis, and his wonderful wife, Donna, drove up from San Antonio, Texas. Rich and Casey Blanchette drove in from Goodland, Kansas. Ron McKinney, Roger Mollenkamp, Steve Wamberg, Andy Brooks, Greg Davis, Rick Banier, Tom McBroom, and Mark Miller all made it a point to come alongside me for part of the day.

There were many others from my congregation who celebrated with me, and my clergy colleague friends who I’ve grown close to…many, many friends!

The occasion was my last Sunday at the church I’ve pastored for the past sixteen plus years, and an afternoon reception. I had a long list of people who I invited to come. Some of them had been a part of our congregation and had decided to switch churches. For a pastor that is perhaps the most painful experience, when you care for, invest, walk alongside someone and their family, and then they decide it is time to move on. But I’ve learned…after many sleepless nights…that our friendship has stayed on solid ground.

As the verse in Proverbs says, there are unreliable friends and friends who stick close.

I am extremely blessed to have many friends who stick close.

I used to do something with the youth of our church called the “Trust Fall” or the “Faith Fall.” It was simply having a group stand around one person, who was standing on a chair or ladder a few feet above the ground and having the person fall backwards. He had to trust that his friends had to catch him. They had to be there for him.

A person who is blessed knows he has a group of friends…reliable friends…who will not let him fall, who will be there for him.

My friends in ministry that I’ve known for years, Tom Bayes and Chuck Moore, both called me to congratulate me and to let me know they are with me…even though they’re located in Dayton, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina. When I had those times in ministry when it was tough going I would call them. And if one of them was struggling they would call the other two of our triangle. That is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Someone who is a friend simply to get something from you is one refusal away from being an adversary. There are numerous “friendships of convenience.” The question is whether or not this friend will walk through the fire with you. Will they be there with you in the shallow waters, but stay safe when you enter the uncertain waters of the deep?

Some Sunday Carol and I will drive to Woodland, Kansas to attend First Baptist Church where Rich Blanchette pastors…because he is my friend. Some time in the next few months we’ll head down to San Antonio to see Dave and Donna….because they are our friends. Our separation by distance increases the yearning within us to be with them again. This morning I’m worshiping with Mark Miller and his family…because he is my friend.

A friend sticks closer than a brother.

The Closure of Pastoring

January 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     January 18, 2016

                                 

In our kitchen there is a cupboard door that just won’t stay latched! I get out my screwdriver, loosen the two screws, reposition the latching mechanism, tighten the screws, and shut the door. I leave the room under the illusion that I have fixed it. Two hours later, as I pass through the kitchen again, I see that the door has come unlatched again. When…I don’t know! It just did… sometime after I was sure it was closed nice and tight!

That image also defines the closure of pastoring. I preached my last sermon yesterday, was hugged and embraced at an afternoon reception, and now the cupboard has been closed.

Or has it? Similar to coming back to the kitchen a little later, pastoring is a very, very difficult thing to come to closure. The life you’ve lived for the past three and a half decades is weaved into the fabric of other people’s journeys. Like ripping a patch off of a pair of jeans, there is a mark left…perhaps a hole or a gap. A pastor is tossed between the waves of letting go and still caring so! There is the recognition that there must be a moving on, and yet the congregation you are leaving has been a vital part of your journey for as long as you can remember. The walking together has been so profound that the pastor now has a hard time remembering when certain events happened, when someone passed away, when that mission trip took place, or when someone’s serious surgery happened. It’s all a part of the story, like old episodes of M.A.S.H., that have been watched so often that the dialogue has been memorized. The journey of a pastor is the collection of stories of lives changed, grace realized, and reconciliation experienced.

And the cupboard door suddenly creaks as it slightly inches open.

How do you have closure as a pastor? I’m not sure you can. Loving a church is not like a faucet that suddenly gets turned off, or turned back on. Like the door, the depth of the relationships the pastor has had spring the latch and your heart is flooded with concern.

And I think that’s okay! A couple of weeks ago I walked into the kitchen and the cupboard door was wide open. I wasn’t expecting that and I ran right into it! When we allow the door of our ministry to remain wide open, as it was before we stepped aside, the potential for collisions is greatly increased. A pastor who refuses closure simply gets in the way, becomes a nuisance, or, at worst, a brick barrier that blocks a group of Christ-followers from continuing the journey.

I’ve given up on fixing the cupboard latch. It is what it is! And perhaps I’ll let it be as a reminder of who I am, closed but not shut!

The Finger Grasp

January 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 16, 2016

                                        

He reached down with the offering plate in one hand. I placed my tithe envelope with it, and he grasped one of my fingers with two of his own and gave me a squeeze.

I looked at his wrinkled smiling face, dotted with the blemishes and signs of aging, and smiled back. I stood up and we hugged, and he whispered in my ear, “Praying for you!”

“Thank you, Rex!”

The two of us had been through some journeys together. His only son had died in a motorcycle accident a few years go. The pain of losing a child had worn on him. Sometimes we have no compass to help us navigate the storms of life. Losing his son was a time of wandering for him as he wrestled with the question of “why?” A person of faith is not immune to periods of doubt and confusion. Each day was an unsteady step in an uncertain direction.

His questions about heaven began. What was it like? Does a person go directly to heaven after he dies? How can a person be assured that he will receive everlasting life? Will his son recognize him, and will he recognize his son?

He had known Jesus for a long, long time. The questions weren’t those of a new follower, or someone who was thinking of following Jesus. The questions were searchings to bring hope to the wounds of his soul.

He was more concerned about his children, grandchildren, and their spouses. Would he see them someday in glory?

And then the cancer surfaced!

When you’re ninety-five you expect to have ailments. They could with the addition of each decade. A splotch here on his forehead from a clumsy tumble; a darkened area on his arm resulting from multiple attempts to draw blood…old age reminders that youth has long since disappeared from view. The weight loss, however, had been the most concerning thing. The cancer treatments and drugs have taken so much of his energy, his will to live.

And so he grasps my finger to tell me of his support, of his love, and of his appreciation for our journey together.

I want to call time-out and tell him to sit for a while, but some of the congregants have meals cooking in crockpots at home, while others simply want to beat the Methodists to the restaurants.

He holds my finger for just a moment more before releasing and giving me a wink with his left eye, and then he strolls back down the cenetr aisle of the sanctuary.

I’m hoping that he is still awake when I recognize, and talk about him in the midst of my last Sunday sermon as his pastor. The weariness that he shows each day makes that unlikely…but I love him enough to awake him, walk back to where he is sitting, and give his finger a final grasp!