Archive for May 2016

Stories That We Remember

May 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 30, 2016

                              

Yesterday was an amazing day for Carol and me. The second Air Force Academy cadet that we have been a sponsor family for is graduating this week. Justin Katzovitz went to the same high school that Carol did, Hinsdale Central in Hinsdale, Illinois. Justin is Jewish. His parents were a little apprehensive about having Justin being hosted by an American Baptist pastor and his wife, but Justin said he wanted us. We’ve learned a few things about one another the past four years, like when we took him to Walmart on a Sunday night to buy Hanukkah decorations for a meal that next week. He had been assigned that task of decorating the meal table. And we realized that Hanukkah is not high on the list of products being sold at Walmart. Justin settled for a couple of strings of lights. Yesterday we attended the Jewish Baccalaureate service in the lower level of the Academy chapel. It was a warm and inviting gathering of those of the Academy Jewish community and their guests.

The speaker was a man named Joel Grishaver, a Jewish writer, teacher, and storyteller. Joel must be in his seventies and is afflicted with some form of mobility affliction that requires him to use two canes that are braced around his forearms. He told us a wonderful story about a rabbi who had died, and at a gathering for him people told story after story of how he had affected their lives.

Joel then made the point that stories connect us. Keep telling the stories. Stories draw us together in deep relationships. It was a talk that I have continued to ponder ever since I heard it.

Last night a number of young ladies that I coached in basketball at Liberty High School between 2008-2013 came over to our house for a cook-out. One of them is about to enter graduate school. Another takes her LSAT exam next month. One of them graduated college and is now in that anxious period called “job search process.” Two others are entering their final semester, or year of college. Three are about to begin college, and another will be a second-year Cornhusker.

We ate around our patio table on the back deck, laughed, laughed some more, and we told stories. Stories of past events and things that were said that will always be remembered. The story of Katie Cahn getting her two front teeth knocked out in practice, which wasn’t funny at the time it happened, but was described in detail with laughter last night. The huge mouth guards that Katie Upton and Amanda Dix wore in vivid red and blue colors, and especially wore them after Katie Cahn lost her teeth! The picture of the female Goliath that Alex Rivas had on her cell phone that she was suppose to try to tackle in a women’s rugby game at Colorado University. Kayla Childs’ stories from her incredible trip to Cambodia. Kira Comfort’s stories of breaking bones and learning the game of golf… a non-contact sport! Emily Aldrich’s story of a less than friendly verbal exchange with a Palmer Terror player one game.

We sat and shared stories, and laughed, and exaggerated, and laughed, and then told stories of others who weren’t with us last night at the gathering.

Stories connect us and deepen the depth and strength of the roots of the relationships. By the end of the evening people were shivering with a mixture of chills and chuckles. As Joel Grishaver had told the Jewish cadet graduates that morning about the power of stories, I saw it being experienced last night.

Believing In What I Like!

May 29, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             May 29, 2016

                                    

“The Apostles’ Creed” came into its fullest and complete form about thirteen hundred years ago. It has been the church’s statement of faith ever since…kind of!

The statement begins with the words “I believe in…” (I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son…)

In recent times, especially in American culture…in the church and in general…what is believed has taken a tumble. What is believed resonates with personal choice. With the beginning words of the Apostles’ Creed in mind, today’s statement of belief could very well begin with the words “I believe in what I like, and I don’t believe in what I don’t like.” 

Like a six year old staring with a turned up lip at a serving of spinach on his plate, we are prone to judge something as unlikeable. We lump the “unlikeable” together if they are even remotely connected to what it is we really don’t like. For example, if Chris Tomlin comes out with a new worship song that resembles a hymn there will be some people who won’t like it because…follow the flow here!…Chris Tomlin usually composes praise and worship music, and the person doesn’t like praise and worship music.

At both Trump and Clinton political rallies protestors have tried to disrupt the proceedings because they don’t like the candidates. Freedom of speech has been demoted to the back backseat with Grandma in importance, compared to what people like!

“Likes”, a very small word, has taken on prominence, as well as become confusing. Every day on Facebook I’m faced with responding to someone’s post by clicking “Like.” A young lady I know just got hired on for a new teaching position, so I gave her a thumbs up and clicked “Like.” But a little while later someone else mentions that his brother just passed away. I want to come alongside him as he journeys through this, so I once again click “Like.” I was confused by the whole thing. Clicking “Like” sounded like I was delighted by his loss, when I was really just trying to be supportive.

