Archive for November 2016

Discovering Purpose in Abundant Opportunities

November 27, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 27, 2016

                      

I was looking for my shaving kit yesterday. I looked all around our bathroom and couldn’t find it. I started fretting that I had left it at the school I had officiated a basketball game at the day before…and then I found it! Sitting on the bathroom counter in plain sight of God and everyone!

That seems to happen to me more frequently in these “senior discount years!” Last month I was looking for my car keys…and then I figured out that I was holding them in my left hand! It is at those times that I self-identify myself as an idiot.

I had a recent conversation with someone about purpose. More specifically “life purpose.” The person was in a time of his life when the opportunities were numerous. In that state of blessedness there laid the problem. He had TOO MANY opportunities. He was an ADD opportunist, not being able to focus on one or two things because of all the others. In so doing he was watering down the potential effect of his life purpose.

Sometimes people are grieved by the lack of opportunities, but sometimes people are blinded by the multitude of possibilities.

In the conversation with my friend there were glimpses of discovery. He was beginning to feel the unrest within him. A couple of opportunities that would be rewarding in the short-term would also keep him from focusing on a couple of areas that had deeper and longer-lasting blessings. Focusing on recreational opportunities in the present would most assuredly have relational consequences in the future. Situations that brought recognition in a certain setting were requiring more and more time, which were resulting in a tug-of-war with his life calling.

He was experiencing what I experience when I sit in my home study surrounded by my library of about 2,000 books. I’ve got so many books to read that I find it hard to read them! Weird and true!

For most of us it takes a majority of a lifetime to hone in on our purpose, our life calling. We are lured to new opportunities like flies on honey. We are seduced by the unimportant while the things that are life-impacting become obscured.

In my life opportunities have been abundant. If my life was DVR’ed and I could go back to the beginning of some of my episodes I’d do a few things differently. I wouldn’t let pastoring a church take me away from family as many evenings as it did. I would have told my kids that I loved them more than I did. I would have spent less time developing church programs and more time growing disciples. And I would have spent more time living my faith instead of sermonizing about it.

On the other hand, as I look at my life I see my life purpose, like a trail in the woods, has become easy to see. There are more things that I am at peace with than areas where I am conflicted. It’s taken a few decades to stay on the path, but in the midst of abundant opportunities I have a clear sense of direction. It doesn’t mean that I have arrived, but it does mean that I’m on course.

I encouraged my friend to focus on those areas that emphasize relationships, and to pursue what he is passionate about. Those things that promote rewards and instant gratification need more scrutiny.

It’s different for every person, but the constant is that every person has a purpose that needs to be discovered and pursued. Like false messiahs there will be many to follow, but few that are worth it! Like my shaving kit quite often our life purpose is right there in front of us. We just need to see it!

Story Toes

November 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 23, 2016

                                             

I sat down on the couch to survey the crew. The crew consisted of our three grandkids: eight year old Jesse involved in a game of Super Mario Brothers; Corin (Rennie) scampering around the room as fast as a 20 month old body can go; and five year old Reagan whose attention was focused on the fact that her grandfather thought he was going to relax for a couple of minutes.

“Tell me a story, Granddad!”, she demanded as she plopped down on the couch beside me and draped her feet over my lap. “Tell me a story using my toes!”

A few weeks ago I was telling a story to her and Jesse from the same couch seat and I grabbed their feet as a visual aid to help me tell it. She giggled and giggled as I told the made up story about little piggies.

And Reagan never forgets! Her enjoyment in something translates into it becoming a tradition…thus two feet staring up at me with their multi-colored striped outfits!

“What story should I tell you? How about a story about a little worm named Squiggly?”

“Yes! Tell me a story about Squiggly!” Her toes wiggled in anticipation.

“Once upon a time there was a worm named Squiggly who decided he was a big enough worm to leave his Mommy Worm and crawl around by himself.”
“And did he have brothers and sisters?” Reagan likes to know all the details in any story I tell that I happen to be making up on the fly!

“Yes, he had many brothers and sisters, but he was the oldest worm child, so all of his worm siblings were still at home with Mommy Worm. So Squiggly said goodbye to his mom, they wrapped themselves around each other in one final worm hug, and off he went crawling through the dirt to discover what was on the other side of the mud patch.

“His mom probably missed him.”

“I’m sure she did. Your mom would miss you if you moved away, wouldn’t she?”

