Archive for July 2016

How Great Is…Was Our God

July 31, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 July 31, 2016

                                     

This morning from my writing perch the ear buds began streaming in the praise song to my mind, How Great Is Our God.

The greatness of God fits nicely into a four minute song. A lady with a voice that seemed to reach to heaven sang about his awesomeness. My soul got picked up and elevated upwards.

Last Sunday in worship we sang How Great Thou Art!

Singing about God’s greatness is something we do quite often. It seems, however, that singing about God’s greatness…past tense…is not something that appears on our playlists very much.

That’s not the case for several of David’s Psalms. He talked and sang quite often about what God had done. Psalm 78 focuses on the hand of God in the exodus from Egypt. He says, “He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall. He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night…” (Psalm 78:13-14, NIV)

The greatness of God for the Jews was told in the stories of the past, how he had shown his greatness…already!

Our history is the great revealer of what we believe in the present.

So…how great was God? Is our belief system “end times focused” as a result of our failing to see his greatness in the steps we’ve already journeyed? Do we hope for his greatness in the moment, almost like praying that our Lotto tickets numbers rise to the top?

For me the great indicator of the greatness of God is how he has already touched my life, my personal history of his greatness.

Just clarifying here! How great God was did not get transferred into meaning my personal greatness. In fact, the greatness of God in my life mostly has come through in my weaknesses, incompetence, and cluelessness. God’s greatness can be seen in how I screwed things up and he made a masterpiece out of the mess.

We often trumpet the greatness of God in events of a grand scale. Churches build great worship centers. Football stadiums get reserved for great revival meetings. The greatness of pastors is focused on as a result of being called in for a private session with the President. We define greatness in human terms, and thus look at how great our God is in human terms.

But how great has our God been? I’ll always remember his greatness in the midst of the birth of our oldest daughter. There were complications…Carol and I took hold of each other’s hands and prayed…the medical team worked on Kecia…and the blessed sound for the first time of her suddenly exercising her lungs! God was great in that moment!

I’ve seen the greatness of God in the spiritual depth of others. My life has the brush strokes of so many people who have walked closely with our God: Marie Lyons, Ben Dickerson, Ken and Ardis Bystrom, Vera Ziegler, Steve Wamberg, Tom Bayes, Dave Shaffer, Cyndi Martin Constertina…the list is long and deep.

My God has been great. The assurance of how great he is comes in the evidence of how great he has been. God’s greatness is not something that will just suddenly happen, like the first chin hair on an adolescent.

I love Hebrews 11 and 12, a reminder of the people of faith who God has used…and then the looking forward. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2. NIV)

There it is! How great God was…the stories of the great cloud of witnesses, how great God is…the ongoing salvation story of Jesus, and how great God will be…the race marked out for us…the path of the future he has prepared.

Makes me want to sing! “How great thou art…and have always been!”

The Marvel of Little Ones

July 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         July 30, 2016

                                     

I am a grandfather…three times over! An 8 year old professor in the making, a five year old CEO, and a 16 month old politician. The past two days “Grammy”, our dear Michigan friend Janet, and I have been watching the Three Miniature Musketeers since our fourth grade teaching daughter “Mom” went back to begin the new school year. Since my grandson often dresses up as Superman, Ironman, Batman, or Captain America I guess it would be more appropriate to refer to the three as “The Avengers!”

The two older kids entertain one another most of the time. We just have to be the Supreme Court Justices for decisions that can’t be resolved through sibling negotiations.

But the 16 month old! She is the Energizer Bunny with a diaper on!

And I marvel at her! I am amazed at just about everything she does, including the amount of poop that can fill her diaper! How can so much come out of someone so small?

I am amazed at how she can go from laughter to having a tantrum in the space of a few seconds…and then back again!

I am amazed at how she greets me with her pronunciation of “Granddad” every time I arrive in the room after being gone for…Ohhh!…maybe two minutes.

She amazes me with her determination, carrying around the handbag her mom has passed down to her. The handbag is about half her size, and she is determined to lift it and place it on the couch that comes up to her chest. Grunting all the way, she stays on task until it is heaved on to the couch…and then she promptly takes it back down, walks around for a few seconds, and then repeats the whole task again.

I am amazed at how relational she is. She is drawn to where the person or persons are, and when she is in the room she garners all the attention.

I am amazed at her capacity for mimicking. Grammy said the word “pizza” while she was in the room- not to her, mind you!- and she voiced her agreement with the word by shouting “PIZZA!” When her brother and sister dance in the middle of the living room, she dances. When her brother sits and reads she is prone to sit and “kind-a read”, also.

She stuns me with her understanding of boundaries. She stands in front of the DVD player and video game system and says to no one in particular “No no!” as she shakes her head.