“I believe in what I like” is fickle. It’s like a girlfriend you had in sixth grade, totally awesome and soon to be replaced! I used to like knee-high athletic socks to go with my extremely short athletic shorts. Now I look at those pictures and chuckle, as well as try to keep them hidden from family and friends!

Try this on for size! If a person doesn’t have a solid belief system, he/she is like the Sunday newspaper left outside to be blown one way or another by the wind. When I say “belief system”, I’m not just talking about Christian convictions, but rather life convictions…life beliefs that anchor me from being carried away by today’s biggest “like.”

For example, do we believe, regardless of our disagreement about a political candidate’s stand on health care, military might, Social Security, or education…do we believe in democracy? Do we believe in freedom of speech, or just when someone is saying something that we like?

Do we believe in freedom for all, or just for those who we agree with, or we like?

Do we believe in the grace of God, or do we believe in limited grace, dependent on if we think someone deserves it…or we like the person?

What are the beliefs that we hold that are non-negotiable, that we will always hold on to regardless of the winds of circumstances? Carol and I are two months away from celebrating our 37th anniversary, and there are things we don’t like about one another! What!!!!

I don’t like it when she picks a crouton off my salad, but I don’t slap her hand. She doesn’t like it when I use a piece of dental floss multiple times, but she doesn’t slap me in the face. Our love for one another anchors us even when we’re not always on the same page. In the next election we may even cancel each other’s vote out!

But our love for one another has become like that old oak in the park that is strong, rooted, and consistent. It may sport some scars from the storms of the years, but it’s solid and dependable.

Perhaps that’s a good picture of where our culture and our churches are right now. That too often we resemble sixth grade romances instead of 37 year old marriages!

The Complications of Living An Uncomplicated Life

May 25, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 25, 2016

                         

Just when life seems to be less complicated, procedures dot the schedule that make me bite my fingernails. I’m sitting in a waiting room of a medical building where Carol is having a colonoscopy. Oh joy!

She has informed me that I’m next! I heard it kind of like when the school secretary at Victory Heights Elementary In Winchester, Kentucky, told me I was next in the line of condemned students to see Mr. Sterling, the school principal with a strong forehand. I had thrown wet paper towels in the school restroom the previous day…and been caught! A night of no sleep had preceded my waiting room experience. I had tried to feign sickness that morning at home to no avail, kind of like trying to find a reason for canceling a colonoscopy!

Now Carol was looking at me like I had late homework that i was trying to turn in.

“You’re next!” her eyes shouted.

“ But what if I don’t wanta’!”

Not a safe and healthy response.  As Carol goes through her procedure, refusing to have one myself is not an option.

As we age life takes on a different kind of “complicated” to it. I played basketball with the boys on my seventh grade team a couple of days ago. As I climbed the steps from the school gym on the lower level back to the man floor my right knee protested. “Protests” by various parts of my body seem to be as numerous as protestors at Trump and Clinton rallies.  Acid reflux protests against the spaghetti with meat sauce I ate for lunch; my back protests at the bags of weed and feed I carried in; my teeth protest against the Enstrom’s almond toffee candy that I love to bite down on; and my bladder protests the amount of coffee I consumed, but then I’m the victim of a conspiracy protest as I stand at the urinal and can’t…you know!

Life is going down a different aisle of crowded and congested nowadays. When I was pastoring it seemed that each day was filled with appointments, deadlines, visits, meetings, and mad rushes. I longed for quiet moments and an empty schedule. Now many of my days are filled with…the complication of no complications. That means, I have so many possibilities of how the day might proceed, so many books that could be read, people that I’’m thinking about seeing, projects that I’m thinking about beginning…that I sometimes get frustrated for not achieving any of the possibilities. Dinnertime arrives and I shake my head over the fact that I wasted the day.

Don’t get me wrong! I enjoy the freedom of retirement, but I’m still adjusting to the life schedule changes. When you pastor for a long, long time everything revolves around it. Transitioning from ministry, many days, feels like trading in our Honda for a Schwinn (Do they still makes Schwinn bikes?). It’s a different pace that requires a different kind of energy.

Mondays used to be my day off. Now Monday is the day after Sunday, which has been the day…twice a month, I’ve preached at a small church forty-five minutes away from us. It used to be that Monday was my day of recovery from a week of ministry before starting the next week of ministry. Now Monday is the day I don’t need to recover. It’s the day I go to Starbucks at 7:15 in the morning, sit in my favorite seat at the end of the counter that looks out at Pike’s Peak, and write for a couple of hours as I drink a few cups of Pike Place…and then endure the protests at the urinal!