“I’m only five, Granddad!”, she informed me as she did the eye roll thing.

“Yes, I know…well, anyway, back to the story! Squiggly slowly crawled away, whistling his favorite worm song, “Way Up High In An Apple Tree.” He was all wiggly with excitement about the new places he was going to discover.”

“He probably misses his mommy.”

“Probably! After he had crawled across the mud patch and into the weed forest on the other side he got to thinking to himself, “I’d better find some place to sleep before nightfall.” He thought about the warmth of his mommy and remembered that he had left his worm blanket back at home. He got to thinking about the chilly darkness that would soon be upon him with no mom or snug covering to keep him warm.”

“He didn’t plan very well.”

“So he looked all around and around and finally…finally…he found a nice place that looked like it would be cozy and warm and almost like home.”

“Where was it?”
“It was right between two toes of a little girl named Reagan.” I burrowed one of my fingers between two of her toes and she squealed with tickling laughter. “Yes, it was right between two little toes,” I explained as she quivered with giggling. She pulled her feet off of my lap and hopped down to the floor. Her sister stared at her with a smile on her face.

About the time I took my next breath she was back on the couch, settling her feet into their place across my lap once again.

“And then what, Granddad?” For Reagan “story toes” have many chapters and episodes…and giggles!

Wanting the In-Between

November 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            November 21, 2016

 

I went to Walgreen’s a few days ago to buy a bag of cough drops. I located the aisle they were displayed in and scanned the selections. The Walgreen’s brand had a couple of flavors to offer, but the first bag I found only had thirty cough drops in it. Knowing that I was going through about six a day I thought the next size up would be a better choice. At the other end of the shelf was a bag of two hundred.

“There must be a size in-between”, I thought to myself. I searched back and forth, and I slowed down my gaze trying to locate the in-between. To my amazement there was no in-between. It was either 30 or 200. It was either five days of relief or five years of taking up cabinet space.

Where was the in-between? And another question, where is the in-between?

Even Starbucks calls their in-between size drink “Grande!”

But the in-between is about more than just food and drink. It’s also about position and value. The American middle class has shrunk in the last few decades. During the last decade of the 20th Century it shrank because more people were moving upwards in economic class, but in the  first two decades of this century it has shrunk because more people are moving down to being lower in economic status. The importance of that can be seen in nations where there is a very small middle class. Also, without exception those countries are impoverished and unstable. People recognize that there are the “haves” and the “have-nots”, and there is a ripple effect of unrest, hopelessness, and social anger. The in-between holds the extremes together. When there is no in-between division and dissension define the culture.

I’m an in-betweener politically. I’m not sure when I settled in that position. Perhaps it is simply a part of who I am. Back in the 1990’s when I won an election for a seat on the Board of Education for the Mason, Michigan school system I ran as an in-betweener. The community was divided between those who did not want to pass the school bond issue and those who saw the increasing need for it. I ran as one who could help bring the community together, won the election, and helped in the effort to pass the school bond issue the next fall. Sometimes it takes an in-betweener to help end the tug-of-war in a community.

Even in this past presidential election I was an in-betweener! But the in-between has not been a popular place to be. It’s too rational in a time of sniping polarization. I feel like the marriage counselor in the midst of two adults screaming at each other and telling them that I’m not on the side of either one of them.

People think the in-between doesn’t stand for anything, that it’s fickle and uncommitted! Contrary to what liberals and conservatives think, the in-between is a place that looks at the long-term possibilities and direction. To use a word picture, it looks out from the top of Pike’s Peak through the clouds and haze and sees Kansas. The in-betweener is the optimist in a scuffle where everyone else is determined to be the winner.

The other night Carol and I were babysitting for our three grandkids. Reagan, our five year old granddaughter, likes to have me tell her stories. She has gotten into the habit of draping her feet across my lap and asking me to tell her a story that includes the participation of her feet. So I told her about a worm named “Squiggly” who was looking for a nice warm place to sleep that night, a place of protection and coziness. Squiggly found that place in-between her toes, and I tickled the inside spot to pinpoint where this story was going. Reagan squealed with delight and laughter, and quickly removed her feet from my lap. Fifteen seconds later she placed them back across my legs and said, “Tell me the rest of the story!” That finding of the in-between spot and laughter continued for several minutes. It humored each of its participants.