I’m taken back by her impatience. She sits in my lap as I read a book to her, but if the pages aren’t turning fast enough she turns them for me…and even takes the book and throws it down! That’s my clue that we are done with that one! “Move on, Granddad!”

I am amused at how I can be her personal playground, as in climbing tree! Slap a sign on me that says “Jungle Gym!”

And what occurred to me in the midst of my two days of amazement was the fact that our Father God is just as amazed at everything each one of us does! God is still amazed at what a 62 year old grandfather does…good and bad! He is amused by our humor, and amazed by our words of wisdom. He’s taken back by our ability to figure out situations, make mistakes and learn from them. His heart is warmed by the depth of our relationships, and the care we offer to one another. He’s taken back by the amount of crap that is a part of our lives!

In many ways my amazement about everything our 16 month old granddaughter does is a reflection of how our Creator sees each one of us. He closely watches because he deeply loves!

What We Burn Incense To

July 26, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 26, 2016

                                  

In my years as a pastor I can identify a number of things that became sacred in the congregations I pastored. In one great church…Wait for it!…forks became revered! The morning after any church potluck or meal the “fork-keeper” would stop  by to count the forks. Kind of like a bank teller’s money drawer, if there was a discrepancy…if one or more were missing…there was hell to pay!

In another congregation filled with wonderful loving people, one of the most serious issues we dealt with in my fifteen years concerned the removal of the organ pipes. Let me clarify! These were fake organ pipes! Think painted long cardboard tubes! There were speakers in some of them for the electric organ we had at that time. When the sanctuary was renovated the fake pipes were repositioned behind the chancel area wall by our baptistry. It wasn’t so much that people couldn’t see the pipes anymore, but rather that they had been given to the church thirty years before by a family. They were seen as being a sacred memorial.

Sometimes people of God unknowingly, or perhaps on purpose, ease God out of the spotlight in order to worship something or someone else.

Someone? Yes, there are Christian personalities and celebrities that become the spiritual version of LeBron. Anything they say is written in stone as the Ten Suggestions. And let me point out that it isn’t necessarily the celebrated person’s fault. Mega-church pastors are put on pedestals because they lead mega-churches. And then when one of them has a problem that surfaces the “worshipers” are beside themselves.

There ARE those Christian personalities that are fine with people bowing to them. I was always amazed at how many people worshiped Reverend Ive with his flaunting wealth and opulent lifestyle. I could never quite connect the suffering servant image of Jesus with Reverend Ike’s matching diamond rings on a finger of each hand. In like manner I could never quite understand the flocking to see Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Was it really the will of God for their dog to have an air-conditioned dog house? I just didn’t get it!!!

But back to where we live! The people of God exalt unbelievable things. In some places there would be a greater uproar over missing Sunday morning donuts than there would be if the pastor decided not to give the sermon. One lady in a church I pastored told me that I shouldn’t let people know when we were having a guest speaker because attendance was always down. How did that make me feel? Not good! It was a sign to me that the lens on our congregational glasses needed to be wiped off a bit. I would say that almost every pastor does NOT want to be the only voice that his/her congregation is listening to.

I’ve seen mission organizations worshiped, youth group leaders bowed down to, church budgets deified, and technology praised.

It’s so easy!

I was reading in 2 Kings 18 this week about Hezekiah, King of Judah, getting rid of some of the pagan shrines, but he went even further than that. In verse 4 of that chapter it says, “He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. It was called Nebushtan.”

The snake that Moses had made, you know…way back when! Can you hear the comments? “But we’ve always had the snake!” “It just won’t be the same!” “Some of my most spiritual moments have been when I’ve burned some incense, prayed to Nebushtan, and had a deep sense of peace about things!”

The snake even had a name! I’ve just returned from a week of church camp. A number of kids, youth, and leaders are now thinking of Quaker Ridge as a sacred place of worship. They are thinking of those moments on Soldier’s Peak where they received communion.

I think of going to Green Lake, Wisconsin or Lake Louise Baptist Camp in Michigan. They are places that I burn incense to in my mind.

Hezekiah made the bold decision to get rid of Nebushtan. The snake had fulfilled its purpose generations before. It had long since become a distraction, a relic.

It makes me think about what happens in our places of worship today. What has become a distraction? What needs to be broken into pieces and moved to storage, or even to the curb? What have we given names to because they still grip our souls?

Camp Tears

July 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             July 24, 2016

                                            

I finished a week of church camp yesterday and fell into bed last night. The last morning was filled with goodbye hugs and tearful farewells. Tears, in fact, were a frequent occurrence at camp this week.

It started on Sunday afternoon as parents dropped off their children and teenagers. One young mom didn’t show her tears until she was sure her eight year old son was running towards an activity on the basketball court. Since this mom is my daughter I was standing beside her and saw the tears running down her cheeks in front of a smiling face. I gave her a hug of reassurance. Her tears were tears of releasing, as she saw her little boy arrive at one of those life points where he will spend a week away from home. I remember that kind of tears. After we dropped off our youngest daughter, Lizi, at the University of Sioux Falls for her first semester, Carol and I don’t remember seeing Nebraska on the way home because of the rain storms in our eyes. And yet they were good tears…tears when you realize your child has grown to another defining point. We release them and we cry our eyes out.