The complications of an uncomplicated life!

Carol is now out of her procedure and is giving me the look…the “You’re next look!” Ugh!

A Worship Funeral

May 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 23, 2016

                                     

In 37 years of pastoring I had never combined the Sunday morning worship service with a funeral. I’ve led a number of worship services where it felt like I died while delivering the sermon, but that’s different.

So this past Sunday was a new experience. The small congregation in the Colorado Eastern Plains community where I travel to speak twice a month saw its attendance jump from the typical twenty up to eighty as the family and friends of the dear man who departed filled the congregation.

Some may think that combining morning worship with a funeral is a little too sober and depressing, but it wasn’t. The man who had passed away, Larry, had lived a full eighty-five years of life, had been in poor health the past couple of years, and was ready to be done with the pain of this life and make that transition step into heaven He had played professional football back in the last few years of the 50’s for the Raiders and the 49er’s. Some of the aches and pains of those years of playing had taken their toll on his body, even though he had lived almost another sixty years.

I talked about living through loss, that grief is part of this journey of life, and I also talked about the hope that followers of Jesus have in the midst of this journey. What I’ve learned over the years about funeral gatherings is that the most appropriate funerals are a mixture of grieving and peaceful joy. That it’s appropriate to laugh…and to cry, to ask God questions of why and to thank him for the specialness of the person.

That’s the road we traveled on Sunday with Larry. His former pastor who came to the service donned an “Oakland Raiders” cap for a few moments. It was a few moments of humor that people appreciated. In the moments of silence and prayer the sounds of weeping could be heard. A few people shared stories of times shared with Larry, expressions he would use, his use of the name “Buckwheat” when bringing someone to understand his point of view. It was a good time of sharing memories.

And it was also a time of acknowledging the loss, the departure, the harshness of the moment of saying goodbye to the person.

I’ve learned that a gathering because of death can be a very confusing time for Christians, as well as those who don’t follow Jesus. Christians, so often, try to make it a celebration of life and detour around the grief. Other people who have no interest in the spiritual meaning gather to grieve, but have no sense of the hope.

And so, on Sunday we acknowledged the grief and the sadness, but also rejoiced in the memories and the promise.

And it was good! There was a meal served right after the service and most of the eighty stayed and spent time eating roast beef, baked beans, and macaroni salad, while sharing more stories about Larry.

And it was good. We walked with our grief and punctuated it with tearful laughter.

Finding The Slide, Losing The Back

May 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        May 22, 2016

                               

Our fourteen month old granddaughter, Corin, is in the midst of that exciting and exhausting stage of discovery where she wants to try or touch everything…but not for very long. Right now her attention span is about as long as a squirrel’s. Sitting still is not in her daily agenda. Sitting still is for old people!

So I made the mistake of helping her discover the play slide in her backyard last night.        Here’s the procedure: Pick Corin up, lean with her forward and place on slide, continue to lean forward as she grabs and my hands with her hands, watch her slide while still in bent position making sure she is safe at bottom.

Repeat!

Repeat!

Repeat!

Repeat!

I was the “ski lift” taking the barefoot skier back to the top. Every time she reached the bottom she pointed back to the top. Obviously, she had heard of the all-day ski pass; one price covers all…or, in this case, one granddad lifts each time.

But this granddad does not have a mechanical back, but rather a sixty-two year old rickety body part that I would compare to the wooden roller coaster at Camden Park in Huntington, West Virginia. It’s still standing, but I wouldn’t trust it.

Let me tell you! A fourteen month old who is being lifted, seated, and supported in sliding down a four foot slide wants to do it forever! She knows…probably…that stopping will mean that Grammy will grab a tissue and wipe her nose, and she hates for her nose to be wiped. She knows that Granddad will keep doing what he is doing until there is a system malfunction. She’s a smart cookie who knows that her granddad isn’t smart enough to say “Enough!”

So this morning “LB” (lower back) is grumbling to me about having to work overtime. “LB” is going to be moaning and groaning, like a teenager asked to do work around the house, all day about how much I love Corin more than him…and he’s right!

Deal with it, LB! Deal with it!

Getting Hungry Again

May 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 20, 2016

                                      

Excuse me for being blunt, but stomach viruses suck! They are a nauseating form of “unloading.” I’ve been the “Baptist priest” a few times over the years for people going through 12-step programs, and the fifth step is a time of confession. It’s the unloading of all the “stuff” that they’ve done.