The in-between is a place of delight, a giggling warm spot that is delightfully good. It’s the place of peace in the troubling spirit of population. It’s the disappearing place where harmony can be seeded and flourish.

Mamaw’s Cough Remedy

November 20, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   November 20, 2016

                                    

The cashier put the bottle in a skinny brown bag that shouted “Booze!” I walked at a brisk pace out of the store like a CIA operative stealing a hard drive from a foreign power. I felt more guilt than a Baptist sitting in Starbucks on a Sunday morning!

The bag held a bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon. Somewhere in my memory this purchase destined me for the Lake of Fire. I had never…ever…ever bought a bottle of hard liquor before in my lifetime. Back in Ironton, Ohio, the state liquor store on Third Street was one place you didn’t get close to, lest you become tainted.

But the cough had lingered! My night time sleep was like a horizontal relay team passing the imaginary baton from one coughing episode to the next. And then my dad reminded me of Mamaw Helton’s cough remedy: One part honey and at least one part bourbon!

He told me of the time my Mama and Papaw Helton had come to visit them in Ironton from their farm in Oil Springs, Kentucky. My Papaw asked my dad to go to the liquor store and buy him a bottle of bourbon, to which my dad replied, “Dewey, why can’t you go and buy it?” Mamaw Helton piped in, “He can’t because of the church!” They were proud members of a United Baptist church, known for being a church of teetotalers and a few backwoods moonshiners.

My dad said, “Well, this is where I live and I’m a deacon in the church.” I asked him how the story played out and he told me he went and bought my Papaw Helton a bottle. Evidently my Papaw was okay with the drinking part, but committed to never entering the store that sold the drink.

So, as I coughed, like an old Chevy trying to start its engine, I went to the liquor store!

I had also rationalized that my brother, Charles Dewey, now works as a tour guide at the Woodford Reserve Distillery outside of Frankfort. If I bought a bottle, in some weird way, it would promote job security for him. When I looked at the price difference between his brand and the others I considered that he needed to be responsible for his own job security. But then I thought that perhaps…just perhaps…the price difference was because Woodford Reserve went down smoother and tasted as sweet as a piece of rock candy. If I bought that cheap Jim Beam it might be like drinking one of those generic cans of cola compared to drinking a Pepsi. It might completely distort my impression of what Kentucky bourbon tasted like.

So I bought it! At the counter I informed the lady that my brother was a tour guide at the distillery of my chosen bottle. She looked at me and with a face completely void of expression replied, “Ah-huh!” End of sales transaction!

That night I anxiously opened the bottle of the miracle potion. I was a bourbon virgin about to have my first sip experience. “Would it taste like Pepsi?” I asked myself, “Or more like Vernor’s?”

I poured about an ounce into a cup and mixed in the honey. This was the big moment…the moment of healing, the exorcism of my coughing demon! I tipped the cup up and took my first swig.

“Good Lord!” I stammered. My fear of being cast into the Lake of Fire was being preceded by a burning flow of lava down my throat. I could feel some of the hair on my chest shriveling up and falling off. Kentucky bourbon is the twin brother of castor oil!

“Lord, help me!” I stared at the other half of the dosage I still needed to force down. I pinched my nose and once again let the fire enter in. Then I stared at the bottle of bourbon that still contained about 97% of its contents.

“How do people drink this? Better yet, how did my Papaw Helton drink this?” I could feel the fire in my throat dripping down into my stomach.

That night, however, I slept soundly! Seven hours of sleep is worth one moment of torture!

Rethinking About The Little Thankings

November 18, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             November 18, 2016

                        

As Thanksgiving Day descends upon us it has caused me to think about the little things I’m thankful for. Perhaps you have your own list that resonates within you. Here’s a few things that cause me to stop, ponder, and be continually thankful for:

1) Sitting on the couch with my three grandkids watching TV, especially if one or two of them are leaned up against me. It causes me to remember when I was growing up and sitting beside my mom and dad in church, leaning into their warmth and presence. Now Reagan and Rennie lean into me and warm my soul!

2) Sunday early evening phone conversations with my dad. Since we’re two time zones apart it usually happens right after I’ve eaten dinner and he’s getting ready for bed. My dad is 88! His pleasant Eastern Kentucky accent carries a flood of family memories with it. As I talk with him I’m thinking of many of those things that he has brought to my life. He taught me how to drive, using our ’66’ Chrysler Newport as the guinea pig. In fact, the first time I drove it in the Ironton Junior High School parking lot I was trying to turn it so hard that I broke the power steering. Although he thought about killing me, patience won out!

