Archive for February 2016

Preaching Again…Again!

February 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 February 29, 2016

                                      

Yesterday I brought “the Word” to a gathering of fifteen saints gathered on one side of a sanctuary that seats about a hundred and fifty. All of them entered the building with smiles on their faces. Their church, small as it is, is counted upon to be their support, their fellowship…their life encouragers.

There were two children and one infant. I did a children’s story. The kids were ecstatic. One of them, a Girl Scout, felt comfortable enough with me to hit it up after the service for two boxes of the cookies she is selling. Her brother bonded with me when we both agreed that spiders scare us.

The worshipers sang…not very well, but with conviction and sincerity. They shared prayer concerns and greeted one another. There wasn’t a designated greeting time during the worship service, because they had already hugged on one another and caught up on life happenings before the first hymn. After the service no one left, but instead moved over to the side room and sipped on coffee while enjoying cake made by a saintly woman who had taken a fall that week, was homebound, but made sure she got the cake baked.

I remember all of their names…Kathleen, Phil, Lena, Elizabeth… Great people! Godly people!

The husband and wife who greeted me arrived a good hour and a half before worship to get things set up, brew the coffee, and run off the bulletin. Carol and I felt like we were royalty as they welcomed us and made sure all of our needs were met.

I preached about David facing a nine foot giant, and talked about some of the fears we face in life that we make into giants. There were nods of agreement, as opposed to people nodding off in slumber and indifference.

In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said “Where two or three are gather in my name, there am I with them.” In the midst of these fifteen people he had a residence!

At the end of the service the host couple came to me and thanked me and then asked me what I was doing next Sunday? It looks like I’ll be preaching again…again. After all, I’ve got to pick up my Girl Scout cookies…and pay for them!

And be blessed by the saints and the smiles, the warmth in the midst of people who journeyed long weeks, and gathered once again to be encouraged.

What these dear folk don’t understand is that, although I’m the preacher, they are teaching me about what the church is and what it can be.

Preaching Again!

February 28, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        February 28, 2016

                                            

When you have been a pastor for over thirty-six years and then take that step to being a former pastor of thirty-six years…it feels strange…kind of like sleeping without my blanket. Let me emphasize THE blanket!

This morning I’m filling the pulpit at a little church in a small community about forty-five minutes from where we live. It will be the first time I’ve preached since January 17, and it will feel strange!

When you’ve preached for so long making that transition to “no longer preaching” is freeing in some ways, and bewildering in others. A few months ago I would deliver my Sunday morning message and then, after a Sunday afternoon nap, begin thinking of the message for the next Sunday. I planned Sunday worship themes well in advance, but putting the substance and flesh around the frame happened in the few days before. It became a routine, a routine that was challenging, but also helpful.

This morning I speak in a church that doesn’t use Power Point…so no slides to help make a point. That will be a change for me, kind of like going back to my seminary class on preaching.

I must admit that I have thoughts of insecurity running through my brain. It’s been six weeks! Do I still know how to deliver a sermon? Will this small gathering of farmers and good folk understand my humor? Will they be a tough crowd? Will they ask me to come back again?

And yet the thought of preaching in front of a new group of people is exciting! I’m anxious to hear some of their faith stories, to see how what I say this morning resonates with many of them.

I’m preaching on my favorite story from the Old Testament…David and Goliath. I asked the man from the church if there were any children? If so, I would do a children’s story. He told me “Well…there’s a couple! I’ll contact them to make sure they will be there.” A few days later he called me back to tell me that the family with the two kids would be there, and he added, “There may even be a third and fourth! They were pretty excited!”

So I’ll launch into the story of a shepherd boy with a sling, and talk about how God use what other people see as foolish to do something that can only be explained as being of God.

After the service I’m sure people will tell me how happy they were to have me come…I hope…and would I come back again?

I hope so! Two Sundays in a row would almost be a routine!

Reading Leviticus With Attention Deficit Disorder

February 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 26, 2016

                      “Reading Leviticus With Attention Deficit Disorder”

I’ve often thought I was ADD! Fidgety…restless…hard to stay focused. In seminary I would have to read my systematic theology books out loud to try to stay on track…and assist me in the understanding of what was being written about.