Stomach viruses are the unloading of all the stuff that has accumulated. Unfortunately for me I had a large dinner just a few hours before the virus raised its ugly head. It will be a while before I can look at stuffed baked potatoes again!

I won’t go into details about my kneeling positions for a day, but let’s just say the refrigerator was safe from me invading it for a whole day. I got a lot lighter in a short amount of time. It was not pretty! I was not pretty!

Yesterday afternoon I started getting hungry again. Last night was my first meal in two days: wood plank salmon cooked on the grill, with asparagus and white rice.

Today I’m reflecting on the experience…not the porcelain throne kneeling moments, but rather the similarities between unloading all the stuff in our life and coming back to a point of being spiritually hungry.

We have that tendency, that habit, of filling our lives with “the stuff” of the world…the craving for more money, the lust for more power and prestige, for things that aren’t beneficial, for moments of escape from reality that distort our view of that reality. And then we have, what I call a “Come To Jesus Moment”, where sometimes by our own choice, but, more often than not, because of someone else’s pressure, we come clean. It’s an excruciating experience that we feel ashamed about as we throw up all the deception and garbage that we’ve been hiding.

And yet it is a freeing experience as well! Confession is good for the soul, and yet we rarely come to it of our own volition. It’s like a colonoscopy that we dread like crazy, but after having it experience a peace of mind that everything is okay. (My wife has one next week, so I thought I would just thrown that example in there.)

And then…there is the point where we reach “hunger” again. The grace of God and forgiveness of God wrapped in the love of the saints brings us to that point in the journey where we seek to stay on the path…to go deeper…to experience a drawing close to the Holy. It’s a special time, unobstructed by what I’ve allowed to block the way. Words from the Word take on special meaning. Prayer becomes a time of listening and less of talking. Worship becomes more intimate, less noisy, and not defined by a church bulletin.

It’s a place we want to stay at, and yet we know we won’t. In the midst of the hunger we know that there will be some of those other urges that gradually creep in. Hopefully we will learn from what we have just been through and be wiser because of it. Hopefully the hunger for spiritual nourishment will guide our coming days, that the kneeling we will be doing will be more about surrendered worship and less about remorse.

And so we journey freer…for now…comforted by the fact that the grace of God goes with us, and his peace is upon us.

Stomach viruses still suck, but at least it made me think!

A Substitute Teacher’s Notes To Self

May 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 18, 2016

                              “A Substitute Teacher’s Notes to Self”

April 20

        Assignment: 1st Grade

Today I learned that first grade boys have bad balance. Most of them fell out of their chairs sometime, or several times, during the day. Girls, on the other hand, are well-balanced and make good ballerinas. Not a single girl fell out of her chair.

April 22

        Assignment: Kindergarten

       If the snack crumbles it will end up on the floor. Cheese crackers and tortilla chips are destined for the carpet. On the other hand, grapes, celery, and raisins seem to be able to stay glued to the desks they are on.

April 25

        Assignment: 5th Grade

Fifth graders are into nicknames. My class had an assortment of nicknames, and characters…Taco Bell, Beaner, Hot Dog, Squeezie, Ant Man, and The Whiz…it seemed that everyone had an extra label of distinction.

April 27

        Assignment: Junior High Physical Education

Note to future self! When the teacher joins in on the games of dodgeball, especially the substitute teacher, he becomes the target! Nothing gives junior high boys more pleasure than lawfully pelting the sub! Stopped on the way home at the optometrist to get my glasses repaired!

April 29

       Assignment: 3rd Grade

         Give third graders the possibility of extra recess and they will follow you anywhere.

May 3

      Assignment: 1st Grade

Met my match! He…no names please…was the first student I ever sent to the office…and he was also the second person I ever sent to the office. He was unfazed by either visit, and, I found out later, that the office was on a first name basis with him. They had considered giving him his own room there.

May 6

     Assignment: High School Study Hall Monitor

The best!!! Four hours of reading in a room of students who all want to study…and getting paid for it!

May 9

     Assignment: Third Grade

       Third graders are completely amused by farting sounds! There always seems to be one boy who wants attention, either by farting or falling out of his chair like a Hollywood stunt man.

    May 11

      Assignment: 7th Grade Geography

Identify right away the student who has discovered his gift for being a royal pain in the butt! Keep your eye on him, because he has spent more time preparing to be a distraction than he has on doing his homework.

May 12

      Assignment: Latin

Never ever ever take a sub job teaching a foreign language that you can not speak. The students will be saying things about you in THAT foreign language that they would never say in English.