There were also tears of laughter numerous times at camp. I laughed when I was inspecting the elementary camp cabin for boys. One room whose occupants were eight, nine, and ten year olds had four bottles of AXE body spray and body wash. You know…AXE, that product whose commercials show women attacking a man who sprays his body with it. We laughed as we thought of fourth grade girls attacking a good-smelling four-foot tall boy. In the elementary camp the only attacking that was being done happened if someone tried to butt into the Snack Snack line. As room inspector I HAD made the point about good-smelling rooms being one thing I looked for in determining which of the boys’ rooms was the best. The second morning I walked into one room to see one boy walking around waving a deodorant stick in the air with the idea it would be like a room air freshener.

In that same cabin there were also tears from hurtful words. One boy came to me with tears running down his face and said, “Bobby has been saying that our room smells bad because I’m farting!” In deep sorrow he bellowed, “I’m not the one who is farting!” I counseled him back to health, although in the midst of his anguish I think there was a moment of flatulence.

There were tears from the deep wells of our soul. One middle school boy, who has Down’s Syndrome and hearing problems, got up on the last night at the talent show and sang a song as he played the guitar. Although the lyrics didn’t rhyme his original song talked about how much he loved his counselor, the amazing grace of God, and how much he missed his dad. The campers gave him a standing ovation as a number of them wept. They had seen how this young man had made the week at camp special and had offered his own unique personality of gentleness and caring.

There were tears of pain, as a number of campers shared their hurts and worries. Several had pent up emotions about parental health concerns. The camp environment and the trusting in their counselors allowed some of them to release the emotion. The dam broke as they allowed the anxiety, the bottled-up stress, to flow out.

Pastor Bill and me…better known at camp as “Pastor Bill Squared”…sat and listened with a mom on the last morning whose husband had gotten a grim diagnosis on the cancer he has battled. It was a time for tears, and angry tears, and even thankful tears. Her husband was first diagnosed six years ago. She is thankful for the six years, but there is sorrow in the moment as they face the uncertainty of the future.

And then there were my tears, as I dealt with the pain of that moment…as I saw my grandson at different times during the week being so engaged in the activities, focused on what was being taught, feeling free to dance in the midst of the elementary camp worship (So vigorously that he lost a screw in his glasses!)…as I watched counselors relating to their campers, getting to know them in ways that, you might say, had them deeply rooted in their lives.

I shed tears of thankfulness for what was and the journey these kids and teens had taken during the week. It’s amazing how in just a few hours time tears can flow from the same eyes out of thankfulness, sorrow, joy, and laughter.

Camp tears drench our souls and soak into our memories.

Sand City

July 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 21, 2016

                                          

    A week of church camp is filled with incredible moments and discoveries. Quite often the adult counselors get surprised in delightful ways by the things their camper kids say and do. One of those happened with our elementary campers the past two days. In the midst of the sand volleyball court a few of the kids, and a couple of their counselors, started making sand creations. It started simple! A two story house about a foot wide and a foot long.

Then a second house…a few more houses to make it begin to resemble a village, and then a house that started to resemble an Aztec temple or a four-layered wedding cake…one of those!

A few more campers joined the fun, and suddenly instead of Bust, Colorado (Population 2!), the sand creation started looking like a city…and ancient city, since a couple of the artists started building a sand wall around it.

Then another sand city started to be built on the other end of the sand volleyball court! Not wanting to look exclusive and uninviting, a few of the first “sanders” built a sand road between the two sand cities.

This morning there were close to thirty campers and counselors digging in the sand…creating, working together, laughing, and talking. It was not a planned activity, but, instead, became a movement. What an experience to see knees in the sand sharing ideas on what the next building phase might be. I’m pretty sure they put a Sonic and a Starbucks in there on one busy sand street! Interestingly enough, no sand schools were built by kids who are seeing their summers come quickly to an end.

One of the high school counselors got wind of a plot that a few of her students her devising  about going through and destroying Sand City and “Sand City West” and writing “Godzilla was here!” in the sand. She talked to them about being encouragers instead of destroyers. She conveyed to them the fact that the kids involved in the sand creations and construction would be crushed by a few seconds of mischievous fun. They understood…and the Sand Cities got larger. A few of the high school students even “got sandy!”

It made me think of the violent acts that have left their imprint across the country. How easy it is for people to respond with destruction in mind…instead of coming alongside and working together. How easy it is to tear down instead of build up? Sad City is becoming too prevalent!