And now I’m about to finish reading through the book of Leviticus. It is an exercise in “literary rowing.” I’m like one of those oarsman who is trying to stay focused on the number of strokes he and his team are executing each minute. Row…row…row! The finish line is 3000 meters ahead…row…row…row!

Except I’m in Leviticus…”If someone has a swelling, he shall…if someone has a rash, he shall…if someone has a white spot, he shall…if someone has a skin disease, he shall…”

By the tenth skin condition I begin to itch! By the end of the second chapter about skin conditions and uncleanness I’m finding it difficult to continue with the literary rowing.

And then a couple of chapters later we get into sex! Actually, unlawful sexual relations. Read Leviticus 18. It’s a little disturbing to have to be told that you aren’t to have sex with your aunt…or your dad’s other wife.

Leviticus reads like one of those Apple product’s terms of agreement files that seem to go on forever. You know the ones I’m talking about…and at the end you’re to clip on the box that says you have read and agree to the terms. Who reads that stuff?

Leviticus is similar, but with the added spiritual element that convicts you to stay the course.

Why did God have to be so specific? Why was he so repetitious in his explanation of the expectations of his holy people, and what was not acceptable?

Two things occur to me! One is that the Israelites had a tendency to be ADD in their conduct. They seemed to be prone to forget what they were to be about and what they were to abstain from. They had short memories and shorter attention spans. Better explain it over and over again so they could finally hear it.

And second, the community of God’s people needed to be holy. Uncleanness, in any form, was to be atoned for or cast out. A community couldn’t be close to God and be marginal in how it was living.

Today I’ll finish the book! I’m sure God will say a few things he has already said once again just so that I will hear it. After Leviticus I’m going to go back and pick up one of my seminary systematic theology books and start reading to myself again…and nap!

A New Adventure

February 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     February 21, 2016

                                     

I’ve been an Air Force Academy season ticket holder for men’s basketball for five years now. This week I received an on-line evaluation to provide feedback on the positives and negatives of that. The wording of one of the questions was interesting. It asked “Between one and 10, how would you rate the Air Force basketball experience?”

The wording was interesting to me! Rate the experience!

About once a month I receive another on-line evaluation asking me to rate a dining experience that Carol and I have had in a restaurant we have been to.

Whether we use a survey or just makes mental notes, all of us rate experiences. Disney refers to visits to their theme parks as “The Disney Experience.” People are drawn to experiences.

Recently I was having coffee with two men, who are close friends of mine, and we started talking about our walks with Christ. When I asked one of my friends how he would describe his Christian experience he paused for a moment of contemplation, and then he said “It is an adventure.” He continued, “Walking with Christ has it’s mountains and valleys, highs and lows, but regardless, it is an adventure.”

Well said, my brother! When I read the faith journeys of people like Adoniram Judson, William Wilberforce, Corey Ten Boom, William Carey, Martin Luther, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer the constant is “an experience of adventure.” Sometimes it led to death, sometimes it led to a deeper understanding of the love of God or the grace of God or faith in God. There were moments of personal crisis and periods of celebrating the victories. Through each of their journeys the defining term was adventure.

When you ponder about your faith journey where would you say the adventure is? Often that adventure comes in the midst of the intersecting of our faith with our career. There are a multitude of people who work in occupations where their decisions flow out of their faith journey. Parents raise their children out of a foundation built on faith.

The adventure is seeing the hand of God in the midst of our lives and other lives. The adventure is approaching today and the next day with the assurance that God is present, and with the dominating question “What might God want to be about in my life today?”

Rate your experience. Raise your expectations!

Bad Grades Revisited…44 Years Later!

February 15, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 15, 2016

                              

They had become a distant memory, like an old girlfriend who you now struggle to simply remember her name.

And then I decided to begin the process to be hired as a substitute teacher! Steps one through thirty were fine, but then came the part where the Colorado Department of Education wants copies of your college transcripts…ALL your college transcripts!

When I transferred to Judson College in Elgin, Illinois in the fall semester of 1974 I was teetering of the slippery edge of academic probation. One more unimpressive quarter at Miami of Ohio University meant I would be asked to take a little vacation. A singing group from Judson visited our church one Sunday in the summer of 1974 and a week later I was applying to be a transfer student at the small American Baptist-related institution. A man named Wendell “Press” Webster saw some potential in the student from Ironton, Ohio who had complied a GPA in his first college quarter of “.533!” That’s right! I didn’t put the decimal point in the wrong place…”.533!” From there it was all uphill for the next year and a half.