3) Being married to a woman with a heart for kids who have needs. Carol is sensitive to those who have limitations as she works with special needs students in middle school. Although she retired at the end of the last school year she gets called EVERY SCHOOL DAY…Trust me! EVERY SCHOOL DAY!…to substitute! She comes alongside students who sometimes are ostracized in the midst of the middle school culture. At the end of the school day she is one tired puppy!

4) The ability to reflect and write. God has gifted me with an unusual talent. Most days as I sit on my Starbucks stool and peck out my blog post I have no idea what I’m about to write until I start writing it. Sometimes it comes as I put the Half and Half in my first cup of coffee; sometimes it comes as I sit and stare at Pike’s Peak for a couple of minutes…but it always seems to come! Most of the time it even makes sense!

5) A renewed passion for the church! As I help First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado navigate the future it excites me. My excitement is definitely not based on compensation, but rather on “mission and purpose.” I love this congregation of twenty, who are anxious about their future. Thirty-seven years of pastoring has prepared me to offer advice and lead them to the questions that they need to be asking themselves.

6) The memories that pain me! That probably sounds strange, and yet I’m thankful for the wounds of my soul! In the past two months I’ve presided over the funerals of two dear people- a 95 year old saint named Rex and a 41 year old friend and father named Greg. I cried at both of them, and I am thankful that my life was blessed by them to the point that I was deeply impacted. Even now as I write these words the grief once again is like a wave that rushes over me.

We often think about the big reasons to be thankful, but the lake of thanksgiving is held together by small pebbles of gratitude!

A Culture of Making Threats

November 13, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     November 12, 2016

                                     

I remember my sister, Rena, getting upset with our parents when she was about ten years old over some important issue…like the shoes she had to wear, or not being able to go roller skating on a Friday night at two o’clock in the morning. She threatened to run away from home. One time she actually did, walking heavily across the kitchen floor and out the side door of our house. She proceeded to stand on the carport for a good five minutes before “coming back to family.” As an eight year old at the time I was a little bummed. I had figured out that either my brother or I would get her bedroom. Charlie and I had to share a bedroom.

A neighbor kid about my age would frequently threaten to leave the game we were playing, take his ball, and go home if things didn’t go his way. He was annoying, and after a few threats such as that, the rest of us would let him go. We would just figure out something else to play that didn’t involve his ball.

During my 36 years as a church pastor I encountered numerous people who would make threats. It was often clothed in a statement that began with these words: “If this doesn’t happen I’m going to…” The completed statement would come from a menu of possibilities such as “leave the church”, “stop giving money”, “resign my position”, or “make things unpleasant!” Sometimes we stood firm on our position or direction and other times, unfortunately, we caved in! One thing I learned over the years: A church never goes forward as a result of giving in to internal threats!

Threats and ultimatums are immature ways for society to react to a direction that not everyone agrees with. They are like a stubborn Beaver Cleaver refusing to eat the Brussels sprouts on his plate because he doesn’t like them. (Yes! I just saw that episode on DVD!)

     This week’s election result was going to cause unrest and anger no matter which candidate won. Let’s be honest! Even though Donald Trump won there were an abundance of people who voted for him simply because they did not want Hillary Clinton; and, on the other hand, there were an abundance of people who voted for Clinton because they did not want Trump. If a third option had been on the ballot that said, “Neither One!”, it may have been the victor!

So now we enter post-election emotions and unrest around the country. Neither candidate endeared themselves to people with all the negative ads they pumped millions of dollars into!

So now what? In my years as pastor I’ve told people that two events in the life of a family necessitate change. That is, when one of these events happens things will not stay the same as they were. The events are a birth and a death! When a new baby comes along things, by necessity, change! When someone passes away, by necessity, things change! This past election was a birth event for some and a death for many. In my saying that it also needs to be said that it would have been a birth and death event if Hillary Clinton had also been elected.

In either case, by necessity, things will change. Our country will draw closer together or it will become more fractured. There will either be a reaching to find common ground or there will be a continuation of threats. Washington, which hasn’t really been a very good role model in recent years, will strive to either row together or do a tug of war of wills.

In a culture of instant gratification and self-centeredness this optimist is not very optimistic!