How easy it is for churches to tear down and destroy instead of building places of grace and compassionate love! There are too many Sad Churches! I am perplexed as to why!

The reality of the weather at our 8,700 elevation camp is a late afternoon rain storm. What took hours to build, we knew, would be flattened by showers. The wise leaders explained the situation to the young sanders. They suggested that since the kids were the builders that they should be the ones to have the opportunity to “disassemble.” The campers stood along the sideline of the volleyball court and on the signal moved forward like a swarm of locusts, breaking down the fragile creations.

Rain came a couple of hours later.

Today, I fully expect, reconstruction will take place. Like rebuilding after a major storm…one sand house at a time!

Leaning Not On Your Own Understanding

July 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             July 20, 2016

                                

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.”   (Proverbs 3:5 from The Message)

Today I helped a group of middle school church campers rappel down a cliffside. For almost all of them this was a first time experience. Actually, it was my first experience also. For about four hours I held a rope and said things like “Awesome! Great job! You can do it! Keep going!”

I asked the question to some of them: What does Proverb 3:5 say?

Trust God…and don’t lean on your own understanding. I learned today that you must not lean forward in fear, but lean back and trust. In essence, we were telling the students to not do what seemed the understandable solution…leaning into the mountain, but rather to lean back and give up control.

A few of the students had a hard time getting past their fears and letting go. For some it took just a little bit of encouragement from the top to get them going…just a small dose of guidance from the top, and belief that they could do it. After the first fifty feet their camp friends down below took up the encouragement.

Another young man came to a point of hesitation, a place between the top and the bottom where he froze and became unmoving. Kent, our lead person, finally rappelled down to him and “unfroze” him. The young man had to be almost pulled along all the way to the bottom. His ego was a bit bruised, but he got to the bottom. Sometimes people need to be pulled along in their spiritual lives, and lives in general. They need a guide who pulls them…an AA sponsor who says the hard things, a coach who won’t let them settle for mediocre effort, a tutor who says “If I have to, I’m going to sit here all day until you get this!”, a pastor who pulls them away from the errors in judgment.

Some people need to be pushed, or in rappelling…pulled! Discomfort is not accepted easily, but sometimes taking people to an uncomfortable place is the needed ingredient for spiritual growth.

A couple of the campers rappelled alongside a friend who was struggling. One young guy, Jacob, knew his friend’s fears were real and inhibiting. Even though he had the ability to rappel down at a much quicker pace, Jacob slowed down to encourage his friend each step of the descent.

Sometimes we need a brother or sister to lean on as we take that next step. What each one of us needs is someone who slows their pace to stay with us. Sometimes we ARE the ones who slow down in order to be with. Last week I officiated at a funeral for a twenty-four year old. I didn’t know the deceased, but I know his dad. Next week I’m going to try to get together with him for a cup of coffee and continued conversation as he rappelled down the mountain of personal loss. He may have some moments in the coming weeks where he “freezes.” I know that I’m probably one of the people that God has placed in his life who needs to help him unfreeze…to continue in the heart wrenching journey of grief.

And it always seems to come back to “trusting and leaning.” Trusting in the Lord with our whole heart…leaning back and experiencing the loving arms of God.

The Release of a Kid’s Pain

July 20, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 19, 2016

                                     

Kids carry a lot of baggage with them! Their parents baggage!

In my years of being involved in camping I’ve seen a number of kids, elementary through high school, who are given permission during their week of camp to let go of the pain.

Parents worry about their kids. What I’ve come to realize is that kids worry about their parents! Parents are just grown-up kids who make mistakes that have ripple effects that are more devastating.

There are kids at camp this week who see the relationship of their parents as being like a tightrope walk, ready to topple over any second. There is the anxiety of living in a home that has the everyday potential of blowing up. They live with the stress of uncertainty- how long will they be living under one roof with both of their parents?

It is unfair in many ways to think that kids can just be kids when they live in a war zone of verbal assaults and relational explosions.

And so they fret! This week some of them are worried about what their parents will do while they are away, what errors in judgment they might make, what decisions between right and wrong they will face…and choose the wrong one!

They are kids who are being made to wear the pants of the family, and they are tired of having to be the adults!

On the other hand, kids can be ministers in smaller bodies. Sometimes their acts of service are even more genuine and authentic than the adults around them. Tonight I saw a group of elementary-aged kids who were asked to do something that was healing and loving. One of their counselors lost his best friend on the day camp began as a result of an accident. This adult was grieving, and still trying to be there for his campers. Tonight the campers all gathered around him and prayed for him. They laid their hands on him as their hearts went out to him. His was a pain that they were willing to help with.

Kids releasing their pain, and kids helping someone deal with their pain…one way that involves deep hurting, and the other way that involved a prayer for healing.

After the group prayer they all fell on top of the wounded counselor in their version of a group hug. The counselor wouldn’t have had it any other way.