Let me say that I didn’t knock the professors dead at Judson with my academic excellence, but I did do okay, and graduated after two years.

All that had become ancient history to be told again after my death! But then there was the application process!

What’s that saying? The sins of the past will always come back to haunt you. I never thought that failing Latin would come back to haunt me, but it now has. The irony in the situation is that one of the classes I’ve been asked to substitute teach in is Latin! Gous figureus!

Don’t worry! I’m being approved to substitute, but the memories of that past failure…and failing grades…is once again fresh in my mind. Sometimes we pay for our times of stupidity over and over again. My stupidity took the form of cutting classes, trying half-heartedly on important assignments, not navigating the waters correctly of English Composition 101. Things I should have known better about, but thought I could slide by.

Forty-four years later I can now laugh with just a hint of embarrassment.

My absence of excellence and mass of ignorance in those past actions brings a new sense of appreciation for the grace of God. I realize that the God I serve looks at the screw-ups and pitiful efforts of my past and says that because I follow his Son those things, those bad marks, and failing experiences have been forgotten. I no longer need to bring them up for review as I go forward.

God accepts me even though my Latin is suspect. Amazingus magnus!

Watching The NBA All-Star Game and Thinking About Faith

February 15, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     February 14, 2016

                

I’m watching the NBA All-Star Game…and wondering why? It’s 145-136 at the end of the third quarter. The only consistency has been the allergies each player has towards defense. Bill Russell is crying as he watches the game. No…Bill Russell is almost asleep as the camera shows him at courtside. Defense doesn’t make for good prime-time TV. The MVP will not be voted on the basis of how many steals he makes. There have been no shot clock violations.

As I watch the jog-and-gun display I can’t help but draw the comparisons between this hyped-showtime event and what many of us do in worship at church each weekend. There’s a lot of going through the motions, minimal passion, and a disdain for patience and perseverance.

There’s something not right with it, and yet we accept it as the way it is. Some Sundays church attenders resemble the YMCA pick-up basketball players…a willingness to shoot and and little else. A spiritual form of “it’s all about me.”

(Russell Westbrook just tried to pass to himself!)

The game is over…finally! 196-173! Russell Westbrook is voted the MVP. I guess if you can pass to yourself you must be the chosen one!

 

Observing Junior High Math Class

February 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                February 10, 2016

                                 

On Monday I sat in on two different junior high math classes. As I’m gearing up to be a substitute teacher I wanted to experience another classroom situation, and also to revisit the subject that I had difficulty with back when Moby Dick was a minnow. I was great with numbers…and then some wise guy started including letters into the problem. I got lost in the midst of “x’s” and “y’s”. If you asked me how much 45 times 20 was I could tell you faster than an adding machine, but put a letter into the mix and I floundered like a fish flopping in the bottom of the boat.

But I went willingly to this classroom of formulas and adolescent confusion, and I learned several things. One, that I actually understood part of the lessons, and enjoyed it…kind of!

Two, that junior high boys haven’t changed since 1968! Oh, they have fancier devices now, but at the core they are twins two generations removed from those who sat in the same classrooms.

Thirteen year old boys still make noises. When the teacher was on the other side of the room there was a good chance that a farting sound would come from somebody. One boy broke out in a humming sound until he was asked to keep it quiet. Pencils were used at various moments as drumsticks on desk tops. Fingers were snapped against open jaws to make popping sounds.

Junior high boys make noise!

Junior high girls ranged from totally quiet to “Chatty Cathy’s”, who would suddenly erupt in nonsensical comments. During a class time when students worked together on an assignment you could hear snippets of conversations about Super Bowl Dorito’s commercials, the half-time entertainment, and what was eaten that day for lunch.

Junior high boys still like attention. I identified the three boys in the first five minutes of the class whose social standing was based on their wisecracks and off-the-wall humor. They weren’t malicious…just in need of being noticed.

Junior high students are special. Several people asked me why I would observe in a classroom of 8th graders. Was I on some kind of probation and this was part of my sentencing? Did I not get that memo about how junior high boys cause hair-pulling and temporary instructor insanity?

Actually, I enjoy thirteen year olds just as much…maybe even more…than sixteen and seventeen year olds.

There you go! Now you know I’m warped!